This is How Ghost Stories Get Started

For this tale, I changed almost all of the specific details, including names and places, in order preserve the magic of a small town’s ghost story.

Dad taught high school for about four decades before he retired. During this time he also worked a second and sometimes third job on evenings, weekends, and summers.  Spread over four decades, the jobs included: ambulance driver, chimney sweep, youth counselor, and seasonal law enforcement for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). 

For this story, my family lived near a Central Pennsylvania farming town I shall call “Random Woods.”

Dad taught at Random Woods High School. He also held a part-time law enforcement job patrolling for illegal spot-lighters (poachers – you know, illegal hunters) in the woods outside the town. Now, dad worked many nighttime shifts. For these shifts, he often parked his patrol car in this little gap between the edge of the woods and Random Woods’ Civil War-era cemetery.

Then he shut off the car lights and sat for hours in the dark.

Whenever the topic of ghosts comes up, Dad says that he doesn’t see things that he can’t explain. One time he saw a glowing red disk in his mother’s backyard – which turned out to be a glow in the dark frisbee.

His countless nights spent next to a cemetery didn’t scare him. Ghosts did not matter. Physical, living humans mattered. In his job enforcing hunting regulations, just about every person that Dad approached also carried a gun.

So, on the night of this “ghost story,” Dad worked his law enforcement shift. He parked in his usual spot between the woods and the cemetery.

He sat for hours in the dark.

Crack!

He heard a noise.

He jumped in his seat and as a reflex he hit the patrol car’s headlights switch.

He saw a figure in the cemetery.

The figure crossed the cemetery, and then disappeared.

Dad thought all weekend about the “apparition” in the Random Woods cemetery.

Why did he see a figure appear and vanish in the cemetery late at night? A figure that did not present itself as being an illegal hunter?

Dad walked into Random Woods’ only grocery store a few days later.

He ran into his former student, Kurt.

My dad and Kurt chit-chatted.

Then Kurt said, “Mr. G, the graveyard is haunted!”

Dad said, “Really, Kurt? Haunted?”

Kurt said, “Yeah! I spent Friday night at my girlfriend’s house. On the way home, I cut through the graveyard. All of a sudden a huge glowing light shined on me. Oh my god, Mr. G., I hauled ass out of there!”

And that’s how my dad became a ghost story.

 

I Share a Birthday with Lizzie Borden: An American Hauntings Zoom Recap

Today is an anniversary: on August 4, 1892, Andrew Jackson Borden and his second wife, Abby, were murdered in Fall River, Massachusetts. Andrew Borden’s daughter from his first marriage, Lizzie Andrew Borden (NOT Elizabeth), was eventually charged, tried, and acquitted for the murders. Nobody was ever convicted of the murders.

(Fun fact: Andrew Jackson Borden was born in 1822. Andrew Jackson the POTUS won the Battle of New Orleans in 1812 and he was elected as POTUS in 1828.)

I learned just within the past year or so that Lizzie Borden and I share a birthday: July 19. So that’s special. I read Troy Taylor’s book on the subject, One August Morning. I now believe that Lizzie Borden did NOT commit the murders.

I discovered Troy Taylor in 2017. At the time, I was unhappy and stressed out about my job. I had an hour long commute each way, mostly by bus. Podcasts made my commute – and my work life – bearable. In 2017, I went on a search for new podcasts about the paranormal, specifically related to American history. I discovered Season #1 of American Hauntings, hosted by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck.

American Hauntings the podcast didn’t include advertisements for anything except for other American Hauntings products and services. Troy plugged the tickets for his in-person experiences, books that he wrote, and podcast merch.

The “Evening with” dinners that Troy promoted intrigued me. The approximately $50 per person ticket price for these included a catered meal at the Mysterious Mineral Springs Hotel in Alton, Illinois, followed by a live lecture given by Troy on that night’s topic. However, I live outside of Pittsburgh, so I don’t think that I will ever make it to Alton for an in-person “Evening with” dinner.

Then, in March 2020, most of the governors of blue states shut down everything fun. This included the in-person American Hauntings tours, ghost hunts, and in-person “Evening with” dinners. Troy posted Facebook Q&A livestreams on his Troy Taylor Facebook page. He added a virtual tip jar.

Then Troy scheduled several of his most popular “Evening with” dinner talks as Zoom lectures. I could pay $13 to receive a log-on link to a livestream talk over Zoom.

