Ghost Story…sort of…

Another Veteran’s Day ceremony at Greenwood cemetery in West Warwick RI, where lies the only Confederate veteran in New England; one Pvt. Samuel Postlethwaite of the 21st Mississippi. The re-constituted 21st commemorates him every year. This year’s turnout was exceptional, with a line officer ( moi ), a first sergeant, four infantrymen, and two artillerymen ( from the local Morton’s Battery).

We had about a dozen spectators on hand, and a reporter from the Providence Journal; and although he meant well, I would much doubt if anything featuring us would make it past an editor’s desk.

One of those spectators was a woman whom we recognized from attending in previous years. We finally got around to making her acquaintance, and she agreed to join us for breakfast at the nearby Phenix Restaurant after the ceremony. The Phenix is used to seeing us by now, and already had a large table arranged for us; a benefit of minor celebrity.

In her mid-seventies, Cindy describes herself as a psychic and a medium. She says that she always stops by the Greenwood cemetery because it’s ” always busy there.”  She’ll also tell you in detail all about stones, crystals, herbs and spices; what they all do, and why they don’t work for almost everyone;” because people always say that they want positive energy in their lives but really aren’t willing to do a damned thing to find it, get it, or keep it.”

I found myself  liking her a lot. Completely insane, but in a very grounded sort of way. She said that she could come with us to breakfast because she had her lucky scarf on, which she only wears on trips to cemeteries.

And through the course of  pleasant breakfast conversation, we found that Cindy likes to attend our Veteran’s day rites because she has been trying for years to determine who the little girl is.

Little girl?

Yes, she says; the one who is always playing amongst the gravestones while we are commemorating Sam. She only sees her occassionally, but always while we are there.

A few people were being supportive of Cindy in general; a few others were harshly skeptic. I remained neutral, enjoying her dismissal of the skeptics with a short-tempered backward wave of her hand, as if Queen Victoria had been suddenly accosted by a commoner.

When pressed for details, Cindy described again the little girl in a white dress, cavorting between the graves across the somewhat small cemetery while we held our ceremony. She always brings a camera, but really knows better than to think that would work. Still, it’s worth the try, she thinks.

And we always thought she was taking shots of us; more benefits of very pitifully minor celebrity.

The table’s general response was to the effect that, after several years, no one had ever seen a little girl in a white dress doing anything at all.

She understood completely, but begged to differ. She knows what she knows, and she knows about these things.

I personally thought that Cindy’s description of the little girl was very typically 19th- century stereotype, and was wondering why pleasantly insane people never seemed to come up with anything a bit more creative than this. This sounded like a movie trailer.

And then someone asked her where in the cemetery she had actually seen her; and she said she was always in the same small area; and described that in detail, too. ” Why, that’s the Sprague family plots” said our own Sgt. Salisbury.

And then…  dots suddenly connected in my head, dots which until just then had absolutely no reason to ever cross paths. I lost interest in my corned beef hash and eggs, and believe me, those who know me would attest to the gravity of any situation that might cause such a culinary calamity. The room spun a little bit, an actual sensation of vertigo.

I have my own story to tell about those gravesites. I told a lot of people about it when it happened, and I sat there in realization that their response to me back then was only marginally more civilized than what poor Cindy was getting right now. At the time , I considered myself a perfectly viable witness; and I suppose that Cindy has always considered herself equally viable. But she is obviously pleasantly bonkers, and I am, of course, not. At all. I am viable if nothing else.

My story goes back to yet another Veteran’s day, eight years ago. Same people, same place, same reason. It was a very cold and snowy day; I remember getting there very early and searching for Sam’s grave marker under the snow with a broom; and then putting up the 21st’s newly-made flag, thinking that Sam would appreciate seeing the old company colors again. ( A rather un-viable sentiment, in retrospect…)

I was a lieutenant in the company then, and during the ceremony, I stood at the left end of the company line; the captain was standing by sam’s grave while speaking to the assembly. We were at attention.

And while I stood and listened, I noticed something moving in the distance beyond where Capt. Wrona stood. It was situated so that I could watch both him and the movement simultaneously.

