It used to be said of my great uncle that he believed in ghosts, but it was also said that those ghosts lived mostly in his head.

“If a man harbors any sort of fear, it makes him landlord to a ghost.” --Lloyd Douglas

It used to be said of my great uncle that he believed in ghosts, but it was also said that those ghosts lived mostly in his head.

Family legend has it that my uncle was terrified of ghostly apparitions and took elaborate precautions to keep the ghouls at bay.

My Uncle Sam Marriner’s best protection against ghostly spirits, he believed, was his name, Uncle Sam. He thought it a strong name, and he didn’t care if he was your uncle or not. He wanted you to call him Uncle Sam because he believed that name would surely keep phantoms, zombies and all manner of poltergeist away. 

To be absolutely safe, he believed that he needed the added protection of a “lucky” middle name, one such as “Prosperous.” Soon he began instructing everyone to call him Uncle Sam Prosperous Marriner.

Sam’s sister-in-law, my Great-Aunt Lizzie, enjoyed telling people that Sam was the biggest, silliest, foolishly afraid full-grown man in town. Yet, she loved to tell her nieces how Sam finally met his very own ghost. They passed the story down to my cousins and me.

However, not one of us believed Sam’s tall tale, mostly because Aunt Lizzie’s version was not at all similar to Sam’s.

Aunt Lizzie told Sam’s version first before she got to hers. She related how he “bumped” into his ghost while walking at midnight down the middle of Silk Stocking Street in their quiet little town of Forest City.

The town had no streetlights then, she said. Additionally in the early 1900s, most little towns had dirt streets; thus, on a rainy day, the driest place to walk was in the middle.

The story goes that on a particularly frightful October night around midnight with no moonlight to guide him, Sam walked home making sure to stay away from the edges of the street. He was not worried about the mud; he worried about zombies that might be lurking behind trees and bushes. Yes indeed, Sam believed the center of the street was the safest place when one was avoiding scary creatures.

As he walked, his senses signaled full alert. 

Uncle Sam Prosperous Marriner heard the muffled sound of footsteps coming from behind him and noticed a putrid smell, much like wet hair and manure. He panicked, wondering what soulless dead body was following him.

In total blackness, he picked up his pace still unable to see anything around him. The smell came closer and with it a heavy breath on his neck. Sam broke into a run but the relentless footsteps, the choking smell and hot exhales of the ghost kept pace for awhile.

Without warning, it brushed past him and then was gone. Sam kept running as he saw the safety of his front porch and home, not too far away now at the end of the street.

Sam’s imagination raged as it often did with visions of chains rattling, an evil scream, a werewolf’s howl, a spooky wind, a raven’s chirp, and a knife scraping. He knew he was doomed but still put his head down to keep the rain out of his eyes so he could push harder and faster through the thick mud.

Sam never saw the evil flesh-and-bone tearing creature when it got him.

Epilogue: Sam did indeed recover from his injuries: bruises, a broken nose, and abrasions to the head as well as a wrenched spine.

Uncle Sam (not-so) Prosperous Marriner did not leave his house for a full week, not because he was injured, but because he was convinced that the specter could still be lurking nearby.

Aunt Lizzie’s version: the ghost was actually the family workhorse that escaped its pen and plodded behind Sam for awhile before passing him and eventually coming to a full stop in the middle of the dark street. Sam, running hard and fast, never saw the horse when he crashed face first into its rump.

See why Aunt Lizzy loved to tell this story.