Do you have more ghosts than you need?

 

Does the ghost of Franklin Pierce still stalk the land?
Does the ghost of Franklin Pierce still stalk the land?

“WELL, HALLOWEEN has come and gone, but some of the after-effects remain,” I said to my houseguest Gracie. “Here, have another chocolate candy bar, a Kit Kat, maybe?” I extended the huge orange pumpkin bowl in Gracie’s direction. There were still quite a few bars left.

“Don’t mind if I do, Tabitha.”

When she was halfway through chewing on a sweet, chocolate-y morsel,

we were both startled by a definite rap on the wall. “What was that?” As she asked this, her eyes widened.

“Oh, it is one of my ghosts. But don’t be alarmed. He is harmless, I think.” By the time I got the words out of my mouth, there had been four definite, loud and hollow sounding raps.

“I see what you mean when you say some of Halloween’s after-effects remain.” She laughed a nervous little laugh.

“That would be true, except he, and maybe some others, are here year- round. “I once made tape recordings of the raps and put them all together to see if I could figure out a Morse Code or something the ghost was sending. I haven’t cracked the code yet, sorry to say.”

Grace then asked, “The ghost could be from a time before Morse Code was invented, Tabitha. To be clear, that is not a wall with noisy plumbing pipes in it, is it? Or heaven forbid, an animal?”

“No, no plumbing pipes. The space in the wall it came from is too small for anything but a mouse, and a mouse could not have made that loud of a noise, I don’t think,” I replied.

“You are right, Tabitha. I am starting to think it might be a ghost.”

“I have lived in two houses that are definitely haunted. One was an old Victorian—late Victorian—in central Texas. All sorts of weird things happened in that house. I once saw a bride floating through the dining room, there.”

“A bride?”

“Yes. I pinched myself and it happened again. She just floated through the room about five feet up off the floor surface, all wispy-white and filmy. The third time, there was a second witness—my husband at the time actually saw her, too. He admitted as much to me, but I doubt if he would admit it to anyone else. His second wife, years later, did have a historical marker put on the house. I had burned all my bridges by that point and did not try to find out the results of her research.”

“Sometimes it is a good thing to burn all your bridges.” Gracie winked. “Did you ever learn of a young, tragic bride living in that house?”

“I do think there was one. It was a neighborhood rumor—I found out from elderly neighbors a little of the history. I asked them after the apparition appeared, and I didn’t tell them about it, of course. As for this house I am living in now, here in a different state entirely, I found out that it was once a hog farm. And, one of the neighbors told me when I first moved in that a man had hung himself from a tree on a nearby property years ago—the next lot over, I think, but that was all I ever heard. When I first thought this place was haunted, I was convinced it was the spirit of that man. This area we live in is ripe with creepy history and ghost tales, though.”

“It really is,” Grace admitted. “I am amazed at all of the tales and folklore of this region. There is the well-known ghost of the 1800s’ murderer, Alf Bowlin. He haunts a spot just a couple of miles down the road from here, as I recall.”

“Yes, and in this very house, I was even convinced that the ghost of an 1800s’ president visited me on occasion.”

“A United States President?”

“Allow me to tell you the tale of Franklin Pierce. He was number fourteen, I believe. He got kind of a bad rap as president and I thought that might be why he was coming back to earth—his soul must have been awfully unsettled. The odd thing was that I was writing a book about him at the time—a paranormal fantasy—and he started making appearances. He actually gave me some material for a book in odd round-about ways, i.e. Ouija Board and swing of the pendulum. That was in 2009 and it was very intense. I had spent three years working on that book, had really thrown myself into it and now it is all just a big blur in my mind. I must have been in a fugue state or something. There was one really animated incident.”

“I remember when you were working on that book, Tabitha. It was hard to reach you at the time, by phone or any other method. Go ahead and tell me the incident. I’m waiting.” Grace then dug around in the bowl for another candy bar while I started my verbal recollection.

“I turned in one evening and the next morning I came into the den and noticed that during the night one of the throw pillows had jumped off of the sofa and landed several feet away in the middle of the floor—not possible! I was quite alarmed until I realized that Mr. Pierce must have done it. It was not really a throw pillow but it was a muslin bag that I had stuffed and made into a throw pillow.”

“A muslin bag? What on earth was it a bag for?”

“I had gotten a Smithfield Ham in it.”

“A Smithfield Ham?”

