The following is an excerpt of a short story from my book Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $2.99.
A tranquil pond rested near to a cluster of four thick willow trees behind the white, three-story Victorian house. The house was accentuated by dark green trim that lined the edges of every window, door, and trellis. Its black shingles were deceptively well arranged in neat rows on the roof, and the paint peeled on the wood siding. Most of the green, clapboard shutters were drawn, allowing the afternoon light to penetrate the narrow windows. A few yards away, beyond the small grove of willows and the pond, lay a thick wood that had been on the property for several centuries.
The pond’s only confidant, a young woman dressed in a plain blue dress, sat beside its stone edge. The tender breeze blew softly against her long black hair while she reclined in the bushy lawn. Her fate was to be the only child in a family that seemed to have everything. Her family had moved to the outskirts of the prosperous city of Lynchburg after her father had inherited her grandfather’s mining company. Her only friends growing up had been her tutor and the playmates she imagined into existence.
But that was many years ago.
The young woman sighed and stared at her reflection in the cool water. Her face looked tired, and the black rings under her eyes contrasted with her porcelain skin. Her eyes stared back at her from just below the surface of the pond―green, jade green that seemed to cut into the otherwise clear water. She watched a school of goldfish dart playfully and wished she was among them, but then one appeared to stare back at her. She smiled at it before tapping the water with her finger. Ripples distorted her reflection, and the fish vanished behind the rocks and shadows.
“Abigail!” a distant call sounded.
The young woman’s eyes fell downward and her shoulders sunk lower.
“Abby!” the cheery voice sang again.
“Coming, Mother!” Abigail shouted with notable agitation. She rose slowly and headed toward the house. The shadows from the willow trees covered her as she glided past. A rusted swing set creaked in the wind, and the willow’s long, rope-like branches swayed towards her as she went by, gently brushing up against the fabric of her dress.
The white, wooden porch loomed. Its pillars rose high in the air, touching the slate overhang far above. Directly above that was the rounded window, shutters drawn, which looked out upon the yard from her bedroom.
Abigail placed her hand on the wooden railing, which was festooned with ivy, and her shoes clicked with each step on the stone as she pulled herself towards the door. The curtains danced from the inside of the open windows, waving at her as she reached for the iron door handles. She swung one of the two doors wide open, revealing the lavish parlor.
Spirits lurk among the faded monuments and deserted battlefields of Virginia, from the fabled streets of Fredericksburg to the shipyards of Hampton Roads. From beyond the grave, they beg us to remember. In Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, their stories are told. Twelve spine-tingling tales take you to where this world meets the next. History has never felt so unreal.
Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion is a collection of short ghost stories from the Civil War battlefields of Virginia. It was originally published in print by Quixote Press in 2011, but not available digitally until now.
Some stories are campy and fun, some are classic Gothic romance, and others are modern horror. In one tale, the ghost of a Union prisoner of war helps a boy named Humpy Andrews get revenge on his teasing cousins. In another, a grieving widow returns from the grave to reach out to her reincarnated love.
In some sense, this book was years in the making. It had its origins in a family vacation to Virginia when I was thirteen years old. Already a Civil War buff and amateur historian, I could not wait to explore all the towns and battlefields I read so much about.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I was more familiar with the geography of northern Virginia than I was with my own hometown, Des Plaines, Illinois. From the heights overlooking Fredericksburg to the old diner in Richmond where the waitress took our order on a pink ticket right out of the 1960s, being in Virginia felt like I was living in history. It was an enthralling experience.
Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion is now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $2.99.
Rogues Hollow is a geologic depression and former town located south of the village of Doylestown in northeastern Ohio, a few miles southwest of Akron. Though long defunct, the road and bridge of the same name has long been a magnet for legends. Today, Doylestown celebrates its unique heritage with the Rogues’ Hollow Festival, an annual event which takes place the first Friday and Saturday of August.
Though one of many “crybaby bridges” scattered throughout rural Ohio, Rogues Hollow’s notorious history makes it unique. Rogues Hollow was formed after centuries of erosion by the meandering of Silver Creek, and the area was settled in the early 1800s when coal deposits were discovered. In 1958, Russell Frey printed a collection of area history called Rogue’s Hollow: History and Legends. He described the mining community as rough-and-tumble, full of taverns, violent episodes, and tormented spirits.
