Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Guest-Blogger John B. Kachuba on 5 Literary Ghosts

John B. Kachuba is the author of seven books-- four of them about ghosts and ghosthunting. A Certified Ghost Hunter, he is also a frequent speaker on paranormal topics on radio and TV and at conferences, libraries, and universities. Kachuba teaches Creative Writing at Ohio University and Antioch University Midwest and is also a faculty member of the Gotham Writers Workshop. Recently, Kachuba entered the world of e-book publishing with his paranormal novel Dark Entry and a collection of four short stories in Ghost Stories

So we've got the ping pong thing going with the guest-blogs. A while ago, Kachuba contributed a guest-blog post for this blog on Top 5 Spooky Sites; just last week, I guest-blogged for his blog, The Metaphysical Traveler, on table tipping, according to Don Francisco Madero (yes, that Madero, Mexico's "Apostle of Democracy"). 

So now, back to you, John--  and just in time for Halloween!



When my good friend C. M. Mayo asked me if I would be interested in writing a guest blog I jumped at the chance. After all, it’s almost Halloween! What better time to read a few creepy tidbits from the Ghost Professor? Since I’m now working in paranormal fiction and exploring the role of ghosts in literature down through the ages, I thought I’d share with you five of my favorite literary ghosts, including one of my own creation.

So, here they are, not necessarily in order of creepiness:

JACOB MARLEY – Although there are Three Spirits of Christmas in Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, technically none of them are ghosts since they were never flesh-and-blood mortals as the rest of us (at least I’m presuming you are all flesh-and-blood mortals). Poor, miserly Jacob Marley, the former business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge is the only true ghost in the story.

Weighed down by the chains of greed he forged in life, Marley’s role is to warn Scrooge to amend his avaricious ways before it is too late. Despite Scrooge’s initial belief that the apparition before him is nothing more than “a slight disorder of the stomach . . . an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato,” Marley’s piteous moans and chain-rattling soon convince Scrooge that his unwelcome visitor is indeed a haunting ghost.

Marley’s visitation fits neatly into the rationale we ghosthunters use to explain why ghosts haunt us. Earth-bound because of transgressions and crimes committed while they were in the flesh the ghosts must somehow make amends for those trespasses before they can “cross over” into a place of eternal rest.

Thurber House
“BIGFOOT” – The ghost in James Thurber’s funny short story, “The Night the Ghost Got In” is both unseen and unnamed, but since it loudly manifests itself by “walking around the dining room table downstairs,” Bigfoot seems like an appropriate name for it.

What I like most about this story is that it really happened. Thurber swore until his dying day that on the night of November 17, 1915 a ghost stomped around the table downstairs and then “started up the stairs toward us [Thurber and his brother Herman], heavily, two at a time.” I’m not going to give away the ending; you’ll just have to read the story, but it’s definitely worth the time.

The house in which the haunting occurred still stands in Columbus, Ohio, where it is now part Thurber museum and part literary center. I visited the house and wrote about its ghost—which apparently, is still there—in my book, Ghosthunting Ohio: On the Road Again. The TV ghosthunters from TAPS conducted an investigation at the house with inconclusive results. It would have helped had they read Thurber’s story.

PETER QUINT and MISS JESSEL – Two of the Ghost Professor’s favorite phantoms, this spectral duo is at the heart of The Turn of the Screw, penned by Henry James. Fascinated as he was by ghost stories, James tried to elevate them above the stereotypical “screamers” and “slashers.” In the Preface to his final ghost story, “The Jolly Corner,” James wrote that he preferred to create ghosts that were eerie extensions of everyday reality—"the strange and sinister embroidered on the very type of the normal and easy."

What is fascinating about The Turn of the Screw is that only one character, the unidentified Governess, sees the two malevolent ghosts, although she suspects that her two wards, Flora and Miles, also see them. The Governess discovers that her predecessor Miss Jessel had engaged in a sexual relationship with Peter Quint, also employed at the manor and it seemed likely that Quint had also abused the young Miles and other members of the household. But Quint and Jessel are dead as doornails, so why are they still hanging around?

The reader begins to wonder whether the ghosts are actually there or whether they are the mental projections of the Governess’s own emotions and feelings of sexual repression. In other words, are the ghosts all in her head? This is a question that every ghosthunter has to ask whenever a ghost is alleged to be present. It is not at all uncommon for one person on a paranormal investigation to “see” a ghost, while the others in the group do not. The mind is completely capable of creating ghosts where none exist and a competent ghosthunter must rule out that possibility before declaring a location haunted.

Ghosthunter or not, if you have not yet read The Turn of the Screw, run—do not walk—to the nearest library and read it. I’ll wait.

MR. SIMMONS – I included the ghost of Mr. Simmons from my short story “Home Is Where the Spirit Is” because in this story we see the ghost experience from the ghost’s point-of-view. Everything we know, or think we know about ghosts, comes from our own perception and we never pause to wonder what it is the ghost is feeling or thinking (assuming ghosts feel or think). None of my ghosthunter friends seem to think outside the coffin, as it were, and treat ghosts as though they were creatures alien and exotic.

But ghosts are simply people without bodies. Shouldn’t we treat them with the same respect we treat other people and shouldn’t we care about them as we care about other people? Consider their circumstances. One day they’re among their friends and loved ones enjoying everything the world has to offer and the next day they find themselves cut off from all the people they knew and loved, in some place that is not the natural world they once knew, a place where the laws of science and nature that once governed their lives have been dramatically altered. Can you imagine the fear and confusion they must feel? I tried to imagine those feelings in Mr. Simmons, the ghost in my short story, which can be found in my e-book Ghost Stories.

I don’t know how well I’ve captured the thoughts and feelings of the ghost but maybe someday I’ll come back and let you know.

ARTURO  CRUZ– My late friend and mentor Louis Owens wrote several wonderful novels in which his Cherokee/Choctaw heritage plays an important part. In Nightland an old Cherokee named Siquani finds himself dogged by the ghost of a young Navajo named Arturo. The young man had been involved in drug smuggling when a double-cross resulted in a murdered Arturo being tossed from a plane over the New Mexico desert. His body comes to rest in a tree.

Arturo stumbles across Siquani’s trailer in the desert and an unlikely—and funny—friendship is formed as the old man teaches Arturo how to be a ghost. At one point, Siquani engages the ghost in a game of checkers:

“You play checkers, Arturo Cruz?”
“Damn right. But I think one of the rules of being a ghost is I cannot move things.” He pushed at the chair, but his hand went right through the wood. “I could perhaps tell you where to move my pieces, and you could move them for me.”
“Good. I’ll get the board.”
As Siquani started back into the trailer, Arturo Cruz shouted after him, “How do I know I can trust you to move my pieces?”

This passage brings up a question that continually haunts us ghosthunters: what are the rules of being a ghost? It seems that ghosts can make noises (footsteps and rappings in particular) but they can’t speak. They can blow out candles and seem to be able to move small objects, but not larger ones. They are supposedly incorporeal yet they have the ability to scratch, pinch, or touch ghosthunters. The Ghost Rules seem vague, at best. Even the Ghost Professor is perplexed.

*Nightland by Louis Owens, published 1996 by Dutton: New York.


---> For the complete archive of Madam Mayo guest-blog posts, click here. 

---> Recent guest-blogs include author Joan Young on 5 Unexpected and Inexpensive Tips for Healthy Living; Ellen Cassedy on 5 Links to Learn Yiddish; and Dylan Landis on 5 Magnetic Spaces.