Happy Halloween everyone! To celebrate the holiday, here is a ghost story from my novel The Queen City that Will Whitman tells to his grandchildren about Marquette’s first ghost.“All right, then,” said Will, winking at his granddaughters. “This story was first told to me by my father many years ago, but it’s completely true because I saw the ghost myself.”
“Really?” asked Jimmy.
“Yes, it all began back when Marquette was just a little town, newly settled. There were only a few buildings surrounded by large, scary forests.”
“What year was it?” Jimmy asked.
“Oh, it was way back in the 1800s–the 1850s I think.”
“Almost a hundred years ago!” Jimmy gasped.
“Yes, but first I have to tell you about when I was a boy, just a few years older than you. Back then, I lived on the farm with my father and my brother and my sisters.”
“Barry’s grandma is your sister, right Grandpa?” said Jimmy.
“Yes,” said Will. “We all lived on the farm with my father, a few miles out of town, but my grandparents lived in town. They lived up on top of the hill. Sometimes I would go visit them on the way home from school. My brother Clarence would usually go with me, but that day he had been too sick to go to school so I had to walk home by myself. That was partly why I went to visit my grandparents. They didn’t know Clarence was sick so I wanted to let them know–that, and I wanted to ask them what I should buy my pa for Christmas.
“I wasn’t going to stay long, but my grandmother, like all good grandmothers, insisted I have some cake, and my grandfather started telling me one of his stories. He was always full of stories and could talk for hours.”
“Sounds like someone I know,” laughed Ronald.
“We’re all big storytellers in our family, I guess,” said Will, “my father was the same too. So anyway, by the time I left my grandparents’ house, it was getting dark. It was also starting to snow. Now that I think back on it, I’m surprised my grandparents even let me leave because it looked like a storm was brewing, but back in those days, hardly anyone had a telephone so I couldn’t call my father, and I didn’t want him to worry if I didn’t make it home.
“Just as I set off for our farm, the snow picked up. I only walked a couple blocks before I was huffing and puffing as I struggled against the blowing wind and tried to see where I was going. When I reached Park Cemetery, I decided to take a short cut through it. By then, the snow was up to my knees and–”
“Oh come on, Pa, within three blocks of walking the snow was up to your knees!” laughed Ada.
“You don’t know how bad the winters were back then,” said Will. “Anyway, I got into the cemetery, but the snow was so high by then I was walking on top of the gravestones.”
Jimmy looked alarmed at the thought of walking over the dead.
“Then I tripped on a stone sticking up out of the snow. I remember falling forward and my face landing in the snow. That’s all I remember. I think I passed out from exhaustion. When I woke, I found myself huddled up inside the door of a crypt where I was sheltered from the wind. For a second I was confused, but then I looked out into the storm. There was a young girl, about my age, walking away from me.
“At first, I thought she was also lost in the storm. I called to her, but she only looked back and smiled. I remember thinking it was odd I could see her smile so clearly when the snow was coming down so hard I couldn’t see anything else. A sort of glow about her made her stand out despite the storm. Then, all of a sudden, she just disappeared. I couldn’t believe it. I sat there, wondering whether I had ever really seen her, or whether the storm just made it look as if she had disappeared. At that very second, the snow stopped, so I got up and looked for her footsteps. I tried to follow them, only to discover they disappeared at a gravestone sticking up out of the snow.”
“The snow probably drifted and covered the rest of her footprints,” said Louis.
“And the snow can play tricks when the wind whips it around,” said Thelma. “You probably never saw an actual girl. Why, I’ve often seen gusts of snow that looked like angels floating over the earth.”
“Now listen,” said Will. “I can’t explain it, but let me tell the rest.”
The grownups smiled good-naturedly, but the children’s eyes widened as he finished his tale.
“When I got home, I told my father what had happened, and then he told me the story of Annabella Stonegate.”
“Who’s she?” asked Lucy.
“Just listen and you’ll find out,” said Will.
“Annabella’s a dumb name,” said Jimmy. “And why does it have to be a girl ghost?”
“Well, Jimmy, I’m sorry,” said Will, “but since I’m telling you what really happened to me, I don’t have any control over it being a boy or a girl ghost.”
“So what did your father tell you?” asked Jessie.
“He told me Annabella Stonegate is buried in Park Cemetery. She met an early death as a little girl, and several people have seen her ghost since then.”
“How did she die?” asked Jimmy, hoping for a gruesome death to make up for a girl ghost.