Haunted Beauty: Aesthetics and Mindfulness in the Traditional Ghost Story by Tim Weldon is a brief but insightful book. Published in 2015, Haunted Beauty examines the literary tradition of the ghost story. Weldon, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois, succinctly explains what makes ghost stories so popular. Though its academic tone is sometimes challenging, all readers will delight in the insights offered by this book, which includes examples from both modern and classic ghost stories.
In his introduction, Tim Weldon points out that ghosts are one of the only supernatural beings whose existence is continually in question. “As a subject, ghosts stand apart from the too far-fetched (no one asks if you believe in zombies),” he writes. In ghosts, we hold out hope for our own immortality. More than that, however, ghosts offer an intimate connection with the past. Ghost stories also offer us a pleasurable feeling of thrill, fright, and “the fun of the shudder.” Finally, Weldon argues that a great ghost story is great literature. One of the most beloved stories of all time, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, is a ghost story.
Haunted Beauty is divided into two parts. The first, “The All that Lingers,” is an exploration of sense and setting, time, and place in ghost stories. Part Two, “Thoughts Haunted,” is about why ghost stories are so psychologically appealing.
Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities by Michael Kleen is now available on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com! Just in time for the fall, you can own a copy of the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college folklore and ghost stories. Published by Crossroad Press, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities is 166 pages and retails for $12.99. Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 1: Folklore, Legends, and Ghost Stories.
“A folklorist is a relief mapper, a cartographer of the invisible landscape, exploring and recording the local memory and ways of life, preserving them from erasure and decay, demonstrating how individual features on the map coalesce and form a unified whole rooted to a particular geographical location.” – Kent C. Ryden
Ghost stories (or ghostlore) are a type of folklore that includes supernatural legends, local legends, and urban legends. Legends, generally, are also known as folk history or quasi-history. According to folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand, “Rumors, anecdotes, and legends alike are concerned with remarkable, even bizarre, events that allegedly happened to ordinary people in everyday situations.” They are retold as a way of explaining strange occurrences and “are passed on in order to warn or inform others about these unprovable events.” While many legends conform to certain general themes and motifs, they acquire their credibility from localized details inserted by individual storytellers. The more details there are, the more truthful the legend appears to its audience. As a type of folklore, legends retain a fixed central core even while new variants acquire different lengths, detail, style, and techniques of performance. The process by which people in a community absorb new legends into their oral traditions and remake them through repetition and creative storytelling is called communal recreation.
Michael Kleen earned a M.A. in History from Eastern Illinois University in 2008 and a M.S. in Education from Western Illinois University in 2011. He is the author of several books, including Haunting Illinois, Tales of Coles County, Six Tales of Terror, and Paranormal Illinois. Michael has spoken about local history and folklore at conventions, libraries, cafes, schools, and colleges; and he has presented research papers at the 2007, 2010, and 2011 Conference on Illinois History in Springfield. His latest book, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities, was released last month.
How did you come up with the concept for Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities? What makes this book different from other books about haunted places in Illinois?
I have always enjoyed college lore. Both of my alma maters, Eastern Illinois University and Western Illinois University, had their own ghostlore. WIU was remarkable for the sheer number of alleged hauntings, but EIU is the setting for one of the most well-known ghost stories in Illinois: the legend of Mary Hawkins at Pemberton Hall. I had personal experience with a number of the schools in the book, whether through friends or relatives. So last year, when I was thinking about what to write next, it occurred to me that no one had ever attempted to write a book exclusively devoted to Illinois college lore. I decided to dive into my love of collegiate life and make that a reality.
There are a lot of books of ghost stories out there that simply tell the tales without going into much detail. For the main chapters in the book, I did in-depth research and really fleshed out the legends and lore, citing all of my sources in the process. In some cases, I attempted to uncover the origin of the legends. In other cases, I showed how the ghost stories were similar to stories told at other colleges and universities. In the first chapter, I discuss how and why these types of tales flourish at colleges and universities, and why students are so attracted to them. In the second chapter, I focus on types of buildings common to college campuses and give examples of ghost stories set at those locations throughout Illinois. To my knowledge, there are no other books on Illinois ghostlore organized this way.
What are some of the colleges and universities discussed in the book?
To begin with, the book includes chapters on Illinois State University, Eastern Illinois University, Western Illinois University, Rockford University, and Southern Illinois University, and stories from nine other colleges throughout Illinois and the Chicagoland area, including the University of Illinois, Millikin University, Illinois College, and Loyola University Chicago. Nearly every college and university has a ghost story or two, but I tried to include substantive stories that would keep readers interested. Strangely, I’ve never been able to find any ghost stories at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, so maybe that is the exception.