I would want to see a ghost.

I think.

It would depend on the mood – not of me, of the ghost. If this were a wistful spirit, even one with something left unfinished this side of the veil, that would be fine. If this were a spirit bent on vengeance, out to punish and to terrify anyone who showed up … well, obviously …

I’ve gone so many places in search of ghosts – Borley Rectory in England, The Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, MA (not to mention Gallows Hill in Salem, Massachusetts, which should be haunted, if anywhere on earth by the spirits of the unjustly executed), The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, The Tower of London, Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery, Chicago’s Resurrection Cemetery (lots of cemeteries), Alcatraz, Emily’s Bridge in Stowe, Vermont … and even Lincoln Park Zoo (Yes, a zoo!) in my hometown of Chicago, which was built originally over a big cemetery.

There’s only one purportedly haunted place that I ever felt anything like a presence – although I didn’t see anything except a man sitting on a big rock, crying, whom no one else saw. I’m sure he was an actual living man. The place was Gettysburg National Battlefield Park and … from the moment I got out of the car, each of the four or five times I visited there, I felt a strange heaviness, even on a beautiful summer day – but then, the battle of Gettysburg took place on a beautiful summer day, July 1, 1863.

The first time I went to Gettysburg and felt that haunting sadness, I didn’t even know where I was. My newlywed husband and I were driving east from Wisconsin and I fell asleep in the car and when I awoke, I had to ask him, where are we? We were near the Trostle Farm, where a cannon there is named “Cora,” a tribute to the wife of one of the soldiers of the 9th Massachusetts, mustered in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, about an hour and a half from where I am right now. They were a long way from home. They were like the graves of the soldiers rom New Hampshire whom Thornton Wilder famously wrote about in Our Town, “Iron flags on their graves. Had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together, though they’d never seen more than fifty miles of it themselves.”

Most of them were younger, the age my high-school sons are now. I guess maybe that a place that holds so many lives frozen in their bloom, so many dreams blasted in mid-flight, so many hearts broken … a place of consummate violence and pain, well, those hopes, if not the people themselves, might be ghosts. – JM

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