A Spirited Story

A Harris Poll of 2,250 people surveyed in November 2013 found that 42 percent of Americans said they believe in ghosts. And, nearly one-in-five adults in the United States say they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey.

Double exposure "spirit" photograph of girl standing, holding flowers, surrounded by spectral figures of three people. Photograph by G.S. Smallwood, Chicago, Ill., c1905. Prints and Photographs Division.

Double exposure “spirit” photograph of girl standing, holding flowers, surrounded by spectral figures of three people. Photograph by G.S. Smallwood, Chicago, Ill., c1905. Prints and Photographs Division.

Many people know of at least one ghost story that has been told within their family – my dad likes to say it’s his Uncle George watching over us when something strange happens around us, particularly in their house.

And some even believe they know of haunted houses close to where they lived.

I can recall a night spent at The Myrtles Plantation, an antebellum home in St. Francisville, La., that’s been the subject of several paranormal television shows and often known as one of America’s most haunted homes. Me and a friend of mine had the place all to ourselves, which certainly upped the creepy factor. While I can’t say that we saw any unexplained phenomena, each bump and creak of the house throughout the night could certainly have been any number of haunted happenings. We believed.

Our folklore is rich with tales of haunted happenings.

Eldora Scott Maples tells the tale of the family ghost, Alex – short for Alexander the Great – who came to her father when he was 12 and kept watch over him and the family through the years.

“When my father was 12 years of age he heard a strange tap, tap one night as he lay in bed that sounded as if water was dripping from the top of the house down to a feather mattress. The tap, tap came repeatedly through a duration of a year or more before he recognized that some message was trying to be revealed. The tap, tap, tap, appeared so frequently that they soon ceased to be taps but were an insistent stream, then stopped when the usual tap, tap, tap, began as before. While in that lone room in the stillness of the night with blared eyes the constant tap, tap, never varying from sound except by frequency, my father decided that the visitor was a ghost.”

The haunted auto by artist Bryant Baker. April 20, 1910. Prints and Photographs Division.

The haunted auto by artist Bryant Baker. April 20, 1910. Prints and Photographs Division.

Her story is just one of many in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940. The Library’s collections hold other ghostly tales sure to fright and delight, including a story about phantom horses heard in Rock Creek, W.V.

If seeing is believing, you can also search the Library’s online motion picture collections for movies on ghosts. See, for example, “Uncle Josh in a Spooky Hotel” from the collection Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies and “Dud Leaves Home from Origins of American Animation.

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