Ghost Stories

October 6, 2011

Some folks live under noisy airplane flight paths. Some make their home beside railroad tracks with train horns blasting, or directly in the line of fire on the fairway of a golf course. All these home sites have their aggravations as well as perils.

I happen to live on a ghost tour route.

As you might imagine, October is high season for ghost sleuthing and the traffic of tourism flowing through the area around my home.

Several nights a week, The Roswell Ghost Tour guides ghost and goblin groupies through my historic neighborhood telling spell-binding stories about the departed spirits that reside in the mill houses and antebellum mansions that escaped the destruction of General Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.

First some history…

Most of the men who worked in the local textile mill and lived in the small mill village had left to fight the war, leaving the women and children to manufacture the cloth used by the Confederate Army. In July 1864 Union Troops stormed Roswell, burned the mill and captured its workers – more than 400 women and children. Charging them with treason, they were sent north to fates that remain a mystery to this day.

Except for the ones who returned as ghosts… that happen to live in my neighborhood.

A ghost tour with people learning about history in an interesting and somewhat spooky way normally wouldn’t rattle me except that I’m a Yankee…

a Yankee living in the deep south…

in a home on a (Yankee be damned!) historical ghost tour route. Ack!

My mind races with the thought that I am not welcome (and therefore not safe).  This sensation is familiar and fear inducing for me and causes me to freeze. It’s fodder for my amygdala – the scientific term for the “hub” of fear lying in a peanut-sized part of the brain that assesses whether a situation is dangerous. Brain science aside, you’re probably asking yourself why I didn’t know about this potentially alarming bit of historical data before I moved in, right? Good question, but that’s a story for another day.

It took me nearly two years of living here (heart racing and holding my breath every time the tour went by) before I finally bought my own ticket to go and hear the legendary stories. Why so long? Because I was afraid – spooked. Scared of what I might hear. Yankee hating Confederate type ghosts stories that would force me to leave the home I love. “Really?!” you say. Well, untamed fear is crazy like that. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the biological fear instinct designed to help us survive. But being someone who is prone to runway fear responses, I have learned that the better I become at quelling it, the happier I am.

Turns out, quelling fear is actually simpler than it sounds. It involves engaging more of the brain – the part that can assess the situation. If the situation is OK from a survival perspective, the prefrontal cortex sends what scientists call the “all clear” signal to the amygdala, brain’s fear center. Fast.

Being motivated by a strong desire to receive that “all clear” signal, I bought my ticket and joined the two-hour walking ghost tour through my neighborhood, including the local cemetery.

Did I mention it was in the dark on an overcast night?

To my surprise, I learned some charming history, including the fact that The Bricks (where I live) was used as a make shift hospital during the Civil War for both Confederate and Union soldiers. I also learned about a dear, departed neighbor, Catherine, a kindly ghost who pines away for her husband awaiting his return from the mill. The more I listened to the details of these ghost’s stories, the more my fear faded away.

As fascinating tales about the unfinished business of ordinary people’s lives were told, I realized that the neighborhood ghosts don’t hate Yankees, and I don’t have to move!

I experienced that “all clear” state. That state means now I breathe easier whenever I see the ghost tour walking through my neighborhood. Truth be told, this year I’m actually looking forward to the ghostly activity and excitement this fright-filled month holds.

So, what kinds of ghost stories keep you up at night? What kind of fear makes you freeze? How do you assess a frightful situation so that you feel that “all clear”, peaceful sigh of relief? I’d love to hear from you …

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