Facing the Ghosts Together

It’s past midnight as I sit in the infamously haunted Gribble House warehouse. Our tour guide Ted has long since packed up, locked the doors, and returned to the safety of his own home. I can faintly hear the cars passing outside on Martin Luther King Boulevard, unaware that I am now second guessing my journalistic endeavors staying in one of Savannah’s top paranormal sites. As I quietly chat with my boyfriend to remain distracted, he whips his head around to inspect the far left corner of the warehouse.

“What is it babe?” I ask not entirely wanting to know the answer.

“I could’ve sworn….someone said… John.”

We both begin nervously talking again, but once more John’s head turns to face the former 401 West Perry Street address.

“There’s something in there. It sounds like someone’s walking around on leaves.”

While John has never been dismissive of the supernatural, he has also never shown total belief in it. He always remained respectful when I detailed my first-hand accounts growing up in a haunted revolutionary house in Pennsylvania, but not having an encounter himself, it was exceedingly hard for him to believe in the invisible presences. However, the tour only a few hours ago, seemed to have made the theory irrefutable for both of us now.

Although the actual house is no longer standing, today’s warehouse stands exactly where the triple homicide took place one afternoon in 1909. When the police arrived on site, Eliza Gribble was found dead after her skull had been repeatedly hacked by an axe and daughter Carrie Ohlander was also discovered lifeless with her throat slashed open. The third woman, Maggie Hunter, rested in a pool of blood by the front door and even though she suffered from both a cranial beating and throat laceration, she was miraculously still alive. Maggie would only live three more days in the hospital, but during that time she identified her husband JC Hunter as the culprit.

JC was found guilty and sentenced to hang after bloody rags were found in his house. Continuously pleading his innocence, JC was given a reduced sentence for life in prison. After only serving a few years, he was surprisingly released.

The house was eventually torn down to build a warehouse for building World War II ship components, then serving trucks, and most recently, storing trolleys. When the trolleys moved to a more spacious location, the current owners investigated the supernatural elements for six months before opening it to the public with a safe conscience.

The first “hot spot” our tour visited was the exact spot Maggie Hunter was located when police arrived. Ted began asking who was with us. To our disappointment, our equipment showed no sign of paranormal activity. John decided to hand me the spirit box.

This tool continuously scrolls through radio stations and is the easiest way for the spirits to communicate with the living. I in turn handed John the EMF detector. Electricians typically use this gadget to locate concealed electrical components, but the tools can also identify the electromagnetic field spirits typically possess. EMF detectors hidden within dolls or stuffed animals specifically target children that have passed on. Although paranormal investigative phone apps do exist, the agency prefers to use instruments that have had a long history of credible interaction.

Again, Ted asked who was with us. No response. Trying a new tactic, he suggested we introduce ourselves. Then, interrupting the rapid station scanning, a male voice said “John.”

Did you hear that? He just said your name,” I whispered to my boyfriend.

Again, “John” was spoken so clearly on the speaker, it was as if someone were standing right next to me.

“He just said it again,” I stated in disbelief.

“Again.” The same male’s voice said repeating me. I could feel goosebumps spread over my body.

Even if I wasn’t a believer, it was too remarkable to not consider someone else was in the room. While I had supplied the owner and tour guide my name for the reservation, I had not provided my boyfriend’s since I wasn’t certain of his availability. The spirit appeared to be practicing his speech by repeating select words we used! Perhaps the man had been deceased for so long he had forgotten the linguistics to communicate full sentences?

Ted mentioned how much energy it demands for spirits to contact. We sat there for a bit longer, receiving more names including “David” (JC Hunter’s real name). We began to get quiet before a spirit requested us to “speak”. When we inquired what they wanted to talk about, the spirit simply said “speak” again before going quiet.

Walking into the former slave quarters, I could feel the mood significantly darken. Without any windows, I was grateful for the two small electric candles flickering against the brick wall. Ted again began asking who was with us. Suddenly a deep male’s voice crackled through the speaker “Get out!” and a different male saying, “Run!” My body tensed up and I no longer wanted to remain in this cold, unsettling room.

griffith house 2

Following Ted around as he packed up for the night, I listened to his chilling encounters from working at the warehouse. Finishing up his last hair-raising story, he pulled a hat box out from one of the storage rooms.