As of today, August, 4, 2020, I have attended four of Troy’s special Zoom livestreams. Here are the topics of these lectures: Bell Witch, American Spiritualism, St. Louis Exorcism, and – Lizzie Borden!

Troy held the Lizzie Borden Zoom lecture last weekend to commemorate the upcoming anniversary of the Borden murders. At this lecture, I drank a Happy Birthday toast to Lizzie.

For each Zoom experience, Troy gave the full length talk that he gave at each in-person “Evening with” dinner in Alton. Troy sat in his spooky-looking American Hauntings office. I saw in the background lighted candles, the books that Troy wrote, and fake (I hope!) skulls. He shared his computer screen, onto which he pulled up photos of the people and places mentioned in his presentation. His partner, Lisa Taylor Horton, handled the requests for technical assistance. Lisa also moderated the Q&A sessions at the end of each Zoom presentation.

The Zoom participants all had the option of shutting off their own computer’s camera or leaving it on. So, when I participated in these talks, I saw some of the other participants. In last weekend’s “Lizzie Borden” presentation, the audience consisted of roughly 60 women and one man.

My husband, Jonathan, did not view the lecture with me. (Jonathan DID listen to the Bell Witch livestream with me!) He teased me when I told him that the attendees included only one man. He said, “Well, are you surprised?”

I’m sorry that Covid-19 happened. I’m happy that I finally get to experience Troy Taylor’s live lectures. I’m glad that he laid out the case for why he believes that Lizzie Borden didn’t kill her family members. I can’t wait for Troy Taylor’s next livestreams this summer and fall.

(By the way, I learned from the American Hauntings podcast that Troy moved his in-person dinners from the Mysterious Mineral Springs Hotel to another venue in Alton due to social distancing requirements. So, I am not missing out on a dinner at this spooky landmark.)

Thoughts on Selling Crappy Jewelry to Fight Pre-Marital Sex

So, before I moved to Pittsburgh so that I could take a job with my current employer in downtown Pittsburgh, I worked for an insurance-related firm in downtown Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

The Johnstown employer had its main office on the second floor of an office building that was connected to a crumbling parking garage on this same floor. A year after I left the job, the parking garage was condemned. However, when I still worked for the company, “anybody” could access our floor from that same level of the parking garage.

My employer’s office was in a U-shape. So, you could enter the lobby and talk to the receptionist. You could walk around our entire office in a U shape, and then exit the office through a back door that was very close to the front door.

For most of my three years at this employer, I sat at a cubicle with my back to this back door. This is important to the story.

I did not choose this cubicle. The cubicle was assigned to me.

This back door had a lock on it. Theoretically, one could exit the office through this back door, but the lock was supposed to prevent people from entering the office through this back door.

Theoretically.

My co-workers, when they felt like being jerks, propped this back door open so that they did not have to participate in unnecessary walking in order to enter the office through the main door and the main lobby where the receptionist sat.

Whenever I or the other woman who sat back there un-propped the door (for our own safety), other people in our office complained. Then, they propped the door open again.

Now, keep in mind, I sat with my back to this door.

Late one afternoon when I was the only person sitting in this back section of our office, a random guy in his twenties entered our office through this propped-open back door.

This random guy identified himself as a man who took a gap year from college or something so that he could travel the country in order to educate the public on the “dangers of premarital sex.” I think that he told me that he was doing this for Christ or something.

He told me that he was selling jewelry in order to fund his travels. Would I like to buy some crappy jewelry?

Fortunately, at that moment, my employer’s comptroller showed up. She escorted him off of my employer’s premises. I didn’t have to see him again.

I’m all for Christ. I think that Christ is awesome. (Pardon the pun.) I spent four years at a Roman Catholic Liberal Arts college.

However, anybody who has the cojones to just invite themselves into other people’s back offices like this in order to sell crappy jewelry is NOT a good public relations person for Christ.

Happy Friday, y’all.

If You’re Going to Sing for Your Supper on Facebook, then Train Your Cat to Perform as Well

Here is a photo of my own cat walking on a porch roof.

. . . or, if you don’t have a cat around, get a dog or a small child to ham it up on camera for you.

I mean it. I have watched virtual Facebook ghost tours by tour guides from two different businesses in two different cities, presented inside the tour guides’ houses, in which their cats crashed the presentations.

During a third tour guide’s virtual ghost tour, his adult daughter and young grandchild showed up in the middle of the tour to say hello.

Guess what? I virtually tipped all three of these guides.

