Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Good Ghost Sure Can Liven Things Up

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Good Ghost Sure Can Liven Things Up

Article excerpt

Some families have a holly, jolly Christmas, but in the Henry family we like to tell our ghost story. We think there's nothing like a Christmas ghost story to make the holiday festive.

This may seem odd, but Charles Dickens famously had ghosts in "A Christmas Carol," which largely shaped the Christmas tradition and famously featured a trio of specters - the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Shopping Bargains Yet to Come, as it is now known.

Dickens' fable was fine, but some of us demand more from the supernatural than a three-pack of ghosts. That is where the Henry family story has the advantage. There are many ghosts and the story is not made up. My grandfather was the witness.

Seven years have passed since I have told readers this true story. What reminded me of it was that my wife and I rented an old converted carriage house, cozy and comfortable, pending my retirement and departure from the Pittsburgh area. It was on the same lot as a much grander house. More than a hundred years ago, the carriage house would have served the mansion, housing carriages and horses.

At night it creaked a lot, which was to be expected. Old houses creak a lot. Heck, these days, I creak a lot.

But even by common creaking standards, this was a creaking beauty. There were gurglings and bumps in the night, and when I would awake, with the covers pulled up to my nose, I shuddered to think: "If a ghostly horse clomps up the stairs, my hair is going to turn gray and fall out." (Too late! That already happened.)

Only two explanations for these nightly noises are rational: squirrels in the roof or plumbing. (As they say in "Danny Boy," the pipes, the pipes are calling.) But the midnight frights did make me think of my grandfather, Malcolm Henry.

He was 18 in the year 1891 or thereabouts. The place was Devon in the west of England, where an ancient Anglican church, St. Mary, stands in the tiny village of Sampford Spiney next to Dartmoor, about the spookiest place on the planet.

How spooky? A headless horseman was believed to roam the moors as a harbinger of death. He was reportedly an excellent rider, but bitter because his lack of a head disqualified him from the dressage event at equestrian shows. …

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