Jack D. Hunter's Blog

15 December 2007

The Man in Black

Everybody has a ghost story to tell, I guess. But most of us are reluctant to talk about our personal spooks and goblins, lest we be written off as mentally off. Myself, Iíve had a few weird experiences over the years that would seem to defy rational explanation, but Iíve rarely discussed them in polite society because I feared giving additional dube to my already dubious reputation.

But today Iím too old to give a damn about that. As an antediluvian writer and painter who works deep into the night, Iím already considered to be the local eccentric, the wifty old geezer in that big old house down the street. So whatís to lose if I share my favorite ghost experience? My Man of the Year Award? My invitation to weekend with Madonna?

Anyhow, one of the most interesting paranormal incidents in my life involved a brand new house in the industrial and ship-building city of Chester, Pa., southwest of Philly on the Delaware River. It was a two-story, red brick, white trim, pseudo colonial row house in the Early American tradition — the kind you see so many of in Philly and Baltimore — and we bought it on the GI Bill, right after the war, because it was the only place we could find at the time, since affordable housing was in terribly short supply.

It wasn't much for looks, and it was in a town that always made me feel sad, but it had three bedrooms, a john, a living room, dining room, kitchen, cellar, and one-car garage underneath it all — considerable luxury for a returning vet and his family who were expected to thrive on a newsroom job that paid $49 a week. It was home. A nest where I could lick my mental and spiritual war wounds. A place to get to know my wife all over again, and a place to become acquainted with my recently arrived twin daughters.

The only problem: it was haunted.

We discovered this in a peculiar way. I came home from work one evening around five o'clock and, after schmoozing the wife and kids, I went upstairs to the bathroom to tidy up for dinner. I left the door open because I was only washing up, and, as I was toweling my face I got the strong feeling that I was being watched. With my eyes still shut, I decided it was the twins, who often crawled up the stairs and peeked around the corner at me while I was in ablutions. I chuckled and took away the towel and turned quickly to say what I usually said at a time like that: "Aha, I see you two."

But instead of the twins, I saw a very tall man in a severe, black Abraham Lincoln type suit with a white Civil War era collar and foulard. He was standing at the end of the hall, at the top of the stairs, and he was regarding me somberly.

I swear I jumped at least three feet into the air, and my hair and skin crawled. "Who the hell are you?" I choked.

Then I blinked, and when my eyes refocused, he was simply not there. From a stark, three-dimensional presence, he had in an instant become nothing.

Convinced — on the spot — that I was hallucinating, I frantically tried to prove otherwise. I hurried into the bedroom, which was still brightened by the setting sun, and fussed with the blinds to see if I could duplicate the illusion in the hallway. I opened and shut doors, I turned lights on and off, I stood in various spots and blurred my eyes. I did everything I could think of until, finally Tommy called, "Hey, whatcha doing? Dinner's waiting."

I went downstairs and said nothing about the experience, fearing Tommy would think — as I secretly did — that I was losing my mind.

And I kept my silence on the matter for months, until one Saturday evening, we were at a neighborhood beer party and, as the night wound down, the talk went to spooky things and strange, unexplainable events. And, I went cold all over when Tommy spoke up. "Funny thing happened to me not too long ago. I was in the bathroom, giving the twins their bath, when I felt like I was being watched. I looked out in the hall and there was this tall man in a black suit, just standing there, staring at me. I let out a yelp and, no kidding, he just plain disappeared." She looked at me and laughed. "I never told you about it because I was afraid you'd think I was losing my mind."

Al Bolinsky, who was hosting the party, broke the subsequent silence with a reminder we'd all been studiously ignoring. "This row of houses backs up to a plot that was a cemetery during the Civil War. Think thereís a tie-in?" Then he gave one of those boowah-hah-hah evil laughs used by villains in melodramas.

Everybody laughed and went back to the beer and buffet.

After we went home Tommy and I talked a lot about it — and about some of the strange sounds and things we'd heard around the place. Then in the ensuing weeks, we just didn't bring it up again. But the man in the black suit wasn't finished. I saw him again — three times, and in the same place at the head of the stairs and different times of day and night. So I was glad when we found a house in Wilmington, where I'd landed a new job, and my grandparents took over the Chester place because they didn't have any money and my dad assumed the mortgage payments and taxes.

And one day I idly asked Dad Dayton, my grandfather, how they liked the place. And he said, "It's home, and we appreciate it. Except for all the queer noises at night. And you know what? Every morning I go down to make coffee, everything in the kitchen has been moved around — pots, pans, dishes — all moved from where I'd placed them before going to bed the night before. The worst part is, I wake up in the middle of the night, and I lie in bed, listening to them being moved. And I'm afraid to go down and see who's doing it."

Nanny and Dad Dayton lived in that house until one morning when Nanny woke up, shook Dad, and said, quite confidentially, "Fred, the Man told me that something very important is going to happen today."

She was dead before nightfall. The doctor said it was plain old age.

The place was sold several months later, and Dad Dayton went to live with my father in his big Wilmington house.

And for years after, whenever we happened to drive past the Chester house, there was always a "For Sale" sign on it.

Copyright © 2007 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.