One of these guides, Chris Staudinger from Pretty Gritty Tours in Tacoma, begged his cat to “earn her keep.” So of course I tipped. How could I deprive his furry friend of her catnip?

I blogged here about a bunch of the virtual spooky tours that I watched lately. I just remembered the cat thing this evening.

I think that the cat appearances started innocently for each of these guides. The cats showed up and realized that their humans paid more attention to the cameras than to them. The cats had to fix this by jumping on their humans. Then, then Facebook comments for each livestream veered from the topic of ghosts to multiple questions about the cats. So, these cats appeared in future home-based virtual tours.

Can’t say that I blame them. My cat is one of the few living, breathing things that I don’t social distance with these days.

In addition to showing off his cat, Staudinger does jump scares in his virtual ghost tours. He warns his audience at the beginning of each tour. Then, about ten or twenty minutes later, he shows a photo of a dark room. He tells his audience to focus on one of the corners so that they can “see the ghost.”

Then . . . well, you were warned.

Fat People Are Not Expendable

It bothers me that the news media constantly posts stories about people who died young of Covid-19 in order to scare people into behaving.

However, it also bothers me that almost all of these stories include social media comments to the effect of, “Well, OF COURSE s/he died! S/he was fat!”

I’m touchy about my weight, and I’ve been fat shamed ever since I developed breasts when I was twelve years old. I know that I need to exercise more and drink less alcohol and eat less sugar. I am working on this.

I’ve understood since March that if I die of Covid-19 and my photo gets published in the paper, at least one person will say or think, “Well, of course she died! She was fat.”

Let’s look beyond the fact that I fail morally, and that I “deserve” to be unhealthy. Let’s look beyond the fact that my mom died less than two years ago, so I like to flatter myself that my skinny siblings will be sad if I die as well.

The thing is, I have been at my employer for a while now. I know how to do things at work that other people on my team don’t know how to do. Or, the people who also know how to do these things just don’t have the time to do them. So, if I died, we are going to have a lot of frustrated customers who don’t understand why it takes longer for them to receive replies on things (if they receive the replies at all).

I bet that a lot of companies depend on the skills and institutional knowledge of people like me. I bet that a lot of you out there depend – for your comfort and your standard of living – on “fat” people who step up and provide services for you.

If you take every single person for which it could be said, “Of COURSE s/he died! S/he had (insert) condition!” and then you give them all Covid-19 and then they all die, our society is going to be screwed. We “unhealthy” people are not expendable if you want the American economy to continue to function the way that it does.

You don’t even have to like us as people.

I’m probably going to delete this post in a few hours, so enjoy it now!

Two Truths and a Lie

So, my manager at work has instructed her team that tomorrow we will play “Two Truths and a Lie” as part of a virtual team-building exercise. We will all need to log into our meeting prepared to play this game. That is, we all need to provide two things about us that are true and one thing about us that isn’t true. Our co-workers will need to guess the thing about us that isn’t true. If they guess correctly, then they win.

I’m brainstorming right now for this game. If any of my co-workers are reading this blog now prior to tomorrow’s meeting, then congratulations. You win.

Here is a bunch of stuff about me that is actually true:

I am the oldest of my parents’ five daughters.

I have a sister who is almost 22 years younger than I am.

I have an ancestor that was an American officer during the Revolutionary War.

My parents lived at their house in Somerset County for several decades before my dad realized that this ancestor from the American Revolution was actually buried only a few miles down the road from their house.

I have a great-grandfather that was a German soldier during World War I.

I have a great-grandfather that was a U.S. soldier during World War I.

My great-grandfather that was a U.S. soldier during World War I spoke German fluently because his family was German American. This great-grandfather was taken as a POW by the Germans. He overheard his German captors discussing in German their plans to shoot him. He protested this in German. His captors didn’t shoot him.

When I was a kid, my parents heated their house each Pennsylvania winter with a wood-burning furnace. My dad went to the top of a mountain each summer to cut our winter supply of firewood.

My dad kept me out of his woodshed by telling me that it was full of rattlesnakes.

My high school senior class trip consisted of a tour of a potato chip factory. (My high school sat down the street from the Snyder of Berlin potato chip factory in Somerset County. The entire senior class walked from our high school to the factory. We toured the factory. A bunch of my classmates waved to their relatives who worked at the factory. After the tour ended, we walked back to our high school. This was our entire “class trip.”)

