By Kristy Harding
When I was a kid, my family went on vacation to Gettysburg. Most kids probably would have preferred to go to Disney World, but I was a budding Civil War buff, so I spent the weeks before the trip watching the movie Gettysburg over and over and reading everything I could about the battle. Like many sites of great suffering, Gettysburg is a magnet for paranormalists, so it was only a matter of time before I stumbled on a ghost story. The story I found claimed that the ghost of George Washington was seen riding around the battlefield on his horse by Union soldiers either before or during the battle.
The story captured my imagination, and when we finally arrived in Pennsylvania, I lay awake at night waiting for George Washington to ride through my spooky hotel room. While I waited, I gobbled up staple-bound collections of local ghost stories. In those pages, I was introduced to the classic ghost story tropes for the first time. I met the actors in a shadow play forced to repeat emotionally charged scenes from the past over and over without deviation like the mother in Tejashri Pradhan’s “Cliff Diving” (Feb. 5th) and the outsiders who are needed to hear a ghost’s story one last time and give the ghost permission to leave the old place behind like the spouse in Robert Earle’s “Visit Home” (Nov. 27th).
I never saw George Washington or his horse. At the time, I was disappointed, but I now know that a place doesn’t need to be visited by the spirits of the dead to be haunted. As I remember talking with reenactors immersed in their roles and ordering pheasant pot pie at a tavern from a waitress in hoop-skirts, I wonder if the monuments and tourist traps were just ways of dressing up the phantasmagoria of an entire town trapped in 1863, assigned parts, and forced to repeat scenes from the battle continually.
I was reminded of that trip to Gettysburg while reading Hauntings by the James Hollis, a book that inspired the theme of this issue. Hollis is a Jungian analyst, and his Hauntings is about hearing the voice of the soul over the stories and legacies of the past. An unconscious life, he says, defaults to repetition. Some of these repetitions, such as following a parent onto the factory floor have big consequences (Bret Nye, “Factory” (April 2nd)). Others, such as putting up holiday decorations year after year, are mostly harmless (Dawn Wilson, “Extraordinary Neighbors” (Dec. 11th)), but, eventually, it is hoped, something like the visitor in Christopher Krull’s “Space Above the Cubes” (Mar. 5th) interrupts and gets in the way of the ability to mindlessly follow the script, freeing us to make choices.
Appropriately for an issue about ghosts, everything in “Hauntings” is, in some way, a ghost story. Though not everyone who appears in “Hauntings” is able to break free of the pasts and patterns and ghosts that haunt them–and not everyone wants to–most of the characters who appear in this issue are forced to deal with some kind of interruption. This is one of the functions of all stories: to interrupt, to illuminate deadwood, to inspire (or scare) us into living.
And so, I will bring this interruption of “Hauntings” to an end and leave you to the ghosts.
A version of this appeared on kristyharding.com in April 2014.
Photo Credit: My Half Ghost Side by Elizabeth Watson