Sunday, June 19, 2016

White Rock Lake

Sit back and buckle in for an interesting variation on the vanishing hitchhiker, from the Lone Star State!

Drivers on the roads around White Rock Lake near Dallas, Texas, may encounter a young woman, soaked to the bone and wearing what appears to be a white evening gown from the 1920s. If the driver decides ot be a good samaritan and stops to offer help, the young woman will ask to be driven to an address on Gaston Avenue. In some versions of the story, the young woman explain that there has been an accident and her car has fallen into the lake, while in others she is barely verbal due to a stupifying state of shock. Upon arriving at the destination, the driver will discover that the young woman has vanished, but that there is water covering the seat where she had been sitting. 

In some versions of the story, the woman will specify that the house to which she has asked ot be driven belongs to her father. On arrival, the driver will observe that the young woman has fallen asleep, will go to the house and knock on the door. The door is then opened by an elderly man who is angered when this stranger claims to be bringing the elderly fellow's daughter home - you see, she had dided years earlier when her car plunged into the lake, and he doesn't appreciate these sorts of jokes. It is at this point that the driver returns to the car to find that woman is gone and the seat is wet.

The identity of the woman is not known, nor is why she is trying to reach the house on Gastone Avenue. 

There is one other variation on the story, one which is much, much creepier and bears no resemblance to the hitchiking ghost story outside of the presence of a young woman in an evening gown. In this version, people boating on the lake or out at the docks at night report seeing a body floating face down, carried (seemingly by the currents, though we know better) towards the observers. It appears to be the body of a drowned young woman in a fancy evening gown.  As the body come close to the observers, it turns over, and those present can see that the skin is bright white, as if drained of bloood. As it reaches the observers, the eyes spring open and the body emits a ghastly, disturbing shriek. Allegedly, those present always run away at this point, because, let's face it, so would you and I. 

Commentary:  There really are two separate ghost stories here, whether or not they have the same origin is unclear.  The first is a standard vanishing hitchiker story, but with the ghost leaving behind water rather than a jacket or sweater (which, when you get down to it, is just really damn rude on the ghost's part).  The second is a much stranger and more sinister story that has some truly creepy and disturbing elements.  I suspect that this is a case where elements from one story (woman drowning when a car plunges into a lake) were adopted into a new story because, let's face it, the vanishing hitchhiker story is ubiquoutous to the point of becoming a bit boring.  Another possibility is that the creeepier story, of the floating corpse, is the original tale, and that it was adopted into the ubiquoutous vanishing hitchiker story by people getting their stories a bit garbled. Regardless, while I appreciate the hitchiker story as a form of folklore, I am much more likely to tell the latter story should I be sitting with friends around a campfire. 

The ghost story has also become an element of one of Dallas's odder pop-culture moments. In October of 1967, local radio personality Chuck Boyles decided to invite his listeners to join him at White Rock Lake in order to search for the phantom and try to solve the mystery behind her (lest you are inclined to think of this as a serious investigation, keep in mind that he was a radio DJ given to the self-promotion necessary to that profession and that this was likely intended as a goofy lark).  While he likely expected to result in a few dozen people coming out (he set the meeting for the very early hours of the morning, likely to discourage many people from joining him), something in the neighborhood of 1000 people (mostly under the age of 25) arrrived.  This, in turn, resulted in the police coming out, hoping to prevent a riot. While there was a bit of mischief, it was, ultimately, anti-climatic and nothing happened.  However, the city government was sufficiently displeased to put Boyles in a position where he felt the need to make an on-air apology a few days later.

And that, my friends, is how you ensure the continuation of a piece of folklore. My gratitude goes ot Chuck Boyles, even though those living near the lake were likely less than please with him.  

