A true ghost story

Since it’s Halloween, let me tell you a true story about a ghost. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I want to believe in this one. It happened quite a few years back when I was living in Milwaukee and I went to visit a friend’s house in the Bay View neighborhood.

I didn’t know the house was haunted. I simply said the big, colorful framed poster hanging at the top of the stairs looked lovely, especially in that spot.

“Do you want to know why it’s there?” My friend was eager to tell me. She and her family had moved into the house not long ago, and they had decided that the space at the top of the stairs seemed like a natural place for art, which it was.

So they hung up a picture. It fell down. They put it up again. It fell down the stairs and broke. They tried another picture, carefully securing it to the wall, and it, too, fell down the stairs and broke. They couldn’t figure out what the problem was.

Then one day they were talking with an elderly neighbor who had lived next door all his life. He listened to their story and sighed sadly. Decades earlier, the family in that house had a teenage son who was gay, which in those days was a terrible taboo, so he had committed suicide by throwing himself down the stairs. Ever since then, things fell down the stairs for no reason — or perhaps because the boy was still there in spirit.

My friend and her family decided to try an experiment. They bought the most beautiful gay rights poster they could find, put it in a nice frame, and hung it at the top of the stairs hoping the boy might understand that things had changed.

“And it’s still there!” she said. “I’m not sure I believe in ghosts, but maybe we helped his spirit rest in peace.”

Now, I knew the neighborhood. The street in front of that house was built over an underground stream, Deer Creek. Maybe, when heavy trucks went past, they made the ground shake and the movement somehow focused on that stairway.

Or maybe there was a troubled spirit in that house, a forlorn teenage boy who had lived there many years ago. And possibly, if he had been born decades later, he would have lived in peace with himself and still be alive.

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