Local Haunts

Local color.  It’s what makes travel so much fun, even if not to someplace exotic.  I’ve lived in five different states and two different countries and one thing each place had in common was local lore.  Since I’ve been a stranger in most places I’ve moved, I’ve picked the lore up primarily from books.  Fortunately there are as many people willing to write them for the also many people like me who are willing to read them.  S. E. Schlosser is a storyteller.  We have Rutgers University in common, but her book, Spooky New York, focuses on the state next door.  The book contains retold stories, or as the subtitle states Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore.  New York isn’t unique in having such stories, and some of them are clearly regional variants—I heard some of them set in Wisconsin, for instance—but there’s a guilty pleasure in reading such accounts.

Although most of us are raised being told “there’s no such thing as ghosts,” that “truth” doesn’t stick for all of us.  I don’t know if any of the ghosts in this collection are real; folklore deals with that—shall we say—twilight zone that lies between quotidian existence and the weird.  Strange things do happen, but not on any kind of scientific schedule so they can be anticipated and quantified.  And some of them have been seen and reported by many different people.  These stories include such tales.  While they range the length of the state they concentrate in the east.  I’m sure, however, that if you spent enough time talking to the locals you could scare up ghosts from across the Empire State.

Many of the tales are set in New York City.  Having commuted into New York for about seven years, one thing became clear to me.  Even with the tall, modern towers and sophisticated, wealthy trappings, it can be an eerie place.  Around this time of year I would arrive in Manhattan well before sunrise.  Walking the predawn streets to the office showed Gotham in a different light.  Even the few times I went for lunchtime strolls to clear my head, I sensed there were millions of untold stories here.  Some gothic, some haunted.  Schlosser tells several such New York tales.  She includes some from literature but most of those probably go back to stories told by the locals before having been fixed onto paper.  This book will help set the mood, even if you live in the next state over, or anywhere that ghosts roam.

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