In all the years of being a mortician, I have never seen a ghost, at least I don’t think I have. The subject of ghosts can be tricky. Did I see or hear something? Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. Far too often people think that ghosts crowd around the mortuary and set up residency. I believe that if there are such things as ghosts they would be hanging out where they were most comfortable in life, at their home for instance, or their favorite places to vacation, or even where they died. This makes more sense than swarming inside a mortuary, a place that they have probably never visited before, and around people they have never met. There is an argument that ghosts may stay with their body until it’s buried, sure, why not? But, wherever a spirit, ghost or haunt ends up, I assure you I do not see them at the mortuary, or do I?
I lived in an apartment above a small mom and pop mortuary. It was a really big space. There were three bedrooms and two full bathrooms that branched off a long and narrow hallway. There was a huge living room with 1970’s faux wood laminate flooring and dirty cream-colored walls. In the living room were huge windows overlooking the parking lot and the garages beyond. There was a small dining room that jutted out of the kitchen area that came complete with olive green appliances and gold specked cream countertops. The kitchen cabinets and cupboards had been painted over so many times that most of the didn’t close properly, laden with so many layers of paint. The apartment had plenty of room to share with other people but I had the whole thing to myself, all alone.
There were ghost stories from previous employees who had lived in the apartment. There was supposed to be a small boy, that was mean and a trickster, who lived in the “blue room” (a small room painted the color of deep ocean, it was currently being used for storage). There was also a story of a woman in a white dress that walked up and down the hallway that led to the bedrooms and bathrooms. Bah! I had no concerns that these supposed spirits were fixtures in this space. I do believe that the setting was ripe for these types of experiences though, apartment above a funeral home, dark hallway, dimly lit rooms and dark paint, these things lend to the perception of “otherworldly” things. I imagine the previous residents, who were also all alone during long dark nights, heard the squeaks creeks of an old building in the late hours and let their imagination see things that weren’t really there. So, of course I dismissed the stories and settled in to the apartment.
To prove my point that there were no ghosts hanging about, I decided to inspect the blue room, the one I was told to avoid. It was such a dingy place. The overhead light didn’t work, so I plugged in a lamp near the back corner that immediately gave off an eerie glow, throwing weird shadows into the angles of the room. Even with the light reflecting off of the walls, it just wasn’t enough light to penetrate the deep darkness that hovered in there. Mismatched furniture piled in various places and dusty boxes filled with old invoices and papers painted a scene for the perfect ghost story. The walls had holes from pictures that had hung on them from previous years and dings and scratches from people moving furniture around and not being careful. Dotting the portions of the deep blue painted walls not covered by stacked furniture and boxes were childishly-drawn stick figures in pencil and marker along-side names and dates that were meaningless to me.
I can see where the stories had come from, the dark color, the dinginess, the shadows. It was a creepy room and cold, colder than the rest of the apartment. After spending some time in this room alone, I was satisfied that the stories were unfounded, I turned off the lamp and walked out but kept the door slightly ajar, just to prove that I wasn’t afraid. Inky black was all you could see through the slightly opened door (even in the middle of the day, the light simply could not break through the darkness in there) and every time I walked passed the open door, I could feel the cold air seeping out into the hallway. After a few days I made the choice to close the door to keep the cold in and ignore the room all together.
I love cemeteries. I love taking pictures of cemeteries. I cherished looking at the various statues, especially ones that were darkened in places from rain and sun. I collected pictures of headstones that had ironic last names like Grave or Head. One night I decided to start printing these pictures to make room on my camera. I had previously set up my office in the small dining room. On the table I had a computer tower attached to a monitor, not like the monitors we have now but the big heavy monitors that you had to carry with both arms while leaning back to balance the weight. I also had a typewriter, a pile of folders and various papers and a printer.
As the printer warmed up, I loaded the tray with photo paper and then began to transfer my photos from my camera to the computer, placing the ones I wanted to print into a separate folder. The printer was terribly slow at printing so once it had whirred into action, I headed out to the grocery store to avoid the painful wait of watching it produce one agonizing line at a time.
When I got back to the apartment, I walked into the kitchen and saw that my cemetery pictures were scattered about the dining room. Some were left on the tray and were turned around and upside down like someone had picked them up, rifled through them and just dumped them back in the tray. I panicked for a minute like maybe someone was in the apartment. I looked towards the living room, then looked down the hallway but I didn’t investigate any further than that, I was confident that no one was there and there was some other reason this happened. I attributed the mess to a gust of wind created when I came home and opened the door from the outside. I knew that this was not really possible though, since the exterior door was down a hall that branched off of the main hallway and much too far from the kitchen for a gust to reach, but that was the only rational explanation I could think of. There was no one that would have come into the apartment, it was late evening, the sun already set making it dark outside. No one bothers a mortuary in the darkness unless you worked there. I started the task of picking up my prints off of the floor and loving the way they turned out, imagining what type of frames I would get and which walls they would hang on. As I was looking them over, I noticed fingerprints? Right along the edges of the papers (front and back!). It was like someone with ink on their fingers had held them and left their prints on the glossy paper. They were undoubtedly fingerprints, the lands and grooves clearly showing where the fingertips had grasped the edges. I had no explanation for this. I really didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t imagine anyone who would have come in to the apartment just to check out my pictures, and if someone did, why on earth would they scatter the pages and most curious why would their hands have ink on them?! I was baffled.
In my reverie of examining this phenomenon, I absently turned around toward the hallway, papers in hand and looked down the hallway again and there she was. At the very back of the hall was a woman in a white dress. I saw her clearly, she was looking right at me. I froze. As I watched her she slowly she started making her way towards me, not walking really, more like floating. I quickly looked down for one more glance at my fingerprinted papers and when I looked back up, she was gone! She had just vanished. In those few seconds that I saw this woman in white, unmistakably floating towards me, I attributed the fingerprints to something other than human hands. Did she pick up my papers, then scatter them about?
Most people describe the experience of seeing a ghost as scary, disturbing, the air was cold, the adrenaline rushed through their body. Not for me. It was more like she was just curious. Her demeanor wasn’t threatening, in fact I wished she would come back. I stood, holding my pictures theorizing about what I had just seen. I still don’t have an explanation, I cannot attribute this experience to a sheet hanging from a doorway or over tiredness or lack of food or too much alcohol. I question myself even now, did I really see this woman who looked right at me? How was it that she was even in my apartment, floating down the hallway near the bedroom that I slept in. Still baffled, I shook off the experience and continued to pick up my prints then placed them neatly in a pile on the table. During my time living in that apartment, when the darkness of night had settled over the building, I would occasionally look down the hallway. I never expected to see her again and somehow, I knew that I wouldn’t. We had our moment and that was enough.
Sadly, I no longer have these prints, they were lost along with many things during the years of moving and exes. So, are there spirits, ghosts or haunts wandering around in the mortuaries? I have seen no evidence of that, or have I?