50-19 – Ghost Stories

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​As skeptical and full of cynicism as I am, I still believe things. While it’s still in the mainstream, I don’t need to see G-d to know He exists, but I also believe in other spirits. I’ve seen them and felt them, and unexplained things are unexplained for a reason. Sometimes, it just is.

One of the reasons I never watched The X-Files or came so late to Supernatural and hated The Twilight Zone is how much of it I believe can be reality. The supernatural and unexplained aspects of shows like that, of seeing things in the corner of your eyes, of hearing things that others don’t – I could never accept it as fiction because I’m a believer in those spirits and happenings. Some of those types of stories are just too real. For me, there is no suspension of disbelief; my disbelief is already suspended and I clutch one hand to my armrest, and one over my eyes with barely separated fingers.

The first experience that I can recall was as a child visiting the Jenny Wade house in Gettysburg. Jenny Wade was the only civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg. A bullet propelled through her street facing closed door and hit her, killing her instantly while she was kneading bread. As a child, there was a mannequin of a soldier in the kitchen that told her story. They projected a talking face onto the mannequin that creeped me the fuck out. Even as a kid, I knew it wasn’t a ghost or ghostly figure, but it was still scary for me. The promotion of the house was that the walls could talk as the only eyewitness to the death.

I visited there again with my husband and later on with my kids when they were younger, and I remember a distinct feeling of not being alone in the cold cellar of the house. The simple act of opening the doors tilted and facing outside, and descending down the stone steps left a profound feeling.

Gettysburg is full of spirits, though. Out of all my encounters, three have taken place in Gettysburg or areas of the Civil War battles. I distinctly remember waking up to find a soldier in a Civil War era uniform standing at the edge of my hotel room bed. I still get shivers when I picture him; like now.

The third time, my husband took my son exploring some of the gravestones on the Battlefield while I stayed in the car with the two younger kids, and I could feel it all around me – the unrest.

I think of all the battles we’ve experienced as a country, the Civil War has the most unrest, the most restless, the most tragic spirits still roaming about.

Once, after college, I was driving my car and was stopped at a red light. I think I drifted off to sleep. My foot stayed on the brake and there was no one behind me to honk, but when the light turned green or just after, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It just nudged me and I was awake. I’m not sure, but it felt like my grandmother. She had recently died, and of course, no one was in the car with me.

In 2010, I kept a dream journal on post-it notes. I had been having odd dreams, and so I kept track of them at that time. I didn’t discover it until several years later, but one of those dreams was of my friend getting shot. When I looked at the date, it was exactly one year before he was actually shot by a mutual friend’s ex. That definitely gave me pause.

That mutual friend was murdered, and a few of us, some who knew her and some who didn’t, drank a variety of teas and wrote or journaled about them and/or our friend, B. There were five different varieties of tea that we were all sharing at different times and in different places, and I could definitely feel her presence during those tea drinking moments, and while journaling about them. She was very present for about a year after she died; maybe a bit longer than a year, but it was palpable, almost a tangible feeling of her spirit, encouraging me to taste the tea with all my senses and keep writing about the feelings. Her spiritual presence was one of the many influences on this blog coming together more consistently.

There have been others, including the moment that my belief in Jesus Christ came upon me in cliched and literal glowing white light and sudden understanding, but other than that the other moments were much less, just there nudging me forward, sometimes a comfort and sometimes a question, but my mind and my heart are both open to these and other encounters.

Vintage Supernatural

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One week ago, Supernatural (Episode 11.5) took the brothers to the site of the grisly 19th century murders of Andrew and Abby Borden, father and step-mother of Lizzie Borden. There is much controversy as to who murdered them in their home, the popular nursery rhyme sing-songing one theory:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
and gave her mother forty whacks,
when the job was finally done
gave her father forty one

Amazing what lurks in the childhood memories and recesses of our minds. It comes unbeckoned as if I were still jumping rope in the grassy courtyard where I grew up far, far away from the murder of her parents. Lizzie was put on trial and acquitted. She died of pneumonia in 1927. Her sister died nine days later. Despite having not seen each other in many years, they are buried side by side. There is a monument that marks Lizzie’s final resting place.

In her will, Lizzie left money to pay for the perpetual care of her father’s cemetery plot.

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Lizzie Borden

In viewing the previews for this episode, titled Thin Lizzie, they mention the family home in Fall River, Massachusetts, not all that far from where I live. I thought the Bed & Breakfast mentioned was a joke – was there really a place? One Google search and there it was. And before anyone asks, no, I have no desire or intention of visiting, no matter how close it is.

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Borden Family Home that is now a Bed & Breakfast & Tourist Attraction

Some things should be left, and this is one of them.

On the morning after the episode aired, the Washington Post had an article, Would you buy a murder house? I personally don’t know, and I hope I don’t find out. I certainly do believe that houses can have spiritual remnants of previous owners, not to mention other places where spirits dwell. I’ve had my own encounters, the most visceral being in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, both on the battlefield and in the Jennie Wade House, one of the places that is always on my to see list. I had gone as a child, and again while on vacation with my husband, and then went again while on vacation with my three children. There is something compelling about Jennie’s house and her story that calls to me. I’ve been searching for the last week to find the photos that I’ve taken at the house, both in the 70s with my family and again in 2008, I believe with my children. I have a memory in a darkened stone masoned cellar that you had to climb down into from the outside. I’m not sure why that flashed through my head as I’m writing this.

