6 Signs a Ghost Story is Probably BS

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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?

One thought on “6 Signs a Ghost Story is Probably BS

  1. I agree with most of what you wrote, but history is not solid, any historian or history major will tell you it’s fluid, largely based on theory of what we think we know based on a few facts we find which could be proven one minute and disproven the next.

    Hell you’ll find historians debating on the same subject like Preachers from different sects debating Christ. And though they know many facts even then it’s all surmise and conjecture. Nothing is for certain and even with records not everything survives time.

    Look at the movie Changeling with Angelina Jolie, it was based on records the State of California was going to burn till someone found it and shared the story.

    Before then, no one remembered The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders or the abduction of children by that psycho path. None of us would’ve known it ever happened or what the police did to that poor woman because the history was lost and could’ve been lost forever had the person charged with burning the records not shared what he found.

    Point is, just as we shouldn’t base everything on word of mouth or old stories, neither should we have blind faith in only conventional means of acquiring information. Because then we might not see what may be there in front of us based on initial skepticism.

    And a lot of these cliches are not cliches, but spiritual curses caused by certain kinds of deaths. In Japan, Occultists often identified what kind of spirit they were dealing with based on manner of death and behavior of the spirit.

    Such as with Vengeful spirits.

    I’m not saying such phenomena didn’t get exploited into stories used to scare people from breaking cultural mores, but the phenomena does exist sadly.

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