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The Headless Desert Ghost

Note: This story was first brought up to me while camping in Death Valley, around the campfire.

SD: So this is about the ghost of Joe Simpson, ok? So in 1908 there was this saloon manager named Joe Simpson and he murdered the town’s banker. And because of that, the town lynched him, they tied him up, and then a LA Times reporter came down, they put him back up (after they had already taken him down from being dead), and what happened is that they decided to test if he had any diseases. So they cut off his head, and they lost the body of him. And so now, if you go around different parts of Death Valley, you can see this old west guy who is headless just walking around, trying to find his head, and trying to get revenge on the people who killed him.

 

This is a local story to Death Valley. It seems to be a good example of a local legend. A town had a traumatic event in their past, and this continues to haunt them today. This contains the motif of mutilated corpses coming back as ghosts. Many societies believe that the mistreatment of corpses leads to becoming a ghost. Not only was Joe Simpson’s corpse re-hung and beheaded, but he was lynched, tied up, and his body was lost. This could easily lead to the fear that his spirit could come back to exact revenge on the living. SD had visited Death Valley before, but hadn’t seen the ghost. He didn’t seem to believe the ghost was real, but said its was a common story.

general
Narrative

The Murder House Ghost

This story was told at night around a campfire in Death Valley, California.

E: Ok so this is my Grandma’s story, which is 100% true, and not exaggerated at all, probably. So my grandma was 19, I think, she’s like our age, when this stuff happened. She was working as a waitress in Detroit but she didn’t get paid anything so she rented a room from this lady’s house. She obviously didn’t have an apartment or anything. She didn’t have any roommates except for this really old lady who was kind of grouchy and didn’t really talk to her except to get money for paying for the room. But it’s kind of creepy because the house that she lived in was like the classic fucking murder suicide house, where some guy had killed his wife and daughter then killed himself in the house. So she, I don’t remember how many rooms there were, but she stayed in the bedroom where he slept, I think, because it actually wasn’t that big. And so it was kind of like, it wasn’t super bad, but she’s say things like she’d walk through a doorway and it would be super cold and freezing and then she’d get into a room and it would be somewhat fine, and weird stuff like that. But one night, she was laying down, and she, like, feels something on her chest. She can’t see anything; it’s not a night terror because she didn’t see anything, something’s sitting there or whatever. She just feels something really sitting on her chest. It’s really strange. She doesn’t think too much of it, but at the same time she was really freaked out. And this happens again later, but this time it feels like something is literally choking her so she gets up, she walks down, and she sees her landlady, standing in the doorway, but she’s turned around, so she can’t see her face, and she’s hearing some weird stuff. And she tries to go past her, and the landlady is changing some freaky shit and she just runs out of the house and gets out. That’s my grandma’s ghost story.

Analysis:

This ghost story contains a lot of common ghost story motifs. It takes place in a creepy old home, which is often the setting of a ghost story. E’s grandmother is in a liminal period of her life, when she is living on her own and first experiencing adulthood. People are most receptive to ghost stories when they are at transitional points in their life such as this. The landlady is a quiet, mysterious old woman, leading to a lot of questions of who she is and what is happening. The main motif present is the history of murder. Violent deaths, especially murder suicides, is a common way to become a ghost. Most people who move into a house with a history like that know, whether they believe it or not, that the house is likely to be haunted. E seemed to believe this story, and while she doesn’t openly believe in ghosts, she believes that what her grandmother told her is true.

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