The Lincoln House Ghost

This all happened back when I was an undergrad at James Madison University. It was my sophomore year, which turned out to be my last year there though I'm not sure I had decided that at the time of this story.

I was studying theater and the program wasn't quite as rigorous as I had hoped. Also I had no friends. Seriously. No friends. It takes me awhile to get comfortable with new people, something I've made peace with at this point, but back then I hadn't and it just made me uncomfortable and standoffish, which pushed people even further away. I was far from home for the first time in my life, unhappy and isolated.

Who knows, maybe that even played into what happened that night.

The picture above is of Lincoln House. It was torn down in 2006 to make way for a shiny new state of the art theater center, but back then it was the theater department's costume shop. Like most theater departments, JMU took a multidisciplinary approach to theater and that Fall it was my time to do a tour of duty on the costume crew.

That night, we were at the theater integrating costumes into a show for the first time. We were kind of overstaffed so I was standing around backstage with not much to do until the costume designer threw me a set of keys and asked if I would take the van over to the shop and pick up a load of costumes someone had forgotten in the drier.

If you've ever been involved in college or high school theater you know what it's like back stage leading up to a performance. The place is packed with the high energy collisions of attractive and creative young people. There's flirting to do, cigarettes to be smoked, parties to plan. An astonishing amount of backrubs. Faced with that sort of thing at a painfully introverted time in my life I was more than happy to leave.

It was early evening when I climbed into the van and started it up. The street between the theater and the costume shop was empty, lined with the shadows of trees. A rapidly fading sunset was on the horizon, all orange and yellow. It was short trip to the shop, not more than a few minutes. When I got to Lincoln House I pulled the van around to the back and walked up the drive to the front door.

That's when I remembered that the costume shop was haunted.

I don't remember who was supposed to be haunting it, or why, only that it was. No big surprise though, is it? I mean, look at the place. Of course there are stories that it's haunted. It would be more shocking if there weren't.

By the time I climbed the small hill out of the parking lot the sun was gone and it was fully night. Still and empty all around. If you look at the picture above, I would have been walking from the bottom left corner up and around to the front of the house. You can also see in the picture that on the left side of the house, a gable sits peaked at the roofline with its one window looking into the house's attic.

I knew the building was empty, the entire crew had left together and locked the place up, but as I walked up that drive I became convinced that if I were to look up at that gable on the roof I would see an old woman standing silently in the window, watching me as I made my way to the front door.

Even as a deep dread settled in my stomach, I dismissed the idea as a product of my over active imagination, and refused to look up and feed into it. I'd get this over with and get back to the theatre.  I took the stairs, fishing for the keys. My hand shook a little as I unlocked the door and felt blindly inside for the light switch.

The light settled into what would have been a parlor back when the place was built. Old ladies would have gathered there in the afternoons to drink tea and play bridge, but now it was crowded with dress forms and piles of fabric. Racks of hats and lines of shoes. Directly ahead of me was a narrow corridor that led back to what would have been the kitchen, but was now the room where they dyed fabrics. Beyond that lay the laundry room.

To my right a large mahogany staircase wound up into the darkness of the second floor and, beyond that, to the attic. I stood there for a moment looking at. The heavily polished wood shone. The bannister curved like a collarbone, graceful and smooth.What would happen if I followed it up, I wondered. Part of me wanted to, felt drawn to it and whatever I'd find at the top.

I pushed that aside and made my way through the debris in the parlor and into the corridor. It was cramped inside, not much wider than my shoulders and on either wall were corkboards covered with a forest of index cards, sketches and scraps of fabric, each one secured at the top with a pushpin.

I reached into the kitchen, fumbling until I hit the light switch. There was nothing inside but an old table covered in spatters of paint and dye. Piles of fabric. Two windows sat above the stained sink, closed and painted shut. I crossed the kitchen in two big steps and made it to the laundry room. I didn't even bother to turn on the light. I darted in, threw the squat drier open and grabbed the warm pile that lay inside.

As I stepped back into the kitchen something cold brushed against the skin of my arm.

I stopped dead in my tracks. The house was quiet. Still. My skin prickled.  I felt it again, like a cold wind blowing from the laundry room out towards the parlor. I turned and looked up. There were two windows, both high up on the wall of the laundry room. Each one was shut tight and locked. There was no door. No gap in the wall or crack in the ceiling.

Was I imaging it? Where was this coming from?

The wind blew again, lightly, and then I had it. I had left the front door open and it was simply drawing air out of the house, creating what seemed to be wind. I nearly laughed at myself, relieved, and then turned to go, fixing my eyes through the corridor and on to the front door.

It was closed. There was a big window just to the right of it and it too was closed tight. Pinpricks of fear tingled along my arms and back.

The wind kicked up again, stronger this time, crashing into my back and over my shoulders.Who cared where it was coming from? I just wanted out.  I blundered past the Ritt stained fabrics and into the corridor. As I did a sound, like playing cards being shuffled, was at my back. It grew louder, like it was gaining on me. I was halfway through the corridor when the it overtook me and I watched, horrified, as the loose corners of those hundreds of scraps of paper rose in the wind and began slapping fitfully against the corkboard. Convulsing. For a split second I saw them not as notecards but as a flock of birds pinned to the walls, all of them thrashing their bloody wings, desperate to escape.

The wind was howling through the whole house now. Beyond the front door were streetlights, headlights, the lights of the school. All I had to do was make it through that corridor and this whole stupid thing would be over. I would be backstage again, surrounded in tile and linoleum and people.

