Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Halloween ghost tale

As a child I loved ghostly tales, especially around Halloween. Of course, way back then, hauntings were a kinder, gentler thing. Nothing like the horrific blood and guts stuff kids hear today. In my youth there were no chainsaws or guys with razor blade fingers. Mostly ethereal vapors floating around that sometimes played ugly tricks on people. The old classics like Sleepy Hollow were told again and again and never failed to enthrall us.

Sometimes Mom would let my sister and I stay up late on Saturday night to watch the Spooktacular hosted by the Cruel Ghoul or some such goofy thing. Those old movies were never very violent and the special effects were corny. They hinted at doom but faded to black before anything terrible was seen. After an especially scary werewolf movie (where we only ever saw a woman's shoes morph into German Shepherd paws) we would go off to bed, shivering and whispering. My sister, who was younger, always made me look under the beds and in the closets;) Lucky for us, no ghosties ever hid in our bedroom.

There are not many tales of hauntings from my area of northern Illinois, in fact only four I have ever heard. I'll share one with you. Hope it raises a few goose bumps on your arms.

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Harriet Meyer was a meek and timid little woman. When she was only 17, she married a farmer, Walter Jackson, who was much older. They had only one daughter, Geraldine born the second year of their marriage. Walter had expected strong sons to help him on the farm. Years passed and it became obvious Harriet wasn't likely to produce any sons. Walter grew cruel and brutish toward his wife as time went on. The daughter, Geraldine, who should have been a comfort to her mother, instead became selfish and imitated her father's cruelties. One October evening in a drunken rage over some petty incident, Walter shoved his wife against the cook stove and she received a very horrible burn over a large area of her back.

The next morning, after doing the laundry and pegging it out on the clothes line, Harriet hanged herself in the root cellar.

A few weeks after her death, Walter told his friends at the tavern he had seen his wife's ghost in the kitchen of their farmhouse. The friends asked if he was afraid. No, he laughed, he wasn't scared of his dead, mousy wife. That night he managed to get himself home more than a little drunk. A ghostly Harriet met him at the kitchen door and proceeded to chase him through the house beating him on the head and shoulders with a cast iron skillet. It seemed the timid Harriet had developed a backbone after her death. Better late than never, I guess.

After that Harriet appeared quite often. She threw dishes at her daughter and on a few occasions Walter told people she threw knives at him. She stripped the beds of sheets and blankets, piled them in the barn and set them on fire. When Geraldine tried to cook, Harriet's ghost would dump the food on the floor. Neither farmer nor daughter knew what happened to most of their clothes. They just disappeared never to be found.

Of course no one believed a word of the wild tales Walter and his daughter told. Until the cold January night Harriet pushed her husband down the cellar stairs and locked her daughter outside in the frigid weather.

The Jacksons, father and daughter survived the assaults, but never set foot in the house again. Being fairly well off financially, they built a more modern house and barn across the street. Two years after the new house was built, Walter fell from the loft of his barn and died. Some say it happened on the very anniversary of Harriet's death.

Geraldine married a neighbor and the couple continued to live in the new house with their children.

To this day the old house remains locked and vacant. No one goes inside. It is said that Geraldine and her children were terrified to tear the old building down for fear the ghost inside would be set free to move across the road.