I had a passing thought about ghosts today, and a passing thought has more than enough importance to make it into this particular forum. I don’t believe in ghosts at all, even though I might have lived in a haunted house once. The most famous ghost story in Lincoln, Neb. is that of the C.C. White building ghost. The White building was formerly a building on the Nebraska Wesleyan University campus, which housed the music department. The most dramatic encounter with the ghost occurred in 1963 (according to Alan Boye, A Guide to the Ghosts of Lincoln), when a professor walked into one of the rooms to see a woman dressed in old-fashioned clothes reaching to put something in a cubbyhole in the wall. The professor thought she sensed the presence of a man sitting at a desk next to her, but when she looked there was no one there. She then looked out the window, and instead of seeing the rest of the campus buildings, she saw an empty, roadless expanse of prairie. Later, someone found some old sheet music in the cubbyhole, which no one remembered putting there.

The ghost was seen a few other times in various contexts, but that was the extent of the story as I knew it, until I picked up a book by a local storyteller (don’t remember the title) which added a new twist that I’d never heard of before. The White building was torn down in 1973, and apparently one night during the destruction, after the family who lived in the white frame house across the street from the White building had gone to bed, the children of the family heard someone walking up and down the hall outside their room. When the family came downstairs in the morning no one admitted to having been the walker. Also, the table was set for breakfast, but no one in the family had apparently been the one to set it.
The house ceased to be a private residence sometime after this event, I think the book said it had become a fraternity, then was later divided into apartments. I don’t know if it is the same one, but my first apartment by myself in Lincoln was in a white frame house, across from where the White building used to be. I never had any supernatural experiences there though.
Which brings me to my thoughts about ghosts. I don’t believe in ghostsl, though sometimes I wish I did–I really like ghost stories, especially supposedly real ones that are handed down in communities, like the White building story. I think supernatural stories and beliefs are symptomatic of deep-seated human needs and beliefs. They are useful for explaining on a cosmic level the ultimate reason for human experience and suffering, they offer a hope of controlling things beyond human control through the appeasement of gods and spirits, and they speak to the need inherent in every human being to try to reach out to God. Ghosts, of course, relate to ideas about death; the human experience that is more fearsome, unknowable and uncontrollable than any other. They reflect our fear of death, hope for an afterlife, and desire to see people who have died before us again; or fear of seeing them. Since death is the ultimate insecurity, I imagine that stories about ghosts probably pertain to human insecurities. My thought today was that since the most popular locus of hauntings is probably the haunted house, that perhaps this reflects insecurity about our property, livelihoods (since until the industrial revolution the home was the primary locus of production), and families–the fear, which was a very real possibility for most people in most times and places, that someone else might suddenly stake a claim to these, and they could be taken away from us (i.e. the movie The Others).
But I don’t know. Like I say, I don’t believe in ghosts, not even a little bit. Which is not to say that I’m not, at least occasionally, terrified of them.

4 Responses to “ghosts”

  1. kim says:

    Excellent post, Michele. I used to be petrified of ghosts. When I was in elementary school, I always used to read books about the supernatural, and when I became a teenager, I was constantly spooked in my house at night by the thought of seeing or hearing a ghost (of course, I never saw anything). My fear of (and belief in) ghosts went away once I went to college, most likely because the things that went bump in the night in my dorm were more likely to be drunken suitemates than spirits from the beyond. Looking back on it now, I think a lot of my fear was related to the trauma of being an adolescent, and it was easier to project my anxieties on something supernatural than to worry about what boy I liked, being unpopular, or applying to colleges.
    Incidentally, there is a Victorian mansion across the street from my mom’s house that has been long rumored to be haunted. In my small town, there are lots of stories of friends of friends who have filmed apparitions or felt mysterious cold breezes in that house. I’ve been inside a few times but have yet to experience anything…

  2. joel says:

    If you like ghost stories, you should read roald dahl’s ghost stories. He didn’t write it, which intially disappointed me, but there are some great stories in there nonetheless.

  3. jrau says:

    I think ghosts also speak to our need to see justice done, and to our frustration at seeing evil go unpunished. A lot of interesting ghosts (at least, my favorite type of ghosts) are here on earth to either call attention to the injustice of their fate or to deliver vengeance for a crime committed against them that seems to have otherwise escaped God’s justice. Even “evil” ghosts in movies and books are often seeking what they perceive in their twisted minds as revenge for slights or injustices they received in life. Maybe it comforts us a bit to imagine a fantasy world in which people who die unjustly or who suffer greatly at the hands of evil people have some sort of chance to see those wrongs made right. Maybe we’re just a little impatient with the idea of waiting for God’s ultimate judgment to set the world aright when Christ returns.
    Interesting post.

  4. rfw says:

    I’m reading a book right now that talks about the hauntings at Nebraska Wesleyan’s (now gone) C. C. White Building. The narrator, a man called “Blue Harary”, said he stayed overnight in the White building as a Freshman in 1972 and was frightened to the point where he had to escape the place at 4:30 AM due to an overpowering feeling that the building was “alive” and wanted him out. (This is something many other people said after having unusual experiences in the structure….This is an interesting FYI only!

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