Foolish Mortals . . .
You find yourself walking,
leaving the clean-swept and orderly surroundings with their attendant
crowds far behind. You feel drawn, compelled to take a less traveled
path. You have passed by this area many times before, yet, for
the life of you, you cannot recall seeing what now lies
A grove of magnolias and oaks
stretches out ahead, bedecked with moss and vines. You notice
a small pathway that seems to wind its way through the grove,
disappearing into the murky depths of those ancient trees. You
take a deep breath, look around you, and then plunge into the
As you follow the pathway,
the forest closes in around you, obscuring the sunlight. You
are quite alone, now, the happy throngs of people only a dim
memory. You begin to contemplate the rationality of your decision
to proceed, when, rounding a turn, you find yourself in front
of a large iron gate.
Which, to your combined delight
and apprehension, is standing open.
You pass through the gate,
and into a clearing. Actually, "clearing" is perhaps
not quite accurate - for all around you the grounds are littered
with headstones and old statues, most in a state of great disrepair.
A closer look reveals the added presence of half-buried bones
sticking out of the ground.
You are in a very old graveyard.
You round yet another corner,
and - there it is: an old, dilapidated New England style mansion.
It looks as if no one has lived there for a very long
But wait - what was that? Was
that a face you just saw, just for a second, leering down at
you from one of the windows on the third floor?
Having come this far, of course,
logic dictates that you enter this forbidding place.
On the other hand, another
sort of logic would compel you to turn tail and get the heck
out of there as fast as possible!
Are you ready?
Heh heh heh . . .
Welcome, dear readers, to our
special Book Again Halloween column!
It's been a long time - far
too long - and there's stuff I'm just dying to share
with you . . .
For instance, did I ever tell
you the one about the Jesuit Priest and the Insane Asylum? (No,
no, no - it's not that kind of a story!)
It seems there were these two
old friends, who had lost track of each other for some years.
When at length they reconnected, it turned out that one of them
had become a Priest, while the other was now Director of an Insane
Asylum. One day the Director invited the Priest to his place
of business. They talked, caught up on old times, and then the
Asylum Director turned to his friend and said "Come with
me, Father. There's something I want to show you."
They passed through the Asylum,
past the areas where the relatively "normal" (i.e.
less dangerous) inmates were kept, and continued - into the dark
recesses of the place, where the incurably criminally insane
ones were kept.
They stopped at last at a door.
The guard was instructed to open the door's little window. At
once a man's face appeared. He seemed quite normal, relatively
pleasant, not at all deranged or anything.
He looked straight at the visiting
Priest (who, naturally, had never seen this man before), and
calmly began to rattle off a list of the Priest's deepest, darkest
secrets and sins, in great detail.
At length the window was closed,
and the Director turned to his shaken and dumbfounded friend.
Director said. "But who would believe me?"
The above tale is true, and
was told to me by a friend of that very Priest.
Ah yes, what could be better
for this hallowed, haunting time of year than a true Ghost Story
or two? That's right - nothing! So pop up your corn, get that
caramel apple ready, light the fire and break out the candy corn
and miniature chocolates - it's story time, kiddies . . .
It was just an innocent little
toy, the kind you're likely to find at a small gift shop somewhere
. . .
There were two of them, a boy
and a girl, both around 12 or 13 years of age, and they were
in an occult shop when they spotted it - it was a pendulum that
was supposed to be able to tell fortunes, much like a Ouija Board.
Pockets at that age being what they are, the two left without
purchasing it, but upon returning home they resolved to recreate
There were two parts, the pendulum
itself, which consisted of a prism dangling from a chain, at
the end of which protruded a needle pointing straight down, and
a circular chart containing numbers and letters. The idea was
that one would ask a question, and then the pendulum would swing
across the chart, pausing at different letters and/or numbers
until it had spelled out some sort of an answer.
Anyway, they soon had a fairly
good reconstruction built, and proceeded to play with it for
hours, asking the usual dumb questions ("Does so-and-so
like so-and-so?" etc.). Other friends and family
members would come and go during this time, including at one
point one of the girl's sisters. At that point the girl asked
the pendulum who her sister liked, and the pendulum, which was
not being held by said sister, proceeded to spell out
a name unknown to either of our young fortune tellers. It was,
however, known to the sister - specifically, it was a coworker
of hers, who she was quick to state most emphatically she did
not like to any degree.
