Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Jack O'Lantern's Top Seven Favorite US Ghost Stories.

Hello, one and all!  Jack O’Lantern here again!  You know, just the other day I was talking to my friend Franz, you may know him as The Headless Horseman, about how awesome it is that the ghost story is the USA’s go-to form of folklore.  Oh, sure, there are a few legends and tall tales and some transplanted fairy tales.  However, what is it that the Yanks always seem to tell around the campfire?  Ghost stories!  So, I thought I’d make use of another of this blog’s features and present you with my Top 7 Favorite US Ghost Stories.

7) Bloody Mary (Pennsylvania/ Montana/ Indiana)- We might as well start with a classic.  Everyone knows the Bloody Mary ritual.  Say her name into a mirror three times in the dark and she will come for you.  However, there are many different versions of this story across the USA (click each state to get to a different version).  One version states that she was an old witch that stole the lives of young girls to make herself younger.  Others claim she was the murdered daughter of a cruel man.  Either way, say her name into the mirror if you dare and see what happens.

6) Henry Hudson and the Catskill Gnomes (New York)- No list of ghost stories would be complete without at least one historically inspired tale.  This one takes us to the Catskill Mountains.  The explorer Henry Hudson and his crew went into the mountains following some strange music.  What they found was a group of unusual dwarfish individuals drinking beer and playing ninepins.  They say that to this day that the gnomes still gather to play and drink and that they’re always joined by a crew of ghosts: Henry Hudson and his men.  This particular tale also served as inspiration for Washington Irving’s story “Rip Van Winkle”.

5) Invisible Hands or The Tommy Knockers (Nevada)- This is a great example of a ghost story tradition that has been carried over from the Old World.  In many countries across Europe there are accounts of miners hearing the sound of people working in the mine even though no one was there.  This is attributed to spirits or fairies.  In Scotland, they’re called knockers (from the sound of pickaxes knocking against the mine wall).  In England they’re called the bucca.  And in Germany they’re called kobolds.  Miners from Nevada also report encountering such creatures.  However, their versions seem more ghostly, seeing as they reportedly took the form of drills, hammers and pickaxes working all by themselves as if wielded by invisible hands.  This story has spread and in the US, such creatures have come to be known as Tommy-Knockers.

4) The Sobbing Ghost (New Jersey)- Every list of ghost stories needs a sea story.  However, this one’s a little different.  This story concerns pirates who never leave dry land.  Stories tell of wreckers, gruesome pirates who draw ships too close to shore so that they wreck.  Then they strip everything that comes ashore of anything valuable.  Another story that the wreckers appear in is “The Wreck of the Palatine”.  This particular story concerns a young lady who was the daughter of a leader of a band of wreckers living on Long Beach Island.  A lovely young lady with a beau living overseas.  She went out one day with her father’s crew to strip a wrecked ship.  However, she was unprepared for what she saw.  Among all the dead, drowned bodies that washed ashore, there was one that she recognized.  That of her lover!  The grief was too much for her and she died.  Yet, her ghost still wanders the beaches of Long Beach Island sobbing for her lost love.

3) Death Waltz (New Mexico)- This one’s a real spooker!  A tale of love turned bad.  A young soldier named Johnny at Fort Union falls for a coquettish beauty.  She promises to be true to him forever (though, for some, promises are easily forgotten).  The soldier goes out to fight the Apaches and doesn’t return, his body disappearing in the chaos.  Some time passes, but not much, and his girlfriend finds a new man, a handsome lieutenant.  Before long it’s their wedding day.  And that’s the day Johnny decides to return!  I’m not going to say anymore.  Click the title to read the story and get the full effect.

2) Burnt Church (Georgia)- Stories of witches are almost as common as stories about ghosts and this one’s a great witchy tale!  A sophisticated new teacher comes to teach at a little school in a small town in Georgia.  The parents are thrilled at first.   However a local man named Smith, known as a drunk and a troublemaker regards her with suspicion.  Pretty soon, the children start to act strangely.  They start to lie to their parents, have secret meetings in the woods and sometimes can be heard chanting in a strange language.  It turns out Smith might be right, and he plans to take action with the use of a lit torch.  But will that rely end the teacher’s sorcerous power?

1) Black Aggie (Maryland)- Now this one will give anyone the creeps.  That’s why it’s number one.  A man named Felix Agnus puts up the statue of a grieving angel in the local cemetery.  The statue is a strange, unsettling sight.  It’s likeness is caught in a moment of intense pain and grief.  Pretty soon, stories start to spread about the statue nicknamed “Black Aggie”.  They said she was haunted by the spirit of a mistreated wife whose body lay beneath her feet.  They also said that the statue’s eyes glowed red at midnight and anyone who returned the gaze would be struck blind.  Others said that if you sat on the statue’s lap at night, it would crush you in a dark embrace.  Still others claimed that the spirits of the dead gathered around the statue at night.  However, these were all just rumors. Nothing truly bad happened until the day a few fraternity brothers snuck into the cemetery for an initiation test.  That’s when her true dark power was revealed.

Now how’s that for a list?  No one knows ghost stories like me.  I have every one of them etched into the ectoplasm of my mind.

Adam: Who are you kidding?  I caught you looking at American Folklore’s A to Z Ghost Story list.  Bet you didn’t even get halfway through.

Jack: I don’t know what you’re yapping about.

Adam: Oh, well.  I will say that your posts haven’t been too bad.  I even have a gift to thank you for spicing up my blog for the month.

Jack: Really?  What is it?

Adam: A new trick-or-treat bag! [presents bag to Jack]

Jack: Huh.  Well, it just looks like an old sack to me.

Adam: Well then, Whickety Whack!  Into my sack!
Jack: AAAAGGGGHHH! [gets drawn into the sack]

Adam: Well, now maybe things can get back to normal around here.

This ends Jack O’Lantern’s Halloween haunting, but if you’d like to see Jack come back next year, post in the comments below.

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