Fall is here and with October close, that means Halloween will soon be here. And with Halloween, comes the thought of ghosts. Though with paranormal reality shows, phantoms are thought about the rest of the year, too. They haunt right alongside us, around us, and in places you never think would be haunted. They can be where the least you expect them. And spirits are not “trick ponies,” they will not perform on cue every night or day, so invisible, they might still be there, leaving you a feeling of being watched or even dread. Though the dread may be unintentional, as the phantom may not be evil (though there are times a bad one may be there), but your own psychic attention will hit you like that.
What are spirits? Where did the words come from?
In traditional belief, a ghost is the soul of a deceased person or animal that can appear, in visible form or other manifestations, to the living. Descriptions of the apparition of ghosts vary widely: The mode of manifestation in photos or seen by the living’s eyes can range from an invisible presence, shadow people, translucent or wispy shapes, and orbs, to realistic, life-like visions—solids. The deliberate attempt to contact the spirit of a deceased person is known as a séance. Paranormal investigators use equipment to find proof of paranormal activity and to contact phantoms. In other words, find proof of life after death.
The belief in manifestations of the spirits of the dead is widespread, dating back to animism or ancestor worship in pre-literate cultures. Certain religious practices—funeral rites, exorcisms, and some practices of spiritualism and ritual magic—are specifically designed to appease the spirits of the dead. Ghosts are generally described as solitary essences that haunt locations, objects, or people they were associated with in life, though stories of phantom armies, ghost trains, phantom ships, and even ghost animals have also been recounted.
The English word ghost continues Old English gást, from a hypothetical Common Germanic *gaistaz. It is common to West Germanic, but lacking in North and East Germanic.The pre-Germanic form was *ghoisdo-s, apparently from a root denoting “fury, anger” reflected in Old Norse geisa “to rage.” The Germanic word is recorded as masculine only, but likely continues a neuter s-stem. The original meaning of the Germanic word would have been an animating principle of the mind, capable of excitation and fury. In Germanic paganism, “Germanic Mercury,” and the later Odin, was at the same time the conductor of the dead and the “lord of fury” leading the Wild Hunt.
The synonym “spook” is a Dutch loanword, akin to Low German spôk. It entered the English language via the United States in the 19th century. Alternative modern words included “spectre” (from Latin spectrum), the Scottish “wraith” (of obscure origin), “phantom” (via French ultimately from Greek phantasma, compare fantasy) and “apparition”. The term “shade” in classical mythology translates Greek σκιά, or Latin umbra—in reference to the notion of spirits in the Greek underworld. And “haint” is a synonym for ghost used in regional English of the southern United States, and the “haint tale” is a common feature of southern oral and literary tradition. As for “poltergeist”, that is the term for a German word, literally a “noisy ghost,” for a spirit said to manifest itself by invisibly moving and influencing objects.
Another widespread belief concerning ghosts is that they are composed of a misty, airy, or subtle material. Early beliefs were that ghosts were the person within the person (the person’s spirit), most noticeable in ancient cultures as a person’s breath, which upon exhaling in colder climates appears visibly as a white mist. This belief may have also fostered the metaphorical meaning of “breath” in certain languages, such as the Latin spiritus and the Greek pneuma, which by analogy became extended to mean the soul. In the Bible, God is depicted as animating Adam with a breath.
In many tales, ghosts were often thought to be deceased people looking for vengeance or imprisoned on earth for bad things they did during life. The appearance of a ghost has often been regarded as an omen or portent of death. Seeing one’s own ghostly double or “fetch” is a related omen of death.
“White ladies” were reported to appear in many rural areas and supposed to have died tragically or suffered trauma in life. White Lady legends are found around the world. Common to many of them is the theme of losing or being betrayed by a husband or fiancé. They are often associated with an individual family line, as a harbinger of death. When one of these ghosts is seen it indicates that someone in the family is going to die, like a banshee.
The stories of ghost ships have existed since the 18th century. The most notable of these is the Flying Dutchman.