Across the cemetery and over the captain’s shoulder, I watched what I took to be a large piece of black crepe paper being blown back and forth between some gravestones. I thought that it was likely the remnants of a Halloween decoration that had broken loose. I stood and pondered the idea of such decorations in a cemetery, and thought it no less likely than the Christmas decorations, photographs, toys, and teddy bears that you would find in the newer section of Greenwood.

But shortly, I realized that there was something very odd about the paper. There was nothing at all random about its movement. It moved slowly and methodically from one point to another, and back again. It stayed at the same height, probably a foot or so off the ground. It would appear between the grave markers, and was not visible while it was behind the markers.

I was watching carefully, and trying to determine how a sheet of paper adrift in the wind could move in such a way; and starkly realized that there was no wind to speak of.

And then…I realized that what I was seeing couldn’t be paper at all. There was no fluttering motion of any kind.

It was a flat, non-reflective, black square. It was like a black opening in the daylight. And it was moving, back and forth, behind a particular group of markers.

I glanced at the others; there was seemingly no recognition in their faces, and the captain stood with his back to it. It continued for the rest of our ceremony. As we marched from the area to our cars, I noticed then that it was gone.

As we broke formation, I made a few jokes and comments, but no one bit for it. I was apparently the only one who noticed anything.

I begged off breakfast. I really just wanted to get away from there. Something was very wrong.

So what was it, then, that made me go back? After I knew that everyone else was gone…I drove back. I wanted to find the crepe paper. I wanted to find something rational.

I walked to the grave markers…and realized that it was a family grouping, with marble markers on the corners; with a large central marker. Very elaborate.

It was the grave of Elisha Harris, surrounded by several later generations, very well- organized.

He had been a governor of Rhode Island, was a very successful businessman, had both prominent ancestors and descendants; he passed away in 1861.

There was no sign of black crepe paper anywhere. There was nothing at all out of place.

And I was very suddenly struck with a vicious back spasm. I tried to steady myself on the nearest marker, but had to fall to the ground. These were not unknown to me at that time, but the intensity of this one was beyond my experience.

The pain was blinding, but usually would subside after a few minutes; but there was always an indeterminate period afterward where you had to be very careful of any movement, because just the right motion could set it all off again.

I had no choice but to lie there. A guy in a Confederate uniform, struck down in the middle of the Harris family burial plot. Whimsical…maybe. Ironic, yes.

What I really was… was terrified. That the black square would come back. I was lying right in the path of where it had been  moving. It would go right over me. Or through me.

I have never been, before or since, so frightened. In spite of the pain it caused, I slowly crawled away from the graves and into the road. There was no one around. I might just as well have been on the dark side of the moon. I had a cell phone, but it was in the car.

It took me over an hour to crawl to the car. It was only about two hundred feet away. I did not dare to once look back towards where I had been, or even peripherally glance to the side, for fear of it being right beside me.

I made it back. No black squares. And got home.

I told a lot of people about that incident. It never once occurred to me how completely impossible it sounds. And if they all patronized me, I never once actually noticed.

But sitting across from Cindy this morning changed all that. She sees a little girl… I see black squares…but in the same exact place?

I have tremendous respect for Governor Harris, and his entire family. There is some big magic going on over there. I might actually take a walk over there again sometime, if I’m not alone. And dressed appropriately. I’m honestly a little nervous about having even downloaded the photo of his gravestone. It’s as close as I’ve been in a long time.

And I like Cindy, and would never dare to patronize her, because I think she might have a little ju-ju of her own.

Maybe she can help me find a lucky scarf.

And I know it really does sound crazy…but I know what I know.

Published in: on November 14, 2011 at 1:22 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nicely done! It is rather early – only on my second cup of coffee and it’s only a little after 6. Dawn has yet to break. Just peaking over the horizon. A good read for such time:)
    I personally would not immediately discount those who claim to have seen a ghost or apparition (as crazy, bonkers or otherwise delusional). I mean, how can anyone be so absolute that there is not/can never be/never was such things. I must say that your experience of 8 years ago sounds most horrifying!
    Tell me, have you done any research into the Sprague family to find out who the little girl was?

  2. Yes, a little. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten close to those markers, and it’s actually Gov. Elisha Harris and family. Spraques are at Swan Point. I need to climb another tree. I hope I don’t find any little girl, but even that’s better than the black square thing.

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