Friday, February 6, 2009

The Ghostly Legends of Aspen Grove: The Phantom Smoke

Having five kids in the family could be a curse, like riding in our Cadillac together, piled into a mess in the back seat, or a blessing like when it rained and we could enjoy penny poker with plenty of players.

We had an odd phenomenon from time to time that occurred when I was growing up. When I was really little, I didn’t think much about it because my mother smoked so I was used to smoke being around the house.

The smoke I’m going to tell you about, however, was something quite different.

On the cool marble coffee table in the front room, we would sit on the sofa and play penny poker. Right behind the sofa was a huge bloodstain from the Civil War (when the house was a field hospital). We never knew if that stain was from the soldiers or from a particular incident. Beside the blackened bloodstain was a piece of metal riveted to the floorboard. A repaired patch. The story passed on to us was that a soldier tried to sneak into the cellar to steal some wine and was shot. We had no way to verify it, but it was quite obviously a very ancient repair and the bloodstain too was very ancient.

I arrived at the table one evening, waiting for my siblings to finish supper. I was the lucky one. I was so skinny that my mom would let me have whatever I wanted for supper, sometimes just a whole pot of beans (I was a finicky eater). Well, while they were trying to choke down stuffed cabbage, I awaited their arrival and began to stack up pennies for all the players so we’d start with the same amount of money.

While I was leaned back and sorting through the pickle jar of pennies for some more, my eye caught something out of the corner of it. I turned my head and there on the smooth marble table, a single swirl of white smoke rose up. It moved in a gentle funnel shape like a mini tornado until it was a foot tall and then it dissipated. I reached through the vapor to feel no heat. I touched the table. It was cold marble. I leaned forward and smelled. No scent.

This phenomenon had happened before on the same table. I’d seen it coming out of a book that was opened on the table, as well. My siblings had mentioned this phenomenon before and they all had their own theories from dust getting caught in the light coming through the window (although all times I had seen this at nighttime with the chandelier the only light on the other side of the room), to a cigar smoking general's ghost, to the poor soul who got shot trying to get some booze.

Looking back, it’s a phenomenon I can’t explain. Even as a child, I was very creative, and yet at the same time tempered by my innately logical mind. I tried many explanations for the smoke but one never seemed to fit. There was no source for smoke to arise, no heat, and no odor. So, it was a vapor. Was it ectoplasm? As a child, that’s what I thought it might be (although I always imagined ectoplasm to be like that Nickelodeon slime stuff).

With a bit more time and maturity to consider it, I wonder if it was a residual of some sort. A photographic memory in a space. When my mother came to sit at the sofa, she would lay her ashtray down there on the table. Perhaps somehow the house memorized that event and replayed it without any of the dimension (odor, heat) that would normally accompany such an event. Some sort of optical recollection. That explanation has suited me the best of any of them.

Still, I feel a strange shooting thrill whenever I see a tuft of smoke rising up. But, invariably, it’s always accompanied by a cancer stick someone just set down.

Oh well, the search for answers continues, but you can see now why my childhood made me ponder these things.


  1. You have definately had an interesting life growing up in Aspen Grove. How long did you live there?.....Julie

  2. From the time I was a baby until I turned 15. The place became a kind of congregation ground for all my father's business associates, our huge extended family, and everyone who ever lived in a cottage there. People made pilgrimages just to get the well water which was the best water imagineable. I hope some day to find a film crew who'd be willing to go with me and a crew of hunters to do a re-visit there. I promised myself if I can't find ghosts there, I'd hang up my tools. Four family members and one family friend vowed to haunt the place and have passed on since then. I wonder sometimes if they're just waiting for me to come with my gadgets and start a conversation. I get the feeling something amazing would happen and I'd definitely want a documentary crew nearby to document it. And to finance it--getting a team to up and go cross country for a hunt is a difficult proposition for most folks who have day jobs. I'm lucky to be in a flexible industry.

  3. I would love to watch if you do a documentary on the place. Good luck.