Monday, February 22, 2010

Acacia Cemetery, Modesto, CA

Acacia Cemetery is located on Scenic Drive in Modesto, CA. It is claimed that people passing through the cemetery, which has paved roads that allow it to serve as a shortcut for both drivers and pedestrians, will often hear what sounds like a hysterical mourner crying and screaming, even when nobody is there. Sometimes the crying and screaming sounds as if it is so close that people have commented on it sounding as if it was in the car with them. This feeling is sometimes accompanied by a sense of intense dread. Whether these phenomenon are attributed to one of the buried, or someone who once mourned one of the buried, is not known.

Commentary: Sitting at the intersection of Bodem Street and Scenic Drive in Modesto, CA, Acacia Cemetery is across the street from both a hospital and a senior citizen's home. Whether this is oddly appropriate or simply grotesque I leave to the reader to determine for them self. When I was in high school, it was not unusual to see a hand-painted wooden sign advertising "free dirt" at the gate of the cemetery, and as far as we could tell, the sign had been erected by the cemetery management.

But enough of the local color.

One of the things that I find fascinating about this story is that it seems, at least to some degree, to be an Internet phenomenon. I grew up in the area, and never heard about this cemetery - that's not to say that there weren't stories about it pre-Internet (there most likely were), but that they weren't in particularly wide circulation. Now that the Internet is a common information-gathering tool for ghost story enthusiasts, this story is easily found by simply typing "Modesto Ghost Stories" into Google.

What is interesting, however, is that all of the Internet versions of this story are nearly identical - in most cases they have clearly been a cut-and-paste job (check the links below for example). So, rather than the typical "telephone game" scenario that traditionally played out with ghost stories - where one event gets changed or added on to by the next person who tells the story, and so on until the story that emerges is radically different from the one originally told - we have a near-perfect copying of the story from person-to-person and source-to-source.

I am left wondering if, with sites like Shadowlands increasingly becoming the repositories of local ghost legends, if we will see a poverty of variations on ghost stories as time goes on. I hope not - the variability is part of what makes these stories great, and it's possible that people on-line may continue to change the stories just as they did in person for centuries - but I suspect that we's easier to cut-and-paste than to type out a new version, and that's a loss to our collective and developing folklore. Look through the links, and even at the story above, and you'll see little of the dread, and none of the flash, that makes ghost stories fun.

Sources: Internet, Internet, The Illustrious Internet, Internet

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Child Ghost of Ripon, California

When I lived in Ripon, I had a neighbor who lived in a haunted house. We would be out in the yard and see a shape that looked like a child, but without features, run into the space between the houses. When we would go to take a look, there was nobody and nothing there. Sometimes we'd hear kids playing when there was nobody around.

One night, my neighbor opened up a closet that had been closed ever since she bought the house. Inside of the closet, she found a box. Inside of the box was a small dress, like one that a very young girl would wear. As soon as she saw the dress, she was frightened, but didn't know how to react. When her husband came home from work, they talked about it and about the child-like figure that they had seen around the house, and both became more and more frightened as the evening went on.

Finally, they decided to burn the dress. They started a fire, and threw the dress in. As soon as the dress hit the flames, they heard a baby crying, and the crying continued until the dress was completely gone.

Commentary: This is another of the stories that I grew up with. One of the women in my neighborhood would tell this story, or some variation on it (it was always changing) to us kids. She loved to spin ghost stories for us, mostly because she seemed to like to entertain children, but also partially because ghost stories seemed to reinforce her particular religious view of the world.

As a kid, I bought this story, and asked for it many times. However, as I got older, the inconsistencies started to bug me, and I saw the stories of the neighbor for what they were: fun entertainments told by a genuinely warm and caring person who simply wanted to provide the children with fun in a safe environment, but not factual accounts.

I still love her stories. She told me the most memorable version of the Ouija Board Urban Legend that I have ever heard. And I have very fond memories of her as a neighbor and community member. So, in the end, her stories have done her credit, and I think that she would be happy to know that.

I was unsure how to classify this story. It clearly is a campfire story - a story told to entertain with a scare - based on the fact that the details were constantly changing and she didn't seem to much care how coherent the story was most of the time. It is centered around both a house and an object, so should it be considered a haunted house or a haunted object story?

To the haunted house story, I say no. It was always linked to some generic house, with no identifying details given, and the house seemed to be more a setting than an integral part of the story. A haunted object? Well, yes. The dress is certainly important to the story, and is clealry supposed to be the focus of the haunting.

Sources: Personal Account