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"Exciting race of man and ghost"

Posted Friday, February 25, 2011, at 1:36 PM

Coal scuttle (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Southeast Missourian librarian Sharon Sanders slipped me an article with this headline from Feb. 8, 1911. She comes across the most interesting things in her search for Out of the Past items!

Here is the story (typos have been left in to reflect the original article):

Exciting race of man and ghost: Thrilling Experience of Cape Pool Room Keeper Who Lives to Tell Tale.

"There is a pool room keeper in the Cape who does not believe in spooks an ghosts, and has no creepy feelings when it comes to spirits, except those which are sold in the regular way, but he did have an experience the other night which kept him guessing for a while.

"The hour was eleven o'clock at night, and the pool room proprietor was entertaining a few choice friends, sitting around the stove, with accounts of his past life, some of the events being of the hair raising variety.

"During the rendition of a particularly creepy story, and while his auditors were holding their breath for the climax, Mr. Pool Man paused for a moment to allow of the proper effect of reaching the climax of his thrilling narrative. The quiet was almost oppressive as the circle f listeners leaned forward with open eyes and beating hearts. The stillness was broken by the coal scuttle, setting near by, beginning to move. Gently it rocked at first, then faster it went, until presently, it was doing a noisy buck and wing dance to the accompaniment of the rattling lumps of coal and the clanking of the poker. At the same time peculiar rasping sounds were heard on the roof of the house, as through invisible spirits were joining in the performance by the coal scuttle.

"The Pool Man and his friends rushed into a neighboring saloon, where the took something, and unsuccessfully attempted to explain the strange affair to their satisfaction.

"Before long the party separated, going to their homes a very badly puzzled gang. Whe the Pool Man reached his home, and was about to apply his latch key, a cold shiver ran over his body, so he quickly looked behind him, and almost fainted with freight. A while spectre confronted him. Tall and weird looking it was, and whit outstretched arms seemed to beckon him to destruction.

"With a yell the Pool Man started, with the phantom in close pursuit. Two blocks they ran before the pursuing ghost could make the fleeing one understand that no harm was meant. The race was a fast one, while it lasted, the official time, givent by the "man in the moon," being: Distance, two blocks; time, 0:0."

When did newspapers stop reporting things like this? Well, the fact that this item and others like it were reported may have to do with the date. The Spiritualism movement started in America in the 1840s and continued to the early 1900s. Also, newspapers of the day printed far more "gossip"-type items, such as who was in town visiting relatives and who was sick with what. So it's not surprising that stories of this type would appeal to the same audience.

I am intrigued by the fact that with this story, no explanation was ever found for the disturbance or the apparition. I'll admit, I had to look up the term "coal scuttle." I assumed it was a container for coal, but I wanted to know the shape of it. Now that I know, I really can't come up with an explanation for how it could just start rocking on its own, as most of them appear to have flat bottoms and be pretty vertical. Of course, I wasn't there. But I am proud of the group that was there for doing some debunking rather than running and screaming. Guess they had the courage of the group to keep them brave. It happens.

Further reading

Out of the Past

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Katherine is a former copy editor at the Southeast Missourian who has had a lifelong interest in the paranormal and enjoys going with her small group to investigate allegedly haunted places. She lives in Cape Girardeau with her husband (who investigates with her) and two dogs (who don't).
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