Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ghost Stories

Until we sell our house in Houston, our entertainment budget in Fort Worth is a bit scant.  Luckily, when we tire of board games and Netflix, we are easily entertained by free museums, theaters with great matinee prices, and drives down country roads.  As far as the drives go, Joy is enamored with bluebonnets, which are plentiful this time of year, and I am on the lookout for cemeteries and ghost towns.  It seems that every community has its own folklore about hauntings and spooky supernatural occurrences, and although I consider myself to be an open-minded skeptic, those ghost stories are still fascinating to me.  

Thus, when we made the move to Fort Worth, I was given a book all about the area's haunted locales, and when a friend came to visit on Friday, we decided to check out a couple of spots the author highlighted.  The first was Carter, Texas, a town that doesn't exist anymore except for some historical markers, an old church building, and an open-air, tin-roofed gathering area the author calls a "tabernacle".  According to the book, the ghosts of a couple of children supposedly still played in the area, but we discovered something that the author neglected to publicize.  At one end of the tabernacle stood an ancient piano, the victim of weather and neglect.

Ghost town piano detail
An old ghost town piano

Of course, I tried to play a few tunes on the decrepit instrument, and of course, they sounded creepily dissonant.  Although we didn't hear any ghostly children, we did hear sounds of living children and livestock from nearby farms.  It was easy to imagine how such noises, made ethereal by distance and intervening vegetation, could seem like spectral entities on a dark, quiet night in what remains of Carter.  But the fact that the author didn't mention the old piano surprised me.  It's not like anyone would travel miles out of the way to see a broken-down musical instrument, and given that the locals likely already knew about it, that old piano seems a strange thing to keep secret.  Given what I know about children and pianos, if there truly were any juvenile spirits hanging around, they would be hard pressed to resist the urge to play it (or bang on it, depending on your perspective).  Still, prowling around the ghost town and reading the historical markers was quite cool, and the discovery of the poor old piano was indeed a treat.

The author of my Fort Worth ghost book also mentioned a cemetery not far from Carter which boasts a glowing tombstone.  According to what he wrote, "the phenomenon is consistent, night after night, regardless of the weather or any other conditions that might affect it."  From his own personal account, this tombstone, supposedly 50 yards into the graveyard and clearly visible from the road, was "blazing away in ghostly iridescence."  We decided to check out this "consistent phenomenon" for ourselves, since we were already close by.  The experience was somewhat disappointing.  Although we waited outside the cemetery gates for awhile after the sun had completely disappeared, we never saw anything glowing with the intensity the author described.  We chalked up the alleged glow to some kind of optical illusion, but there was simply nothing there for us to see.

Which got me thinking about why a person would publish a story that was so easy to verify as false.  The Carter stories are par for the course: On certain nights, if you listen carefully, you may hear the ghostly voices of the children of Carter.  That kind of story might have people returning and hanging around time and again (although I can't say that such visits would benefit the local economy in any way).  To suggest that one visiting the cemetery would experience something specific with absolute certainty, no matter the time of year or weather conditions, is just a silly claim.  But we accept all kinds of silly claims all the time without verifying them, so stories about glowing tombstones seem like small potatoes.  

In fact, I think I have accepted a great many "ghost stories" as true, without bothering to verify them for myself, and I'm not talking about glowing tombstones and underage specters at this point.  From Hollywood movies to church pulpits to popular songs to adages that are somehow just floating through the collective unconscious of society, there are so many stories about how people should be.  I have fallen prey to other people's beliefs about what a husband should be, what an artist should be, what a responsible adult should be, what a friend should be, what kind of music I should be writing, what kind of connections I should be making, and on and on.  And as many times as I have accepted other people's beliefs, I have rebelled against them just to be defiant.  I know that most people mean well when they share their beliefs about such things, and I know that most people are convinced that what they share is steeped in truth.  Still, it takes a bit of work to peel back all of the layers of ghost stories that have covered my perspective of what my life is supposed to be like.  

Stories about glowing tombstones are easy to verify.  You drive up to the cemetery and you look out across the gravestones and visually determine if one of them has an eerie green ghostly blaze.  It takes an inner eye to verify all of the folktales about more mundane subjects, how men or women are supposed to act, how success should be defined, what one must do in order to be a valued member of society, and why that is of paramount importance.  Maybe some people find it easy to disregard such stories, but I know some people that take such beliefs very seriously.  Some of them might be true for me, but I will only know that for sure if I take those ideas from external sources and verify them against what makes sense to me personally.  If I don't see the glow, then I know that's one more ghost story someone just made up.  Otherwise, I am essentially always measuring my life by someone else's ruler, and sometimes it seems that no two rulers agree.

I will most likely keep enjoying ghost stories and my own amateur investigations of supernatural folklore, but I haven't come across one yet that has turned out to be verifiably accurate.  Likewise, I'll keep testing other people's beliefs that have made their way into my psyche.  Hopefully, I can peel away the ones that don't make sense to me and hang on to the ones that ring true.


  1. Yes, I see the connection. Thanks, Randy, for another thought-provoking post.

  2. I love ghost stories and supernatural. I've gone on a few of the Ghost Tours here in Tennessee. Even if they aren't true, they're fun to listen to.

    Completely off topic, I just awarded you the Versatile Blogger Award. I'm not sure if you've received one before, or if you're even familiar with it. But you can check out what I wrote about your blog and see the award over on my blog post: Someone Really Likes Me! (I hate spamming, and this kind of feels like it, but I really wanted you to know how much I enjoy your blog!)

  3. I'm deeply flattered, Amber. Thank you.