This is the time of year when I feel I’m taken out of my box, the tissue is folded back and I’m asked to tell ghost stories. That stems from the book I wrote that was published back in 1994, Haunted Island: True Ghost Stories of Martha’s Vineyard, which in turn inspired the haunted walking tours I lead every summer. Well, everyone on the Island has his and her schtick. Vernon Laux is the bird man, Thi Khen Tran is the eggroll lady, and I’m the ghost lady. So far Carol at M.V.O.L. has asked me for a list of my favorite scary books (The Turn of The Screw, Twice Told Tales, Don’t Look Now — by Daphne du Maurier, set in Venice, jeepers, it was creepy; they made a movie out of it with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland! — and any book by Tannanirive Due were among them. Also I’ll be on Plum TV next week at some undisclosed spooky location in Edgartown.
The great part about having a niche, albeit a weird one, is that you become the repository for all new stories on that subject. Summer vacationers have called me about invisible children who romp through their house once their own kids are asleep in bed, candles that won’t stay lit and footsteps coming from the attic where there is no attic. This summer there appeared to be more ghost sightings than ever, a lot of them by people normally too skeptical to believe in ghosts even if they slipped with a whole gang of them on the same banana peel. And you know what’s especially cool? Digital cameras are picking up more paranormal details than the old-fangled kind ever did. At the start of the summer during my Edgartown ghost tours, a woman kept nagging her sulky teen (is that redundant?) daughter to show me a picture a friend had snapped of her an hour earlier at The Newes of America (a notoriously haunted locale). Finally the daughter decided for just one minute to be less of a pill and showed me the photo. The girl was posed against a brick wall. Behind her right shoulder was a white face looking as flaked and calcified as an ancient statue. Yikes! Normally true ghost sightings are less phantasmagorical than that, but this disembodied head looked like something cooked up in a Hollywood studio.
Mostly what people get on their digital screens are those pale, glowing, perfectly spherical orbs that no photographer can ever adequately explain, and that ghost hunters identify, quite matter-of-factly, as ghosts plain and simple. A day or two after Illumination Night, Christine Box of Vineyard Haven showed me a photo she’d snapped of the last house on the southeast side of Cottage Park in the Camp Ground. The shadowy porch held a string of ruby red lanterns and, arching over the steepled second story, a spray of orbs like a profusion of blown bubbles, wreathed the house. Christine and her sister had photographed the cottages all night, so if the orbs were merely a reflection of the Japanese lanterns, then why didn’t any of the dozens of other pictures of other cottages disclose them?
The fact is, paranormal researchers all over our region, including a favorite of mine, author Paul F. Eno (NewEnglandghosts.com) are saying they don’t understand why, but supernatural activity in this oldest part of the country is exploding. My advice, if you want to see what we’re talking about is . . . pay attention! Stop insisting that those quirky things that happen to you aren’t really happening to you: The tap on the shoulder when no one’s there, footsteps behind you on a deserted lane, the scent of wildflowers when you’re working alone in an airless office; if you start reminding yourself, ‘There’s another ghost!’ you might realize that empty room you’re in has started to get a little crowded.
Marsha Winsryg wants us to know that the African American Community Development Project is premiering their documentary film, Waging Peace in Zambia at the Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven on Nov. 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. There will be a silent auction of antique African ceremonial cloths, contemporary folk art and wall hangings. Zambian crafts will be on sale and hors d’oeuvres will be served.
Carlin Hart of the Oak Bluffs School informs us that our parent member of the PTO board, Tom Hallahan, is up for re-election for the School Advisory Council. If you’d like to run against him, call the school and submit your name. The election will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. in the school library.
We all hate to have the last of our summer friends leave the Island and many of us are feeling a pang at the departure of Jessica Harris and her entourage of three cats, all of whom decamped from their pink-shuttered home on Tuckernuck last weekend. Jessica, however, is riding high: This summer saw the release of her scrumptious book, The Martha’s Vineyard Table, which should not only enjoy a long shelf life on Island, but which had a good reception all over the country. Now she’s checking the kitties into her Queens apartment before scooting off to New Orleans where she’ll take over the newly endowed Ray Charles Chair of African America Material Culture at Dillard College as Scholar in Residence (there is no stationery in the world that could hold all that information on the masthead!) Jessica and I realized that two of her kitties and my one fruit loop of a cat, Beebe, came from the same breeder so they’re cousins, or half-siblings or something. I got to spend the last evening on Island with Jessica; we dined at Mediterranean where she schmoozed in fluent French with Gilbert and I got in a “merci” and “plus vin, s’il vous plait” edgewise. Bon voyage, chere amie, and see you next summer.