I've written elsewhere regarding a few of my favorite ghost stories, so I thought that I would write about a favorite sub-genre of the ghost story for readers of Sophistikatied Reviews--the True Ghost story.
Ask any three people you know, and likely at least one of them will believe that at some time they have either seen a ghost or experienced some time of ghostly phenomena. I don't have any scientific (or even pseudoscientific) data, but I would guess that the number of people who believe they have had a ghostly experience far outnumber those who believe they have had any other type of otherworldly experience, except for maybe the vast number of people who think they have seen an extraterrestrial craft or had a precoginitive experience. Far more, anyway, than those who have seen Sasquatches, chupacabras, demons, succubi,or any of the various other cryptids and other dimensional beings lurking about our forests and cities. Angel sightings, I hear, are on the rise.
I love stories of all of those beings, but I've always had a special fondness for the true ghost story which probably dates back to family vacations spent with family in Maine and places like Salem, Massachusetts and Franconia, New Hampshire. My parents were generous with the reading material budget, and among my purchase of comic books and Mad magazines I'd had a knack for finding the works of Robert E. Cahill when I was on vacation in New England. Cahill wrote about all sorts of regionally based strange phenomena and odd history, But of his slim, economically priced volumes, my favorites had titles like Haunted Happenings, New England's Ghostly Haunts, and Things That Go Bump in the Night. The Overlook Hotel may be far, far away, but many of the locales found in Things That Go Bump in the Night were places we were driving through--and sometimes, even visiting!
I suppose these "true" stories were my first metafictional reading experiences--the stories were presented as being factual, but ghosts weren't real--were they? I went from the vacation Cahill books to scoring whatever I could on "real" hauntings from the library, never sure if I was reading journalism, fiction, or just plain delusion. Few of the writers had the skill of a, say, Stephen King (although Cahill sometimes adopted a "walk along with me" style that was half avuncular/ half Crypt Keeper that I found particularly effective), but there was something in the simple, somewhat shell-shocked nature of the reportage that chilled me more than even some of my favorite horror novelists. And this even though the same tropes would appear time and again, no matter what region of the country, or even the world: the roadside ghost of the murdered hitchhiker, the phantom bride who tripped on her train and broke her neck tumbling down the curving hotel staircase (a variant of the jilted bride who flings herself out the window--flying brides are a nearly universal ghost motif), the lost child, the evil old man who doesn't want to leave, the favorite grandma who appears in the night, a thousand miles away, to the grandchild who doesn't know she just died, the kid who died at school. BREAK MY HEART 1,000 TIMES is a novel that is filled with ghosts, and so when I was writing it these stories and tropes were always at the back of mind, haunting me. I had fun playing with a few of those tropes, putting some topspin on some of them, and also trying to invent some of my own.
One would think that the similarity of all these true ghost stories that I read, especially when dressed up in different locations, different times, and with minute details changed, would breed a sense of suspicion in my young mind. But rather than incredulity, that similarity instead bred an odd sense of conviction--the tales were similar, because a certain set of a criteria--deaths featuring an airborne bride, a hitchhiker that will never reach their destination--will always breed a ghost. Rather than reassurance--and some find ghost stories reassuring, if only because they indicate some form of afterlife--I instead found terror. True ghost stories scared the stuffing out of me. They still do.
And that's why I love them.
Here's a few I loved enough to read multiple times:
Anything by Robert E. Cahill
Anything by C.B. Colby, especially Strangely Enough!, although that one has some non-ghost stories, but they are all both Strange! and True!
Haunted Heartland, Haunted America, and Historic Haunted America by Michael Scott and Beth Norman
Young Ghosts and Ghosts of War by Daniel Cohen (who also wrote like half A billion highly entertaining and sometimes shudder-inducing books on all sorts of topics)
Thanks so much for the awesome post and recommendations, Daniel! Ghost stories also give me the heebie jeebies. After reading Break My Heart 1,000 Times, I kept expecting to see one in the mirror! *shivers*
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