ghosts from the past

December 1, 2009 at 12:17 pm 9 comments

When I entered 7th grade our school guidance counselor gave an introductory talk to incoming students that in some way invoked the topic of the supernatural. I think he was making a general point that there are things out there in life which are bigger than we realize, but I do not remember the details, it did not make much of an impression on me at the time. I only remembered the talk several years later when other events brought it to mind.

For several years in high school I participated in a creative problem solving competition and the same guidance counselor was our coach. Through the time we spent together travelling to events we developed a nice friendship. When I was in eleventh grade we traveled to the University of Akron in Ohio for the national competition and roomed in a dormitory at Kent State University, just outside the city of Akron. While we were there he told an interesting story to our team of four guys.

His wife had attended Kent State University and was there in the May of 1970 at the time of the Kent State shootings when four students were killed by rifle fire from members of the Ohio State National Guard. My guidance counselor and his wife were friends of one of the victims. Returning to the campus was a traumatic experience for him. Earlier that evening he had met some other coaches who were close in age to him and they visited the site of the shootings. I remember him describing a sculpture there which has bullet holes from that day. When they were at the sculpture they started yelling into the night sky in an expression of anger and anguish as they remembered those events and that time in their lives.

Somehow that story transitioned to another college memory of his, I think because he was in an introspective mood following his experiences that evening. When he was in college his best friend had a roommate who would wake up in the night and say things in his sleep. Allegedly he would sit up in bed and say, “Mommy, Daddy, Joey’s on fire!” in a high pitched, child like voice. When awoken he would not remember any details at all. Further connecting the behavior with the supernatural, he described one night when a group of students was playing with a ouija board down the hall and the sleep talker sat up in bed and added more details to his usual mantra, including the name of a town.

The following summer my guidance counselor and his friend took a road trip after graduating college and stopped at that town. They somehow looked up records of fires in the town, or perhaps it was some other detail they used to connect the sleep talking with an actual event, I no longer remember the details. They were able to locate the name of a boy named Joseph who had been killed in a fire along with his family. The two guys found the address and stopped to take some pictures. When they returned home after the trip and had the film developed, all the pictures but those of the fire location turned out fine, only the pictures of the fire location turned out overexposed.

Pretty scary stuff to be hearing from an adult late at night, but for me it got worse. One of my friends on the trip was a Christian and had been sharing his testimony with me for years. The thing that always surprised me was the way he described Christianity in very manner of fact terms. It was never, “I believe this or that…” but rather, “This is why this happens…” kind of explanations based on the bible and his fundamentalist religion. He was someone I really looked up and to this day may be the most intelligent person I have ever met. I asked him what he made of the story and in his matter of fact way he explained that the boys’ mother was a witch who deliberately started the fire the boy died in. The sleep talker had been possessed by demons with knowledge of the event.

While somewhat incredulous that he could know with a degree of certainty what happened in the spiritual realm, I was none the less convinced that something very real was going on in this spiritual realm he described, which up to that point I had been rather skeptical of. I did not sleep very well alone in my concrete block dorm room I was so scared. That is likely the first time I ever prayed for help from God.

To this day I do not know what to make of the story. While I am not especially inclined to defer to the supernatural for explanations of events, I do not know what happened either. Clearly there are many possibilities. I do know my guidance counselor was haunted by those events and they have affected him to this day. I know my friend with the supernatural answers has crazier supernatural answers now than when I knew him in high school. And I know I still do not care to delve into ghost stories or the occult, even apart from Christian injunctions against involvement with spiritualism. It is still a scary story to me to be honest. Man’s decent into darkness and madness can be very real regardless of its source.


Entry filed under: belief, faith, supernatural.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The Rambling Taoist  |  December 1, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Quite an interesting and thought provoking post!

  • 2. Sabio Lantz  |  December 1, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    I think you know ATTR, that I have written about my weird experiences too — and I agree with you that leaving them unexplained is best. I think doing a retro-explanation is sometimes harmful.

    Think of all the people who broke up with lovers and go back and re-write how terrible their relationship was from the beginning — which of course can’t be true.

    I heard this story on NPR — another unexplained story, by credible people !

    Thought you may “enjoy”, being a Dad and all.

  • 3. atimetorend  |  December 2, 2009 at 12:12 am

    Thanks TRT. Sabio, it was an interesting link, but it was appropriate to put the quote marks around the word “enjoy.” I haven’t read all your weird experiences yet, will definitely do so.

  • 4. Lorena  |  December 2, 2009 at 1:02 am

    I thought Sabio should show up for that one.

    Yeah, the demons did it. Don’t you know demons do everything Christians want to sweep under the rug? Maybe somebody should start a business named “Demon Rugs.”

    I think that shit happens and that the explanation is still a few hundred years away. I wrote something about psychic experiences a long time ago. At that time I was researching spiritualism and still believed in God, but the musings are still valid. Here is the link if you’re interested:

    You may want to go directly to the Melvin Morse section, he has an interesting theory about psychic phenomena.

  • 5. Kay  |  December 2, 2009 at 8:17 am

    The explanation of witches and possession sounds exactly like what my mother would probably say about the whole thing. I used to believe that way too. I’m very glad that I don’t anymore.

    I am open to the idea that some people may be more attuned to things that we currently give the “woo” definition to. I’m not too fond of the the block universe theory, so I’m not sure if I can agree with Melvin Morse’s ideas, but I’ll probably read him anyway. :-D

    All the strange things that have happened to me in my life could probably be explained with a fuzzy quantum entanglement theory, but I hesitate to do that either.

    I’m a skeptical sorta-theist with visions of ‘woo.’ (Sounds like a great blog title!)


  • 6. Quixie  |  December 3, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Humans are notoriously good at finding patterns where there are none. I think that Daniel Dennet is essentially right that these eerie goose-flesh feelings are just a natural reaction in us. When startled, instead of thinking “wtf was that?” . . . we tend to frame the thought like “who’s there?” . . . . hence the demonic connotations.

    That said, a bit of trivia regarding the Neil Young tune:
    The group (CST&Y) were watching the news about the shootings that day on the television. Neil got up and went outside. Five minutes later he walked back in with a guitar and played the tune—finished— for the other guys. The tune almost wrote itself.


  • 7. atimetorend  |  December 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Kay, yes, that would be a great blog title! Maybe I would be a skeptical reverent agnostic suspicious of woo. :^) It has probably been longer than I realized that I have not been too inclined to ‘woo’.

    Quixie, I would certainly lean Dennet’s way. In a case like fabricating a plausible scenario can still be tricky and there will always be a significant number of unknowns in the equation.

    Interesting on CSNY. I wasn’t sure if I should add a CSNY version or the Neil Young version, which came first, and didn’t take the time to research it. I kind of like the electric CSNY because of the loudness going with the painful lyrics, but find both versions powerful.

  • 8. WI  |  December 3, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    This raises interesting questions for me. I’m not sure if Jesus is God, but I’m not sure if ghosts and other supernatural things are real, either.

  • 9. Kay  |  December 4, 2009 at 12:54 pm


    That too would be a great blog and blog title. :)

    I admit that I love fictional woo. I watch Medium and Ghost Whisperer and love them both, but I tried to read the actual books by Allison DuBois (the inspiration for Medium) and couldn’t finish any of them. Bad writing and very questionable content.

    I’m like Fox Mulder on the X-Files – I WANT to believe … but …

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