Several years ago, my husband, youngest son, and I took a trip to Maine. The trip itself was a continuing example of Murphy’s Law – and we finally arrived in Bar Harbor late at night. It was raining, of course, and as we drove over a bridge, I saw a man dressed in raingear standing near the rail. I realized, once we passed him, that the raingear was reminiscent of outerwear that would have been worn decades earlier – a sou’wester oilskin hat and a long, dark, heavy rubber raincoat. I wondered if he had been a man or a ghost.
It reminded me of a time when my husband and I were listening to a podcast by the Astonishing Legends hosts. They were talking about a favorite ghost story of mine, Resurrection Mary. Resurrection Mary is a Chicago ghost – and quite famous. She appears on Archer Avenue and asks for a ride. She gets in the car, but when the driver passes Resurrection Cemetery, she disappears.
The following story that they used for their podcast introduction actually comes from a ghost research site that was written by my friend, Dale Kaczmarek. This is the story:
“One of the very first persons to have encountered her was a south side man by the name of Gerald Palus who used to frequent the Liberty Grove Dance Hall near 47th Street and Mozart. The building is no longer there but his memories of that night have persisted until his death in 1992.
He had apparently seen her there on more than one occasion and had decided to ask her to dance with him. They conversed very little throughout the evening and Palus noticed the only thing strange about her was that she was ice cold to the touch. Her beauty and charm more than made up for her icy chill. He even commented, “Cold hands, warm heart” to which there was no reply.
As 11:30 p.m. approached, he decided that it was time to leave and offered her a ride home to which she gave him an address in the Bridgeport area of Chicago. But instead of going straight home, she requested that Palus take her down Archer Road, as she called it. As they began to approach the main gates of Resurrection Cemetery, she asked Palus to pull the car off the road. She then informed him that she had to cross the road and that Palus could not follow. This statement took him aback but before he could respond, she suddenly darted across the street towards the cemetery and disappeared before she ever reached the gates. It was only then that he realized that he had been with a ghost that evening.
The next day he visited the address she had given her and was told by the woman who answered the door even before Palus rang the bell that he couldn’t have possibly been with her daughter as she had been dead for some time. He correctly identified her in a picture that sat on a piano in the front room.”
I’d heard many of the stories about her before – but this was the first one that I’d heard where someone touched her. He danced with her. Felt her hands that were cold as ice. When did that happen? When did ghosts have bodies that you could touch?
Actually, ghosts that you can touch go way back in history. They even have a particular title – revenant, which means a visible ghost or animated corpse that is believed to have revived from death to haunt the living. The word revenant is actually derived from Old French meaning “returning.”
In Noel Hynd’s great novel, “Ghost” there is a character who is a revenant. (And, no, I won’t tell you who it is because I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you.)
There are quite a few stories from Europe about revenants. Let me share on from Folklore.ee about the mistress of a farmstead in Estonia who really didn’t like being dead.
“There have passed forty-two years since my mother died,” tells us the mistress of Vana farmstead, Mai Kruusenberg. She is 67. “My mother was 65 when she died, and she told me this story. She worked as a servant in a village called Kärmu. The old mistress died there but returned to haunt her home, every night she let the cows and all in the byre loose and messed up all the rooms in the house. Well, one evening the maid went to feed animals. Their dog followed her to the byre. The dog was barking at one corner of the byre. And the maid tried to hush the dog down. After she had fed the animals, she took a stick or something from the floor and hit the dog, scolding, “What on earth are you barking at!” And the old woman answered from the corner, “That’s right, Kaie, my good girl! Don’t let it bite me!” The girl got scared and rushed off towards the house. They closed and bolted all the doors and windows. In the morning, everything was topsy-turvy, and again all the animals in the byre were loose.
Another story, from Ireland, has another story about a revenant. This story was found in the blog, Women Are Boring.
“One evening round about Halloween, one of the Harvey sisters of Inver, Co. Donegal, was putting in her ducks at twilight, when she saw a woman dressed in grey ‘looking through the kitchen’. When Miss Harvey spoke to the woman she vanished, but then appeared to the other sister the next evening.
The sisters sought the help of Fr George Kelly, parish priest of Inver, who advised them to carry holy water, and when the apparition returned on the third evening the sister who saw her addressed her with the question Fr Kelly recommended: ‘In God’s name what is troubling you?’
The woman replied ‘I am your mother and I am twenty years dead, I am on my way to heaven, and I want three Masses said one from each of you. You three [the girls and their brother] are the only ones living belonging to me, and I want you to pray for me and I will keep you out of danger…when you are on your death bed I will come down and bring you up into the glorious kingdom of heaven, where we will live happy for ever.’
The woman then disappeared and was never seen again.”
But, to me, the trickiest thing here is – now that ghosts can have bodies, how can you tell a ghost from a regular, run-of-the-mill person?
That lady that sits in the corner of the library and smiles at you when you pass – ghost or human?
The old man that walks slowly past your home at dusk – ghost or human?
The man at the subway station who watches you as the train disappears into the very dark tunnel – ghost or human?
Makes you wonder!
Like what you read? Find more stories by Terri Reid here.