“They are the size of my clothes. (meaning ‘have the appearance of’) They are white, but you can see through them. They are people. They walk out of my closet and go down the hall and down the stairs. If the closet door is closed, they can even go through a teeny-tiny hole. I can see them at night and at my nap, but you can see through them better at nap-time because it is lighter.”
No one had ever told me about ghosts. I had never even so much as watched a Casper cartoon.
When I was maybe nine or ten, I regularly saw a tiny blue light gliding down the length of the narrow space between my mattress and the bed frame my dad had built. The light didn’t frighten me. Mostly, I was frustrated that I couldn’t see it well enough to identify it. (A budding naturalist, I was eager to document the find in my field notes.) I usually saw the pale glow out of the corner of my eye, but when I shifted for a better view, the shimmer would vanish.
Around the same time, my friend Nikki and I discovered a haunted chicken coop. The tiny shamble of a structure was nestled at the edge of the woods near my grandmother’s house. One of us (I can’t recall who) saw something pale, slender, and transparent undulate up through the rotted floorboards and past the thick layer of decomposing leaves and other detritus. After that, we stayed well clear lest we arouse the ire of some long-dead hen.
I was an imaginative child, but I was not given to fabricating scary stories. Horror has never been my genre of choice. Back then, I preferred woodland fantasies with talking animals, the fictional memoirs of brave and earnest girls, and the stories of classic British bears like Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington. If I were going to invent a ghost, it would have been something far more charming and romantic than spectral fowl.
My childhood included other “ghosts” that turned out to be anything but supernatural. For months my entire family was plagued by an eerie moaning that routinely emanated from a small room (barely a closet, really) off my parents’ bedroom. On windy evenings, this unearthly and sonorous sighing reverberated around the house, causing my father to investigate the room’s corners, searching for the source. In the end, our singing specter turned out to be nothing more than a bit of telephone line that rubbed against a tree bough on its way from the house to the utility pole.
Our little town has its share of better-known ghosts. Friends have shared first-hand accounts of otherworldly experiences at the mansion at Turner Hill, the 1640 Hart House, the Crane estate, and even our public library. I recently read that the Ipswich Light Company is reputed to be haunted by a Mr. Finch, deceased some one hundred years. I was also intrigued to learn about the potentially haunted “witches circle” at Dow Park – a ring of trees only a few minute’s walk from where I grew up at the top of Spring Street.
At this time of year, stories of strange apparitions and phantoms abound. On All Hallow’s Eve, when the veil between this world and the next is drawn aside, you may catch a glimpse of the local celebrity spirits. Or perhaps you’ll encounter a more personal ghost – an unexplained shadow, sound, or constantly disappearing set of car keys.
Or maybe your ghost will be one of the more pedestrian varieties – youthful dreams, old flames, lost opportunities. Though these shades can provoke both fear and sorrow, they also offer the gifts of inspiration, remembrance, and perspective. Less sensational than floating specters or whispers in the dark, they are most definitely more useful.
All images from my Instagram feed.
This piece was originally published in the Ipswich Chronicle as part of my bi-weekly column.