My dad took me deer hunting, and I shot a doe on the first day of doe season when I was 17 years old.

I was in my mid-20’s the first time that I ever flew on an airplane.

I worked for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission one summer when I was in college. I got to visit abandoned tunnels that the Turnpike Commission now uses to store salt. I also got to paint parking spaces at a service plaza. I got to watch motorists drive across wet paint. I secured the job by writing a letter to Congressman John Murtha’s office.

My grandfather allegedly rode down the Pennsylvania Turnpike (uninvited) on his motorcycle before the turnpike had actually opened to the public.

The summer before my senior year of high school, I attended “Keystone Girls State,” a week-long program about politics for Pennyslvania high school girls hosted by the American Legion Ladies’ Auxillary. On the last night of the program, we had a banquet. A bunch of people left the banquet early to go watch live television footage of police chasing O.J. Simpson down an L.A. highway in his white Bronco. A little over a year later, I went to college. A bunch of my fellow college freshman skipped our mandatory seminar about alcohol abuse so that they could watch live coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial verdict. Other people wore headphones to the alcohol lecture and listened to the verdict on the radio. Someone stood up in the middle of the lecture and announced the verdict. The college’s dean stopped the alcohol presentation and repeated the verdict over the podium microphone.

I think that I have enough material to play “Two Truths and a Lie.”

Jonathan’s New Desk

Here is the blog post that my husband Jonathan wrote about the new desk that he built for himself.

Jonathan set up a new work area for himself because we have both been working from home since February / March. (Jonathan’s employer instructed him to start working from home in late February. My employer told me on Friday, March 13 to only come in to work every third day. My first day on this new schedule was Monday, March 16. A few hours after I reported to work on March 16, I received instructions that I was to start working from home full time effective immediately. Jonathan and I both take public transit to Pittsburgh. Jonathan has his own office at work. However, I work in a cubicle in an “open office.” Don’t even get me started about the “open office” concept!)

So, now Jonathan has a brand new desk to use in our living room. I have use of two desks that we already owned, including a desk that my mom and I picked out together at a furniture store on my 16th birthday. As I mentioned in the previous post, we both have “new” chairs. So, we’re all set to continue working from home together!

“Man Proposes, God Disposes”

“Man Proposes, God Disposes” by Edwin Landseer, 1864

I didn’t take any art history classes in college. So, maybe my post is about something that everyone who actually took art history learned in Art History 101.

But now I kinda want to learn more about art history.

This image is of an 1864 painting titled Man Proposes, God Disposes by the British artist Edwin Landseer. (I found this image on Wikipedia. Wikipedia advised that this image is in the Public Domain. I’m thinking of just starting a blog titled Things that I Learned from Wikipedia.)

This is a painting of two polar bears eating human remains in the ruins of a ship. You can see the bloody sails and the mast. The polar bear on the right stands over a ribcage.

Man Proposes, God Disposes was Landseer’s interpretation of what happened to the British explorer Sir John Franklin’s 1845 trip to the Arctic. You can read all about it on Wikipedia.

I learned about the painting today on the podcast Haunted Places from Parcast by Cutler Media. If you listen to this podcast on Spotify, you get to learn about a haunted place every Thursday AND you also get to learn about an urban legend every Tuesday. Today’s urban legend was about this painting.

This painting graces a wall at Royal Holloway, University of London. And the painting is HAUNTED, guys. Haunted. The painting is so haunted that the university covers it with a Union Jack when students are taking exams in the same room.

By coincidence, I listened to the podcast about this haunted polar bear painting RIGHT AFTER I listened to a completely different podcast about a real, 21st century guy who lived among grizzly bears every summer for a decade until one of the grizzlies ate the guy. We know the fate of the grizzly bear guy because a pilot flew over and saw a grizzly standing over a ribcage.

I wish that my mother-in-law, Fran, were still with us so that I could tell her all of these stories about bears. Fran loved bears – in theory. The local news reported that a black bear visited homes in the neighborhood next to Fran’s. Fran said, “Everybody gets a bear except me.”

(For the record, I pray that I NEVER see a bear in the wild. I will be perfectly okay if everybody gets a bear except me.)

So what?

Well, this whole global pandemic reminded me YET AGAIN that we’re not in charge. And I didn’t actually need ANY reminder that I’m not in charge.

So, it comforts me to read that the British Empire wasn’t actually in charge in 1845 when Sir John Franklin may or may not have gotten eaten by polar bears.