Sources: Wikipedia, iO9Phantom SeekersDark Haunts

Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia

Chuuk Lagoon, also known as Truc Lagoon (let's hear it for languages with semi-compatible phonemes!) is a natural harbor in the Caroline Islands.  The Japanese navy used it as a home base during the second World War.  This came to a sudden end on February 17, 1944, when a two-day battle began, resulting in the destruction of the base. More than 50 ships and hundreds of aircraft were destroyed, and thousands of Japanese soldiers lost their lives (400 of which are said to have been trapped in the hold of a ship which sank, drowning the men.
Since the war, the lagoon has become a popular destination for scuba divers who want to explore sunken wrecks (some sources place credit for this popularity with a 1969 documentary by Jacques Cousteau).

Although a significant number of bodies were eventually recovered and returned to Japan for burial, many remain in the depths of the lagoon. Many of those who have dived at the lagoon report supernatural goings-ons.

Several of the ships that sank were cargo ships, including at least one loaded with trucks, and divers have reported hearing the sound of automobile engines starting and idling under the water. Similarly, many divers have reported hearing machine-like grinding noises coming from the engine rooms of some of the sunken ships.

Divers have also reported hearing human voices emanating from the water, and rumor holds that the locals consider the islands to be haunted, with a television crew (from the inaccurately-named "Destination Truth") claiming to have heard stories about floating lights near the caves on the island, disembodied human voices heard throughout the island (though especially in the lagoon area), and one of the crew claiming to have been touched on the shoulder when nobody else was present.

By the way - you should check out the diver's photos available here.

Commentary:  Considering that battlegrounds across the world attract ghost stories, it is only natural that the same be true of a naval battleground (battlewater?), especially considering the volume of dead and the difficulties of recovering bodies from the water as compared to dry-land battlegrounds.  While the Japanese government has made efforts to recover and bury bodies from the lagoon, it is still common for divers to find human remains while exploring, which says more about the nature of massive shipwreck sites than about the efforts of the Japanese government.

I wonder about a few things here, though.  The first is whether or not the locals truly consider this place to be haunted, or if that is a European/U.S. story that we place on the location because in our ghost story traditions it seems like it should be haunted (haunted burial grounds, which is what this place has become, though a standard part of European and therefore U.S. folklore, are not a universal part of human views about burial places).  I don't know, and if any of the readers have had reason to visit Micronesia, perhaps you could inform me. If they do consider it haunted, I then wonder if this is a native view, or if it is something imported with wreck-diving tourism in the 1970s and later.  Again, I genuinely don't know, and would be grateful if any of my readers could fill me in.

Similarly, I know that many non-competitive sports sub-cultures have developed their own superstitions and supernatural beliefs common throughout (try talking to a surfer some time, or a mountain climber, and you will see exactly what I mean).  If so, then I would wonder whether or not those beliefs have fed this growing legend. I have already begun contacting divers that I know in order to ask them - if they get me any information, I will update this entry accordingly. (Edit to note: I have spoken with a couple of divers so far, they both think that this is likely a dead-end. While they have encountered supernatural divers, they have not encountered a supernatural view common to divers).

One final note - I have observed that, as with many other ghost stories of more recent vintage, the haunting of Chuuk lagoon is one that appears across the internet, often with the exact same information repeated over and over again, not quite word-for-word, but without much variation - so it's not the copy-and-paste style of folklore spread that I have noted for other ghost stories, but it is something close to that.  If you type Chuuk lagoon (or Truk Lagoon) into Google, you will pull up many web pages, but I only cite three below, because, frankly, no matter how many I went through, I never found anything new pertaining to the ghost stories, so I just included the first three that I found. Again, I have to wonder whether or not this suggests that the over-use of a few specific sources may be resulting in stagnation of folklore.  I also noticed that none of the sources cited primary print references for the ghost stories, instead relying on hearsay, other websites, and a relatively recent television show - this makes me wonder whether or not this legend may be more recent, originating in the 1990s or later, as the internet made sharing details of dives easier.  If this is the case, then perhaps this is a story that is emerging, rather than stagnating.