As much as I enjoy writing about ghost legends, I have to admit many (most?) of the tales out there just aren’t credible. Here are six things that make me suspicious.
There Are No Historical Records
Many haunted sites have tragic back stories involving murder, mayhem, heartbreak, and despair. However, there’s often no historical evidence to back up the claims. Take Anna of the 17Hundred90 Inn. Her story is perhaps the most famous ghost tale in all of Savannah, but there’s no record of a woman named Anna jumping from Room 204 (which isn’t all that high, by the way). There’s also no record of a maid jumping from OKC’s Skirvin Hotel, a slave name Chloe poisoning her master’s family, a suicidal bride at the Adolphus Hotel, a jilted bride at the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority house, or a heartbroken woman at Emily’s Bridge. Newspapers at the time would have certainly covered the shocking events, and yet there’s no record.
The Story Contains Vague Language
When covering ghost tales, many writers (myself included) resort to vague language like “legend has it,” “they say,” and “reportedly haunted.” If you read or hear this type of phrasing, it’s likely the story has no basis in historical fact.
There Are Several Versions
Be wary of ghost tales with several versions. In the legend of Emily’s Bridge, a heartbroken young woman commits suicide after her lover/fiancé stands her up at the bridge/altar. In another version, the young woman dies in a tragic accident. In yet another version, Emily’s lover, delayed by one thing or another, is late meeting her at the bridge and stumbles upon her lifeless body after she hangs herself from the rafters. Needless to say, the numerous versions (and lack of historical records) destroy the story’s credibility.
Similar Stories Exist Elsewhere
Many ghost stories are not unique to their location. For example, nearly every state has at least one crybaby bridge where a ghost baby reportedly wails for its mother. Anti-gravity hills are also common, with many legends attributing strange events to the spirits of children killed in a bus crash. Naturally, there’s no record of these fatal accidents.
There’s a Jilted Woman
Ghost stories are often full of clichés, but the jilted woman is particularly popular. In this trope, a young woman is abandoned at the altar or betrayed by a lover in some way. Devastated, she takes her own life and then haunts the site of her death. See: Anna of the 17Hundred90 Inn, Emily of Emily’s Bridge, the bride of the Adolphus Hotel, the Skirvin Maid, etc. The jilted woman is a big pet peeve of mine as it suggests women are prone to hysterics and can’t cope without a man. Interestingly, the one verified story I did find involved a suicidal man, not a woman.
The Story Suddenly Pops Up
Readers should also be suspicious of stories that pop up instead of evolving naturally. The Emily’s Bridge legend started circulating in 1968 after a high school student wrote a paper about a ghost he/she allegedly contacted via a Ouija board. Before that, few, if any, people had heard of a ghost at the old bridge. The events of the famous Bell Witch Haunting reportedly occurred in the early 1800s, but the first written account was published over 60 years after the alleged events. When a story suddenly appears, it’s likely someone made the whole thing up.
In my opinion, the most convincing ghost stories are those with historically accurate back stories (Waverly Hills, Lemp Mansion, Lizzie Borden House, Old City Jail) and few, if any, clichés. What about you?