It has been really busy at work lately, and I have found myself staying at the office until 8, 9, sometimes even 11 o’clock at night. Maybe if I worked in a big office building, that wouldn’t seem so freaky, but my office is basically inside a 100-plus-year-old house, with all the creeks and cracks that come with it.
A few weeks ago, after my 15 hour work marathon my boss was telling me a story about how there used to be a custodian who was in charge of cleaning our office/house, who refused to come and clean unless a member of the office staff was present because he was convinced the house was haunted. Then my boss chuckled. Thanks… I’m happy to hear that story after being alone in the big creaky house at 11 o’clock at night.
Then this morning, in one of the “gori wives” facebook groups, a conversation started about being nervous when home alone at night. I admit I am fully in this camp. I was actually quite relieved to hear that many of the other women were also nervous when home alone at night, because for years I thought I was just overly anxious, that maybe I was a bit neurotic for feeling scared. I’m fine when P is home, or if I have guests staying over, but on the rare occasion I find myself completely alone at night I sleep with all the lights on. It’s like every single scary thing I ever thought about comes crawling back. It’s not that I’m afraid of or necessarily believe in ghosts, but it’s just everything—real and imaginary, that starts to flood my mind. Perhaps I just have an overly active imagination. I don’t know.
So that reminded me of another story.
When I was nearing my undergraduate commencement, I was applying to every international education job posting I could find, regardless of where it was located. My very first professional interview was for a study abroad position at Gettysburg College, in historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. For readers who might not be as familiar with Gettysburg, it is famous for being the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War with between 46,000-51,000 casualties during the 3 day fight.
Today people can go to the town and walk the battlefields, and read different historical markers about different important moments in the fight. The town has kept up a Civil War era (1860s) feel, with a lot of older architecture, antique shops, and people who dress in Civil War era clothing in highly touristic areas—like hotel clerks, waiters, tour guides, etc.
The town is also supposedly haunted by all the “lost souls” who died in the battle. There are all sorts of “ghost tours” and “haunted battlefield walks” tourists can do. Even one of the Gettysburg College buildings had a bloody role in the battle, and has it’s own supposed ghosts: during the 1860s Pennsylvania Hall was a dorm, but during the battle it was used as an impromptu field hospital and surgical unit. According to Wikipedia:
Battle casualties were treated in Pennsylvania Hall through about July 29 and totaled nearly 700–many who died in the building and on surrounding property.
Soldiers of both armies were treated in Pennsylvania Hall, as control of the College shifted from Union to Confederate forces on the evening of July 1.
Pennsylvania College resumed classes on September 24, 1863. Bullets, bones, human remains and bloody books were found in and around the building for many years after the end of the battle.
So here I am, already a scaredy-cat, and I was on my way to interview for a job in one of the most haunted towns in America! What was I thinking?
I arrived the night before the interview to meet with the director of the office. She had offered to take me out for dinner as an informal “pre-interview,” and we had a nice time. She picked me up at the Gettysburg Best Western Hotel downtown, which, like much of the town, was decorated in a Civil War theme, including hotel clerks who were dressed in bonnets, hoopskirts, and union and confederate uniforms.
We went for some Chinese, discussed the job, and how the interview process would go the following day, including a presentation I had to do for several faculty and administrators on an international education topic. At the end of the evening she drove me back to the hotel (it was now well after dark), and as I unbuckled my seat belt and opened the passenger door she smiled and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Have a good night. Enjoy the hotel… you know, the locals say it’s haunted. Ha ha.”
Who says that?? Really?? Who?
I went back up to my room, took out my notes for my presentation the following day, and turned on the tv. This was before I had a cell phone of my own, so I had borrowed P’s, and I took it out and placed it on the table next to the chair I had settled into. For the next two hours I half-watched tv and shuffled through my notes, trying to forget what the director had said.
As the tv show I was watching geared up to its conclusion, I started to feel warmth in my chest, like I had just downed a shot of whiskey and a few moments later I thought I saw something moving towards me. You know when you rub your eyes really hard and for the first few seconds afterward everything looks a little fuzzy? Or when you are at a BBQ and you are standing near a hot grill and the air above looks kind of wavy and disturbed. Basically it looked like a wavy disturbed patch of air was moving towards me pretty fast. Between the fuzzy air, my sudden feeling of warmth, and the cheerful reminder of the hotel’s notoriety earlier in the evening, I freaked out. All I grabbed was P’s cell phone and I charged out the door, leaving my key and my shoes, essentially locking myself out in the hallway.
I didn’t even wait for the elevator, I ran down the stairs to the lobby, where the hotel clerk in the hoop skirt and bonnet failed to put me at ease. I paced the hallway in my bare feet trying to figure out what to do. I had P’s phone, so I couldn’t call him for comfort. If I called my family, they probably would think I was over reacting, or crazy. So I called my friend Eliza. We had recently returned from studying in India together—I’ve mentioned her before when discussing her art—and I figured after the craziness of India, telling her I was scared of a haunted hotel was probably not that surprising.
It was tough to hear her on the other end of the phone. It was senior week back on campus, and students were out enjoying their last few moments of college life. She had met her now-husband a few months before, and I could tell they were out together. But like a true friend, she listened to my fearful babble and helped to calm me down, then reassured me all would be alright. I told her I was ready to spend the night sleeping in the lobby if necessary, but she talked me into going back up stairs and trying to stay in my room a while more.
I worked up the courage to ask the front desk attendant for a new key—she probably thought I was crazy anyway—then reluctantly headed back up stairs.
As soon as I got up there I turned on all the lights, then I turned the tv volume up, and I got in bed, burying myself under all the blankets so that the only thing visible was the tip of my nose. I spent the rest of the night like that. I didn’t sleep, I just listened to the tv and stayed perfectly still, sweating under the blankets until the sun rose.
The next morning I got ready, happily checked out of the hotel and went to the interview. One of the administrators took me on a tour off the campus, explaining the buildings and their history. I tried to play it cool and casual, “So, do some people consider the campus haunted?”
“A lot of people say it is, if you believe in that sort of thing.” The administrator responded, and launched into several stories about Pennsylvania Hall being the surgical unit during the battle and how some students swear they have seen things around campus.
I couldn’t help but wonder if I was offered the job, could I really live there in an apartment, on my own? I had visions of a string of panic and heart attacks.
The rest of the interview went well, despite the sleepless night, and later that evening I flew back to upstate New York.
A few days later the universe made a decision for me. I wasn’t offered the job.
I think it was a good thing.