Since almost dying myself a couple of months ago, I’ve been reconsidering my stance on the paranormal. If I had died, I sure wouldn’t have wanted black-clad, tattooed people (even though I’m one of that number) coming to my house or accident site and trying to get me to turn a flashlight on or off or to speak into a recorder. The more I think about it, the less respectful it seems to even attempt to communicate with the dead, not to mention the possible dangers of tampering with the spirit world. And it seems kind of fruitless too – I’ve caught so-called EVPs before, but I’ve never heard an EVP that shed any light on what happens when we die or gave pertinent advice on how to get the most out of life before death. Usually you’ll get a yes or no answer, a name, or possibly a variation on “get out,” but that’s about the extent of it. And you’re never going to convince someone to change their view on the paranormal with “evidence” you’ve collected. So why do this? Unless you’re a person who believes you can actually help the dead move on, thereby helping them and the unfortunates they haunt. But most paranormal groups don’t even touch that aspect of it, and would probably fail miserably if they tried. I’ve pretty much decided to hang up my paranormal investigator hat. Life’s hard enough to deal with without worrying about the afterlife too.
However, as I’m known locally as the resident paranormal “expert,” I was drafted to lead an excursion into the wild woods of West Virginia in search of a couple of reportedly haunted homesteads. Although I didn’t really want to hunt any ghosts, I was intrigued by the prospect of wandering around old abandoned houses and barns at night, so I agreed. (Also, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drive a monster diesel Dodge Ram 6-speed, which was great fun for me and garnered even more respect from my less-than-sober companions.) I packed up my gear and we headed into the mountains. The lovely thing about living back here is that you can drive for a couple of hours and never pass another vehicle, which is how it was on this dark, moonless Saturday night. When we arrived at the first location, we had to park and hike about a mile along an old, grassy track lined intermittently with falling-down outbuildings and abandoned 1940s-era vehicles. (Side note: one of the guys armed himself with a frog gig, although I expressed my doubt as to its efficiency in warding off phantoms. But with the threat of snakes ever present, I didn’t protest much.) The original house, located to the rear of the property, is a two-story log building, dating from the 1800s, that leans crazily in all directions. We didn’t go inside, as we didn’t have permission to do so, but just looking at the property was a bit creepy. The barn beside the house was still full of junk, including an ancient horse-drawn carriage. There was a glorious claw-foot bathtub lying half-buried in the ground outside the barn. Just seeing these things was such a privilege and yet inexpressably sad. Men and women were born, worked and died on these homesteads, pouring all their energy into eking a living out of the wilderness, and now it all has fallen into ruin, hidden deep within the woods where few would even guess it exists, now frequented only by deer, squirrels, and the occasional bear.
Aside from some footsteps in the surrounding woods, which could have come from a nocturnal animal, we found no ghostly activity. What we did find was lots of ticks. Let me tell you, there is nothing better to get a couple of girls screaming, flailing, and running headlong out of the woods than a herd of ticks crawling up their legs. Ghosts I can handle; ticks, not so much.
Our next stop was a 1700s farmhouse that is no longer occupied, but has been nominally maintained. Most of the outbuildings at this home have been destroyed and the fences torn down, but the main house is still standing and is said to be very haunted. To me, it looked like a cool place to live. The fruit trees around the property are still producing, without any human help, illustrating how fertile and resilient this land is even after all this time. It’s a tragedy that no one cares enough to take up residence once again and carry on the hardworking traditions of the past.
Again, we did not go inside this house and found no evidence of ghosts. For me, the only ghosts who remain at these homesteads are those that linger in my imagination, faint whisperings of the former owners who risked their lives and fortunes on a few acres of land and managed to create abundance for themselves and their families. To see all that pain, effort, and history gradually sinking back into the earth is, in my opinion, a shameful way to treat the dead. If “ghost hunting” has taught me nothing else, it has taught me this: those who have gone before us deserve our honor and respect, because without them, not only would we most likely not even be here, but even if we were, the world would be a different, lesser place. We ignore the importance of the past at our peril.