Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ghost Writing

Today I've decided to start with a confession to an extremely embarrassing guilty pleasure of mine. Every friday evening at 8 o'clock I pour myself a glass of red wine and prepare a plate of low fat cheese, crackers, grapes, veggies and dip. Then I turn on the TV and watch a full episode, start to finish, of The Ghost Whisperer, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. If you've never heard of this show, trust me, you must consider yourself very, very lucky indeed. Seriously, don't start watching it. It's terrible. The Ghost Whisperer's premise is that Melinda Gordon (Ms. Hewitt) has a gift in which she can see and converse with the dead. Well, not ALL the dead, just the ones that are "earth-bound" for some reason and haven't yet "crossed-over into the light." Melinda helps them work through their troubles, which usually requires contacting their skeptical relatives and convincing THEM that she can talk to their dearly departed. ("He's telling me he gave you a gold locket for your tenth wedding anniversary. He says you keep it in the jewelry box on your dresser next to the love notes he sent you!!") At the conclusion of each show Melinda usually gathers them all together ("Your husband is here with us"), interprets for the dead, resolves the issues that have kept the spirit hanging around, and watches tearfully as the soul, now at-peace, sees and then "crosses over" into the light that has been waiting for him all along. The show is poorly written, the acting is of soap opera caliber (although I must admit, Jen is an AWESOME crier!), and the saccharin-sweet happy endings are enough to leave you with a major tooth ache. I'm addicted to it!!

Alan says he thinks the reason the show has been so successful is because the ghosts are frequently visiting Jen in the middle of the night, so she must arise from her satin-sheeted bed wearing only her silk, low-cut negliges that accent her extremely well-endowed (a-hem) "talents." (She also sleeps in full, heavy make-up, complete with false eyelashes...WHY?) Anyway, the show is dreadful--and I LOVE it!! I have no idea why. I normally have no patience for shows that are poorly written and acted, and I've never been able to sit through a full ten minutes of any soap opera. So why am I addicted to this show? The answer, I fear, is even more embarrassing: I LOVE a good ghost story!!

It's true! One of my favorite "Bonding Questions" (see earlier post) is, "Have you ever seen a ghost, and if so, tell me EVERYTHING!!" Then I lean forward, fists clenched near my mouth, and squeal in delighted horror when my friend or co-worker gets to the scary, "unexplained phenomenon" part!

Whenever we visit a new place on vacation, like St. Augustine, Key West, Gettysburg, the Rocky Mountains, or New England, I always make a bee-line to the local bookstore and purchase a copy of that town's version of "The Ghosts of..." book. They're filled with fascinating folklore and history of each place! Perhaps I should say something in my own defense before I continue: I am not a horror movie buff at all. I don't enjoy slasher films and, quite frankly, even the early, tamer Vincent Price versions are still a bit disturbing to me. But, the ghost story books are a fantastic way to learn about the rich past of the places you are visiting, and I figure the scary tales describing what has reportedly appeared in their old, historical buildings is just icing on the cake!!

My first "Ghosts of..." book was written about the old city of St. Augustine, Florida. St. Augustine was first visited by Ponce de Leon in 1513, but it was the eccentric oil tycoon, Henry Flagler, who really revived the town back in 1883, making it a winter destination for Northerners. He is responsible for some of the city's grandest architecture, including a college that now bears his name. Both Flager and de Leon have been spotted still "strolling" the cobbled streets of their cherished old town. I read my "Ghosts of St. Augustine" book shortly before Alan and I were to spend our anniversary there. We had reservations at one of their many old, charming bed and breakfasts there. The book was overflowing with stories regarding the early settlers, forbidden love, and souls whose lives were ended too soon and hence "still walked the floors" of the places they once inhabited. I was RIVETED!! So riveted, in fact, that when we arrived at our lovely Inn the following week, I was completely TERRIFIED that we were "not alone," and made Alan keep the lights on all night! Nice romantic anniversary, huh?

But I think my favorite ghost story has got to be the one attached to the beautiful Marerro's Guest Mansion where Alan and I always stay when we visit Key West. Here's how the story goes:

Francisco Marerro, a wealthy Cuban cigar maker, built a large, beautiful mansion on Fleming street as a wedding present for his new, lovely young bride, Enriquetta. She loved the big house and took exceptional care of it, giving birth to and raising eight children while residing there with her handsome husband. Francisco's work frequently took him on long business trips back to Cuba, but Enriquetta seldom minded, she had her house and children to keep her busy. Then one fateful day officials arrived on the young woman's porch and informed her that her beloved husband had died unexpectedly during a recent trip back to Havana. Enriquetta was heartbroken, sick with grief and lamented that things couldn't get much worse. Except that they did. Several days later, on that same porch, a beautiful hispanic woman appeared with legal papers in hand. She informed Enriquetta that her husband had been a bigamist, that SHE was the first wife of Francisco, and therefore all his belongings, including Enriquetta's cherished house, was now HERS. A nasty court battle ensued (you can still view the records of the trial at the Key West Courthouse!), but the judge eventually had no other choice than to evict Enriquetta and her children--the papers were valid.

So, on that day in 1891, as a crowd gathered to morbidly witness her and her children becoming homeless, Enriquetta firmly stood on the porch of her cherished wedding gift and made this proclamation to the horde of rubber-neckers: "You are all witnessing a great injustice today. And though you are removing me from my home, you should know that this house is rightfully mine, and with God as my witness, I will remain here in spirit!" Now penniless, Enriquetta eventually died in the streets a few years later.

But legend has it that Enriquetta has kept her promise! They say she is thrilled to be "back" in the home she loves and continues to "take care" of it. She also doesn't put up with rowdy guests who stay there! They say if you've been partying a little too much on Duvall street some night and come back to your room acting loud and boisterous, your suitcases will be "magically" packed when you awake in the morning! She's also been known to "lock" rowdy guests out of their rooms, even when they insert the appropriate key in their door. The experts claim that the way to tell if Enriquetta "approves" of you is to look up immediately upon entering the mansion. There you will see a large, glass chandelier above your head. If it's still, you're OK. If the chandelier is swinging ever so slightly, Enriquetta is signaling to the innkeeper that you are trouble! I must say, I'm not proud of the fact that I look up and check that stupid chandelier EVERY time I enter that house!!

To be honest, though, Alan and I have stayed at Marerro's several times and have never come across the "ghostly mistress." But I WILL confess that a few times, we've waited, hidden, for the Key West Ghost tour to walk-up in front of the house. We let the host tell Enriquetta's story, then right before he finishes, we scream loudly, raise our hands above our heads, and come running out the front door in fake terror! I'd like to think that this amuses Enriquetta (it must, she's let us stay!).

Have you ever been on a Ghost Tour? I've dragged poor Alan to two in Key West and one terrible one in Gettysburg. Gettysburg is reportedly one of the "most haunted" places in America. This may be true, but I've got to tell you, their ghost stories are truly lame. I guess it's hard to make a "ghost soldier" walking around a battlefield sound interesting, particularly since Gettysburg is daily inundated with hundreds of civil war re-enactors. So, when ghost-sighters say, "The ghost looked so REAL!" it makes one wonder if, perhaps, they really were just viewing some historical fanatic in a store-bought "Rebel" costume!

To be honest, as infatuated as I am with the idea of ghosts, I would also be TERRIFIED if I ever encountered one! I watch those mild, "ghost history" shows on the History Channel when Alan's out of town and kick myself for the remainder of the evening as I sit, petrified, squeezing an annoyed Trixie to my chest and jumping six feet in the air every time I hear the wind blow outside. It's really quite pitiful.

But I love the stories. I love how they take you back to a time long-gone and tell of things gone wrong, sometimes as a warning. They remind you of life's fragileness and how fleeting our time here on earth can be. And even though sometimes I feel my belief waning a bit, I think I'll still read my books and walk those tours, and I'll even probably end-up sleeping with the lights on afterward!

I hope that if ghosts really DO exist, if there really are some poor souls out there that don't realize they've died or have some unfinished business, they'll somehow know that help is at hand. Somehow, I hope they find Jennifer Love Hewitt, who will show them her cleavage, bat her fake-lashed eyes, and send them on their spiritual, light-enhanced way. All in a neat, one-hour episode, of course!

Thanks for reading!!


Unknown said...

So much fun to read! My barn in awaiting your visit! :D

john davis said...

i hate to admit it Joan but i write those "Ghosts of..." books in my spare time with information provided by the chamber of commerce. Just kidding. another fine could have David Sedaris' running scared!

Laura S. said...

Love it! You should TOTALLY be one of those ghost tour guides. Why not? You could write your own!

Jen Taft said...

Gotta admit that I watch that show too. Maggie actually loves it! I have noticed how Melinda has an amazing wardrobe where each and every piece is low cut. My only solace is that Love-Hewitt is the Executive Producer so one can assume that she is making the wardrobe choices herself. What I want to know is why, when she does the whole "he is here" thing, doesn't she repeat what the ghost says verbatim? This communication is what is keeping their soul bound to earth and she is paraphrasing?! Really?

I definitely prefer to keep my paranormal activities restricted to the TV. I won't even go to ghost story movies.

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