The same face: the very same. Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat skirts, and the hair upon his head… His body was transparent: so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind…
Nor did he believe it even now. Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes… he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.
– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Halloween will be here soon, and – admit it! Doncha love a good ghost story?
Certainly there are millions who do. Horror movies are more popular than ever, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office every year. Psychologists struggle to explain why people pay money to be scared out of their wits. But whatever the reason, they do. And I do. I find ghost stories irresistibly intriguing, especially the ones I encounter while traveling.
Stories in movies or books stay safely within the realm of make believe. But stories told by people you encounter really have the power to send a high-voltage chill up your spine.
I have not personally encountered a ghost, as far as I know, though I’m not sure I would know. Still, I don’t reject every possibility I can’t explain. Like Dickens’ Scrooge, I suppose meeting a ghost personally would make me a believer. But for now I remain agnostic. I don’t mind leaving ghosts within the realm of the mysterious, where the greatest wonders reside.
A Too-Close Encounter
The most compelling ghost story I ever heard was told by a man I met while traveling. In several days with him I saw nothing to make me doubt his credibility. He told me of one summer night when he and a friend stayed at a bed and breakfast in southern England. He was hot when he turned in for the night, but later woke feeling cold.
“I was so cold I was shivering,” he said. “I felt a weight on my chest. I opened my eyes and saw a little girl there. She was spectral gray, translucent, and had no facial features. She was wearing a long dress.”
In another part of the room he saw another ghostly presence, a woman standing in front of a music stand, waving her arms as if conducting. But there was no sound.
He was seized with terror, speechless. After a herculean effort he managed to find his voice and shouted to his friend, who woke, saw the figures, jumped out of bed and turned on the light. The figures disappeared.
Later they told the hotel manager. “We’ve seen the girl before,” said the manager, “but always in the kitchen. We haven’t seen the woman. But it doesn’t surprise me. The room you’re staying in was the music room.”
The hotel had been a boarding school for young girls. One of the girls fell down the stairs and died there. Many guests had reported seeing a little girl there.
Tales of Tour Directors
Observing people’s hunger for stories about haunted places, Tom Armstrong, Tauck’s director of corporate communications, surveyed Tauck’s 200-plus tour directors around the world asking for stories of hauntings. The survey brought in quite a crop of intriguing tales. Here are a few.
At the Fairmont Le Chateau Fronentac in Quebec City several Tauck guests saw a man sitting on a windowsill. Then he was gone. The management said it might be an apparition of Louis de Buade, the 17th Century governor general of Quebec for whom the hotel was named. When he died he wanted his heart to be packaged in an ornate gift box for his fiancé. Not surprisingly, she declined the gift, and the legend is that the ghost of de Buade still wanders around the hotel, as if still seeking the attention of his betrothed.
At the Chateau Rochecotte in the Loire Valley a coach driver woke one night to see a long-haired woman dressed in white floating above his bed. He was so terrified he couldn’t sleep until the management moved him to another room. Deeply shaken by the experience, the driver retired soon after.
Room 324 of the 14th Century Toftaholm Herrgård hotel in Toftaholm, Sweden, is said to be haunted by Mats, a stable boy who fell in love with the Baron’s daughter. She returned his love, but the Baron forced her into an arranged marriage rather than letting her marry a man below her station. Mats hung himself from the rafters in room 324. It is believed that he haunts that room and other rooms inhabited by young female guests, who often report strange sounds, doors or windows being opened or closed, or objects that have been moved.
In 1962 when President John F. Kennedy stayed at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park in California he was provided with a rocking chair because of his back problems. Housekeepers often say they hear the sound of a rocking chair from that room even though there was never a rocking chair there except when President Kennedy was staying there.
On the ninth floor of the Banff Springs Hotel in Alberta guests often report encountering a friendly man named Sam, who offers to help with their baggage then slips away without receiving a tip. When they ask about him, they are told that Sam, who had been a bellman there, died years ago.
There is also a story there of a young bride whose feet got tangled in her long gown as it caught in the wind while she descended the staircase. She tripped and fell to her death on the marble stairs. People often report cold breezes on the stairway, or the sight of a woman in a long dress walking down the staircase or dancing in the ballroom.
At the Westin Excelsior Florence at least three Tauck tour directors have reported that they felt that they were being watched, and had other odd experiences in room 152. One of them refuses to stay in that room, even if it means going to another hotel.
When a Tauck tour director stayed in room 523 at the Grand Hotel Parco dei Principi in Rome, Italy, lights would flash on in the middle of the night and the curtains would wave as though blown by the wind, though the window was closed. He stayed many times in other rooms, but whenever he stayed in room 523, he would encounter these strange phenomena. He eventually became accustomed to the activity and attributed it to a poltergeist that he gave the name Jimmy.
The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans is a block from the grave of Marie Laveau, a famous voodoo priestess, and the hotel named its spa the Marie Laveau Voodoo Love Bath and Massage. Employees say many strange things go on there, latched doors open, bottles of oils move on counters, lights flicker. Some speculate that using the priestess’ name aroused her ire, or maybe she is flattered and drawn to the place.
In room 328 at the Grand Canyon North Rim a Tauck tour director was awakened by a phone call at 3:30 a.m., but when she picked up the phone, it was dead. The next morning she realized the phone was not plugged in. When she told the hotel clerk he said, “Oh yeah, that was probably the ghost.” During another stay she heard a guest telling the desk clerk of getting a phone call at 3:30 a.m. The guest was staying in Room 328.
Why the Terror?
Having had no personal experience of ghosts, my main feeling is curiosity. But for those who say they have encountered a ghost, the emotion is usually terror. Why are ghosts so scary?
It seems they are too vaporous, too immaterial to inflict any physical harm. But their appearance alone ignites terror. I guess the very idea is terrifying. If a ghost can exist, how must I stretch my world view to accommodate that fact?
Well, for now I won’t worry about it. But it’s fun to think about.
Your humble reporter
A. Colin Treadwell