Young miner’s return

“Alright, I think it was before the Great Depression – in the late 20s or early 30s – when my grandma was a teenager. Back then, my family lived in a hotel because my great-grandfather was really rich. He just bought a hotel, and all his kids had their own rooms and stuff. He lost it all in the depression, of course, which is why I think this story may take place before that. Well, he owned these mines – or was it a mill? Um, either way, they would have like workers that worked down there. Some of them would stay in the hotel as permanent residents or whatever. It was my grandma and her sister’s job to take care of their [the workers’] laundry and stuff during the day after school, and, um, there was one miner that was working or, uh that was there with them. Actually, I’m not sure if he was a miner or a mill worker. I do know he was a worker for my great-grandfather, and he was younger than all the others – around like 18 or 19. All the girls were really into him, hanging all over him, paying him extra attention and whatnot. There was one day, while they were at work in the morning, where my grandma and her sister laid out an ironing board to iron the laundry like they usually did. Back then, ironing boards didn’t have the fancy stands to hold them up. You just took the ironing board and laid it across two chairs. Whenever they did that, it would always end up blocking the door, so they had it all set up and they had the ironing board down. Um, the bell hadn’t rung yet, saying that work was over, but the young guy had come home and opened the door like he was just coming home. Before moving on, he stood there and just looked at them, watching them iron his sheets. They had to like move everything [to let him pass]. He didn’t say anything, though. He just waited until they had moved all the chairs and the ironing board. They waited for him to pass, so they saw and heard him go up to his room and close his door before they put everything back and started working again. Three hours later, the bell rang, so all the workers came home, except for him. They [my grandma and her sister] assumed he was already there. But then, a messenger came from the mill or mines came over and told them that he had died in an accident that day and that they shouldn’t expect him to come back. They went up and checked his room, but he wasn’t there. It wasn’t as if they just thought they saw him passing by, either. He legit, like, waited for them to move everything, and, so, yea. That’s really it. I mean, like, with a story from this time period, I can see how or, at least, why he’d come back. There’s no, like, ‘rehaunting’ or anything, just that one encounter. It freaked them all out, though. It’s weird, too, because you always wonder – That’s the only one I think we have in my family, though. I don’t know.”

As illustrated by his version of this story, J. M., is a loquacious individual. He heard this recounted from his grandma, who lived with his grandpa near the Ohio River Valley, and retold it around midday – not midnight, unfortunately. Now 19 years of age, he openly admits to not believing this story as a child, a sentiment somewhat implied by the emphasis on the term rehaunting. Naturally, one might consider this a healthy degree of skepticism. Viewed as psychic premonitions, dreams of this sort are not uncommon among women in J. M.’s family, however. Both his mom and grandma have them. Although he does not elaborate on his initial statement of regarding his beliefs as a child, J. M. believes, now, “after hearing grandma tell older relatives the same story…”

Given its physical setting and believable events, I believe this story clearly falls under the legend category. J. M. did not appear overly concerned with the accuracy of his date, but I do not feel as if this had a negative impact on the story. The distinguishable imbalance of all other details placed throughout the story clearly identifies the young man’s return from the dead as the focal issue in this legend. Although, or perhaps because, I have come to to recognize J. M. as an excellent storyteller, I was somewhat worried that J. M. might add or overemphasize particular elements the story in order to make it sound more believable.

Fortunately, a story that emphasizes specific details and/or conditions, especially those surrounding a visitation, agrees most with author/editor Gillian Bennet’s typography of ghostly narratives, set forth in her collection of memorates and analyses entitled Alas, Poor Ghost!, as a story of cause. A narrator who tells a story of this type generally highlights contextual evidence that furthers a sense of order and purpose (1999). Seemingly at odds with this definition, the key data J. M. includes – namely, the current year and the worker’s age – is relatively inexact; likewise (un)defined are his occupation in life and reason for resurrecting in death. However, the first two of these inconsistencies are, at best, debatable.

In a temporal sense, the Great Depression, effectively the nadir of modern American history, replaces any value or clarity lost in his estimation of the “…the late 20s or early 30s…” Issues with details specific to the worker falter accordingly. His occupation as a miller or miner is unclear, but that stems from the state of the workplace, which is never definitively identified as either a mill or a minor discrepancy considering the relevant context. At “around…18 or 19” years of age, the young worker’s death occurs unquestionably early and, in accordance with the popular motif, is equally untimely. Furthermore, the majority of these “uncertain” elements relate to the young worker. The girls usually pay the young worker extra attention. J. M.’s grandma and her sister typically do the laundry and set up the iron-chair contraption. The young worker is essentially the only uncertain person, and guess who ends ends up being the ghost.