On Monday, October 27, 2014 starting at 7:00 p.m. in the Friends Room of Columbia Public Library, Mary Barile began with a question to her attentive listeners. “Who believes in ghosts?” she wanted to know. A handful of people raised their hands and our ghostly tales storyteller commented that usually only one brave soul who doesn’t care what anybody thinks will raise a hand. Isn’t it nice to know we have so many believers in Missouri?
The author of The Haunted Boonslick and Forgotten Tales of Missouri gave us a spooky (Dutch word for spirits according to Barile) presentation that will haunt us for the rest of our lives! Her facts and stories about the history of scary stories and Halloween were captivating to say the least. Many scary stories originate from a Celtic background. Samhain (pronounced SAH-win or SOW-in) is a pagan tradition that marks the end of the harvest season and is celebrated between October 31 and November 1 every year. Halloween’s roots can be found here.
An apple served a symbolic purpose. People would play games around Halloween such as bobbing for apples. The apples would represent heads and players would be “head hunters.” Apple cider was popular to drink since the water in wells was not safe to drink. Girls believed that after peeling an apple, the peels will fall in the initials of the person you will marry. Fire served another symbolic purpose. Bonfires, fireworks, and Harvest Festivals were not just around to set the atmosphere for storytelling. Fires were believed to exist to make up for the sun God leaving.
All Saints’ Day is another Halloween related tradition. This is perhaps where costumes and trick-or-treating began. People would go around asking for soul cakes and didn’t want to be recognized. Scarecrows originated from Guy Fawkes. “Remember remember the fifth of November.”
Fortune-telling was also popular. It brought hope for the harvest, something to look forward to. Mirrors were magical because they were unnatural. The only way people back then could see their own reflection was in the water. For that reason, people were afraid of looking in the mirror, thinking they would get trapped. “Ever heard of Bloody Mary?” Barile asked us. When there were affirmatives heard around the room, she followed up with, “Ever try it?” People laughed because most would say the answer is “no” to that question!
Barile passed around an image of a girl sitting in front of a mirror conducting a dumb supper alone. Dumb suppers are traditionally a gathering of family members to honor loved ones who have passed on by serving everything in reverse. Everyone would sit in silence to hear a message from God. The girl sitting in front of a mirror conducting it alone was breaking bread and throwing it over her shoulder so that the mirror would show her her future spouse. After doing it three times, she looked down and the knife she had used to cut the bread was gone. When she finally gets married, the man looks at her and says, “so you were the one to drag me through hell,” and stabs her with the knife that went missing. She survived to tell the tale.
Where do jack-o’-lanterns come from? “Jack” means “every man.” This particular Jack can’t go to heaven and played too many tricks on the devil to stay in hell so he’s kicked out of everywhere carrying a lantern trying to find a place to go. Thus, the jack-o’-lantern was born. How about the banshee? The banshee, also known as the white lady, would scream right before you were about to die. How convenient, right? There’s a white lady in St. Louis. She would hail a ride from a man, he would take her to her house down the road and when he turned around, she was gone, but she would leave her sweater behind. He would try to return the sweater, but when he got to the house, it turns out the white lady was someone who had died in that family.
Mary Barile shared many more tales and she had many more she did not get to share. Her concluding statement about ghosts wants us to think about why ghosts come back. She gave some examples of ghosts coming back for unfinished business and some coming to give warnings to family members. It seems like several of these examples involved a dead mother telling her son what to do. So lesson learned. No matter what time of year, even at Halloween, you should listen to your mother!
“A Ghostly Time of the Year” as hosted by Columbia Public Library was the perfect way to start the Halloween week. Looking forward to more events like Mary’s.