“Well,” said Will, “Marquette was so small during the first few years when it was founded that Annabella had no other little girls to play with, and she was very lonely. Her parents lived outside of town, but sometimes they let her walk a mile to a nearby farm to go visit some other little girls. Her mother made her always promise to be home before dark.”
“How far did she have to walk?” asked Lucy.
“About a mile I said,” Will replied.
“How far is a mile?” Jimmy wanted to know.
“About halfway from here to downtown,” said Will.
“That’s far,” said Jimmy. “She might get lost.”
“Not if she followed the road,” said Lucy.
“Will you let me tell the story?” asked their grandfather, thinking he never would have started to tell one if he had known it would mean so many interruptions.
“Well, Pa, they just want to understand better,” said Eleanor.
“Well, they can ask questions after I finish,” said Will. “Now, one day, just before Christmas–since this is a Christmas ghost story you know,” he said, winking at Ellen, “Annabella went to bring Christmas presents to her friends, Virginia and Georgianna Ridge. She stayed a couple hours at the house while she opened her present from the Ridges, and they had a little tea party like little girls love to have.”
Lucy smiled; she loved playing tea party with her dolls.
“When it started to get dark, Mrs. Ridge told Annabella she had better head home. Mrs. Ridge was sorry her husband was not home to drive Annabella back, but Annabella was a brave girl, as little girls growing up in the Northwoods have to be, so she put on her winter coat, and picked up the Christmas present she had gotten from her friends, and she was–”
“What was the Christmas present?” asked Maud.
“Ah, I was just coming to that,” said Will. “She had gotten a lovely new doll for Christmas, a doll the likes of which had never before been seen in Marquette in those early days. And Annabella loved it. She carried it beneath her coat because it had a china face, and she didn’t want to drop and break it or even for the cold weather to crack it. But she had barely left the house when a snowstorm started up, and as it got darker out, and the snow got fiercer, she lost her way. She wasn’t sure which direction she was going, but she just kept walking, hoping to see the light from her parents’ window. Instead, she saw an Indian. Now all the Indians around Marquette were friendly to the settlers, but Annabella was just a little girl, and the boys at school had told her that Indians like to scalp little girls.”
“Sound like typical boys,” laughed Ada.
“What’s scalp?” asked Maud.
“To cut off your hair,” said Will, giving a mild description that relieved Eleanor, who did not want her girls to have nightmares.
“What’s so bad about getting a haircut?” asked Maud.
“Maybe she had really beautiful hair, so she didn’t want it cut off,” said Judy.
“So,” said Will, “when Annabella saw the Indian, she was so scared she ran out into the storm and never was seen alive again.”
“Did the Indian get her?” asked Jimmy.
“No, but the Indian tried to find her because he was a good Indian, and he knew she was going the wrong way. Only he couldn’t see her footsteps because of the blowing, drifting snow. Finally he went to her parents’ house to tell them he had seen her. Then her father walked to the Ridges’ farm to try and find her. He and Mr. Ridge searched for Annabella all night, but it was an Indian who found her and brought her home, frozen to death.”
“Oh no,” squeaked Ellen.
“Yes. It was very sad,” said Will. “She was such a sweet little girl that everyone in Marquette cried when they heard she had died.”
Beth could not help shedding a tear, as she remembered how her own father had died from being caught in a blizzard.
“Is that the end?” asked Jimmy.
“Almost,” said Will. “Annabella was such a good girl that people say God blessed her by letting her come back to earth to help people who are lost in blizzards. That’s why I saw her ghost in Park Cemetery. She must have pulled me from where I fell over in the snow and laid me in the doorway of the crypt where I would stay warm.”
“So she’s not really so much a ghost as an angel,” said Jessie.
“I guess so,” said Will. “They say good people tend to become angels.”
Most of the grownups smiled, appreciating the story’s moral ending, but Henry only laughed.
“Pa, you told me that story when I was little, and I remember going to Park Cemetery to look for Annabella’s gravestone, but I never could find it.”
“You must not have looked hard enough,” said Will.
Henry laughed again, but Jimmy, despite his initial dislike for a girl ghost, said, “There are lots of gravestones in the cemetery, Daddy. You probably missed it. We should go look again.”
“Why do you even need to look?” asked Will. “Don’t you trust your grandpa?”
“If he’s smart, he won’t,” Henry smiled.
“Well, the gravestone is there,” said Will. “And furthermore, I went to school with one of the Stonegate boys. He told me about Annabella–she was his father’s older sister–and when I told him the next day at school that I had seen her ghost, he verified it was her.”
“You’re too much, Pa,” said Henry.
“Can we open our presents now?” asked Maud.