Kids today can spend hours on Reddit or elsewhere to demystify all manner of unexplained phenomena. Comparatively speaking - growing up in the pre-internet ‘80s - the world still held a certain type of mystique. Our exposure to the unknown consisted of intermittent network TV specials about topics such as the Bermuda Triangle or the Loch Ness Monster. As such, our imaginations often ran wild in regard mysteries of this strange planet.
Around age 11, I became a skeptic, leaving behind my fascination with the unexplained. I doubted everything from Bigfoot to God. There simply was no such thing as aliens, Santa Claus, or an afterlife where the streets are gold and you aren’t sad anymore about your dead pets.
Having this newfound perspective, I wanted to validate it with someone who’d been around the sun a few times and had a validated opinion. That person was my dad.
To get a sense of my father as a person, it’s important to understand that he’s not a storyteller. He’s incapable of bullshit. Watching a movie with him is an exercise in frustration because he retains no detail, plot, or characters the moment the credits appear. As such, I trusted he would answer my questions honestly because he was incapable of spinning a yarn. I don’t have many clear memories from around this age, but the following tale has stuck with me through the fog of time.
I remember one day he was in the living room of our old house, throwing a log into the fire.
“Dad,” I asked, “have you ever seen a ghost?”
He threw another log into the fire without looking in my direction. “Yep, sure have,” he answered without hesitation.
That was not the answer I had expected and was naturally shocked. When he did turn around, he immediately saw it on my face. I sat on the floor near the fireplace as he pulled up a stool. For the one and only time in our relationship, it was story time.
In the early ‘70s, my eighteen-year-old father was a bricklayer working with his brother’s construction crew. They’d been hired for a job to build a small house on a large plot of land in Madison, Kentucky. Driving in, my father was struck by how thick with trees the forest was. They brought camping gear with them to stay on-site since it was so remote.
That was as much of a scene as he was able to set. Again, not much of a storyteller, my dad. The story did get more interesting when he told me sleeping in the tent on the first night, he was awoken by a shotgun blast. He peeped his head outside the flap and saw his brother and a couple of the other workers. “Get back in the tent, Eddie!” His brother shouted. After a while, he went back to sleep.
The next day, he asked his brother what the hell all the commotion was about, but he had nothing to say. In my whole life, I think I can count on one hand the number of words I’ve heard my uncle utter, so this made sense. Dad brushed it off thinking maybe they were shooting at a coyote or something of the like.
On the second night, dad had not so much as settled in his sleeping bag when he heard a strange, blood-curdling noise. Not content to stay in the tent this time, he crawled out to investigate. There again were his brother and another man, firing off a shotgun into the distance. It was then that he saw it. An eerie white light pulsed about ten feet away from them. It hovered, the shots having no effect. As it neared them, the men backed away in fear. My dad stood frozen, unable to square what he was seeing. It was in the shape of a man, but featureless, he described. Eventually, as if it grew bored, it faded back into the night.
My dad and his brother continued work on the house for another month but didn’t see the light again. They never discussed the incident amongst themselves.
When I pressed my dad for more details, he told me he had heard a story about an inn for travelers in that area. The owner supposedly murdered anyone who stayed at the inn and would sell their horses. He figured the bodies had been dumped there and maybe that’s what caused what he saw, but he really didn’t know.
I could tell my dad didn’t quite know what to make of it, having witnessed something he couldn’t explain. Rather than obsess over figuring out what was what, he just decided that ghosts probably were real and went on with his life.
Hearing his story was difficult for me to process. I went from not believing in ghosts or aliens to fearing ever confronting them. I lived for years in Savannah, Georgia - one of the most haunted towns in America. While I was surrounded by ghost stories constantly, I never witnessed anything out of the ordinary - and for that I’m thankful. I’d rather keep my head blissfully in the sand and not have to rationalize that which does not make scientific sense.
Recalling my dad’s story many years later (post-internet), I decided to research his story for myself. Similar reports of white light rising from the ground, sometimes in the shape of an orb - are prominent in Eastern Kentucky. I’m in no hurry to visit.