Luther’s Ghost

Informant: Great Aunt Charlotte was sick in bed once, and she looked up and saw the ghost of her tiny granny—quietly, quietly rocking in her rocking chair, smoking her corn-cob pipe.

Me: You believe in ghosts?

Informant: Oh, yes. The house in Berkeley was haunted, you know.

Me: Really?

Informant: Oh, yes. It was Luther. I passed it on the stairs, sometimes, and I could feel the inner—inner, you know—the inner stuff. And Uncle David said he always saw the rocking chair on the porch rock by itself. And I—we had a couple people—a couple people say they saw the lights flickering, going on and off. It was Luther.

The informant (my grandmother) was born in Missouri and has lived in Berkeley, CA for close to sixty years. She has always been a remarkably hard worker; she was raised by her uncle on his farm, where she more than carried her own weight, and, after completing four years at Penn State (where she was the only female Chemistry major at the time), she insisted on paying her uncle back every dime of her tuition. The informant moved out to California, went to graduate school at Mills College, and became a nutritionist working with nursing homes and other care facilities to develop standards for feeding different types of patients. After having two sons, the informant became the President of the Parents Association for the Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA and remained an active member of the Claremont Book Club.

This particular set of anecdotes came while the informant and I were discussing her house in Berkeley, which she was forced to sell a few years ago for financial reasons. The informant admits to “checking up” on the house frequently to see what the buyers have been doing to remodel it, and was outraged to find they’d changed the layout of the living room (a room visible only from the rear of the house, which means the informant broke into the gated backyard of a property she no longer owns to peer through the windows). Given her attachment to the house (she and her husband owned it for over forty years and raised two sons there), I was no all that surprised to hear that she thought the ghost of her late husband—Luther—haunted the place.

The informant specified feeling a kind of ghost energy, seeing objects move on their own, and flickering lights as signs of her late husband’s presence. All these phenomenon, in my opinion, are easily explainable. The informant is old and her staircase is very tall; perhaps the “energy” she felt was a response to the physical exertion. The rocking chair was stationed on the outdoor porch, so perhaps the wind rocked it. The house was in dire need of renovation (thought the informant would disagree), and I don’t doubt that the electric wiring through the house was ten to twenty years out of date. However, the informant firmly believes that the cause of these phenomenon was her husband’s ghost—no doubt, her belief stems from FOAF (friend of a friend) instances of ghost encounters, such as Great Aunt Charlotte’s, and a wider group of family members who seem to believe.