Ghosts in all their forms have been haunting us mortals since the first caveman spotted St. Elmo’s fire. Haunted houses, old hotels, abandoned warehouses, creepy cemeteries, even a covered bridge in Vermont all have their unique resident spirits.
Some campgrounds have their own resident specter that claims a particular area, as a camper found out in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Late one night while sitting by his campfire, he saw a naked, gray, manlike creature with backward legs several yards away in the woods. He shined his light in the creature’s direction, whereupon it disappeared into the trees. A year later, the man camped in the same campsite, and about 2 o’clock in the morning, the creature reappeared. He seemed to study the man for a few moments, and then when the man tried to approach him, again disappeared.
Many ghost stories involve dark woods and people who don’t quite fit in. Like the tale of the wizened old woman, believed to be a witch and called Bloody Mary by the locals. She lived deep in the woods near a village where little girls had started to go missing. As more girls disappeared, the witch seemed to become younger and more attractive.
Then one night the miller’s daughter, apparently sleepwalking, arose from her bed and started into the woods, her desperate parents unable to restrain her. An unearthly light appeared, and from within they saw Bloody Mary beckoning the girl. One of the villagers who had come to help raised his gun and shot the witch, whereupon the locals descended upon her, dragged her off, and built a huge bonfire where they burned her at the stake.
As she burned, the old crone screamed a curse at the villagers, that if anyone mentioned her name aloud before a mirror, she would send her vengeful spirit to rip the soul from their body and forever trap it in the mirror.
Blackbeard the Pirate
Other tales of the supernatural revolve around incidents of violent death, like that of Blackbeard the pirate. In a bloody battle between Edward Teach (the real name of the notorious pirate) and two sloops of the Royal Navy at “Teach’s Hole” – his hideout on Oracoke Island off the coast of South Carolina – it took five gunshots and 20 saber wounds to fell the formidable pirate. The victors cut off his head, hung it from the bowsprit, and threw the body overboard. As the body hit the water, the disembodied head shouted: “Come on, Edward,” and the headless body swam three times around the ship before sinking out of sight.
Blackbeard’s ghost still haunts Teach’s Hole, searching for his missing head. Sometimes, the headless ghost floats on the surface of the water, or swims around and around and around, glowing just beneath the surface. The strange light sometimes seen coming from the island has been called “Teach’s light,” and on nights when the ghost light appears, you can hear Blackbeard’s ghost roaring, “Where’s my head?”
The most common ghost stories involve haunted buildings where the resident ghost(s) originally met their demise – often violently at the hands of others – and are trapped in the netherworld of spirits and the undead.
Seaports and historic Old Towns are popular living quarters for ghosts and ghouls, often those of gnarly sea captains and conscripted sailors who disappeared at sea and were never heard from again. On a lantern-lit stroll down the narrow, darkened alleys of historic Newport, R.I., your guide will tell of legends and ghosts that inhabit old buildings, creaking wharves and the Colonial graveyard with gravestones dating from 1672.
Some places have more ghosts than others. Southern cities like New Orleans and Savannah seem to have a large share of ghosts. Charleston, S.C., claims more than 18 identifiable spirits, including the ghost of Lavinia Fisher who, with her husband, ran a boardinghouse outside Charleston. Whenever a solo boarder showed up, they murdered him in his sleep and stole his belongings. When finally caught, Lavinia went to her hanging in her wedding dress, and has since been seen at various places around the city, including her last residence – the Old Jailhouse.
Ghosts do not just inhabit the usual scary places, like haunted houses and cemeteries. Just across the Niagara River from Youngstown, N.Y., in Ontario, Canada, at Niagara-On-The-Lake, you can tour haunted Fort George, where some of the bloodiest fighting in the War of 1812 took place. Fort George is crawling with phantoms and apparitions who seem to lurk in the menacing shadows of the dark old fort.
Interest in ghosts, legends and folklore in this country has never been higher, as evidenced by the number of organized ghost walks that are offered not only in major cities, but also in smaller towns, like the small Mississippi River town of Alton, Ill. Sometimes called “One of the Most Haunted Small Towns in America,” Alton visitors, according to Troy Taylor who wrote the book, Haunted Alton, “can journey from this world to the next and uncover eerie folklore, ghostly tales and documented haunted spots – along with a dark history of death, war, murder and strange deeds that has long plagued the region!”
As RVers, we are fortunate to be able to travel to and camp at many different locations, enabling us to visit the area’s ghosts and take local ghost walks. It is a way to learn about the culture, history and legends of an area and have fun doing it. One of the best parts of a ghost walk is the people who lead the walks. Most are knowledgeable about local history and culture, and at the same time are quite entertaining actors, who bring old folktales to life. These walks are not like the created Halloween haunted houses where people leap out at you in frightening costumes, trying to scare you.
Wondering about some of the ghostly anecdotes, I went up to my grandmother’s room to see whether she believed in ghosts. She will be 128 next month. Her light was out, but I could vaguely see the pale glow of her rocking back and forth in her rocking chair. She stared at me a few moments, and then slowly floated out the window, fading away like a vapor without answering. Or maybe that was the answer.
Walking in the Shadows
To find ghost walks wherever you camp, check with the local chamber of commerce or tourism bureau (some even have discount tickets), or go online and search “ghost walks” and your location. As every ghost hunt will not be successful, veteran hunters suggest trying again during unusual weather, such as lightning storms, or at a darker phase of the moon. Good luck, and may the spirits be with you.