I came to know my Westkill home’s ghost through others. I don’t believe I ever saw her directly. But I could describe her for those that asked whether my house was haunted.
She wore a black dress, buttoned high at the collar, that had a late Victorian cut to it. Her hair, dark with streaks of gray, was bunned in back. Her high-top laced boots had a middling heel to them. I assumed she wore a corset that pinched somewhat. There was no anger in her smooth-skinned face, but the sadness of experience in her hazel eyes.
I would tell people that she had nothing to do with the community cemetery which surrounded my house. That came later. Besides, what self-respecting ghost would want to haunt a cemetery? That would be like choosing to live at home into one’s adult years, or returning to elementary school to see whether you could do a better job at fourth grade.
I never learned her name. I figured she had boarded there long before my house gained fame as the home of Art Flick, who wrote the still-definitive guide to tying flies for trout fishing after moving up from Kingston to run his family’s inn down the road from the boarding house.
One time Art Flick Jr. showed up to look around the place, recalling how there’d be at least another family living in the place, and often several single men. They’d hold boxing matches in the living room.
I heard Art Jr., a sad-eyed man in his mid-sixties when I met him, took his own life in the year after his visit. He had asked me, as he was leaving, if I’d ever run into a woman’s ghost. He didn’t know her name or circumstances, either.
I’ve been thinking about how ghosts are like edited versions of real lives. Sometimes they capture the lyrical spirit of the original piece, or assemble a few facts that create a memorable effect. They more define those who sense them than themselves.
You’ve got to believe.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.