Are You Afraid of Ghosts?
At historic hotels, soap isn't the only complimentary amenity.
I noticed it while I was on my book tour, traveling across the South…sometimes even in Wichita, Kansas. I was in a different old hotel or historic mansion turned bed-and-breakfast every night because a man of my stature should not be pried out of an Uber at an Airbnb. (I don't know what any of that means, but it's what the cool kids are saying.) Nor should a man of my age endure a dreaded "European-style" hotel, where one must towel dry with a dishrag and know how to spell "shampoo" in German.
Being a Southern writer, I usually stayed in a place with some history, which (down here) means it's haunted. Every night, before I could even get settled in properly, I had to deal with a ghost story. This involved checking the closets, under the bed, and even down the dark hallway. I never saw a specter, though I once almost died of fright when I stumbled over a room service tray full of Buffalo wing carcasses on my way to the ice machine—which is why, even if it is right next door, it's always best to wear pants to make a trek like that. But I digress.
Every Southern hotel, mansion, or plantation has a ghost, either a creaking Confederate colonel wailing over his doomed ideals or a gauzy young woman searching the halls for her lost cotillion. There are apparitions in lighted windows and cold places in kitchens and (now this is the creepiest) little girls chasing balls down long hallways for eternity. The old Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, has one, but I wonder sometimes if it might have been an unhappy toddler being half-dragged to her room by a red-faced mother. Maybe, come to think of it, this is what being haunted really is: vacation with a 2-year-old.
WATCH: The South's Most Haunted Places
But my point is, why is it always rich folks' residences that are haunted? Does every person who is stinking wealthy in the Deep South get to have a ghost? I mean, when was the last time you walked into a place with a winding staircase that did not have an apparition posed atop it, some poor waif with a broken heart who flung herself from the battlements? Savannah alone has 300 ghosts who are, at this moment, standing on a spiral staircase. Who ever heard of a haunted carport?
I guess it is just an entitlement or inheritance, like the family silver Aunt Minnie hid in the root cellar when she heard the Yankees a'comin'. If you're rich here, you get a ghost—that and a fox stole and sometimes a Buick.
We have spirits in the foothills of the Appalachians, in the working-class South, but by God, we have to earn them. If we want a ghost, we actually have to kill someone to get it; no one just gives it to us. My great-grandfather left us with one at a place called the Mill Branch in northeastern Alabama, but the less said about this, I suppose, the better. We still see it walking through the moonlight, though the number of confirmed sightings is in direct proportion to the number of beer bottles consumed. Funny how the spirit world is the only thing that alcohol brings into focus.