“We don’t usually show people this, but I feel for your story it might help.” It was JC Hunter’s weathered, black top hat. The warehouse also stores the century old carriage that was found in the Gribble House. Typically, the guides will not pull these items out since the owners would like to preserve them.

When we left the warehouse, we decided to go to a bar for a beer. We thought it best not to bring anything directly home with us and it made a good excuse to stop for an IPA. This wasn’t exactly what John probably had in mind for date night, but by now he knows this isn’t going to be the typical relationship.

 

 

 

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We’ll All Float On Okay

I used to work nights and weekends at Eastern Mountain Sports. The additional job was mostly to save money so that I could pay my loans while I was in the Peace Corps, but it was also for the benefits. As an employee, I not only got discounts on sweet gear like ENO hammocks and solar panels, but I got free rentals of kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.

One Sunday I wasn’t scheduled to work so John and I strapped two SUP boards to the top of his Honda Accord. I asked a few of my co-workers where we should go. The Perkiomen Loop, a section of the Perkiomen River, was close by and not that long. It sounded easy enough.

The day was pretty hot, but since the route was only supposed to take an hour at max, we decided to leave our water in the car. We also left our phones since with my luck I would drop it in the river.

We began paddling, enjoying the time together and the quiet. But the paddling seemed to go on much longer than an hour. Then two hours. Something was not right

Should we pull over and hike back?!” I asked in a panic.

What I really wanted was some direction. I had a tendency to get myself (and others) in these situations, but never wanted to solve the problem. I wanted someone else to take control.

Off to the left there was a rustling in the bushes and then I saw something walking with that iconic Big Foot swagger. But it wasn’t a hairy mountain man, it was a woman chasing her young child. It was now or never.

“May we use your phone?” I yelled paddling over in her direction.

Perhaps my chapped lips or John’s already apparent sunburn gave it away that we were incompetent paddlers in need of help. She didn’t question us, but just handed over her iPhone.

I dialled the only number I had memorized, my sister’s. I could feel her smugly smirking as I quickly told her where we were and what happened. My family has come to learn this is just how I am.

“Okay. I’ll tell mom,” Jolene said.

I knew I could count on my mom. She always seemed to save me in these circumstances. Like the time I was in Amsterdam and my debit card got demagnetized. I had called asking for money to be wired, but it was a holiday she couldn’t do that. Instead I like to say I pulled a Ghandi and fasted, saving what little money I had for cultural experiences. My mom later wired money to London, where I was returning to do my summer internship. At least this time I was not that far away.

When my mom’s silver hundai pulled up, John had to carry the boards up the hill to the parking lot. Barefoot. He had left his flip flops back in the car too. Stepping on stones without complaint, he carried each heavy board up the embankment.

He drove off with my mom to fetch his car and then we silently loaded the boards to return them back to the store.

I like to say that in those moments John was getting a sample of what was to come, that he saw the sometimes half-thought-out adventure that was dating me and still went for it.

SUP

 

A Rough Start to ‘Ever After’

One common story all couples tell is how they first started dating. Much like Stephen Colbert’s tale of how he met his significant other, looking back at the beginning John and I can’t help but laugh at how clueless we really were.

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John and I went to the same high school, played varsity soccer, and even had many of the same friends. But for some reason, both of us never thought the other would be interested in dating.

High School Years

We seem to be saying, “THIS is bad hair”

Fast forward to my junior year in college when I returned home for Thanksgiving break. My friends asked if I wanted to go out to a dive bar for some drinks. I pounced on the chance. My boyfriend at the time had not only cheated on me, but also ended things. He couldn’t even allow me the satisfaction of leaving him. A beer and some distraction was exactly what I needed so I agreed despite hating the bar.

While the bar first started as “Moody Monkeys,” it went out of business quickly and a new owner named it “Ryan’s”. But a new name and a modernized décor (a welcomed change from the strange jungle-theme from before) couldn’t save it, and it would eventually also go out of business. At least when it was “Ryan’s” it didn’t feel like we were crashing a six year-old’s birthday party.

