Black Ghost

Ghosts are popularly imagined to favor the color white when materializing for public view. However, a ghost clothed in black was said to haunt the streets of Alma in early 1902. The Harlan County Journal of Alma on March 28, 1902, reprinted a recent Lincoln Evening News report of the dark specter’s activities: “The peace of mind of the people of this city has been rudely disturbed during the past three weeks or more and all because of a ghost. Not the customary white appareled specter of fiction and precedent, but a black garbed apparition. The story is vouched for by half a dozen of the best men of the place, men whose standing and supposed freedom from superstition would naturally class them among the doubters. But they doubt no more.

“The heroine of the tale is a woman, a ghost, who chooses to violate all supernatural precedents by appareling herself in black from head to foot. This may sound like a piece of fiction, but it isn’t safe to take this attitude when talking with an Alma man. Here almost everybody believes firmly in the apparition because most everybody has seen it. Some have sought to capture it, but have failed dismally. When it is pursued the ghost runs. When its pursuer turns tail, he becomes in turn the pursued. Several have played in both roles, and just at present the ghost is permitted to roam unmolested. It has sought to harm no one or annoy any especial person. Its favorite pastime seems to be to dart from some dark alley or shadowy corner and rush like the wind past some lone, belated pedestrian. At ten paces or so beyond him, the specter vanishes into thin air. That is the psychological moment for the hair to rise. It hasn’t failed yet.

“Several well known citizens vouch for the truth of these tales. One of these is Congressman [Ashton C.] Shallenberger, who represents the Fifth Nebraska district at Washington. . . . Shallenberger came home recently on a flying business trip. He was detained at his bank late at night. On his way past a dismally dark alley the figure is said to have darted out and rushed past him like the wind. It disappeared thirty feet beyond. . . . Similar stories are told by other well-known citizens, and it has come to be generally accepted as being really a disembodied spirit. No explanation is offered, and while too many testify by their own experience to possibly make it a concerted hoax, there are many who assert that when the mystery is finally unraveled there will be found nothing supernatural about it.

“The figure is unmistakably that of a woman. Her face is veiled from view and all guesses at her identity are vague. Several years ago the wife of an Alma man died. On her death bed she extracted a promise from her husband that he would not marry again. She told him she would haunt him if he did. He married again in less than two years, but his second venture is said to have been an unhappy one. Some think it is the first wife making good her threat. For a time the scoffers suspected it was the second wife seeking to revenge herself upon her husband, but circumstances quickly disposed of her possible playing at ghost-walking, an alibi being established for her without her knowledge of it. Another explanation is that it is the unquiet spirit of an Alma woman, recently deceased. She suffered long from a very painful illness and the supposition is that she is still in the grip of suffering.

“The figure, however, makes no uncanny sounds, no moans or cries, but moves silently, with incredible swiftness, and then-evaporates. It may seem odd to find any considerable number of believers in ghosts walking the earth in this age, but the incident, together with the many tales told and retold have so worked upon the superstitious fears of the townspeople that they appear to have quietly accepted it without further inward travail. One man has claimed to have seen the specter attired in white but he is frowned down upon as one who seeks to embellish truth with art.”

(October 2008)


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