What is it about scary stories that are so inciting to us? Do we find spooky stories thrilling because they give us hope that we may one day come face to face with an actual ghost? Do we revel in the thought of meeting the apparition of a hopeful and confused confederate soldier wandering a once volatile battle ground? Do we really want to cross an angry and bloody murder victim looming in the corner of a seemingly normal bedroom? Do we really hope to witness a sorrowful woman wandering the woods in search of her long lost love? Do we go in search of these places and people in hopes of actually finding them, or do we scour the grounds to prove once and for all that there is no possible way that ghosts exist?
Are you the hopeful or the skeptic?
For the hopeful, Elizabeth Parker at MobileGhosts.net and author of my favorite books on Mobile Ghosts has some words of encouragement. “This is the nature of the work — ghosts appear when they wish, on their schedule, not ours… Set out with no expectations other than to have a good time, and to do something novel and fun. One day you’ll get more than you bargained for, if you don’t give up.” And to you skeptics, we are having fun. Calm down.
We may all be aware of the popular haunting stories that most areas of the country with a little imagination have in common: Bloody Mary, Cry Baby Bridge, Bigfoot sightings, half-man half-beast creatures, the calls coming from inside the house, nails scratching down the sides of the car that stalled in the woods and the innocent girl necking with her boyfriend screams, “Don’t get out of the car, you can’t leave me here all by my lonesome!” And the football jock puffs his chest and says, “I got this, babe. I’ll be right back.” Of course, he never comes back, but the girl, for some reason, spends the night alone in the car, thinking that he will be back within eight hours, no doubt. But by morning she emerges from the car and discovers his remains on top of the hood or some other weird place, yet heard absolutely nothing that would have led her to believe that her man was even in a scuffle. Oh, you never heard that one? What were you doing when you were a kid?! Get on Amazon and order Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. You’ll be all caught up after that read. I’ll wait.
Ok, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s just think about how much fun it really is to be in the middle of these stories, anticipating the spook, giddy like we are kids back in middle school. It’s fun to feel a little fright now and then. So what happens when we find that it was all a hoax, that the story was made up and there is no ghost stuck in our realm, that there are no spirits trying to pass on, doomed to repeat their last minutes leading up to their demise until the end of time as we know it? Are we angry that we were deceived? Are we relieved that a person’s soul isn't trapped in an infinite loop of doom? Does it matter? Did we not just enjoy the story itself?
I’m not much of a skeptic, really. I love the thrill of the myth, the fantasy of the fable, as unbelievable as the haunting may seem. But when my parade is deliberately rained on, I'm packing it up and going home. The story of the Ghostly Face in the Pickens County Courthouse is one that was ruined for me by an article in the Gadsden Times from October 29th, 1997. A well-meaning wet blanket did his research and found that the story of the face in the courthouse window was actually a cross between two different criminal accounts, neither being paranormal, or even slightly exciting. The window pane with the “face” imprinted onto it is just a warped piece of glass that was installed weeks after the subject of the tale, Henry Wells, confessed to burning the building and was killed in gunfire.
For all of the historically accurate legends that end with the soldiers still haunting the grounds of bloodshed, or the workers from the furnace that actually died on site and still haunt their locale of demise, these accounts may be 100% accurate. The strange footsteps, cold spots, or full-on apparitions may be exactly who the history books say they are. However, if the childhood game of ‘telephone’ taught us anything about the way our brains work, we know that our own information hubs cannot always be trusted. Here is an example of ‘telephone’ as played out in American history. “Cassette Girls,” sent to America to wed the French settlers and populate the new world with little French babies and carrying small luggage known as cassettes, are turned into “Casquette Girls,” another spelling and pronunciation of ‘cassette,’ and matures darker to become the “Casket Girls” that were on their way to the new world but saw mostly disease and devastation, with only a fraction of the girls alive upon arrival, the others arriving in caskets. From there, the story rolls on, so heavily muddled over the years until we get the macabre lore of the “Casket Girls,” the French undead vampire prostitutes. This story obviously takes an extreme jump, but that’s how the game goes. Our brains retain whatever information they want to keep, and we have no say in the matter. So in times of poor record keeping or heightened emotional states, our accounts of the truth are going to vary from person to person. As well-meaning as we humans are, we are all flawed.
But hey, don’t get all down on yourself, it’s a beautiful thing, this whole human experience. We are all in possession of this massive brainpower to turn letters into words, and words into sentences, to sprinkle in descriptions and pauses, create rhythm and crescendo, all to deliver a story to evoke a specific response: fear, excitement, anticipation, wonder, contentment, hope.
So open your ears on the upcoming eve of the saints and the haints, and really hear the stories being shared. View your surroundings from the eyes of the skeptic, or keep your heart light with excitement from the hopeful, because everything is a hoax and everything is real. So just have a good time, take care of each other, and make sure you come back with a good story.