A Simple Ghost

Photo by John P. O'Grady
Photo by John P. O’Grady

* * *

     I grew up in a house on the edge of town in Craig, Colorado. It sits next to a sagebrush and scrub grass covered hill. A short ways away to the west, Fortification Creek runs high and muddy in the springtime; as summer progresses, it hardly runs at all. The house is within city limits, but when our family moved in, it was well beyond the paved streets and groomed sidewalks part of town. It had untamed space around it and a few neighbors that were equally as untamed.

Our house also had a ghost. Of course I have no definitive proof of such a claim, but I have stories. The stories have been told enough times that it’s possible they’ve changed a little, or that a little color has been added for effect. But I believe them just the same.

The house we shared with a ghost was patched together from two buildings that had originated in Mount Harris, an old coal company town further up the Yampa River valley.

Cruising by at 55 mph, it’s easy to forget that a hundred years ago the company town of Mount Harris was once the biggest town in Routt County. It boasted a population of over 1200 people and was home to businesses, churches, schools and pool halls. In 1942 it made national headlines when an explosion in one of the coal mines killed 34 men.

Today not much remains of Mount Harris — just a few old foundations and an historical marker commemorating it and the mines that were once there. As far as towns go, it was a short-lived. Its first structures went up in 1914 but by 1958 all the bits and pieces of it were sold off and hauled away. Parts of it live on, though, scattered around northwestern Colorado in the buildings that were sold off and moved to new locations.

Our house originated in Mount Harris and I always wondered if our ghost traveled the distance with the structure when it was moved to its new location. There is no way to know of course, but I like to imagine that maybe she made that journey.

Aside from noises and bumps around the house, the first strange thing to happen occurred shortly after my family moved in. One day when my mom was baking, a small jar of cloves disappeared. The first time it happened, she didn’t give it much thought, but when a second jar of cloves went missing she began to pay attention. After the third jar of cloves inexplicably vanished, my mom, half serious and half joking, asked out loud for the cloves to be returned. The next morning when she opened the kitchen cabinet door, the three jars of cloves were lined up in front of all the other spices.

I never saw the ghost, but my mom tells me she took part of my Christmas present one year when I was eight or nine years old. I had been given a couple of blue hair combs and I was working on putting them in my hair when one went missing. My mom and sisters and I searched everywhere for the comb, but it could not be found. Eventually we gave up our search, thinking that I had misplaced it and it would eventually turn up. Soon enough we forgot all about it.

Several years later, my parents remodeled the upstairs restroom. Upon its completion my mom said, “I wonder if our ghost will approve of our new bathroom?” The next morning the hair comb that had been missing for years was sitting on the counter next to the new sink.

It turns out that our house had a bit of a reputation. My mom, when she was still relatively new to the neighborhood, had tea one afternoon with some of the women who’d lived in the area for a while. After a bit of chitchat, she asked them if they had ever heard stories about unusual happenings at the house. They had.

One year around Halloween, my sister and one of her coworkers were decorating the thrift store where she works. They talked about ghosts and haunted houses. During the conversation my sister’s coworker said she only knew of one haunted house in Craig, and she went on to describe our house.

It’s nearly impossible to grow up in a house that is reputedly haunted and not feel afraid at times. I remember being home alone as a young teenager and hearing what sounded like someone rummaging around in the basement, and getting ready for school one morning and hearing something akin to an old metal box spring mattress being dropped from the ceiling of our basement to the floor. I was too terrified to go down the stairs to investigate.

My mom always reassured me though, that the ghost was friendly — it meant no harm. To back up her claims, my mom would retell the stories of the ghost looking out for my younger sister, Marla, when she was a baby.

Marla was about six months old when my mom and step-dad bought the house. One night, in the middle of the night that first winter, my mom was startled awake by the timer on the kitchen stove going off. It was the kind of timer that could only be set for an hour at a time. She got out of bed to turn the buzzer off, and while she was up she checked on the baby. In her crib, my little sister was soaked and cold. My mom changed her, put dry pajamas on her and brought her into bed to warm her up. It happened once more a few months later. The buzzer in the middle of the night woke her up again. This time, Marla had a raging fever.

Being brought up as a Pentecostal, I was not particularly skeptical of supernatural notions. I believed in angels and demons. I believed that the laying on of hands could heal people. I’d witnessed, on numerous occasions, people speaking in tongues. But a ghost in the house was different than anything I’d learned about in church. I had been schooled on the idea of the Holy Ghost, but I had no framework for understanding a simple ghost.

That’s really what was most terrifying about the ghost. Not that I thought it would harm me, but that it represented unknown territory. And in my religion, the spirit world consisted of only things from God or things from Satan. There wasn’t talk of an in-between spirituality. The ghost in our house, however, seemed to be more grounded in earthly things. She was a mystery, but not a particularly divine mystery. As far as I could tell, she was not concerned with our spiritual lives. She had an affinity for spices and pretty things. Sometimes she was noisy. She looked after the baby in the night.

There was a time when my aunt visited from the west coast and she was awakened by footsteps on gravel just outside the guest bedroom window. Then she heard a door open and close on the back of the garage. My aunt was convinced that a prowler had entered. When she woke my mom and told her what she’d heard, my mom explained that the yard was only grass and soft dirt. There was no gravel at all. And more importantly, nobody could enter a door on the backside of the garage because no such door existed. My aunt was baffled and embarrassed by the experience and doubted herself, even though she was certain of what she had heard.

