Save This Post – Save Yourself – Ghost Stories for a Winter’s Night
It was winter. There were icicles hanging like crystalline teeth just beyond the fragile barrier of the window. I remember staring at the threat of them and hearing the sound of something crawling from behind the faint image of my grandfather Charlie. I remember the house being dark except for an illuminated thicket of vines that were scaling a patch of wallpaper behind some candles. And there was the amber glow of the light in the arched gateway of the radio dial. The sound slithering from its speaker evolved into a mournful scream – of a sort – and as the scream crossed the room and began to entwine our ankles and immobilize our arms my mother’s voice sought safety and reason and a lamp blared to our rescue.
“Dad, this is too scary to listen to in the dark.”
I don’t remember other details of the story of the creature, but I do recall my mother bringing up the event several times in years that ensued and telling me and others how I had shouted, “No it isn’t. Turn the light off. I promise not to be afraid.”
There were many winter evenings in the 1940’s when my family and friends would listen to mysteries and horror stories while circled around our radio’s campfire. There were other evenings when, instead of listening to the radio, my grandfather and his brother would try to out-exaggerate one another with stories they’d cobbled together from newspaper articles, local folklore, and tales I think they’d heard as children. Charlie updated stories about the hauntings that were reportedly taking place in the enormous Conneaut Hotel after it had partially burned, but which still stood near our house. His brother Russell countered with sightings of the apparitions people continued to report from a neighboring town where a woman had been suspected of doing away with her mother and five siblings in the late 1800’s and whose twisted soul still wandered the roads around our two towns looking for victims while dressed in the disguise of a ragged old man. Then there were the ninety-eight spirits who stalked a nearby river after the Pacific Express No. 5 left its tracks and plunged into icy waters three days before a long-past New Year’s Eve. And which brother – in trust of my storytelling apprenticeship – would not have wanted to remind me all of the mysterious disappearances of people from the darkened interior of the State Road Covered Bridge which my family had to drive through every time we went to my uncle’s farm.
And what winter’s night would be complete without the verbal imagery of the horrid, insatiably hungry thing that lurked below the frozen surface of Conneaut Lake where I first learned to ice skate.
When I was eight years old, Northeastern Ohio – as it hemmed the enormity of ice-choked Lake Erie – was. in the dim light of winter. a very haunted place
“There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmas’s long, long ago…”
Winter – it is the most haunted time of the year. Since the times of Egypt and Rome the telling of ghost stories granted our ancestors agency to keep their histories and their cultural beliefs about the unknowable and impermeable “over there,” alive. Ghost stories have honored the dead, become metaphors for the costs of inappropriate land use and human disregard for the environment or groups of peoples, given hope that resolutions to injustice could be found, helped people mitigate the mysteries of death and the afterlife, and enabled people – though the experience of small doses of fear – to build resilience against the real dangers of life.
What easier way to sit with our families or by ourselves in the dim light of winter and strengthen our sense of bravado in the face of the upcoming election year than to bolster our courage by tiptoeing through the hauntings of some scary stories. Near Winter Solstice, there is much of winter left. Gather your friends or curl up alone with the chills and hauntings to be found in the pages of a book, the ghostly imagery of some videos, the chilling notes of an early Nordic music, or in the frames of an eerie film.
Best of all step back in time and participate in some old-fashion storytelling, the kind you heard or shared as a child, the lamps out, a face-changing flashlight under your chin. What politician can top the fright of a disembodied hand holding a claim to your property and crawling across your bed, the anxiety of thinking that the widow of a mouse you trapped might set your house on fire while you sleep, or the hungry growl of a wolf as it sniffs the door of your bedroom.
Well maybe there are a couple of politicians, but just the same, surprise yourself and climb aboard some ghost stories and ride them through the darkness of winter knowing that in just a short time you’ll be able to step off the journey safe and knowing that nothing really happened except that you will have been reminded that there is something very special, unique, and remarkable about the state of being alive. The adventure is as close as your reach, as near as a window – as close as your ear.
“If you stare into the dark long enough, you’ll eventually see what isn’t there.”
Cameron Jones, Snow with sorrow.
Don’t know where to start? I’ve made a list of gentle chills for the dark and windy nights ahead. Save the link to this post and visit it from time to time over the course of the winter.
- Billy Collins “The Country” – A brief animated poem about the dangers of mice discovering matches. 1 1/2 minutes – Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xovLpim_1s
- Jeanette McAdams, A 2 minute read about a woman who was suspected of poisoning her family. Read newspaper article here: https://thepennsylvaniarambler.com/2018/12/18/the-mcadams-mystery/
- Ira Glass, This American Life: “The House on Loon Lake” 55 minutes, Listen here: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/199/house-on-loon-lake A story, about how, in the 70s, a group of boyhood friends broke into an abandoned house, a house that proved to be both a time capsule and a mystery. Link to photographs here: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/extras/house-on-loon-lake
- Music by Skald. “Runes” An introduction to haunting music that evokes the prophets of winters in the time of the Vikings: 3 minutes – Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9NIBZfVBW4
- Peter and the Wolf” A wonderfully animated and eerie retelling of an old classic. 34 minutes – Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvnqLG3e_hg
- “A GHOST STORY ,” 2017 (not the1990 film Ghost with Patrick Swayze) 2-minute preview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_3NMtxeyfk One of the most innovative recent films on the possibility of presence afterlife. “We do what we can to endure…. “You do what you can to make sure you’re still around when you’re gone.” A meditative film about the enormity of time.”
- “The Ghost Hunt,” Suspense Theater, Radio 1949, 30 minutes -Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgyQbONkYec&feature=youtu.be A “found tape” from a wireless recorder in an abandoned home.
- “Three Skeleton Key” 1956 Suspense, Theater Radio, 30 minutes – Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uT4Q36hNTI&feature=youtu.be Narrated by Vincent Price himself is absolutely chilling, with amazing sound effects. But be warned if you don’t like rodents.
- Nightmare Before Christmas, Song: This is Halloween, “Everybody’s waiting for the next surprise…” 3 minutes – watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGiYxCUAhks
- A Scarecrow, from the film, Sleepy Hollow, 2 minutes – Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne_PI9-arT0 How creepy can a scarecrow be?
- Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood, A collection of 9 tales in the realm of the works of Poe, King, and H.P. Lovecraft, written to make our hearts beat a little faster on a winter night, uncanny and otherworldly tales with killers, ghosts, dead bodies, and the likes of wicked people. Preview book here: https://www.google.com/books/edition/Stone_Mattress/NlXgCwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&printsec=frontcoverPreview
- The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey A child made of ice and snow and in the company of a fox – a magical tale of grief and hope in the midst of an Alaskan winter. Preview book here: https://www.npr.org/2012/12/26/167557065/revisiting-a-sad-yet-hopeful-winters-tale-in-the-snow-child
- The Boggarts – and a link to all sorts of ghosts and lore from the British Isles- Take heed for they inhabit both the outside and inside of a house: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSpPxk-WmNo
- And yet more haunting tales for a winter’s night from Anna Bridgland: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUhbKVdR-wVsc6Cl7uWcPyQ
Mamillius. A sad tale’s best for winter: I have one
Of sprites and goblins.
Hermione. Let’s have that, good sir.
Come on, sit down: come on, and do your best
To fright me with your sprites; you’re powerful at it.
Mamillius. There was a man—
Hermione. Nay, come, sit down; then on.
Mamillius. Dwelt by a churchyard: I will tell it softly;
Yond crickets shall not hear it.
from A Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare