April 10th, 2017


LJI:14 Campfire stories

I’ve seen or met several ghosts in my life, mostly in theaters.  That has always made sense to me; packing hundreds of people into a room every night to practice the willing suspension of disbelief necessary to make a play go weakens the boundaries of reality, at least a little.  The light left burning center stage overnight is called the ghost light for a reason.  But there’s only one ghost I lived with.

It was the summer of 1999 and I had been hired as the assistant production manager for the Dorset Theater Festival in Vermont.  It was a town so small there weren’t numbers on any of the buildings, mail was addressed to your name in Dorset and it always found you.  They were very proud of their history; Dorset was founded in the 1760s and many of the homes and other buildings were nearly that old, including the house the full-summer staff lived in.

The house was three stories tall and had multiple bedrooms, eight of us slept there.  Most of the staff was new that summer, but a few days after we had settled in the costumer from a previous season stopped by to chat.  She asked if we knew the house was haunted, and wanted to know which room each of us was in.  When it was my turn I said I lived in the corner of the third floor, across from the hobbit bathroom (so nicknamed because the roof line came down oddly at the doorway and you had to duck to get in).  “Oooh, your room has the best story…but I shouldn’t tell you.  You might have trouble sleeping there if you knew.” Then she just grinned and refused to say any more.

Once I knew there was a story it took me about a week to hunt it down.  But I finally found someone who was less worried the story would scare me away and more happy with the beer I bought him.

It seems that the Lincolns had stayed in the house on their travels, and the oldest son Robert had particularly enjoyed it – he kept coming to visit when he was on holidays from university with friends.  Robert’s friend who became my ghost, known only as Yale Boy, broke his leg doing some sport at school, and had been brought to Vermont to convalesce in my room.  But the process was slow, there was a lot of pain, and the doctors at the time (1870’s ish?) couldn’t promise that he’d walk again.  After several weeks in the house Yale Boy pulled himself out of bed and over to the window, where he jumped out.  He landed on the cobbles below, and died.

By the time I heard the story I had been living in the room for a few weeks.  Some odd things had happened, returning from the bathroom to find a light I was sure I left on turned off, or vice versa.  The bookmark kept being in the wrong place in my book, and a few small items seemed to be in a different place every time I looked for them.  I had attributed all of it to basic absent-mindedness; I had never had a job with so much responsibility and was stressed about doing it well.  Now that I knew about Yale Boy though, I wondered.

When I got back to my room that evening I decided on action.  I went in, turned on the light, and said “Hello.  I can’t just call you Yale Boy so I hope Henry is okay.   I’m really sorry about what happened to you, but I’d appreciated it if you stopped messing with my things.  Thank you.“  I paused and stayed very still, but nothing happened.

From then on I said “Hello Henry” when I entered the room and said goodbye when I was leaving for the day.   The light still turned on and off mysteriously sometimes and I talked to Henry about it, “What is up with the light Henry?  Do you not like that lamp?”  I never got an answer, but nothing else moved.

Then midsummer night proved to me that befriending Henry was the right choice.  I came down for breakfast the next day and heard the stories from my housemates.  In a room on the 2nd floor that was also said to be haunted, the windows slammed shut around 11pm.  The radio turned on and changed stations, the lights blinked on and off.  The other rooms on the 2nd floor had lights blinking as well and a weird tapping noise.  Even the other two bedrooms on the third floor had similar issues that night, weirdness with electronics and tapping.  Several of the staff members ended up sleeping on the couches in the downstairs living room.  As the person in the house living with a specific ghost they wanted to know what had happened in my room.

“I went to bed early last night, and woke up when the light came on for no reason.  I turned it off and got back into bed, and then this tapping started making a circle of the room.  So I said “Henry, please knock it off, I’m really tired.”  There were a few more taps on the outside wall and I rolled over and said “Henry” in my best stern voice. There was one louder tap on the wall, and that was it.  I fell back asleep.”

Most of my housemates didn’t realize I had named Yale Boy, or had been talking to him all summer.  Everyone was astonished that it worked, my haunting that night was the shortest anywhere in the house with the noises and lights continuing for hours in some spots.  But Henry and I had reached an understanding, and I’m grateful he let me sleep.

At the end of the summer I packed my things and said goodbye to Henry.  I hope whoever stayed there next year gave him a new name and talked to him.  Loneliness makes all of us do crazy things.

***Campfire stories are often ghost stories so that's what I went with.  This story is true, and while I remind myself that the house was really old which could explain the tapping noises and weird electrical issues, I also wonder how Henry is doing these days.  Read other entries for LJIdol here.***
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