My Only (Somewhat) Ghostly Encounter

It was the summer of 1976.  I had just finished my freshman year of college and was working at the Alpine Village resort in Lake George, New York with a bunch of other high school and college kids — along with one 30-something guy named Jerry, a Vietnam War vet who captained the Alpine Village boat and who was focused with laser-like intensity on achieving meaningful dalliances with every unescorted mother bringing her two kids up for a week-long stay at the resort.

Jerry’s family owned a house that was located nearby.  It was the old family homestead, a sprawling, century-old house back in the woods that was still fully furnished, although no one lived there.  It was a convenient place for Jerry to take those lonely young mothers.

IMG_0859One night Jerry invited the lot of us to the house for a clambake and sleepover.  The house was like a scene from Arsenic and Old Lace or a Vincent Price movie, complete with creaky floorboards, odd family memorabilia, portraits of long-dead relatives whose eyes seemed to follow you when you moved, dusty drapery, and unexpected alcoves where you might be startled by your reflection in a mirror as you passed by or the sight of a stuffed raccoon.  It was a creepy place, and Jerry told us without much elaboration that family lore had it that the place was haunted by at least two ghosts — a weeping woman who had died during childbirth in one of the upstairs bedrooms, and a boy who had been killed by a fall into a well out back.

We chuckled at the story, gobbled our clams and burgers, and drank more beer than a responsible person should.

That night, I awoke after I thought I heard an odd noise.  It was black as pitch, and the wind was blowing.  I stuck my out of the bedroom door and out of the corner of my eye noticed some movement down at the end of the upstairs hallway.  I didn’t have my glasses on, but something seemed to be moving down there.  The floorboards creaked, I suddenly felt cold, and the hairs on my arms stood on end — then I retreated to the room, shut the door, and got back into bed, soon to fall into alcohol-assisted slumber without further incident.

The next morning I explored the other end of the hallway.  There was a mirror and window, and a table with some old framed photographs.  Perhaps I saw myself in the mirror, or curtains blowing in the early morning breeze?  I’m not sure.

Into Grandma Neal’s Collection Of Horror Stories

A woman died Friday night after falling from the Texas Giant roller coaster at the Six Flags theme park in Arlington, Texas.  It’s a horrible story, one that is a nightmare for everyone who likes to ride roller coasters.

Which is precisely why I thought of my grandmother when I read it — because it’s the kind of story she would have read with interest, remembered forever, and recounted with relish.  For a genteel woman with refined tastes, Grandma Neal definitely had an appetite for the bizarre.  She could converse endlessly about frog wars in some faraway land, or rabbits taking over the Australian countryside, or hardy crocodiles flushed down toilets in New York City that grew to gigantic size and roamed the sewers beneath the streets of Manhattan, ready to gobble up unwary workers.

But her specialty was stories especially calculated to thrill and terrify children.  Grisly thrill ride accidents were common topics for discussion when Grandma and Grandpa Neal took UJ and me to the Kiddieland amusement park in northern Ohio.  Whether the ride was a Ferris wheel or a roller coaster, the end result for any misbehaving patron was death.  In one yarn, a woman was decapitated after standing up on a roller coaster, and her head dropped to the ground with a thud right at Grandma’s feet.  In another, a boy who rocked the Ferris wheel too far tumbled out and was impaled on machinery.  And speaking of machinery, it was likely to catch on any nearby clothing, pull you into the gears, and leave you a crushed, blood-soaked pulp.  And while we’re on such topics, did I tell you about the boy who stuck his arm out a bus window and had it chopped clean off by a passing truck?  Now, who feels like some shoe string potatoes?

I still enjoy roller coasters, despite having my head filled with such stories long ago.  When I ride a roller coaster, however, I always double and triple check to make sure that my safety harness is well-secured, and I keep my hands inside the car.