“I got that ham—a really good deal—at a well-known discount store, and the ham was wrapped in plastic inside, but had this muslin bag as an outer covering. It was clean and I thought it would make a whimsical throw pillow, so I stuffed it and sewed it up.”

“That would be kind of whimsical—a conversation piece.”

“So, I put the stuffed bag back in its proper spot on the sofa, wedging it in really good. I had checked it over—you know nothing but a human being or a mischievous pet could have moved it that distance, and there were no house pets at the time. Then, I got on the computer to see if I could tie Franklin Pierce into the name “Smithfield” in any way. Was it some kind of message? Book material perhaps? I knew there had to be a connection.”

“Oh, no. I bet you found something, didn’t you?”

I answered, “Yes, there was a connection but it was rather convoluted. Franklin Pierce had a main mentor, an older attorney, Levy Woodbury. Levy Woodbury had a daughter that had married into the illustrious Smithfield-Preston family. So there is a good chance that Pierce actually had some Smithfields in his circles and that they may have had some kind of big influence in his life. A young Franklin even lived with the Woodbury’s for a time during school. Mrs. Woodbury was like second mother to him.”

“Well, that will give you a chill on the back of your neck, won’t it now? That this long ago president was sending you messages from beyond.”

“This ghost of Franklin Pierce did all kinds of pesky things during the time I was writing the novel, including hiding my eyeglasses in an out of the way place where I never had occasion to be.”

“That is pesky, and kind of funny. No telling how many eyeglasses, especially of elderly people, ghosts are actually responsible for hiding.” Grace then giggled. The intent of her comment was not lost on me.

“Franklin started appearing less and less after I published the book—I published it under a pseudonym because of the strange content. Paranormal experts have come up with several ways you can tell if you have a ghost. One would be strange noises, such as the raps we heard. Missing objects is another, such as the eyeglasses. Hearing whispers is another—so, hearing whispers, or voices, doesn’t always mean you are losing you mind. This happens to sane people. Doors to rooms, closets or cabinets opening or closing on their own—apart from those opening due to suction-effect—is another type of ghost evidence, or lights turning on and off by themselves. Seeing shadows, either full on, or out of the corner of your eye is sometimes an indication of spirits. That horrible feeling that someone is watching you—we have all had that at times—well, it can be a ghost that is watching you, or heaven forbid, feeling something touching you. If you see something levitate, or move, with no rational reason, that is an undeniable sign. If your pets act strangely—another sign. This happened all the time in the Victorian house. I had two cats and they would often show fear, hide, or go on point when suspected spirits were about. Inexplicable hot or cold spots are a dead giveaway, pardon the pun. Strange scents are also a clue.”

“Now I have had that one, myself. I will sometimes smell a whiff of the known perfume or aftershave of a dear departed,” Gracie admitted to me.

I decided to put in my two cents about that subject, “I still have this experience, almost weekly, and it is of coffee brewing. When I still lived at home, in high school or when home from college, I would often awake in the middle of the night and smell coffee brewing. It was my father—he would get up in the middle of the night and make a pot of coffee—no mystery there. I still smell coffee brewing sometimes in the middle of the night, and no one is up making coffee. It is a strong smell, not just a little whiff. I don’t even have a coffee maker or pot in my home to brew the coffee. I make my coffee one cup at a time, and drip it with boiled water.”

“That is odd. Do you think your father is coming to visit you?”

I smiled. “That is what I like to tell myself.”

“It is a comforting thought.”

“If you ever actually see a ghost, that is a pretty good indicator that they are visiting, too. They are reported as being pale or semi-transparent, like the bride. The more of these signs of ghost activity that you have—from the list I have just mentioned, the more likely you are to have an actual ghost or ghosts lurking about. If a person is afraid it is just their own imagination running wild and needs some answers, it is advised that they have reputable paranormal investigators come on the premises and do some tests.”

Gracie then asked, “If the paranormal investigators decide there really is a spirit, what should a person do? I am curious.”

“Believe it or not, it is often best to accept the ghosts and try to live with them. It is advised to not provoke them, the activity could increase. Some have found it helpful to sprinkle holy water in the areas of heavy activity. By the way, there are some states in our country where it is required by law to disclose to a potential buyer that a property is known to be haunted.”

Gracie sat silent for a moment, then, uttered, “Well don’t that beat all.”

I must admit I was taken aback that this folksy comment, complete with bad grammar, even came from her mouth. I guess sugar and chocolate will do that to you.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Quite Curious, a collection of stories about the unknown and unexplained.

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