Sometimes when a bit of free time opens up, I like to go to the White River Valley Museum to indulge in a favorite pastime: poring over old editions of Auburn area newspapers.
OK, that makes me a nerd. So be it.
On one afternoon three or so years ago, I’d sat at one end of the table for a read in the room where the old bound volumes used to be stored, opposite two guys busy with their own research at the other end.
In front of me, the two bound volumes of the Auburn Globe News for 1963. One of the ways I amuse myself is to read about some prominent figure from Auburn’s past and find out what I can about what became of that person. Just simple curiosity.
One name and face that kept appearing in articles and photos for that year was a young man involved with the various clubs and organizations that existed in 1963. Here was a fellow on the rise with a bright future ahead of him.
Turning one page, I came across a photograph of this young man standing at a rostrum delivering a speech to one of the service clubs. I was reading his name to myself and wondering what became of him at the precise moment when one of the two guys at the other end of the table introduced himself to the other — with the very name of the young man in that photo of long ago I was looking at.
I had to ask.
“Pardon me, is this you, Sir?” I asked, turning to him with the book and showing him the page and photo. He looked and drew in his breath.
“My God,” said the man, ”that was a long time ago.” It was the same man, though now the face was wrinkled, and he sported a gray beard.
I could hardly believe the coincidence. I mean, what were the odds of this happening at that moment? I asked myself the question then, and still do.
Things like this happen, I assume, to all of us. I know I am not unique in this respect. I reckon most lifetimes must be sprinkled with at least a few of the sorts of moments that make us shake our heads.
That is, the weird, the unexpected, the bolts from the blue.
They will take on different forms of course. Odd, life-saving intuitions at the critical moment, books that opened on pages offering precisely what we needed to know at that moment.
Or, perhaps a ghostly encounter akin to what I met with in the Captain’s House on the grounds of the Sisters of St. Helena convent in Aiken, South Carolina, where the acting troop I was traveling with was staying for a night in 1989.
Let me set the stage. The front entryway was one of those two-door affairs: an outer door, followed by a small hallway where you hung your coat, then an inner door, which opened on the downstairs parlor. On this occasion, both of the doors, which opened inward, were locked with deadbolts.
I was up late that night in the parlor of the Captain’s House, scrapping with a stubborn computer chess game that kept beating me, when the inner door I described above suddenly flew open.
That’s odd, I thought, and stood up to check things out. I found the outer door still locked. There was no trickster between those doors, and no possibility of a rogue wind blowing up between those doors. My only thought at the time was, again, that’s odd, there must be some rational explanation. I shrugged, left things there and went upstairs to bed.
It was only when we met for breakfast the next morning with two other house guests that I learned from them that such oddments were common in that house. That the faucets went off and on at night. That the windows had an uncanny habit of opening and closing by themselves, and that the curtains would billow without wind when the windows were closed.
The man who told us about this, calmly, and without giving off the slightest sense that anything about it was out of the ordinary, simply advised us to leave a few lights on, and that alone would cut the activity down by about 80 percent.
We learned later that it was called the Captain’s House because a ship’s captain had indeed lived there, and had murdered his girlfriend in that very place.
There is no deep point to be grappled with here. My sole purpose is to ask something of the people who may read this column. I would like to hear from you about the weird, the wacky, the uncanny and even about the out-of-the-ordinary, extraordinary things that the people of this community may be doing that others may enjoy reading about. Yep, I’m soliciting ideas. Tales to chill, or warm, the mind and heart.
Thanks for reading, and I hope to hear from you in the days and weeks ahead.
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.