But I had become convinced that I'd make it through the corridor, but just as I stepped into the parlor I'd see the old woman from the attic descending that mahogany staircase just out of the corner of my eye, moving slow and dreamy, but in the twisted physical logic of dreams, still fast enough that she would catch me at the bottom before I could escape.

I surged forward and my hand found the doorknob. I threw the door open and stumbled down the stairs and along the driveway to the van. The black rectangles of the house's windows rushed past out of the corner of my eye. I had to fight the desire to turn and look. It was like I was standing at the edge of cliff and there was a tiny part of me that wanted to lean forward just a hair too much, that wondered what it would be like to go tumbling down into the darkness and never come back.

I don't remember getting into the van or starting it up. I just remember pulling out of the driveway and onto the road, heading back to the lights of the campus and that theater full of people, all of them dancing on the tips of their toes as they prepared to throw themselves as one into the stage lights.

I thought of them and I thought of how I would go to bed that night, and likely move through the entirety of the next day, without saying a word about what had happened to anyone. After all, who would I say it to?  I was surrounded by people, but I had managed to make myself as fleeting and transparent in their eyes as a sudden breath of wind. A ghost.

So that's my story. 100% true! How about you guys? I know one or two of you must have a good ghost story to share. Let's hear 'em in the comments! Happy Halloween!



Jeff Hirsch
The Long Walk Home
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011


Find me at jeff-hirsch.com and @jeff_hirsch

11 comments:

juliakarr said...

Jeff - this is so creepy! I love it!

L.J. Boldyrev said...

Super creepy! Love it!

Angie Smibert said...

Great story, Jeff!

Jeff Hirsch said...

Thanks guys! Whew. I was honestly worried no one would read anything this long. Glad you liked it!

Colene Murphy said...

So creepy! I realize that has been said already but that's the only way to put it!

Jeff Hirsch said...

The fact that I have successfully creeped you people out has made my day! Anybody else have a personal ghost story?

Sierra Gardner said...

Most of my stories are a little more nebulous - seeing something out of the corner of my eye in my grandmother's (seriously creepy) upstairs or getting that creepy crawly feeling once in a while when I'm outside at night. Nothing substantial =) On a separate note, I love that you said you had a hard time making friends. I TOTALLY RELATE! It took me years after high school and lots of forced conversations to figure out how to be a little more comfortable initiating contact with people I don't know. I can't tell you how many people told me they thought I was stuck up when they first met me!

Tere Kirkland said...

Everyone says my workplace is haunted... but I work in the French Quarter, where every building is haunted. ;)

Weird things do happen though, stuff moved to the wrong place, weird bumps in an unoccupied office...

Thanks for sharing your story.

lots-o-kids said...

So I have had a few, but here is my most recent and verified account of a ghost cat.

It was a dark and stormy night... wait. It was neither dark or stormy. Or was it at night to be honest.

It was a sunny, cloudless day in Southern California. Wow, that sounds much less dramatic. Anyway, my mother in law and I were in here craft room searching for who knows what now. We had been digging side by side for some time when in a flash we both stiffened up.

Now there was no reason to stiffen up. There was just a feeling I guess. I look down and to my left at the ground and I see a large gray house cat run at top speed toward their back door. The door had a closed up doggy door since they no longer had animals in the house. At the very same instant my mother in law hears the sound of a cat running through the room. However, I heard no sound and she saw no cat.

We looked at each other and went to sit in the living room to tell our husbands of the experience. After some investigation no cat (or other creature) was found to be in the room.

In that same house (my husband and I lived there while we were newlyweds getting on our feet) I saw a dog. It was a large dog that sat under a side table near the front door. Later I told my husband that I frequently saw a dog there and I described her in detail. My husband then showed me a picture of the family's beloved Sandy who had passed years before they knew me. Sure enough it was her.

Later, when I was pregnant with our first child she would lay at the end of the hall and just stand guard as I would go to and from the bathroom. Soon after the baby was born she was gone.

Again, in that same house, I was asleep and heavily pregnant with our first child. A son we were going to name Brandon after a friend of my husbands who had passed as a teenager.

I woke with a start for no particular reason. Then my eyes darted to the left front corner of the room where a thin guy with slight asian featurs smiled widely at me wearing a top hat looking thing. He nodded and very quickly ascended out of the room straight up though the ceiling. I wasn't scared just kind weired out.

I had a hard time falling back to sleep, but finally did. The next morning I told my husband about the guy in our room. He showed me an obituary picture and I was shocked. It was him. His friend Brandon.

I've had a few other experiences as well. Seeing a man in my grandmothers shower, feeling kisses on my cheeks, the feeling of a suddenly full room while my grandmother was passing only to look around and see no more people had entered the room than who were there before. Even the distinct feeling of something walking through me. But we don't have all day now do we. As my user name implies I'm a busy girl.

Jen Chandler said...

Very creepy story. I have many true creepy stories that have happend in my life. Like the three years I worked in an old hotel haunted by a young woman who was imprisioned for harlotry. Or the troop of people singing, passing just under the window only there was no one there as I looked out. Or the little girl in the corner of my kitchen who would whisper for me to come to her in the middle of the night. *shudder* yep, LOTS o' creepy stories...

Thanks for sharing the story!
Jen

Jeff Hirsch said...

Awesome stories guys! Man, I can't get enough creepy ghost stories. I'm so susceptible to getting freaked out but I love 'em anyway.

I love the image of the thin smiling man in the top hat and the little girl in the corner whispering.

I hear you Sierra, dealing with those difficulties getting to know people is no easy task. But we did it! And yeah, I got the stuck up thing all the time too.