When we got there, I saw John already sitting at a high-top with his friends who graduated high school a year ahead of me. Although I wasn’t more than an acquaintance with John, I did know the other boys, so I walked over to say hello.

If you ask either of us today, we couldn’t tell you what we talked about, but I quickly forgot my ex. I remember thinking: Wow, I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard.

So when they asked if I wanted to hang out after the bar closed, I excitedly said yes. I left with them to drink one more beer before John offered to drive me home. He had been designated driver and didn’t mind.

As I got out of his car, my phone fell out of my back pocket onto the passenger’s seat. Neither of us noticed in the pitch blackness of that late winter night. John would later learn that this is a reoccurring flaw of mine; that I leave and lose things pretty easily. Back then though, John thought it was my way of saying I wanted to see him again (which I did of course).

Through Facebook messenger we planned a day for John to drop my phone off at my house. When he did, he asked me out.

Before I went back to school for my last term, he picked me up wearing a nice polo and khaki pants– a very different look from the jeans and soccer tee I was so used to seeing him wear. I remember how cute it was he tried cleaning out his Oldsmobile. That car certainly earned the ‘old’ part of its name. The passenger’s window didn’t work and the brown dashboard was curled, and rigid like a banana that had been left in the sun for too long. But the state of this car seemed to reinforce what I already liked about John. He wasn’t like other guys who were flashy or tried to be something he wasn’t. What you see is what you get.

After I graduated, we continued to hang out, mostly on John’s parents’ patio. We would sing along to Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes” or The Fugees’ “Ready or Not” and talk for hours. He made things come naturally, so naturally I didn’t even think twice about singing in front of him.

Close to six years later, I would give anything to go back and watch it all happen again.

 

 

 

Peace Corps Volunteers: Only As Strong As Their Support System

It takes a strong person to stand beside someone hell-bent on volunteering with the Peace Corps for two years. John did just that and more. While I was first applying I had to submit three recommendations: from a professor, a previous employer and a good friend. I decided to ask John to complete my friend recommendation after only dating for two years.

This letter would be private so he could have easily written something that would hinder my chances of advancing onto the next stage and thereby keep me home. But he didn’t. He wrote a letter so convincing of my “good character” that when a Peace Corps representative interviewed me via Skype and drilled me with the uncomfortable questions: “What if you get pregnant,” “What if he proposes,” or “What if he breaks up with you,” all I had to do was direct them to his letter. They never made my relationship an issue again.

Swear in

John proved to be an even better partner while I was in South Africa. He spent an embarrassing amount of money on international calls when I was on the brink of losing it from homesickness or frustration. When I chose to summit Kilimanjaro instead of coming home for Christmas, he not only accepted my decision, but he helped raise money to make my dream of summiting Africa’s highest peak come true.

Kilimanjaro Summit

Thanks John! I made it!

But my favorite thing John did during my time volunteer service was visit me. Countless friends had enthusiastically promised to visit me in South Africa when I got accepted, but then the realization that flights cost at least $1,000 set in and no one followed through. Except for John and my mom.

Hiking Cape Town

 

My mom flew back home and John and I continued our stay in the Bo-Kaap region of Cape Town. It used to be a township and sadly, before that, slave quarters. Today, the houses are all brightly painted, in an attempt to mask the walls’ dark history.

Bo Kaap

Refusing to smile for one more photo

 

Then came the time for John too to fly home. It was much harder saying goodbye this time as it was now him leaving me. When I woke up the next morning, John had already left for his flight. Loading my bags into the airport shuttle, I was not looking forward to flying back to Durban and then the long day of taxi rides back to my village. But the driver knew how to cheer me up. He said someone had already paid for my way.

Between my mom and John, I was traveling back to my village with an extra duffel bag full of food. I found comfort in knowing I could taste America through Kraft Mac & Cheese, Andy Capp’s Hot Fries and candy. John’s goodies even included marshmallows and Starbursts that would allow the children in my village to try some American sweets.

Marshmellows in the Village.jpg