Campfire Ghost Stories

I’ve recently been sucked into a show on the cable channel BIO called “Celebrity Ghost Stories“. I’m not prone to watching these types of shows, but I’m kind of addicted to this one. Based on my history, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

When I was a kid I loved spooky, macabre stories. My tween years were spent immersed in Stephen King novels between episodes of Tales From the Dark Side, Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, and Friday the 13th: The Series. I enjoyed Edgar Allen Poe and before him Alvin Schwartz, author of such gems as “In a Dark, Dark Room“, “Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark”, “More Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark” and “Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones”. I want to lead off this post with a story from one of his books, which I remember to this day called “The Green Ribbon”. The narrator’s voice alone makes me want to hide under a blankie.

As an adult I don’t subscribe to the traditional idea of “ghosts” but as a young kid my friends and I were always on the lookout for them. It took awhile to make the connection between slamming doors, open windows, breezy days, and the idea of vacuum – we were convinced it was ghostly stirrings. And there was always a nagging suspicion that all dolls, especially the blinky-eyed ones – were pure evil and moved around at night. I know that was the reason why I sent my creepy doll to my Grandma’s house when I was 7. I wanted no part of it. Ghosts, devil dolls, poltergeists, axe murderers – all fell into the “serious threat” category as a kid.

The movie The Children of the Corn (heck, the movie poster alone) kept us at a respectable distance from the cornfields we lived next to, in tandem with the understanding that summer camp was out of the question (the fix was in with that Jason Voorhees fella). Summer months meant being on the lookout for hauntings because fall and winter provided too many turkey-filled events chock full of glad tidings, sledding, and marshmallowy mugs of hot chocolate to make any paranormal associations (with the exception of The Shining).

My friends and I loved thrilling each other by exchanging tales which we were CERTAIN were 100% true. Slumber parties and campfires in the woods provided occasions for that yarn-spinning goosebumpery whose only opportunity to shine occurs in that narrow window between “just-enough-understanding-to-be-credulous” and “enlightened-by-science-disbelief”. Ages 7-11 would be the most emotionally intense as far as supernatural paranoia, I’d say.

When I was 11 I attended a slumber party at which I was exposed to (for the first time) a game that I thought was cool, so I CLEARLY remember being upset and shocked as I got chewed out by my parents at the mere mention of “Ouija Board“. I was yelled at because it “wasn’t a game” and “didn’t lead to good things”. I was shocked by their reactions. I haven’t played with one since. Odd that the nervous kid in me walks the fence on whether or not I’d play if the chance ever presented itself again. I think I probably would.

However, the Ouija Board issue surfaced years later.

When I was in college a good friend came up to stay with me in Chicago. She said in the weeks after her stay she was in the presence of a girl who’d often play with the Ouija Board by herself. When my friend found herself in a social situation with this girl (a friend of a friend), in a casual capacity, she called “bullshit” on her silly board-playing. So, the girl played the ‘ask-the-board-anything-and-see’ card. My friend (who was not touching the board or the planchette) asked “Where did I go for spring break?” I was told that C-H-I-C-A-G-O was spelled out.  She asked it “Who did I stay with?” I was told it spelled out S-A-R-A-H. I was to understand that there was not familiarity between my friend and this girl – that she couldn’t possibly know these things. Now, because I wasn’t there I can’t vouch for all the situational nuances, but at the time I wasn’t happy about my name being dropped and got a few chills. I guess that’s why one episode of “Celebrity Ghost Stories” piqued my interest as it pertained to a Ouija Board incident as told by actor Michael Urie in (Season 2, Episode 14).

Science points out that it is most likely the psychological underpinnings that cause a player to move the planchette with their own hands. I’ve read the debunk reports and there’s plenty of evidence against any authenticity. The skeptic in me disbelieves that the Parker Brothers Company is actually in cahoots with the “other side”, but the wide-eyed 11-year-old in me shivers and secretly wonders if they are.

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Rod Serling: Man of Style and Substance

I don’t miss an episode of The Twilight Zone if I can help it. I’ve enjoyed those annual marathons and have my favorite episodes, which are: The Odyssey of Flight #33, Eye of the Beholder, Living Doll, To Serve Man, Time Enough at Last, and Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

A dreamy and perpectually black and white man on my mythical favorites list is Rod Serling. Often with his cigarette and always in a sharp suit, he could properly set the stage of The Twilight Zone with his opulently-worded introductions and insightful post-scripts. His word art was quick-witted and poignant and it layered over some delightfully creepy imagery (remember the doll, the clock and the spinning top?) Mr. Serling was a magnificent writer who weaved social commentary and dystopian themes through his works, which also included the series Night Gallery, which I also loved. You’ll remember these general show introductions to The Twilight Zone:

SEASON 1 (1959-1960) There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone.

SEASON 2 (1960-1961) You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Twilight Zone.

SEASON 3 (1961-1962)You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination — Next stop, the Twilight Zone.
 
SEASON 4 (1963…) You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas; you’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.

 

Additionally, Rod would close out the show with his epic quotes, too, often summing up in a few sentences the nature and dark side of man. Take, for instance, this little doozy from the awesome episode which aired on March 4, 1960, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”.

“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own – for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.”

I had a difficult time tracking down the introduction scripts to the shows but many of the episodes are available to watch on YouTube.

Funny enough, I know that there are other hardcore fans out there, like this artisan from Etsy who created a Rod Serling Lamp:

View Etsy listing

A little about Rod Serling, according to PBS.org:

Known primarily for his role as the host of television’s THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Rod Serling had one of the most exceptional and varied careers in television. As a writer, a producer, and for many years a teacher, Serling challenged the medium of television to reach for loftier artistic goals. The winner of more Emmy Awards for dramatic writing than anyone in history, Serling expressed a deep social conscience in nearly everything he did.

Fed up with the difficulties of writing about serious issues on the conservative networks, Serling turned to science fiction and fantasy. Through an ingenious mixture of morality fable and fantasy writing, he was able to circumvent the timidity and conservatism of the television networks and sponsors. Self-producing a series of vignettes that placed average people in extraordinary situations, Serling could investigate the moral and political questions of his time. He found that he could address controversial subjects if they were cloaked in a veil of fantasy, saying “I found that it was all right to have Martians saying things Democrats and Republicans could never say.”

The series was called THE TWILIGHT ZONE and was incredibly popular, winning Serling three Emmy Awards. As the host and narrator of the show, he became a household name and his voice seemed always a creepy reminder of a world beyond our control. The show lasted for five seasons, and during that time Serling wrote more than half of the one hundred and fifty-one episodes. But for Serling, television was an inherently problematic medium—requiring the concessions of commercials and time restrictions.

For much of the 1960s and into the 1970s Serling turned to the big screen, writing films that included a remake of REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (1962), THE YELLOW CANARY (1963), and ASSAULT ON A QUEEN (1966). His most famous, however, was the classic PLANET OF THE APES (1968), co-written with Michael Wilson. Similar to his early work on THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE PLANET OF THE APES was a moralistic tale of contemporary life told through a science-fiction fantasy in which Apes have taken over the world. Dealing with question of how we act as a society and how we view ourselves as moral beings, PLANET OF THE APES was a culmination of Serling’s career-long interests as a writer.

By the early 1970s, he found a job teaching in Ithaca, New York. Continuing to write for television, he sought to impart a sense of moral responsibility and artistic integrity to the new generation of television writers. In June of 1975, he died of a heart attack. Today, more than twenty-five years after his death, Serling’s legacy continues to grow. His television and cinematic works have reached cult status—enlivening a new interest in one of the great early writers of American television.

Listen to some of Rod’s Introductions on NPR.org