Despite the advice of many websites on telling ghost stories, we did not hold flashlights under our chins. We did not make the listeners jump. We did not suggest something was going to get them, was creeping up behind them or any such things. To me, those are campfire stories and the techniques used when the goal is to scare people. I consider ghost stories those tales of inexplicable events that leave people wondering what could have happened, why did it happen, and if there really is such a thing as ghosts or spirits, if you prefer that term (I do).
How many of you reading this post have had such experiences in your life, or have heard of such things happening to someone you know and trust? I would bet that probably one in five are raising their hand, particularly if you live in the mountains or in a rural area. Many people keep such experiences to themselves lest their friends and family think they're crazy or weird. But the truth is, many people have had something happen to them, or seen something, that they cannot explain. I wish I had a count of the number of people who have told me stories about seeing or feeling a relative who has passed, or a beloved pet, or who have been in buildings where the sense of being watched or even touched was overwhelming.
Are these stories true or just overactive sensitivities? I do not attempt to answer that question; that is for each person to decide for themselves. What I do is research the background, particularly of historic stories or legends recorded somewhere in a book or other source, and occasionally one I have collected as an oral history. I provide the context for the tale and tell what I have learned, and then it is up to my listeners to decide on what is "true." And that, to me, is what makes these stories so intriguing-they leave us thinking, wondering, and occasionally, watchful.
(Storyteller Katie Ross stands beside, but not touching the statue, in the photo. You might wonder why.)
The key to telling ghost stories or historical stories about people of the past, I believe, is respect. Respect for the deceased and for their descendants. That is important, especially when visiting graves and other reportedly haunted sites. These people lived and loved; the places they lived still belong to someone (or at least the site does, if the structures are gone).
And the key to a successful workshop is not only willing and active participants who will trek out in less-than-ideal conditions, but also a place that is welcoming and supportive. Terry Wiley of the Gaslight Theater made huge efforts to make our concert there successful and we were glad to see some familiar faces in the audience; our storytelling guild seems to have a small but loyal group of listeners in the area. The Wells Inn also made our stay comfortable and it's like coming home to be greeted by Ann and the staff, to get messages from the owner letting us know that arrangements for our stay were in place, and to enjoy the good food and service.
How was this workshop funded? Through the generous support of the WV Commission on the Arts via a grant written by guild member Jo Ann Dadisman. It takes more than willingness to present or attend; it takes people like Jo Ann, and like Terry Wiley and Charles Winslow (of the Wells Inn), and guild supporter John Mullins who arranged our lodgings and food and even made homemade cheesecake, to make it work.
We told and heard many stories during our stay in the town, and I hope each person there went home thoughtful, inspired and ready to dig into their stories with new energy.
Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.