Ghosts of Seasons Past

I was drinking iced tea and cleaning out my bookcases — a long overdue task — the other day when a brochure from the Tahoe Maritime Museum floated out of the pages of “The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories.” What was a brochure about boats doing  in a book of ghost stories? Boats? Ghosts? What could they possibly have in common? Then I saw a date penciled in at the top–December 16, 2007; the day Jack and Ernie, two old pals visiting from the East Coast on their touring bikes, took off for a casual jaunt up to Lake Tahoe. And returned to my house with a curious tale.

Jack is an avid sailor whose family founded the famed Boston Whaler company way-back-when, and he wanted to see the Tahoe Maritime Museum. Since both guys needed a day off from two-wheeling, I graciously agreed to lend them my SUV insisting, as part of the free car deal, that they take solar blankets, thermos of hot chocolate, snacks — because, even though the weather was beautiful, they were, after all, going up to the Sierras where the elements can turn on you very quickly (see: “Donner Party”).

About one pm on the sixteenth, just hours after they’d left my house, I received the first call. It was Ernie. “We just came out of the museum. What’s with the snow? This is California!”

At two pm a second call. “We’re almost to Highway 80 and we’re sitting in traffic and all we see is traffic ahead of us! The snow’s really coming down. Are there any accidents?”

I scrolled to the CHP Incidents page. And, incidentally, discovered there were only about seventeen. So many that the CHP had to call over to Nevada for tow trucks, helicopters, ambulances, superheroes — because California had, at that point,  run out of things to throw at black ice  mixed with snow, steep terrain, and clueless drivers.

“Turn around and check in at the Truckee Hotel!” I suggested, strongly.

At four pm my phone rang again. “We got the last two rooms. What a great old town!”

“Oh boy, you’re going to be snowed in! Sandwiches and new friends at the bar!” I crowed.  (PS, this is where Paul McCartney stopped by, one night, just for fun, to jam at Moody’s tavern downstairs. Meaning  it had to be, IMO, a class dive.)

Forward to ten am the following morning, and Ernie.

“Hi! We’re digging your car out!”

“How many inches of snow did you get?”

“Feet. Also, the temperature is zero.”

“Zero?”

“And I had a very strange night.”

“Like how?”

“Did you see ‘The Shining’?”

Snowbound with a madman.  Torrents of blood. REDRUM.

“Yeeaahh…” I said, my skin shaking.

That evening at my dinner table, Ernie filled in the details.

“The hotel was perfectly nineteenth century. Floral carpeting. Clawfoot bathtubs.” He paused. “But something really strange happened. Just as I was falling asleep, a woman rose  from the end of my bed  and walked out through the wall into the adjoining room. She had a long braid down her back, and was wearing some kind of old-fashion nightgown, like a flannel one. The thing is, I actually felt the end of the bed moving, just as if someone was getting up from it.”

Wow.  ‘Cause, trust me, this guy’s definitely not the airy-fairy  type.

“There were stray sounds, too. Creaks, like somebody treading the hallway floor. Even though nobody was there.” He shrugged, not very convincingly.  “Oh, hell,  maybe my mind was just playing tricks on me.”

I thought he’d sleep it off. But the next morning he was still feeling haunted. And by now, my curiosity was piqued.

“Well, let’s look it up!” I said.

We crowded around my laptop like 50′s kids around “Howdy Doody” on Saturday mornings, scrolling through the “Ghosts Truckee” entries. And I can now attest: It’s amazing what you can learn on the internet.

The little town of Truckee, California is SWARMING with ghosts. I mean, it’s a regular ghost convention. The Truckee Hotel, with a lurid nineteenth century past which includes fires, kidnapping, and murder, plays host to several apparitions, mostly on the fourth floor. Faucets turn themselves on, chandeliers swing in dead calm, voices call through empty rooms.

Nearby, in the old C.B. White house, lights are said to flicker on and off, and an apparition of Mrs. White, the home’s original owner, has been reported by ghost hunters to have been seen sitting quietly in a chair just steps away from the window where her child fell to its death.

At the Star Hotel up the street, a specter actually touches people. The Truckee cemetery has its own special crew. There’s even a canine ghost in town: Rex, a Husky/Malamute sled-dog who, in an earlier era, rescued passengers trapped on the Truckee train.

And it’s not just Truckee. At nearby Donner Lake a wraith, noose about her neck, cries out near the water’s edge. The tiny towns of Alleghany and Alta, not too far way, have their own ghost stories. As does Frank Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Lodge on North Shore. Even the gift shop at the exclusive Hyatt Regency Incline Village claims a ghost; this one, a cowboy gambler.

Ghost-hunters explain these phenomena as “interdimensional energy vortexes”: portals to another dimension. Other psychic investigators explain ghosts as remnants of “morphic energy.”

The British editors who assembled “The Oxford Book of Ghost Stories” would probably just accept  these tales as gospel. In fact, I recall discussing real estate with a very straight-laced English businessman in Sussex some years ago who related, with sadness, that “… I’d love to buy Larkspur Street Farm up the road, but it’s haunted. You know, it could really get annoying, reaching for your scotch one minute and finding your glass gone the next!”

“Of course it could,” I replied, aiming for a serious tone.

“Absolutely,” I’d say now.

At that, I noted Ernie’s tale on the boat museum brochure, slipped it back inside “The Oxford Book of Ghost Stories” and set the book aside on the hall table for a re-read this weekend. After all, it’s blazes outside, my garret’s a hot box, and the hammock under the oaks is looking very inviting. What better way to cool off than with iced tea and a few well-chilled ghosts? I’d even welcome a visit from the Truckee ghosts, if they feel like drifting down the hill. And they just might. Because, as T.H. White said in “Soft Voices at Passenham”, “Ghosts  are sociable … they seem to have a liking for company.”

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