Ghost of North America

This week’s continent is North America – finally! I hope you enjoy these American ghost stories.


The Headless Horseman (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow):

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was written by Washington Irving in 1820, and it is one of the first examples of popular American Halloween-related fiction. This short story is set in the late 1700, in Tarry Town, New York, near a Dutch settlement. Ichabod Crane, the protagonist, is a school teacher who is in competition with Brom Bones to marry Katrina Van Tassel. One night, at a harvest party, Ichabod finally dances with Katrina, as Brom Bones miserably watches. After they are done, the guests exchange stories about Sleepy Hollow, telling of a rider in search of his lost head (named the “Headless Horseman”). Once the party ends, just as Ichabod says goodbye to Katrina, she appears to reject him, so Ichabod rides back home with a sad heart. As he travels, he thinks back to the ghost stories from the party. Suddenly, he sees a rider on a dark horse, and realizes that the rider is headless. Just as Ichabod is about to escape, the rider throws its head (which it was was holding by its side) at Ichabod, which sends him tumbling off his horse. The next day, Ichabod’s horse is found, along with his hat and a shattered pumpkin. After that, Katrina and Brom Bones married, and Ichabod Crane was never seen again.


I remember reading “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in second grade, and being very frustrated with the end. I wanted to know what happened to Ichabod. Did he survive and simply relocate? Or was he killed by the Headless Horseman? Also, who was the horseman? The story hints that it could have been Brom Bones trying to scare off Ichabod, but it never makes it clear. All these questions bothered me the first time that I read it, but reading it again, I really like how the end is up for interpretation. Based on the title, it seems that Irving wanted the story to have a “legend-like” feel to it, so an ambiguous ending not only adds to the dark, mysterious theme, but also makes the story seems more like an urban myth due to the speculation and uncertainty.


USS Constellation: This boat, used by the U.S. Navy in the late 1700s and early 1800s, now resides in the Baltimore Harbor. Many men were killed on this ship, and now it is open for tours with the public. Over the past few decades, there have been countless stories of ghost encounters. In 1955, Commander Brougham claimed to have captured a ghost on film at 11:59:47, and he smelled something that resembled gun powder. It is uncertain of what happened to this photograph. A Catholic priest visited the boat in 1964, and nobody was there, so he decided to explore the ship himself. He was approached by an elderly sailor below deck, who gave him lots of helpful information about the ship. When the priest returned above deck and saw the tour guides he was supposed to meet, he mentioned how great his tour with the old sailor was. The tour guides told him that they didn’t know of an old man who dressed up as a sailor, and when they went down to investigate, the sailor had vanished into thin air.


Something about boats is very mysterious. You can see them on land, but it’s hard to imagine what it’s like being on that boat in the middle of an ocean, or during a war when you’re surrounded by enemy ships. The tales of old sailors who supposedly died on the ship are intriguing, yet also very sad. I think that ghost stories such as these serve as reminders of our history, and of all the tragic young lives that we have lost at war.


The White House: As the candidates prepare for the 2016 election, they might not be aware that the White House is supposedly haunted by several ghosts. John Adams and first lady Abigail Adams were the first to live in the White House. Mrs. Adams would always hang her clothes in the East Room, and it is said that to this day, her ghost can be seen there, with her arms forward as though carrying an invisible load of laundry. Perhaps the most popular ghost story is that of Abraham Lincoln. On many instances, staff and residents have claimed to see him, or feel the presence of his ghost. It was reported that Lady Bird Johnson was watching a T.V. program on Lincoln’s death, and she noticed a plaque commemorating Lincoln on the fireplace, but had never seen it before. She reported feeling a ghostly presence. Furthermore, Grace Coolidge claimed to have seen the ghost of Lincoln standing by a window in the Oval Office. When Queen Wilhelmina visited the White House, she heard a knock on the door to her room. When she went to answer it, the ghost of Lincoln was standing in the hallway. Others who have seen his ghost, or felt his presence include Eleanor Roosevelt, her secretary, and Lillian Rogers Parks.


Since we don’t have any ancient buildings or medieval castles in the U.S., the White House is one of our most historic locations, inhabited by countless presidents who have left impacts on both the country, and the world. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that so many have claimed to see Lincoln’s ghost, or if they have simply heard so many stories that they’ve been “set up” to see his ghost.


Irving, Washington. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. Staff. “Famous Ghosts in American History.” A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

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