Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Any Ghosts Here?

I wonder ...

or perhaps here?

Always glad to hear of new sightings!

Photos by Maria Dering.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ghost Stories on the Radio

I will tell ghost stories on WFUV-FM radio (90.7FM) this Saturday morning, Oct. 31, at 7:30 a.m.. (Yes, that's 7:30!) WFUV-FM is the station of Fordham University. If you miss the show, (it is a bit early), you can hear it on the podcast. Click on: and then click on Halloween Show.... You can can also find the show at after Nov. 9, 2009.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Part 2 (continued from August 30, 2009)

“Excuse me,” says another girl, brown hair in a ponytail, to the bartender. “Do you have change for the phone? My cellphone just died!” He breaks a dollar and she makes her call. She is young, slender, pretty. Her voice is pleasant. Her brown skirt fits well and she’s thrown her rust-colored jacket over a bright white blouse – just flattering enough. She wears a little blush and plum lipstick, a thin coating. She rushes out.

Is she going to meet her lover – some guy who’s not worthy of her? Some guy who just wants to get her into bed, have her make breakfast, and then leave? Do not get involved, the ghost tells himself. This has happened over and over again. Stop. Stop now.

He leaves the bar a few steps behind the girl and watches her cross the street, heading toward Park Avenue. She likes to walk down Park because it’s wide. She is a fast walker, doesn’t like to be troubled with strollers. Heading south, she checks the light and crosses the street, beating the oncoming traffic. She stops every now and then to look in a window, check her hair, fiddle with the collar of her white shirt. She adjusts her shoulder bag and then and, reaching 14th Street, she turns west, toward Fifth Avenue. In front of the grocery store, she stops and checks her lipstick again, tucks in a wisp of hair. She stands in front of the store, trying to be casual, getting colder. Waiting, waiting, waiting. 20 minutes pass, then a half-hour. Now it is dark, almost 9:30.

The ghost drifts into the store and stands in the window. Warm here. The girl is still waiting but takes her Metrocard out of her handbag and buttons up her jacket. She goes to the corner and waits for the light to change.

A taxi pulls up. “Ellen, Ellen, hey, I’m here!” The tinny voice of a redheaded boy calls to the girl. “Hey, I’m here!!” Ellen turns and sees her date; she stops though she knows she should forget about him. The ghost glides up to the traffic side of the taxi. “Run,” he says over the hood. “Run!” Ellen shakes her head to shake out the sound.

The night has turned windy; she brushes the hair out of her eyes. The redheaded boy is still waiting. She demands, “Why are you so late? What happened?” She doesn’t say his name.

“Hey, come on, I’m sorry, Ellen!. Can’t we still have that drink?”

“Oh, I … it’s getting late. I’ve got an early meeting tomorrow. I’m sorry.”

“I raced here in a taxi to meet you, Ellen!”

“I know, I know, but it really is getting late. Give me a rain check?”

The man considers. The ghost waits. She replies, “Maybe later this week. Call me?” The man smiles and reaches out to touch Ellen’s cheek. The wind blows across the moon, shoving black clouds in its way. It starts to rain. The taxi lurches from the curb, and the ghost is shaken off. Ellen and the boy jump away from the curb.

She is shaking. “My god, we could have been hit!” She starts to slow her breathing carefully, as the boy looks at her. “Did you hear me? We could have been hit!”

The ghost floats up and lands near a statue in the park. Night traffic gathers: pimps, whores, junkies, and salvationists. He shakes out a cigarette. “Hey, man, got one for me?” a bum asks. The ghost shakes his head.

“Ellen,” he calls. “Ellen.” She turns away from the boy to look across the street. She cannot see the ghost in the crowd at the subway station. But she hears him. “Ellen,” he says again. “Ellen. Leave him. It’s getting late.” She strains her eyes against the light. The darkness blinks into tiny neon pinpricks. She cannot see. She cannot distinguish his voice from the traffic sounds, a siren, a distant ambulance. She cannot see the friend who called to her. She crosses the street to go down into the subway. The ghost leans against the iron railing at the subway entrance, waiting for her to brush past.

At the top of the stairs, Ellen sees him and stops cold. “Why are you following me?” she asks. “Have you followed me from the bar? I’m going to get a cop!”

She runs to the corner of the park where a mounted policeman sits. “Officer, I …” The horse bucks. “Whoa!” the mounted policeman calms him down. “Miss, step back, please. Step back. What’s the matter?”

(to be continued)

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Part 1

He was lounging on the corner, itching to light his cigarette in the purple glow of the Old Town Bar. Rush past him, get inside, meet your friends. It’s cold. Rush past him to get to the grocery store. Buy chicken breasts and artichokes for your lover and cook it all up before 8 o’clock. Run next door and buy the wine.

He cups his hand, strikes a match. Why are you rushing to cook for a man who will leave you? He knows you, all about you, your mother, your grandmother, your Russian memories, your old uptown roommates and your new downtown friends. Hemlines have gone up and down, shoes got sexier, lipstick got bolder. He used to wear those romantic vests and shirts with billowing sleeves. Now it’s raincoats, spook coats, with collars and epaulets and belts that hang in a spy-like way.

