“There is no question there’s an unseen world—the problem is how far is it from mid-town and how late is it open.”
I came upon my ghost spotting skills honestly enough. My grandmother was well known in family circles for her ability to see spirits of the non-alcoholic variety. Her family was Irish and she was only a whisper away from a brogue herself, so whether or not she was inspired by tales of the Little People and other fantastic denizens of the Old Country, I’ll never know. What I do know, is that as a young woman, looking out her window toward Woodlawn Cemetery, she frequently saw spirits at night. There was nothing particularly onerous or scary about them. They were slightly luminescent men and women out for a nightly stroll—probably after having enjoyed some ghostly victuals. Nothing threatening. But that certainly wasn’t the case with her premier ghost encounter of which the family often spoke. It occurred at the family’s ancestral home in Beacon, New York. It was a modest dwelling on a dead end street. But it was where a generation of Ebert children had been raised and where another generation of Ebert grandchildren went to play in the summer. It was during a family gathering in this place of warm recollections when my grandmother encountered her mother-in-law glaring down at her from the top of the stairs. This was a remarkable event and I can only imagine the drama and theatrics that then took place. You see, Great Grandmother had been dead for many years and evidently appeared as fearsome as a spirit as she had in the flesh. Exactly how fearsome that might that have been, no one living knows. In a family album bristling with “Kodaks” dating back to the 1890s, not a single picture of her survives. In fact, she’s remembered principally for never addressing my great grandfather—in public or in private—as anything other than, “Mr. Ebert.” With that arrangement, how they ever managed to have four children remains a mystery lost to the ages. No matter, following this surprise meeting, my grandmother declined forever after to move around the house unless escorted by someone demonstrably of this world.
Several years after my grandmother became a part of the spirit community she’d long observed, I was reminiscing about her ghostly observations with my aunt. She said, “There’s a story you don’t know because she was afraid you wouldn’t visit anymore if you thought her apartment was haunted.” As the legend went, my grandmother claimed from time to time she’d awake during the night to find a man sitting at the end of her bed. The man, who looked like Ray Walston, just sat there smiling in a companionable silence. The experience was so serene that she was never frightened and never had trouble going back to sleep. A chill ran up my spine. This was no “legend.” My aunt had just described in precise detail what I, too, had experienced in the apartment. I’d never told a soul, but I’d seen that very ghost on that very bed and he really did look like Ray Walston!
The meaning of these ghostly shenanigans is as ephemeral as the spirits themselves—except, perhaps, to remind us that there’s more going on in this world of ours than we’ll ever know. It’s healthy to keep an open mind when events on either side of the grave don’t conform to our expectations. That’s usually the point at which learning takes place and new ideas develop. In any event, mine is a true tale—think of it as you drift to sleep tonight. Happy Halloween! —Ebert