There are, in the recorded annals of ghostlore, enough White Ladies and Gray Ladies gliding around to populate a small harem. Criminals clank their chains, carriages arrive and depart (usually into thin air) driven by headless coachmen, and there are enough phantoms reportedly flitting about with severed heads tucked under their arms to start a bowling competition. Observes Maple in his study The Realm of Ghosts: "The ghosts of the slain retain the disturbing habit of returning to the world in the bloody state in which they met their deaths. They are sometimes seen hovering over the sites of all but forgotten massacres, old battlefields or torture chambers, where they wander eternally, howling dismally, searching for their scattered bones and attempting to invoke the sympathy of the wayfarer toward their plight. It never seems to occur to these demented creatures of the night that a less dramatic approach would be infinitely more successful, for they invariably defeat their object by driving away in terror the very ones whose aid they seek."
In the vast array of apparitions clamoring for attention there is a growing number of what might be termed "sporting ghosts," often still out there on the playing fields, reenacting those last moments of glory, or returning perhaps to settle a score long since forgotten. Like his historical counterpart, the sporting ghost wuz robbed, so to speak, his existence cut off" without warning, before the final whistle.
That there are any American ghosts, sporting or otherwise, is a bit surprising. Two hundred years of history is hardly enough to produce a respectable spook, and those we have tend to be either fabricated, explained scientifically or dismissed in Freudian terms. America's ghosts, lacking historical documentation, run to ships sighted through the mists of Maine, a resentful Indian or two and those run to ground by imaginative ghost hunters. Still, there are a few worth shuddering over.
Consider the case of young James Heyward, one of America's oldest ghosts of record. Young Heyward lived in a fine old house in Charleston, S.C., a city that, incidentally, has more ghosts than you can shake a night-light at. James Heyward set off to go hunting one bright morning in 1805 and became the victim of his own gun, which accidentally discharged as he leaned down from the saddle to quiet his dogs. His sister swore that she had seen James at midday (the time of the accident) sitting in his dark green coat and hunting hat at the desk in the library, his head resting on one hand. She had even spoken to him, surprised to see him back from the hunt so early, with words to the effect of, "What are you doing here?" James apparently could not explain what he was doing there, and promptly vanished. But he did not vanish forever.
Some years later an elderly man who had bought the house saw a man seated at the desk in the library, dressed in a dark green coat. Taking him for an intruder, the old man crept out into the hall to get a weapon, but when he returned the stranger had vanished. Not long ago tenants currently occupying the house had occasion to send for a doctor when their child fell ill. A servant passing the library glanced in and saw a young man in a dark green coat sitting in the library and reported that the doctor had arrived. When the father of the child entered the room to greet him, there was no one there.
South Carolina's most charitable ghost is probably the Gray Man of Paw-leys Island. The Gray Man appears just before a hurricane, it is said, and the late Bill Collins, an automobile dealer from Georgetown who was on the island with his wife in October 1954, saw the Gray Man walking on the beach about a week before Hazel hit. While houses within a block of Collins' place were demolished and washed away in the storm, the Collins house escaped unharmed. The legend is that no harm comes to those who see the Gray Man.
Not everyone sees ghosts, of course—only those with a finely attuned or highly developed psychic sense. Children, cats, dogs and horses seem to have built-in receivers. About 20 years ago in the pastures of Virginia there was a psychic horse named Lady Wonder. Lady Wonder required only a stall full of hay to keep her content while she amazed skeptical investigators by solving simple arithmetic problems and answering all sorts of questions put to her. Lady Wonder did this by pushing disks around with her nose.
A district attorney from Massachusetts consulted Lady Wonder about a local mystery he had been unable to solve. Sure enough, the horse made with the disks, and in less time than it takes to run the Derby, the D.A. had his answer. He was reluctant to let it be known that he had consulted a horse—but once the news got out Lady Wonder became famous. Lady Wonder has long since gone to that Great Pasture in the Sky, where she is no doubt boring Man o'War with smart-aleck predictions about future Derbys.
With interest in the occult on the rise, it is now becoming a status symbol to be considered psychic, though Eric Shipton, England's most respected living mountaineer, recalls a run-in with a psychic dating back more than 25 years. It was shortly after World War II, he noted recently, that he was introduced to a young soldier from south Wales. Shipton was asked to escort the young man around the Alpine Club in London, where a number of Tibetan paintings were on display. Shipton, who was then president of the club, became mildly irritated when the boy insisted that there were "auras" in the paintings that he alone could see.
"I thought he was putting on a performance since he had a reputation for being 'a sensitive,' " says Shipton. "Finally I went into the inner room and brought out George Leigh Mallory's ice ax, which we had found some 1,400 feet below the summit of Everest in 1933—about nine years after Mallory and Andrew Irvine had disappeared without a trace during their assault on Everest. Without mentioning either Mallory or Everest, I handed him the ax and said, 'What do you make of this?'