The 1957 Chevrolet convertible took the turn off Highway 37 onto North Harmon Drive too fast. It flipped over and skidded on its open top to a bloody standstill, decapitating the young woman driver.
Decades later, in 1995, my best friend built his house on the site of the accident. Immediately, his newly-constructed home had issues.
The lights and water faucets randomly turned themselves on and off. Although he didn’t smoke or even own an oven, the smoke detector would go off at the same time every evening. He’d fold his laundry, then go do something else in the house, only to return to find it scrunched into a ball. He lived alone and possessed the only key.
He looked up the accident, the woman’s records and visited her gravesite. He even bought a simple chain necklace as a peace offering. He left it on the counter in a straight line, said a few words of solace and comfort to the spirit of the deceased woman, then went to a movie.
When he returned, the necklace was now on his kitchen table in the shape of an oval. He never had issues again.
This is no seasonal ghost story; I witnessed many of these things myself.
Halloween began as the ancient Celtic fall festival of Samhain, the celebration of the harvest. October 31 was believed to be the day that spirits of the dead from past years would wander freely upon the Earth.
It was rumored that if one sat on a three-legged stool in the middle of the intersection of three roads at midnight as November 1 began, you could hear the names of the people who would die the following year being whispered on the wind.
Offerings to these roaming dead were left on a person’s doorstep to appease them and hopefully turn their malevolent spirits away from the abode. This is the origin of “Trick or Treat,” when homeowners give candy to children in order to prevent malicious trickery by disappointed treat seekers.
To walk among the spirits loose on October 31, ancient Celts believed, was to take your life and your very soul in your hands. So in order to do one’s business on Samhain, one had to dress as a witch, demon, spirit -- or some other specter -- to blend in with and fool the wandering ghosts. That was the beginning of dressing in costume for Halloween, although today’s superhero, princess and other non-scary costumes would hardly deceive the footloose spirits of Halloweens of yore.
Jack-o’-lantern was reputedly a miser and trickster banned from heaven and hell, so he was condemned to wander the Earth holding a lantern to guide his way. Initially turnips were used, but when folks came to North America they found the pumpkin more suitable for carving and lighting. The legend of jack-o’-lantern became an inspiration for the story of the Headless Horseman.
Superstitions arose. The reason one should fear a black cat crossing your path is because they were familiars of spirits seeking to steal human souls. A black cat was your warning that eternal damnation lurked nearby.
People believed that if a dog howled in the night, it had seen Death walk by.
Even today, there are people who suffer from superstitions like triskaidekaphobia (the fear of the number 13). The superstition is so strong that, for example, if people realize that 13 are seated in a row, they are supposed to rise as one to make a 14th so that none of them suffer some terrible future mishap.
The ancient basis of this superstition is that early people counted ten fingers and two feet, getting 12; hence, 13 signified deformity and unluckiness. Those beliefs lay behind much of the lore of Friday the 13th. In medieval times, all public executions were carried out on Fridays, making Friday very unlucky indeed.
Have a happy, safe, Halloween!