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The house where Jennie Wade was killed

The Jennie Wade House is located on a major road in Gettysburg; one that is extremely busy with traffic. It is in a tourist area, and directly across from a Rita’s Italian Ices Shop. My kids sat on the benches eating ices, and I watched the house, seemingly waiting for something to happen. Her death created the name of the landmark, although it is not actually Jennie’s house; it is her sister’s. Her sister had just had a baby, and Jennie and their mother came to help her. Jennie was baking bread, kneading the dough in the kitchen that adjoined the street. A stray bullet came through the front door, lodging in Jennie’s back, severing her spine and killing her.

She is the only civilian casualty in the city during the Battle of Gettysburg.

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Jennie Wade

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always felt a presence in this house. Despite the obvious, poor special effects in the kitchen that give the soldier mannequin his face as he narrates the story of that fateful day, there is still something powerful in the “talking walls”. His projected face scared me beyond belief as an adolescent, and I still had that creepy vibe when I went there as an adult. I know much of the sounds and creaks were theatrics, but you couldn’t help but feel something in this house and that some of those “theatrics” weren’t all faked.

In the preview and then last week’s episode, Supernatural showed some artifacts from the house. I don’t know if they were really artifacts of the Borden murders or props made to look like the actual items, but the photo of Lizzie reminded me both of Jennie Wade and Laura Ingalls; possibly because of the camera techniques of the 19th century, the black and white, head and shoulders, the pose, the lace collars and pinned hair. It led me down a rabbit hole of googling and reading various accounts from both times of both of their lives, Lizzie and Jennie. They couldn’t have been more different, and I wondered at what point childhood me decided to devote so much of my time to Jennie rather than the nursery rhyme. Maybe I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of killing my parents. For a variety of reasons, I would never, but still why was I compelled to ignore her? I almost skipped the episode because the subject matter bothered me. I still wonder why I was never interested in Lizzie’s story – did I think she was guilty? I don’t know. I was much more compelled to the story of poor Jennie, baking bread for the soldiers. Her fiance was killed hours before she was. Neither of them knew the fate of the other.

I do love a good mystery, but I think I might need to not only have compelling characters, but also ones that are easier to feel compassion for, to put myself in their shoes, and I suppose, no, as I’ve said, I know that I could much more easily do that with Jennie Wade.

The Beauty of Touch

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I love when inspiration hits; a memory of something good; a phrase that sets my mind wandering and that happened in a wonderful way at today’s Mass.

Today was the Feast Day of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Thomas needed to see that Jesus had risen from the dead before he would believe it. It wasn’t because he didn’t trust his friends or Jesus’ word, but Thomas needed to touch him. How many of us does he represent?

When the priest described Thomas as touchy-feely and gave an example from his own life; of his three year old self touching a hot oven after his mother warned him not to, so many things in my mind came flooding to the front. We all have those moments.

This touchy-feely part of the sermon clicked and immediately I thought of my first trip to England and my visit to Warwick Castle.

I am a Doubting Thomas.

If you tell me the water’s too hot, I must put a finger under the tap. I like to open cabinets and the drawers in the refrigerator, and in a museum, I am an absolute horror to bring along. If it doesn’t specifically say in big bold letters DO NOT TOUCH, it’s a safe bet that I will touch it. Granted, I have not ever climbed up onto a Revolutionary era cannon at The Smithsonian as I saw one young child do, but I have my other mo
I’ve slid my fingers along the woven edges of medieval tapestries at The Cloisters. If I’m in an art museum with a roped off masterpiece, I must run a finger along the velvet rope that keeps me from the painting itself.

I’ve touched the fire truck at The State Museum.

When I was visiting my close friends, often a touch on my shoulder relieved any anxiety that had been rising, a hand grabbed and squeezed in friendship elicited a smile, fingers brushing as a cup of tea was passed was a small hug.

Most recently In Wales, the only thing that kept me from rocking and weeping during the flight was my hand on my pocket frog, the cool Lucite against my palm, my thumb rubbing the same spot over and over again. I also liked to rest my hand against the cold stone of thousands years old castles and brickworks and abbey walls.

Touch is the most soothing thing when it’s wanted or when you least expect that you wanted it. I feel this at daily mass every day during the peace part of Mass. I’m a little lost when there is no one around me to shake my hand. That simple touch sets my whole day on a positive note.¬

In Warwick, though, we were able to take a tour of the castle, and we eventually came to a room with a large, stunning chest. We were told that this tower (known as the Ghost Tower) was known to have the ghost of Sir Faulk Greville who was murdered by his servant, and we should listen for it. I think we all chuckled nervously.

The chest was next to a locked door and yes, I turned the old knob. The door didn’t budge in case you were wondering.

As the tour group was heading into the next room, I touched the top of the carved chest. I looked around and tried to lift the lid.

It opened!

It opened quite easily. I was just about to peek inside when a voice began to speak. I jumped at least ten feet, dropping the lid that fell noisily into its original closed place. I looked around the empty room and ran out after the tour group as fast as I could catch up.

When I met up with them, I realized that it was the tour guide on the other side of the door speaking at the exact moment I lifted the lid. Not quite the ghost I had just started believing in.

Touchy-feely is one of the more adventurous and a most beautiful part of human nature.