The kids continued to play,
but then a strange thing happened. The pendulum stopped swinging,
and would not start again. This went on for some minutes, and
then, as they were about to give up, it began to swing on its
own (of course one of them was holding it, but they had not asked
a question and were indeed about to put it down). In short order
it had spelled out the letters "H-E-L-L". The two watched
in increasing horror, which quickly turned into absolute terror
as the bottom of the prism proceeded to defy gravity and rise
up into the air all by itself!
Naturally the kid holding it
let go of it immediately, and this would be the end of my story,
except: the pendulum, both ends in the air, did not drop for
a few seconds, but remained there, floating, just long enough
to scare the wits out of the kids before it finally crashed to
The two immediately ripped
up the chart & took apart the pendulum, and slept with rosaries
and bibles that night. And never tried that trick again . . .
This actually happened as well,
some twenty two years ago. I was told the story by one of the
two kids, and had it independently verified by the other on a
And it was such an innocent
little toy, the kind you're likely to find at a small gift shop
somewhere . . .
Well, kids, I hope you enjoyed
my little Halloween tale. Here's wishing all of you the spookiest,
creepiest, most delightfully dreadful Halloween possible, whether
you're off carousing at some sinister shindig or handing out
candy. And remember -
Sorry, did you say something?
What's that - I left you hanging?
Hmmm . . .
Oh yes, I remember now. You
were standing in front of an old, decrepit house, weren't you?
Heh heh heh . . . No, I suppose it wouldn't do to just leave
you there, would it?
Why, you haven't seen the inside,
yet . . .
You stand in front of the old,
moss-covered New England mansion now, contemplating your next
move. You would swear you just saw someone (or some thing)
staring down at you from one of the windows. You've seen the
bones strewn around the ancient graveyard - you can only imagine
what it's like inside this creepy old house . . .
Ah well, it wouldn't be much
of a story if we let you turn around and leave at this
point, would it?
So, my apologies, but in you
(If it's any consolation to
you, had you looked behind you would have seen that some of the
decrepit graveyard statues had begun to move of their own
accord - heh heh heh . . .)
As you pass through the doors
you find that you are not alone. Several other foolhardy adventurers
stand alongside you in a dimly lit entranceway. There are barely
visible paintings on the walls, and before you is a large staircase.
The wind seems to have suddenly picked up, as you can hear it
howling outside, and whistling through the cracks in the walls
of this rotting house. Above you, the ceiling beams creak, and
you begin to wonder what on earth possessed you to venture into
this place when suddenly, somewhere above you, a disembodied
voice begins to speak - an oddly familiar sounding voice.
The voice welcomes you, and
relates a little tale concerning the unfortunate family that
once lived here - a family cursed by repeated tragedy. By the
end of this narration a butler has appeared, seemingly out of
nowhere. He is to be your guide through the house. He cautions
against getting too close to the staircase, and right then, down
that self same staircase, a human female head comes rolling down,
rolling right at you! Your instincts tell you to run, when suddenly
you realize that you and your fellow explorers are actually sinking
beneath the floorboards - dropping slowly to whatever nightmares
You find yourself in a Portrait
Gallery. These paintings, more visible than the ones above, are
not all that nice. There is a portrait of Jack the Ripper, and
another of Rasputin. You pause in front of a picture of Henry
VIII, and as you look another visage begins to appear on the
very same painting - it is the same face you just saw rolling
down the staircase - and it is now quite clearly the face of
Henry's second wife - the decapitated Anne Boleyn. She now poses
next to Henry in the picture, and then proceeds to berate him
as you watch - her head tucked securely underneath her arm the
On the other side of the room
the butler is making some general comments about the Gallery,
but the gasps from the crowd have nothing to do with the narration
- for, reaching out of a hidden panel, an incredibly large and
hairy arm is reaching out to strangle the unsuspecting butler!
Fortunately, the butler manages to move out of harm's way just
You continue down hallways
and into other rooms, the butler occasionally disappearing and
reappearing through more secret panels, which seem to be everywhere
in this house. From time to time you follow him through some
of these "short cuts" yourself, at one point passing
through a fireplace which slides upward to reveal a doorway behind
The creaking of the beams above
increases in intensity, and it seems not altogether unlikely
that the house is in danger of imminent collapse. As if that
weren't enough, the floorboards are in equal disrepair, and all
around you can hear the sound of rats scurrying about.
