Campfire Tales

Welcome to Freaky Friday!  Today, we’re going to have a virtual ghost story telling session.

There’s something about spooky stories.  Not everybody likes hearing them.   If you’ve been reading this blog very long, you know I love a good ghost story or even a good old unexplained mystery.  Today, I’d like to try to create a sort of virtual ghost story circle.  I’ll tell a few spooky stories.  In the comments section, you tell your weird tales.

Mark Twain’s Premonition

There’s a great story about Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) having a premonition of his brother’s death.  The year was 1858, and Clemens was piloting the steamboat Pennsylvania.

Samuel L. Clemens
Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens dreamed that he saw his brother Henry laid out in a metal coffin that rested on two chairs.  The dream was vivid, and Clemens even noticed a bouquet of white flowers and a single red flower placed on Henry’s chest.  Clemens even thought—in dream-think—that his family could have never afforded a metal coffin and wondered how and why they’d bought one.

Upon waking, Clemens thought he needed to go into the next room and view his brother but didn’t want to see his mother in a state of grief.  As his brain woke up, Clemens realized his brother’s death had been a dream.

The Steamboat Pennsylvania

Later that year, Clemens would leave the Pennsylvania over differences with its pilot, William Brown (which he discusses in his memoir Life on the Mississippi).  Before leaving, Clemens secured a position on the Pennsylvania for his brother, Henry, as Mud Clerk—or all around worker.  Yes, the same Henry from Sam Clemens’s vivid death dream.

Clemens left the Pennsylvania on June 5, 1858.  Just eight days later, on June 13th, the boiler of the Pennsylvania exploded.  I’ve read documentation of death toll figures as low as 150 and as high as 250.  Henry Clemens survived the day but his injuries were so severe that he died eight days later on June 21st.

Henry Clemens Death Scene
from Sunday Magazine
March 29, 1908

When Samuel L. Clemens (or Mark Twain) saw his brothers body laid out, it was in a metal coffin.  Henry Clemens’s lady admirers had taken up a collection and bought the metal coffin for him.

As Samuel Clemens stood with his brother’s remains, an elderly lady approached the coffin and placed a bouquet of white flowers in the coffin with Henry and a single red flower on his chest.  Don’t you know Samuel Clemens almost fainted?

Henry Clemens

Darryl Hannah and the Disappearing House

It may seem silly, but I live for stories like this.  One of my favorite shows on TV—which I watch alone because my husband dislikes it—is Celebrity Ghost Stories.

Yes, some of the stories hit me as complete fabrications.  Others, though, stick with me.  They may not be all true, but there’s something there.

One of these is from Daryl Hannah. As a little girl, she suffered from emotional problems and quit communicating with the outside world.  Her parents were divorced, and her mother took her to Jamaica to live.

Young Daryl explored the beach alone.  She found a path which led to a secluded house surrounded by a beautiful garden.  At this house lived a Jamaican woman who began teaching Daryl about all the wonderful plants in her garden.

When Daryl told her mother about the lady and her garden, Daryl’s mother wanted to meet this stranger with whom her daughter was so taken.  Daryl took her mother to the lady’s house, and all they found was a vacant lot.  Daryl’s mother was scared and perplexed.  She was reluctant to let her daughter out of the house alone again.

When she was allowed, Daryl went looking for the house alone…and it was there.  She continued her friendship with the woman for the rest of her residence in Jamaica and didn’t mention it to her mother again.

Later, when Daryl and her mother returned to Chicago, Daryl’s knowledge of herbs and vegetables convinced her mother that Daryl’s story about the lady with the garden had some kind of truth to it.

What I like about Celebrity Ghost Stories is that the stories—no matter how outlandish—have the feel of a bunch of adults sitting around a crackling fire trying to freak each other out.  Again, I’ll concede this is not something fun or interesting to everybody out there.  But is fun and interesting to me.

So, without further ado, I’ll tell two personal spooky stories.

My Papaw’s House

I have a cousin who is two years my senior.  Neither of us has a sister, so we are like sisters to each other.  We don’t get to visit often since we live eight hours apart.  But, when we do visit, we tell ghost stories until we have scared each other thoroughly.

Her best ghost story takes place in the house where our grandfather died.   The thing to understand about this place is that it sits on seven secluded acres.  It’s not in the middle of a busy neighborhood, and there aren’t people coming and going all the time.

My cousin lived this house for several years when she was a young woman.  She used to hear Papaw call her name.  She said it sounded like he was about to say, “Will you get me a glass of water?”  That was creepy enough.

My Papaw and Mamaw

The creepiest of the creepies came when my cousin and a friend were watching TV in the formal living room.  A shadow moved across the wall.  My cousin thought it might be her brother coming home.  She got up to unlock the door for him and realized nobody had come home.

She and her friend tried to figure out where the shadow had come from, but they never did.  The more my cousin thought about it, the shadow hadn’t looked like the shadow of a car driving up the driveway.  It had looked like a person walking across the room.  My cousin said she felt Papaw’s presence very strongly that day.

Catie and the Ghost of 541 Bourbon

My husband I used to vacation in New Orleans often.  There was something about the city that sucked us in.  The mixture of past and present and good food and spooky alleyways appealed to us.  We usually stayed at 541 Bourbon Street (because we could afford it).

 This modern hotel sits on the site of the old French Opera House.  The only leftover from the old Opera House is where the sidewalk narrows, making a spot for the drivers of horse drawn carriages to pull in next to the building and not block Bourbon Street.

One year, we got a room on the third floor.  It was on the end of the building, and it had its own balcony.  We loved the room, but I was soooo cold.  We couldn’t get that room warm.

At night, banging noises kept me awake.  They sounded like a door—within our hotel room—opening and closing.  But there wasn’t a door opening and closing in our room.

Finally, on the last night we stayed, I woke up to something grabbing my arm through the covers and giving me a good, hard shake.

I thought it was my husband—maybe some drunk on Bourbon street was putting on a good show.  As I slowly became aware of my surroundings, I realized my husband was in bed next to me snoring away.  But something was standing beside the bed, leaning over me, trying to get my attention.

It wore a mask, like something you might see during Mardi Gras.  (This was not Mardi Gras; it was October.)  As I watched, this thing would lean over the bed and throw its hands up.  After it happened a few times, I decided I was dreaming, seeing a ghost, or both.  I pulled the covers over my head and tried to ignore it.

The next day, as we were leaving, my husband said he was glad to get out of that room.  He’d been cold, too.  And he said he couldn’t sleep.  Something—he couldn’t quite say what—kept waking him up.


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