A few years later, when my parents removed the old siding from the back wall of the garage, they found a doorway that had been sealed in. It was in the same location my aunt claimed to have heard an intruder open and close a door.

Of all the stories, the hidden doorway story is the one I find most intriguing. There is no explanation for the footsteps on gravel that my aunt heard and the fact that a hidden doorway was discovered where my aunt claimed to have heard one doesn’t prove anything, but it does suggest that perhaps there was something — something that knew more about the house than we did, something that carried on as if the house had never been changed, something that moved through the world unhindered by the laws of physics.

My mom and step-dad still live in the house on the edge of town that they bought in 1975. The hillside to the north of them is still covered with sagebrush and scrub grass though the road in front of them is paved now. A few of their more colorful neighbors have passed on and the baby that needed tending in the night all those years ago is over forty now.

Nothing out of the ordinary has happened there for a while. Perhaps the resident ghost has moved on, or maybe she no longer needs to make herself known. My rational brain knows I should consider the possibility that she was never really there and that the incidents that happened can all be explained away as coincidences or some kind of magical thinking.

So we’re left with a mystery. Did the stories make the ghost, or did the ghost make the stories? All I know with certainty is that the stories mean something to me and when I visit the house, I find myself wondering if there might be a silent observer–someone or something that hears our conversations, witnesses our family gatherings, pays attention to who comes and who goes. I wonder if she’s just beyond our awareness, in a realm of existence we don’t fully understand, listening to the stories we tell about her.

16 thoughts on “A Simple Ghost”

  1. What a beautiful piece of writing, filled with childhood memories. I really enjoyed reading this Teresa – you have such a graceful way with words. Thanks for sharing your ghost story.

  2. I bookmarked this last night to come back to and read in the clear light of day, and I’m glad I did. Excellent stories, regardless of the truth or fiction of them. Even in the middle of the afternoon, and even with a friendly ghost, I got a little creeped out reading it.

  3. I’m Teresa’s niece and I have stories of my own from this ghost. I used to house sit for my Grandmother when she would travel and I’ve seen her twice. She scared the crap out of me the first time so bad that I had to have my cousins stay with me I refused to stay there alone. I was watching tv in the front room minding my own business when the rocking chair which was on the other side of the room from me rocked by itself. I jumped half out of my skin stood up and where the chair was located at the time there was a huge mirror by it and I seen her in the chair through the mirror. Needless to say I grabbed what I could and bolted. Went back but only with my cousins by my side they told me I was crazy but I know what I saw. Years later while taking care of my great grandfather at my grandmother’s house I was in the other room and out of the corner of my eye I seen her and she was making motions like she was trying to get my attention well she got it lol. I went to check on my grandfather and he was climbing on his bed trying to get something off the celing and I had not been notified by her I belive grandpa would’ve fallen off the bed. I know she’s there. She may have finally crossed over but I still won’t go into the house alone and my brother won’t euther he won’t say why but he just refuses.

  4. I, too, waited to read this until it was light (never been much of a fan of spooky things). This is a wonderful piece of writing! I’m glad I came back to it. xo

  5. I only visited that house once…about 35 years ago. So, as I read your story I found myself trying my best to recall the basic layout of the house and the garage. Very interesting story! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Thanks to everyone for reading this. Since posting it, I’ve heard a few more recent ghost stories from the house. Maybe she’s still there, looking for moments to be relevant.

  7. I’m fascinated by the aspect about the door covered over in remodeling combined with the response to a more recent remodeling. It seems most good ghost stories have this aspect of ties to the past combined with awareness of the present, often with some strong emotion associated as well.

    It causes me to wonder if something about strong human emotion transcends time within a given space. The location remains constant, but time is fluid. Events from the distant past are seen or heard as though happening in the present…and current events are interacted on by a person from the distant past…

    1. My mom tells me that they noticed most of the unusual occurrences after they made changes to the house, so it sounds like that fits with what you are saying about other ghost stories you’ve heard.

      I have also wondered about strong human emotion transcending time within a given space. Have you ever come across a place or entered a room and felt an emotional shift? I have on a couple of occasions.

  8. Here’s an interesting thought…

    I have occasionally had very realistic dreams in which a stranger was in need of help, and I was trying, desperately, to help or warn. I have usually awakened from these dreams, feeling very burdened for the need, and have prayed for the person before going back to sleep.

    What if…

    What if the people in my dreams were real people in real need, who saw me as an apparition, warning them or providing help in time of need?

    What if that’s the sort of interaction witnessed in your house?

    Just a thought…

  9. I love this story. My name is Joseph kim. I’m a film maker. A graduate from cu Denver. I’d like to shoot a film about ghost stories in Craig. I’m currently in Craig. And would like to have a interview if possible. I agree this is well written. Love your style of writing.

  10. I love this story. My name is Joseph kim. I’m a film maker. A graduate from cu Denver. I’d like to shoot a film about ghost stories in Craig. I’m currently in Craig. And would like to have a interview if possible. Please consider kind regards Joseph Kim.

  11. I was so excited to read this! I still feel the little tightening fear in my belly that I felt the time that Marla told me these stories years ago. You bring it to life on the page. Well done!

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