An American Ghost Gallery: The Punchbowl Ghost

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In a book titled Legends of Old Honolulu (1915), Ka Hula O Na Aumakua describes that famous city’s Punchbowl region this way: “Punchbowl lies back of Honolulu. It is an extinct volcano. Inside the crater rim lies a basin whose sides are grass-covered, with groups of trees here and there. The little houses and small gardens of squatters show that there is no longer any fear of subterranean activity.”

The writer goes on to narrate one of the area’s legends. Long ago, Kakei, “the moi, or high high ruling chief of Oahu,” had proudly returned from plundering the village of Waimea on the island of Kauai. Surveying his ill-gotten riches and kidnapped women and children, the warrior decided a great feast was in order and its site should be Punchbowl Hill. However, as the celebration began, earthquakes cracked the earth’s crust. “The side of Punchbowl Hill opened and a flood of lava poured out, mixed with clouds of bursting masses of steam and foul gases.” The eruption threatened not just the feast but the lives of those attending. Amid the calamity, the spirits of the victims’ ancestors appeared “in a solemn and stately dance. Back and forth they moved to the rhythm of steady peals of bursting gasses. The clouds swayed to and fro, while ghosts moved back and forth among them.” The ghostly ancestors had come to rescue the kidnapped women and children. Not until Kakei made reparation to Waimea for his plundering did the earthquakes, lava flow, and spectral dancing cease. “It is said that the fire never again returned to that crater or to the island of Oahu.”

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An American Ghost Gallery: The Brinkley College Ghost

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In early March of 1871, news of a ghost haunting Memphis’s Brinkley Female College made headlines. The Avalanche and the Public Ledger reported that the ghost wandered and spoke, even mentioning that its name was Lizzie. More dramatically, the chatty phantom claimed to own the property on which the college had been built. The deed and other valuable items, declared the ghost, were buried beside a particular tree stump on campus.

All of this was said to a thirteen-year-old girl named Clara Robertson. Clara was the only witness to the ghostly proclamation, according to the Public Ledger, and her history of suffering from a nervous temperament cast some suspicions on her experience. Nonetheless, her story excited enough interest that a deep hole was dug by that stump. Curious onlookers had to be dispersed by the police. Disappointingly, nothing spectacular was unearthed. The reporter, though, shrewdly predicted, “The ghost of Lizzie is not yet at rest, and we look for further manifestations from this disembodied spirit.”

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An American Ghost Gallery: The Newburyport Schoolhouse Ghost

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At least two ghostly mysteries gained national attention in the early 1870s, when the U.S. was still feeling the trauma of the Civil War. One concerns a phantom that roamed Memphis’s Brinkley Female College in 1871. You can read about that here.

The other ghost was also drawn to a school, but this time, an elementary school in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The earliest report I’ve found so far was printed in late November, 1872. The writer of this article, which appeared in The New Orleans Republican, opens by listing the alleged manifestations: first rappings, then latches lifted, and finally a pale boy who appeared at a window and glided inside — but who vanished into nothingness when the teacher attempted to grab him. The writer ends by expressing not just skepticism but outrage at the seriousness given to the allegations, especially the investigation promised by a school committee. “Of course there is no ghost,” the reporter insists, “and no face of a deceased boy had been seen looking through the window, and no ghost has been grasped at by the teacher.”

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An American Ghost Gallery: The Mapleton Ghost

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Let me begin by stating that the ghost seen by rail passengers leaving Coney Island in August of 1894 proved to be a hoax. A very cruel hoax, too, given that it occurred in the spot where the body of suicide victim Margaret Barning had been found only days earlier. But it was this suicide that spurred people in and around Mapleton, New Jersey, to believe that what they saw was indeed the lingering spirit of a young woman who suffered a tragic death.

On Sunday, August 5th, 1894, Maggie Barning shot herself near the Mapleton railroad station. She was twenty-six years old. An article in New York’s The Evening World explains that her body hadn’t been identified until Wednesday. On Friday, according to The Sun, “scores of people on the Sea Beach train which left Coney Island at 1 o’clock” witnessed an apparition while passing the spot where Barning’s body had been found. A “tall and shadowylike” figure approached, “gesticulating as one would do trying to stop a train.” Blowing the whistle and applying the brakes didn’t stop the ghostly figure from continuing into a nearby woods, all the while moving its arms as if frantically bidding someone to follow.

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An American Ghost Gallery: The Haunted Melanope

Spectral Edition“And so the beautiful Melanope rides daily in the stream, victim of the barnacle and the sea grass, while on her decks stalk the ghosts from the graves so widely scattered, from the homes so strangely sorrowed, from the loves so strangely won, so harshly lost.”

Saint Paul Globe, Nov. 18, 1900

In a way, this an international ghost story, not strictly an American one. That’s because its ghost — possibly, ghosts — were said to haunt a well-traveled ship called the Melanope. The bark was built in Liverpool, England, in 1876 for the purpose of transporting immigrants to Australia. During its maiden voyage, a storm caused damage enough to send the Melanope back home, according to the Williamstown Chronicle, a newspaper published in Victoria, Australia. Continue reading “An American Ghost Gallery: The Haunted Melanope”