You enter a bedroom. There,
upon a large four poster bed, someone is sitting, reading a book.
The only problem is, this someone is invisible, with only their
cap and nightgown showing - and the book itself is apparently
floating in mid air!
As you watch, the canopy of
the bed begins to descend, lower and lower, and as it does so,
amid a cacophony of otherworldly screams, the butler calmly informs
you that many an unfortunate soul met their maker in just such
a manner, in that very bed!
You are noticing more and more
details as you continue through the house. Overhead, several
large bats are flying. You can hear the sounds of clanking chains,
and, in the distance, the howling of wolves.
Suddenly, just ahead, you are
confronted to your horror with the spectacle of a pair of skeletal
legs, not attached to a body of any sort, walking across the
You hear the sound of someone
moaning in despair. It seems to come from within the walls. This,
you are told, is the "lost carpenter", who was walled
up inside the house many years ago . . .
You pass into the Library,
where you notice the portrait of a hunter with his latest kill
- a large tiger. On the floor below the painting lies a tiger
skin, presumably the same "kill". Then, the ghostly
image of the hunter appears, and as you watch the ghost of the
tiger rises from the skin, and proceeds to bite the unsuspecting
hunter in a most awkward place.
A large bookcase slides back,
and you pass through it into another gallery.
Surrounding this gallery is
an elevated indoor balcony, from which the sounds of footsteps
and screaming can be heard. All at once a female ghost flies
into view through a closed door, closely pursued by a murderous
male ghost brandishing a knife. The two run across the balcony
and disappear through another closed door.
You pass into the Great Hall.
You are now inexplicably on the second floor balcony, looking
down. Downstairs is an organ. The sound of footsteps is heard
as bloody footprints appear, one by one, "walking"
toward the organ, which then proceeds to play by itself!
Finally, you emerge from the
accursed house. Unfortunately, you do not emerge into the same
world you left. For it is quite dark - it is, specifically, a
windy, moonlit night - and you are in the middle of another graveyard.
The moon is reflected in a
pool of water in the distance. Lightning and thunder punctuate
the eerie surroundings, as clouds pass across the moon, obscuring
it, and rendering this haunted landscape even darker. Off in
the distance, a rider on a black horse can be seen, galloping
toward you. He disappears, but you can still hear the sounds
of galloping, drawing ever nearer.
Suddenly the rider bursts into
view, and in one horror-filled instance you realize that he has
There is a flash of lightning,
and a wolf begins to howl, and then, all around you, spirits
begin rising out of the ground, the graveyard's ghostly denizens
seemingly summoned up to the surface by this spectral horseman!
Finally, a huge, blinding burst
of lightning obscures all - and then . . .
And then it is over. You are
ushered out, into the real outdoors, back into the park.
And yes, that was indeed the
Headless Horseman from Washington Irving's immortal "Legend
of Sleepy Hollow" you saw. More specifically, it was an
exact replica of Disney's Headless Horseman from the film "Ichabod
and Mr. Toad".
For you have just completed
a tour of what was once to be called the Haunted House, which
was to have been located behind a grove of trees in Disneyland's
Frontierland, the way Walt and his original team envisioned it
back in 1957 . . .
I leave you all with a sample
from the original narration you were to have heard as you waited
in the entranceway - a narration that would have been read by
none other than Walt Disney himself:
"This is the lakeside
estate of the unfortunate Blood family... it was built about
1800 in the swampy bayous near New Orleans, and was moved here
intact because it was such a fine example of early architecture
"We started the work
of restoration as soon as it arrived at Disneyland, but strangely
enough, the work of each day was destroyed during the night..
. . the night watchman reported he'd heard eerie screams and
seen weird lights . . .
"Our house had a tragic
and bloody history of unlucky owners who died sudden and violent
deaths, which resulted in their unhappy ghosts remaining behind
to fulfill the uncompleted missions of their lives.
"The house has proved
too dangerous to be lived in, but we have succeeded in making
it safe enough for a visit . . . it mysteriously remains always
night within the house . . . the night in which all ghosts are
condemned to exist, so we recommend you stay close together during
your visit, and please, above all, obey your guide's instructions..."