Context: The event happened some time during 1997. The informant was a young volunteer missionary for her church working in rural North Carolina. Part of her work involved knocking on doors and talking to people. Although most people were not interested in her message, virtually everyone they contacted was kind and respectful. The visit described in the following story was unlike any other that she encountered during her 18-months service as a missionary.
Me: Tell me something strange that happened to you. Where were you and what happened?
Informant: So I was a missionary for, um, a year and a half, and you get assigned to a place, uh, where you don’t know where you’re going to end up. You could end up in Russia, Japan, Argentina, or North Carolina. And I happened to have ended up in North Carolina. So they sent me there for a year and a half. And you spend about two to four months in each town, and you get transferred to different towns. And your main, main goal, main purpose there is to teach people who are interested, teach them about our church. And during the time I was a missionary, I eventually arrived at this old house in Sailsbury, North Carolina.
Me: What was so special about this house?
Informant: Ok, so we are at this old house with the antique furniture. I’m like 21 years old. I have this young lady, a companion, with me who is very scared and nervous and doesn’t say a thing. And I’m making small talk with the people who live at the house, asking them about their house. And they start in on ghost stories.
Me: Ghost stories! Now we’re getting somewhere!
Informant: I had no idea what I was getting into. And with the most normal looks on their faces and the most sincere tone of voice, no exaggeration, no drama. Um, very matter of fact, um, they start telling me, oh yeah, there’s ghosts in this house. And I kind of froze. And I said, oh, *laughs* that’s interesting.
Me: That is interesting. Tell me more.
Informant: And they start pointing things out and they say, yeah, the rocking chair over there on the porch. He said, the old owners, the original owners of the house were, let’s say, you know Bob and Mary, and you know Bob comes and he’ll just sit on the porch. We’ll just see him out there in the evening, every now and again, I mean, just rocking in the rocking chair. I said, oh really? They said, yeah. And then they tell me that they see Mary, she walks over — and see that tree over there? Um, and that little street? So Mary just goes walking across the yard. And then, uh, they’re up in the attic. So we hear them up there, they’re kind of moving things around and we often hear that.
Me: How did you react to this?
I wasn’t really scared because I don’t believe in ghosts, and I believe that if you don’t believe in things, you won’t see them. But my companion was petrified. She was sitting in her chair frozen, and I looked over at her, and I could tell that she was scared out of her wits. Um, and I tried to change the subject, but they kept going on in this very matter of fact way, telling me about all of these times they had seen Bob and Mary, and they said, they’re just part of the house. And we just, um, we just, you know, we’ve gotten used to it and like, it was no big deal. And so I started to kind of laugh, to laugh off the situation because I can see how nervous my companion was, and I didn’t want her to be scared.
And it’s dark in this house. They had turned the lights down. I mean, it was just like one of those old, um, it’s different in North Carolina. It’s just different in the South, just older houses with, you know, the dim lighting. And so I started to laugh a little bit and said, oh *laugh* that’s kinda funny. You know, houses have stories, you know, something like that to laugh it off.
Me: But they took it seriously, didn’t they?
Informant: Super seriously! The man turned to me and he said, do you think we’re lying? That we’re just making all of this up? And I said, oh no, no, no. I didn’t want to offend them. Um, I tried to handle it as best as I could without offending them. And these people were not, um — I met a lot of people out in the country who were very, uh, very poor and very uneducated. And these people were not that. These people were middle-class and educated. They were intelligent people with a lot of books around, and you could tell they were educated.
But anyway, that guy just turned on me and basically accused me of saying that he was lying. And so I could tell that this was just going to be uncomfortable. So as soon as it, you know, seemed okay to leave, we, uh, thanked them for their hospitality and left and never went back to that house again.
But when we got back to the car and we’re driving back, my poor little companion was just shaking. She had never left home before. This was one of her first experiences away from home, and she was utterly terrified. *chuckle* And while we were in the house, I could see her kind of looking around the room a little bit to see if maybe Bob and Mary were going to show up. And she had been worried that they were just gonna, you know, come into the room and take a chair.
Me: And how did you feel about it?
Informant: I was definitely shaken up, too. Not that I thought I was going to see a ghost, but, uh, it’s just really — it was a strange situation to have intelligent, educated people sit there and tell you in your face that they have ghosts in their house and see them frequently. And, uh, it’s hard to know what, what to say. So my conclusion is I don’t, I don’t know. I don’t think they were lying, but at the same time I thought about it a lot afterwards. And I thought I would never see a ghost in that house because I guess, because I’m not a believer. *laughs* So, um, maybe it’s if you’re open to it and you let yourself go there, maybe you’ll see something, but, um, I don’t think I ever would. So that’s my ghost story.
Thoughts: This story surprised the informant and myself because neither of us expected belief in ghosts to be associated with middle class, educated people. In this case, it is educated, middle class people who see ghosts on a regular basis. An important element in the story is the man’s irritation, and his accusation that the informant thought he was lying. This would indicate how deeply he held his beliefs in ghosts. Another interesting element is how nonchalant the residents were regarding ghosts in their house. They grew accustomed to it, somewhat ritualizing it. The informant didn’t know how widespread these types of beliefs are in the South. The story presents a conflict of belief: the missionary doesn’t believe in ghosts, but the residents accept ghosts as part of daily life. I personally do not believe in ghosts but found the entire discussion between the resident and the missionary fascinating. I certainly would have liked to question the residents myself and find out more details about their belief in ghosts — and more about Bob and Mary.