It’s Halloween time again, and that means people get interested in ghosts and haints.
And that means people start watching the slasher films from the 1980s they stuffed away in a box of DVDs or they scan Netflix for something that will make the hairs on the back of their necks get tingly or they go to a “haunted” attraction somewhere in the woods and pay $10 for someone in a mask to jump out at them every few minutes.
Then there are people like me, who collect haunted legends from across the Upstate like some people collect Pokemon Go characters. I have written two books about these kinds of stories and in reality could write another book every two years for the rest of my life and not repeat myself that often.
Why do I collect them? Part of the reason is from my childhood watching those slasher films from the 1980s on VHS. That stuff scared me and intrigued me at the same time as I learned about storytelling and what makes people interested in a supernatural story. I was scared of Michael Myers, but strangely wanted to know what motivated him. I wanted to know what really happened in the Room 237 in “The Shining.”
The other part is because my family told ghost stories. We lived close enough to the rural parts of Pennsylvania to hear the tales of the headlamps of spectral miners crossing a swamp and the ghostly monster that haunted the woods off old Suscon Road or the abandoned house back in the woods where the ghost of a little boy would appear in a window. Not only close enough to hear about them, but to make quick visits to investigate them.
When I moved to South Carolina in 1999, I began to look for stories here. I noticed many were in the Lowcountry. Actually, most were there, while the Upstate seemed a little ghost barren. So I began to investigate and let me explain that a little better. I don’t have ESP. I don’t see ghosts. I don’t hear static in my television set. I have never used a recording device or taken a picture filled with glowing orbs or mist.
That is not my thing, but I appreciate the people who can and do those things. They have a talent and an ability that I don’t. I look at ghost stories like I looked at a news tip from when I was a reporter. Could it be proven? How reliable was the source? Was there another explanation?
Along the way, I noticed “ghost story” trends. The haunted school building in Greenville sounded a lot like the haunted school building in Spartanburg. That haunted bridge story in Anderson (oh heck, with it, we all know it, it’s Cry Baby Bridge) sounded awfully similar to the haunted bridges in Woodruff, Union and Powdersville. The spooky cemetery visited at night is really sort of blasé when seen when the sun is high. Every college has a haunted dorm of a student who died there tragically.
Similar stories, but I do not dismiss these encounters either. Storytelling is part of human nature. People are drawn to the unknown. We like the mystery of it. Once the mystery vanishes, so does the interest. To me, that is what makes a great ghost story. The middle has to be strong and visceral with details, but the edges need to be muddled and a tad bit hazy. Keep the suspense. Leave the edges unknown.
Not going to lie, once I got a backstory on Michael Myers in Halloween, the movies became less enjoyable. On the other hand, I still don’t know what the heck happened in The Shining, and have gone down that rabbit hole one too many times and come out scared and bewildered on the other end.