Ghosts can also be angels and demons. In some paranormal circles, it is believed that demons are non-human, while other spirits who did terrible things (like murder) but human and passed on without benefit of being forgiven, are not.
With a new ghost book released last month in August, Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle 2nd Edition: Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, and Other Haunted Locations, in which the first edition sold 5,000 books, enabling this to not only go into a second printing, but letting me add new stories and ten new photos of ghostly images to the original stories (plus a new cover), it is clear ghosts are a hot item nowadays. Plus, Williamsburg has become synonymous with not just history (particularly, Colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War), but haunting. There is even a hashtag, #hauntedwilliamsburg on Instagram and Twitter for it, connecting to many, many posts and photos! If that isn’t enough, there are many ghost tours, from those by Colonial Williamsburg itself, t those by various companies. Two mentioned in my book, is the Colonial Williamsburg Shields ghost tour (I am not sure this one still exists) and one of my new stories has the oldest ghost tour in Williamsburg, The Original Ghost Tour of Williamsburg, which also now has a tour in Historic Yorktown, along with an extreme murder pubs tour and the Haunted River Cruise of Jamestown Island.
The most haunted house in Colonial Williamsburg is the Peyton Randolph House. This is one of the few original buildings still standing when Colonial Williamsburg took over the area.
Several accounts of phenomena at the Peyton Randolph House includes the shattering of a mirror and the sound of heavy footsteps. The first haunting is that of a young soldier who stayed in the structure when the Peachy family owned it. At the time of his stay, he attended college to advance in his studies.
Unfortunately, he fell ill. When this occurred, he was cared for the best that he could be, but he eventually died because of the devastating illness. Today, several accounts attest to the fact that the spirit of the young man still lingers in the structure. Many have stated that they have seen the apparition of a male, while others have said they have heard footsteps that seem to be quite heavy. Another ghost seen is an older woman who is dressed in a white, flowing gown. Then, there is a little girl who was thrown down the stairs and killed after her ghostly best friend, Elizabeth, grew angry with her. Doctors claimed that superhuman force would have been required to cause such a death. Another ghost supposedly hangs around in the upstairs bedroom.
Another story is told of a ghost of a woman who seemed very agitated and wanted to warn guests of impending danger. A woman named Helen Hall Mason stayed for a friend’s wedding at the house in 1962. She stayed as a guest of its owner at the time in the oak-paneled room, which was on the second floor toward the back of the house. Sometime during the night, Mrs. Mason woke up and saw a woman standing at the foot of the bed, appearing very nervous and wringing her hands. At first, Mrs. Mason thought that it was the hostess of the house . . . until she noticed that the woman’s dress wasn’t modern. A scarier thing—moonbeams went right through the woman. Mrs. Mason mentioned what happened the next morning. She didn’t feel threatened by this woman but felt that the woman was trying to give a message of warning to her. The hosts said that Mrs. Mason’s story matched that of other stories over the years. Not much is known about this ghost, except that she might have been a servant.
Other tales of hauntings permeate this place. One of them concerned a two-year-old girl who was sleeping in an upstairs bedroom. She woke up screaming for her mother. The child mumbled about a man in white standing in a corner, but the mother saw no one there. Some years later, a man sleeping in the same bedchamber saw a transparent male form standing in a corner.
Another story tells of Williamsburg employees who saw a man in blue Colonial attire. Thinking he was one of them, they went to talk to him. He vanished when they approached.
An interpreter was alone in the house when she felt something trying to push her down the stairs. It terrified her, as she felt it was evil. There was also the tale about what happened to security guard Pedro Jones. He was getting ready to leave when he heard groans emanating from the basement. He went down to investigate. The door slammed shut on him, locking him in. He couldn’t get out and suffered being down there until his boss knocked on the door. That’s when the door mysteriously unlocked and Jones was able to get out.
Have you a true ghost story to tell? What kinds of fictional or nonfiction ghost stories do you like to read this time of year?
Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle
In this 2nd edition, go deeper into ghostly history as you tour Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown in the Historic Triangle. Visit haunted Jamestown Island, where Captain John Smith and the first English colonists settled. Stroll around Williamsburg and follow the same footsteps of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington as they walked along Duke of Gloucester Street. Tour ghostly historic Yorktown from the colonial era through the Civil War. Take side trips to the towns and counties nearby that put the finishing touches to the history of the whole area. You’ll hear odd noises and see apparitions, but above all, be prepared to get to know the ghosts of the Historic Triangle and its surrounding areas. They’re dying for you to hear their stories.
An excerpt from the “National Ghost Hunting Day 2017” from the Peyton Randolph House chapter in the book:
While the tour guide told some of the ghostly stories to the group, things began to go crazy. The filming and the tour stopping allowing us to investigate each spot had turned what is usually a two-hour tour into a much longer one. As one of the tour guides told stories about the house, I wandered over to the front lawn. I began getting the feeling someone wanted me to draw closer to the home; however, we weren’t allowed to do so on the tour. The medium told me she felt frightened, that someone didn’t want her there. That’s when I saw the dark clouds on top of the left side of the roof, below the chimney. Not in the air, but on the roof itself! The thing grew thicker and more abundant.
I said, “Does anyone see that dark smoke on the roof?”
Carol peered from behind me and said, “I don’t see anything.”
But the medium turned to me. “You’re not going crazy, Pam. I see it, too.”
Not long after that, it vanished. I did shoot several pictures, hoping that it might appear in one of them. It never did. I got orbs in some of the images and what I called the weird purple paranormal lines in one. These only appeared in a few photos I’d taken with this camera over the years. This night, I got three, and even something in a lower window of the house lit up.
The guides led us around to the left side of the house, where one of them told a few stories to the group. I stayed on the street and took a few more pictures. Another guide remained with me. In one photo, I caught something in the second-floor window by the tree to the right. I asked the man if there was anything in the hallway near the window. He looked at me and said, “No, you got something.” Later, at home and on my laptop, I enlarged it until I saw with excitement that a woman with a long nose and her hair up stood at the right side of the window. It was obvious that she wore a colonial gown only rich white women wore during the 1700s. There was another figure on the left side, wearing what I think might be another dress, but it had no head! The woman on the right did not look happy and looked down on the group. I wondered if she was Elizabeth “Betty” Harrison Randolph, as she’d been in the photos of others who had taken pictures of the house. Later, Carol had made a closer photo of the image for me and sent me a link to a portrait of Betty Randolph twenty years before she died. My ghost appears to look just like the woman.
About the Author
Author Pamela K. Kinney gave up long ago trying not to listen to the voices in her head and has written award-winning, bestselling horror, fantasy. science fiction, poetry, along with five nonfiction ghost books ever since. Three of her nonfiction ghost books garnered Library of Virginia nominations. Her newest ghost book release is Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle 2nd Edition: Williamsburg, Yorkton, Jamestown, and Other Haunted Locations, with extra new stories and ten new ghostly images added then was in the first edition. She is working on a seventh ghost book set in the Surry to Suffolk area of Virginia for Anubis Press. Her horror short story, “Bottled Spirits,” was runner-up for the 2013 WSFA Small Press Award and is considered one of the seven best genre short fiction for that year. Her latest novel was her first self-published venture, an urban fantasy, How the Vortex Changed My Life, and in the future she will have a science fiction novella released from Dreampunk Press, Maverick Heart, plus a true ghost story of her, “Cavalier Hotel,” in the true ghost anthology, Handbook for the Dead, published by Anubis Press. Pamela and her husband live with one crazy black cat (who thinks she should take precedence over her mistress’s writing most days). Along with writing, Pamela has acted on stage and film and investigates the paranormal for episodes of Paranormal World Seekers for AVA Productions. She is a member of both Horror Writers Association and Virginia Writers Club.