“Mad from life’s history,
Swift to death’s mystery;
Glad to be hurled,
Anywhere, anywhere, out of this world.”
— Thomas Hood, quoted by Violet Whaley, in her suicide note (1885)
I love to write about ghosts. I love the idea of them. I love the idea not having to say good bye, forever. I love the idea of unfinished business, tasks so important they have to be carried over into death. It’s the perfect plot.
I recently took a trip with my family to San Diego. I’d heard of several haunted buildings, in Old Town, in particular. In one restaurant, the staff doesn’t bother laying out spoons, because the spoons clatter to the floor, on their own. Supposedly the presence that haunts that building doesn’t care for spoons. But why wouldn’t it? Do the spoons remind it of ice cream eaten with a duplicitous lover, just before it died? Is it envious as they watch those who still get to sip warm, savory soup from a spoon?
Ghosts make such good stories.
I also wanted to visit the Whaley House, called the most haunted building in the US. I imagined wandering through the house, hearing the footfalls of Yankee Jim, who was hanged on the property a century ago. Or catching sight of Violet Whaley, who’d committed suicide after a heartbreaking marriage. But when I arrived I found out that I would need to pay for a tour that left off from a gift shop full of touristy knick knacks. Somehow it all seemed less mysterious. I decided against the tour.
The Whaley Family
Chatting with my sister in law later, I mentioned that I regretted not visiting the Whaley House. She is a practical person, so I thought she’d agree that the tour would have been a waste, that ghosts don’t exist. Instead she told me about how she was absolutely convinced that the house in which she and her family lived in Mobile, Alabama was haunted. Each time someone in the house took a shower, the name Amanda appeared in the steam in the mirror as if someone had traced it with their finger. It appeared in a different place each time. She and her husband both felt an unfriendly presence during the three years they lived there. My sister in law asked around and found out that a woman had died while living in the house, and that she’d always wished she had a daughter named Amanda.
Perhaps that spirit had a desire so strong that she needed to return from death to try to fill it. Or maybe she wanted to be sure her story was told. Ghosts make for interesting stories, whether you believe in them or not.
The Whaley House, San Diego, CA