Editor's note: Sally Toole is co-producer and guide on the Norcross Ghost Tour, a spooky walk in Historic Norcross. Upcoming tours take place tonight, Sat. Oct. 22, and Oct. 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31. The tours leave from Thrasher Park at 7, 8 and 9 p.m.
What gets a nice lady like me into a kooky thing like a ghost tour? Uncanny coincidence is my only explanation. Although I have encountered some crazy, often aggravating, things, I can honestly say that producing a ghost tour is, well, never boring!
Odd occurrences began for me well before becoming acquainted with any of the fine folks I now list as friends at the Norcross Ghost Tours. It was August of 2008; summer was waning. As I worked to finish off a chapter of the book, "Remembering Norcross; Nuggets of Nostalgia," that the first "happening" took me a back and I began to realize the ramifications of retelling the deepest secrets of the deceased.
Historical research led to the knowledge that just beyond the handsomely marked plots of the city’s cemetery was once a bone yard for those souls who passed with meager means. These pauper grave sites held bodies wrapped in death clothes, and perhaps a woolen blanket, interred just below the dirt crust. Sometime in the 1950s, city officials deemed this plat of public land to be the perfect place to level and line with hash marks, turning the acre or so into a youth football field. Bulldozers plowed over the land.
The story seemed a perfect addition to the chapter I had entitled "Apothecaries and Cemeteries." But I was rudely made aware, I believe by the souls whose bodies were left unmarked and unmoved, that the paragraph perhaps was better left out. I had gingerly tapped out that portion of history that I knew to be true then, pleased with my formation of words, stepped away from my desktop, if only for a moment, to pour myself another cup of caffeine.
Upon my return, I woke up the sleeping screen to find my words were gone… not the entire text of which I had worked on for several months, just the last paragraph describing, in what I thought to be a respectful manner, the poorest of citizens buried without fanfare in pitiful plots.
“O.K,” I thought to myself and possibly mumbled aloud, “I know I wrote good stuff here… Where is it now?”
Fumbling to mash some random keys I racked my brain in vain to recover the words to both the screen and my short term memory.
Desperate and tired, as the Earl Grey had not yet kicked in, I called each of my children who have been mastering computer skills since kindergarten.
“Not sure what ‘YOU’ did, Mom,” was the response of all three of them.
“Me?” I defended myself, “I didn’t touch anything!”
With rolling eyes and more than a hint of sarcasm each of them talked me through a couple of options, to no avail.
I retyped, as best I could remember, more words flowing in a manner I hoped to be pleasing to the reader but still, in all, not the original words I thought to be some of my best work. I closed out the document ever so carefully clicking ‘yes’ when questioned by the computer of my desire to ‘save’ the text. Done, or so I thought.
I stumbled off bed, caught an episode of summer reality television then drifted to sleep. Upon my next approach to the work in process I discover the entire document as been "reformatted."
In the case of a writer, a document is formatted, for the most part, with page breaks, page numbers and justified margins. Unacceptable was this scrambled arrangement of words that glowed back at me. The once proper pages, carefully designed to fit within a book sized to be published at 6 inches by 9, were shrunken to a size that would make for a nice note or stretched past the headers into long skewed paragraphs without regard to my many months of efforts.
“What is this?” I angrily wondered. Then it occurred to me through intuition or a ghost whispering the revelation into my ear: “They don’t want this story told.” Perhaps the souls of Norcross fear curious moderns digging around in the place they struggle to find eternal peace.
“I have a great respect for all the ones, known and unknown, who lived before me in this little town I call my home,” I spoke aloud to my empty room.
I closed the document, cursing the runaway cursor. Awakening the screen sometime later in the day, I found the pages to be properly aligned and the words I had written still etched in electronic stone. Happily, the tale of a paupers’ field made it to press offering readers a brief glimpse into the lives of Norcross’s poorer citizens.
During the month of October the ghost tours draw the largest number of guests happily strolling around town lead by lantern-toting guides. October appears to also draw the largest number of uninvited spirit guests. Most Friday and Saturday evenings the guides and storytellers gather at dusk to coordinate stories, tickets sales, and generally set up.
Tours have begun on the Skin Alley patio of the 45 South Café, where something or someone seems aware of our efforts. Without fail the back door to the coffee house will open, with no living human in sight, slam shut without the help of any apparent draft, or become difficult for tour employees to pull open although the lock is clear and others seem to come and go freely.
On one particular October evening in 2009, original ghost tour producer Kim Brame was unloading costumes and ticket boxes when she experienced an unexplainable glitch.
“My keys were always going missing in October,” Ms. Brame reports, “One night the car locked with the keys in it, there is a safety on the driver's door so that won't happen BUT, it did.”
When writing the book “Souls of Norcross,” a read which companions the Norcross Ghost Tour, more than one paragraph was erroneously deleted and fonts have been not only resized but changed completely. Messages that make no sense pop up on my computer screen like "printer unresponsive" when I have made no attempt to print off anything or "remove caps lock," when no key is so engaged.
More often than not I discover headers have vanished and page numbers must be realigned. I must also admit I hear things… voices. Family members are not at home, televisions and radios are not switched on and windows are latched. Yet, without fail, I hear a soft murmur. No words I can clarify mind you, simply something faint and intelligible, as if heard from the periphery of my ear. As when seeing something out of the corner of your eye, too vague to identify, but you are sure it was there.
About halfway through the publishing process, I sent a permanent document file of the book’s contents to be reviewed by contributor Will Aymerich. He began to look over the pages of words and make comments when, as he scrolled downward, the pages of carefully formed paragraphs were blank… no headers, no page numbers, no stories, just pure white blank pages. With a quick email he shared his distress with me and I sent over more copy. I was relatively unfazed by this as uncanny coincidence has become common place when working on this piece.
Just this June of 2010, with the text of these pages nearly complete and receiving a final brushing over, this incident occurred and it is best I just let you read the e-mail and hope for recovery of both the document and my unraveled nerves.
RE: doc disappears--back up restored!
Sally Toole On: Jun 06/04/10 6:28 AM
To: William Hillard-Aymerich
Woke up and went to open most current document of souls 2010 (haven't done so since returning from weekend out of town) and it was gone... no copy left since one from April. I was able to pull it up on our LULU account as I had uploaded a copy just before leaving last thurs. As I tried to work out finding the good copy, I felt a feeling of being almost short of breath, QUEAZY- and had to get up and fix toast and say... ""ok I get it, you spirits want some acknowledgement from the living!" ANY HOW, thankfully I have a saved copy now in my PC and uploaded one onto a flash drive!!!
Trying to get to work this am!-:
It appears possible to me, a journalist at heart taught to take what I hear or read with a grain of salt, and finding myself involved with this whole ‘ghost thing’ quite by happen stance, that spirited souls of those who have walked the dirt below us, before us, may very well be all around us.
Not a foreboding evil presence as Hollywood skillfully portrays seeking to push audiences to edge of their theatre seats, more from the heart of a person reaching out for a connection intertwining the branches of the river of life and death. Some souls may settle within the walls of buildings creating a damp shivery feeling all around you while others loft in a rouge breeze brushing back a wisp of hair that makes you jump.
For me it seems they hide in the shadows of corridors, crouch around each turn of a stairwell and wait for the elevator doors to open just to laugh at my foolishness. Whatever, or should I say "whoever," haunts us, the thrill of curiosity equals the sudden drop of altitude when the roller coaster reaches its highest peak, then suddenly falls away beneath you!
So leave a candle burning, slide hard the door bolt, if you dare to immerse yourself in the lore of the living, the lingering and the laid to rest.