Friday, August 6, 2010


Anna and Grandma Anne (summer of 2010)

A ghost detector sounded its alarm and frightened the beejeebers out of my granddaughter!
by Charlie Leck

The manor house, in Ludlow, Pennsylvania, a perfectly wonderful place for ghost detection, was built in 1917. Albert J. Bodkin, of Philadelphia, designed it for my wife’s grandparents after first refusing. Bodkin had told George W. Olmsted that the grandeur of the place was too much for such a modest, little town. “Something” made him relent and do the design and remain there, in Western Pennsylvania, for a year to supervise its construction by the Hyde-Murphy Company of nearby Ridgway. Remarkable gardens were designed for the estate by famed landscape architect, Alling S. DeForest. The grounds work had begun 5 years before the construction of the house was undertaken. DeForest had to figure out a way to channel the waters of the vast hillside springs and get them under control. He met the challenge brilliantly. Garden Magazine (1923) described the waters as “smoothly falling from one level to another in an interestingly designed series of basins.” Blacksmith Samuel Yellin did all the wrought iron work for the fences and gates and his production has been called both “brilliant” and “inspirational.”

Nearly 100 years later, the manor house still stands and one can manage to see how elaborate and stunning the gardens must have been. This past weekend, some of the children at our family reunion wandered through the gardens carrying a “ghost detector.” My oldest granddaughter, Anna, tagged along. Near a particular shrub, which Anna later pointed out to me as “the place,” the detector’s alarm went off. It warned that there was a ghost in the vicinity. Several of the younger children on the adventure, including Anna, took off in great fright and headed back toward the retreat center where the adults were holing-up.

“Grandpa, there’s a ghost out there!”

“For heaven’s sake,” I replied in great surprise, “whatever do you mean?”

This sweetheart told me of the ghost-detecting machine and the adventure she’d been on. She was clearly frightened and shaken. She had no desire to return outside to the grounds of the estate.

“There’s no such thing as a ghost, Anna.” I told her firmly that I did not believe in ghosts and would stake my life on the fact that such phenomenon did not exist. “It’s only nonsense. It’s drivel created by silly minds.”

“Whoa,” came a voice from nearby. “I certainly believe in ghosts. I’ve seen them and therefore I count you wrong even though you’ve staked your life upon your ignorance!”

“No, Anna,” I said, turning back to the little, frightened girl, “Grandpa assures you that there are not ghosts here or anywhere. No scientific evidence has ever been presented to prove there are ghosts and those who claim to have seen them are generally foolish, gullible people who wish to see them and want to believe in ghosts.”

Of course, the argument was now on in full breech. The defenders of ghost-sightings were astonished at my ignorance. Those on my side of the case laughed uproariously at those who dwelled in lives of superstition. The director of the retreat center, who spent most of his hours on the grounds, asserted that he had felt the presence of ghosts and had seen shapes and outlines that vaguely reminded him of Grandfather George Olmsted and of Grandmother Iva Olmsted. Even one of our daughters, grown and wise, contended that she “felt the presence” of a ghost in one part of her neighborhood – whatever that means!

I found a convenient way, with Anna, to slip out from the fray and seek some fresh air. I asked the child to show me just where the ghost-detector had been set off. We walked down toward the south porch of the manor house. Her pace slowed noticeably as we neared a large shrub on the left side of the pathway. Then, several paces from it, she stopped completely.

“There,” she pointed to the elegant bush, “that’s where they found the ghost.”

I watched as she began to back away, ready to flee if need be. To show her the foolishness of her fear, I moved up to the bush and stuck my head inside it, and then withdrew and wandered around it, moving branches this way and that with my hands.

“No ghost here, Anna. Never has been and never will be. The ghost-detector is merely a toy. It’s meant to entertain and excite children. It’s not real.”

The kid wasn’t buying anything her grandpa said. She continued to move backwards, away from the area. I calmly returned to her side and we walked to other places in the gardens, far away from the haunted bush.

My sister believed in ghosts and contended she’d seen them. I always told her it was nonsense and that always irritated her. I’ve told others the same thing – nonsense!

Two friends we know – mother and daughter – claimed to have had a very frightening experience with a ghost at a hotel in the Cotswolds of England. Their claims may be explained by the fact that they were southern Californians. The ghost, by their story, actually attacked one of them in the night and tried to smother her with a pillow. I chuckled at their retelling of the story. Several years later, when I was staying at the same hotel, I didn’t realize that these friends had prevailed upon the innkeeper to put us in that very room, hoping we would encounter the ghost also. When we arrived there, we found twin beds and I raised a ruckus with the hotel manager because we had reserved a full size bed. He moved us. The next day at breakfast, some English friends joined us and, having been forewarned of the scheme, waited for some kind of reaction from us about ghostly experiences. They were mighty disappointed to learn we had changed rooms.

A number of times over the years, I have placed myself in territory or rooms that were supposed to be haunted just so I could encounter a ghost if such a thing existed. Of course, no encounter ever happened. My sister, explaining such things away, always contended that “ghosts do not like you and, therefore, avoid you!” It seems to me that it would be just such a person that ghosts would make a fool of or even angrily attack.

I have always said that experiencing a ghost with absolute certainty would be a life changing experience; for it would alter one’s view of many things, from the metaphysical to the theological. The experience would speak volumes about life after death and pervert my current concepts and beliefs. So, I have always said, bring on the experience.

“Show yourselves, you stupid ghosts, that I may see and experience you!”

“The silence,” as someone once said, “is deafening!”

Don’t believe such nonsense, Anna!


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