Getting too cold to stand outside now. Life used to be out here, in the streets, not behind windows and screens and air conditioners that bang away and sit there like eyes in cages. Times change, so what the hell -- plenty of drinks inside the Old Town Bar, plenty of women to admire.

Beer. Scotch. Port. Cointreau. Whatever you’re drinking, that’s what I’ll have, he tells his new girl at the Old Town Bar. “Two, please,” she orders, and he is happy. Gray Goose or Smirnoff’s – all the same hot fire as it goes down. She leaves with a friend. All the same as he looks over to the park where ladies used to stroll, two by two, down well kept paths.

Time for another drink. Almost completely dark – can’t read the clock on the watchtower. Sound and light and human noise drown him, suffocate him, silence him. He twists and turns to get through the crowd to the bar. Every night, the same fight! “Hello,” he says to a woman with bright green eyes and a cobalt sweater. “Hello,” she says. “Do I know you?” “No, I don’t think so,” he answers as his voice begins to fade. “May I buy you a drink?” “No, I’m waiting for my friend,” she replies and turns away. When she looks back, he is gone. After five minutes, her memory of him is gone. Her friend arrives. They order martinis and talk about work. She sneezes.

From his splintery stool at the far end of the bar, he watches a woman with brown eyes. She’s new here. She looks Asian, one of those Russian women with Tatar eyes that never get bred out. Exotic, cheap, sexy – she and her friends are laughing into their wine, pretending not to care. “Good night, ladies,” he whispers as they slide off their bar stools and drift away.

A man and his wife take their seats. Another girl drifts in. “Is this taken?” She just moved to the neighborhood and wants to check out the Old Town. “Read about in the Times,” she explains. “My advertising agency is just crazy,” she tells the wife. “Ten hour days most of the week, and then I’m too pooped to do much on the weekends.” She sips on her Grey Goose. “But it’s exciting, really exciting!”

How bright is this girl? Not worth his time. Seen her a million times, waiting on corners for friends, growing older and shriller and moving to the suburbs. Spending too much money, getting too much sun … it’s always the same.

(to be continued ...)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Library Ghost

Soon after the New-York Historical Society Library reopened in the early 1990s after a fire, I heard this story.

The library stacks are closed to the public. The staff rarely enters some of them. But come what may, the light bulbs need to be changed every so often. Shortly after the fire, one of the maintenance men was asked to change a 60-watt bulb, finally burned out after years of use. He took his tall ladder and a new box of bulbs and set off into the darkened stacks. Minutes later, he emerged onto the floor, scared and babbling. "Not goin' back in there, nope, not me!" He went to put away the ladder.

"Hey, what's up?" one of the librarians asked. "I've got to get a book for one of the curators. Please go back and change the bulb -- I can't see where I'm going!"

"Well, maybe you didn't see her, but I sure did. I'm not going back down that aisle with that lady floatin' in the air."

"What are you talking about?" the librarian asked. "What lady?"

"That old lady in the white dress. I never saw her before, and I'm sure not gonna see her again."

"Oh, come on, you're just scared of those shadows. Luther, go into the stacks with Fred and change that bulb, will you? I've got to get that book!"

Fred looked at Luther and said, "You go, fella. Not me. Not again."

Luther took the ladder from his colleague and set off into the stacks. The librarian shook her head and gave Fred the "aren't you being silly now?" look.

In no time at all, Luther fled the stacks, ladder leading the way. "I'm sorry, miss, but there is no way I'm going back in there. Not me. That lady in white is just as dead as they come and she's scaring me to death!" Luther put the ladder away.

Did the light bulb get changed? Did the staff member ever get his book? We'll never know. Does anybody?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Battle of the Sexes

In the mid-1990s, I researched a question that was troubling me: are more ghosts in stories men or women? And who writes more tales?

I spent many happy afternoons in the Library of the New-York Historical Society reading their ghost stories, enjoying accounts of ghost busting (the best one was about the Fox sisters in upstate New York), and poring over accounts of sightings. I even collected a ghost story that I will share in another posting.

As I accumulated more notes, I began to see that, while men wrote more stories than women -- this was a very small sample, however -- the ghosts themselves represented both sexes equally. I needed to do more research to come to some kind of hypothesis.

I returned on a chilly March afternoon to find the entire staff huddled outside near the Central Park entrance. As I recall, a spark from a welding torch had set off a fire in the library, and it wouldn't be open for a few days ... a few months ... I can't even recall how long it took. I forgot about the project until recently, when I found my notes stuffed into an old folder.

Ghosts All Around

I am fascinated by the idea of ghosts: shadowy figures who hang in the air, on trees, just inside subway doors, outside the Metropolitan Museum, or on the edges of twisted paths in Central Park. Ghosts fly through the summer air, going around the world and back home again as if it were nothing -- just a quick trip for a Snickers Bar or a pack of cigarettes and the paper.

I have never met a ghost. I am not sure how they exist: are they figments of the imagination, fragments of time past, anxiety personified, waking dreams? I find the thought of them comforting, sometimes puzzling, but never scary. I am not sure if I will ever see one, nor would I regret it if I didn't.

As we drift into autumn, I start to wonder about how ghosts prepare for the winter. One thing I do know: they always enjoy a good story.

This blog will be free form: stories, thoughts, personal accounts, comments, jokes. Who knows? Please do post your comments as we move through the year.