Kathryn Swegart reflects on a local ghost story in light of what the Church teaches.
Many years ago, I worked as a freelance writer for a small newspaper on Cape Cod. In that role, I snooped around for intriguing stories. Rumors abounded that many old sea captains’ houses were haunted. I decided to get to the bottom of these supposed hauntings. I was skeptical. Certainly, it was all claptrap—spooky tales to be told around the campfire.
I made an appointment with a woman named Nancy who lived in a rambling Victorian house with a steeple-like tower atop the structure. All year long, Nancy kept a white Christmas light shining in the tower.
Nancy was a gracious lady, town nurse, and all-around solid citizen. I sat in her parlor, opened my notebook, and turned on my cassette recorder. The thin brown magnetic tape inside the cassette cartridge moved steadily during the interview.
“Why do you keep a white light in the tower all year long?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s for Captain Nickerson. When his spirit is roaming, it guides him home,” she said matter-of-factly.
Nancy talked about the mysterious sound of footsteps on the stairs, cold spots in empty rooms, and strange murmurings. I listened politely, packed up my tape recorder, and headed home. Nothing out of the ordinary here, I thought. I heard and saw nothing unusual. Until I got home.
I turned on the tape recorder and heard strange sounds in the background. I heard a man groaning. He was eavesdropping on our conversation.
“Captain Nickerson was a good man who took women to the ladies’ aid society meetings,” Nancy said. Groan in the background. Apparently, the captain agreed with Nancy. He interjected his groaning opinions at other points in the interview, eager to be heard.
I freaked out. Goosebumps popped up on my arms. My mouth went dry. I had not heard these sounds during the interview. Could the magnetic tape have picked up an invisible force? I gathered my thoughts together and wrote the article. The headline was: Local Writer Tape Records Ghost!
That headline made a splash. Everyone (or so it seemed) wanted to hear the recording. The newspaper editor listened to it intently, scratching his head in confusion. Teachers asked me to visit classrooms and play the tape.
Decades later I reflect on this incident. Something peculiar did occur during the interview. What was the exact nature of these noises? I can only speculate.
The Church does not rule out the possibility of ghosts. However, the Catechism condemns the practice of divination: “recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2116).
Halloween is right around the corner. Giant inflatable ghosts adorn neighborhood lawns. Store-bought ghosts hang from tree branches. Bags of chocolate bars are prominently displayed at the supermarkets. Halloween seems to have eclipsed Thanksgiving.
Wisely, the Church implores us to put ourselves squarely into the hands of Providence and avoid unhealthy curiosity about the future.
I guess I’ll just put the mystery of Captain Nickerson in the unsolvable category. May he rest in peace.
Copyright 2022 Kathryn Swegart