I don’t believe in ghosts.
I’m just putting that out there, laying all my cards face-up on the table. I also don’t believe in vampires, werewolves, zombies or evil wizards. I won’t mention angels and demons because I try to avoid religion and politics in this blog. But, I also don’t believe in Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, or the existence of credible evidence that aliens have visited Earth.*
*Just because I don’t believe that UFOs are landing quite regularly to mutilate cattle or anally probe certain people doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the existence of other life in our vast universe. I believe that the odds strongly favor not just alien life but a huge assortment of alien life. The universe is big, and the essential building blocks of life as we know it exist in abundance. Everywhere. Just considering the variety of life discovered on this planet alone, in the most inhospitable of places, it becomes difficult to imagine that our planet is the only one so blessed.
Getting back on topic: I don’t believe in ghosts.
But, I wish I did.
I never set out to be a skeptic. As a child, I believed all sorts of things I was told, without question. I also believed in magic and luck. In truth, justice and the American Way. Then, after my own personal Santa-Gate, I became disillusioned with the world and began to question everything.
I don’t fault my parents for perpetuating the Santa myth. I did the same thing. Childhood is a very scary time, and children don’t know all the things we know as adults. They need to be lied to, regularly, in order to feel safe.
I recall sleeping in the back seat of my parents’ Plymouth Duster, not wearing a seat belt, while the car rocketed down a two-lane highway in the middle of the night, in the rain, and I remember feeling safe, which I certainly wasn’t. This was a different time, kids. We often rode around in the beds of pickup trucks as well. If you lose a kid, make more, I guess. But, I felt safe. I’ve never been one to buy into that whole “your perception is your reality” thing. Although I felt safe, I wasn’t. It was an illusion, not reality at all, no matter how I perceived it. However, feeling safe—whether or not the feeling is warranted—is a nice way to feel.
If believing in magical things like flying reindeer, or a rabbit who likes hiding hardboiled eggs, or a fairy who buys our discarded teeth, help bolster that nice, warm, safe feeling every child should know, then I’m all for it. Childhood should be full of magic and possibility for everyone; it’s a tragedy that it’s not.
There comes a time when a lot of us begin to question things. If Santa isn’t real, what else have I been told that was all lies? I bet George Washington didn’t chop down the cherry tree or throw a silver dollar across the Potomac either (he didn’t). And Columbus didn’t discover America (he really didn’t).
My wife attended a private Catholic school, where her history books depicted slavery in the US as huge, sunshiny-day picnics with black and white people all having a good time together, eating, dancing and singing. Instead of depicting it as . . . well, human slavery.
Some of my newfound skepticism made me feel safer. When you don’t believe in monsters that live under beds or inside closets, let alone ghosts, vampires, denture fairies or Nessie, the world is marginally less scary.
Oh, it’s still scary, there are rabid dogs, coyotes and human predators aplenty out there. That’s scary enough. But, I like my chances against any of these over a vampire or werewolf. Like Arnold said, if it can bleed, we can kill it. I don’t need to mess with silver bullets or heartbound wooden stakes.
But, of all the things I no longer believe in, I most want to believe in ghosts.
You see, the proven existence of ghosts would verify that there is some sort of life after death. Maybe “life” is the wrong word to use. A continuation of being, maybe. I can hear someone telling me that I need to accept the existence of an afterlife on faith alone. That’s all well and good, but my faith can be shaky at times. Proof that ghosts exist—and that they were once people (that’s an important part of this)—is better than faith alone. It would be something tangible and real. Just like my faith would be less shaky if God parted the Straits of Florida for me so that I could drive from Key West to Cuba. When you experience something firsthand, even something normally unbelievable, you don’t require faith to believe in it.
I’ve never experienced a ghost, which I believe is a statement most of you would agree with. I’ve heard about ghosts, though. A lot. My brother-in-law believes he saw ghosts on some swampy land one morning, when the fog was clinging close to the muck. He drinks. I’ve heard other people talk about their proof that ghosts exist, but it usually boils down to “this happened to a friend of my sister” or similar narrative distancing. Rarely is it a firsthand account. Except for my brother-in-law. Did I mention he drinks?
I’ve done more than just never experiencing a ghost, however. I have actively sought to experience a ghost. No, I’m not one of those television ghost hunters who couldn’t find a more lucrative scam to run. Nor have I used self-professed psychics to attempt to contact my dearly departed (I would like to believe a special ring of Hell is reserved for John Edward and his ilk). But, I have visited many locations across the US, and one in Jamaica, rumored to be haunted.
The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, AR. Vino’s Brewpub in Little Rock, AR. Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas (as well as the Alamo). Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, SC. Whaley House in San Diego, CA. The Seattle Underground tunnels. Le Richelieu in New Orleans. Rose Hall in Jamaica. Assorted graveyards and battlefields and countless other places where I might finally see a ghost. At least, according to third- and fourth-hand sources.
I didn’t visit these places by accident. I wasn’t trying to debunk any ghost story. I was trying to see a ghost myself.
One of my aunts, the one who claims to have a psychic gift, although I’ve never heard her predict anything until after the fact, once told me that I would never see a ghost because I’m a nonbeliever. So, her argument is that the mere fact that I’ve never seen a ghost, especially in places documented as “haunted,” is sort of proof of their existence. You know, because I’m a nonbeliever and they can feel my negative energy.
I’ve never seen a vampire, werewolf or Creature from the Black Lagoon either. I am a nonbeliever. Therefore, they must exist.
Here in America, stories about ghosts are much more common than stories about any other supernatural beings. For the first fifteen years of my retail management career, I moved a lot, from city to city, from state to state. Each of the eleven (or twelve) places I lived, in North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee, had at least one location that was considered haunted by the locals. I’ve lived in the same medium-sized college town for nearly two decades now, here in central Arkansas. There is an iron bowstring truss bridge over a creek nearby where witnesses have reported hearing a ghostly baby crying, a girl screaming, or other strange noises. I’ve never been there yet. After I do go there, maybe I’ll write another post telling you that I now believe in ghosts.
Which brings me to Green Hand Bridge.
I was born in Charleston, South Carolina, but my family moved around a bit until I started second grade in Lancaster, South Carolina, which is located 46 miles south of Charlotte, North Carolina. I lived in Lancaster until I graduated high school and began to attend college. So, while my real hometown is Charleston (where some of my family still lives), Lancaster is the first place I think of when someone asks me where I’m from. I lived there for over a decade, the longest I had lived anywhere until I finally settled down in my current home.
I first found out about Green Hand Bridge on a Halloween hayride. In this case, it was a flatbed trailer loaded with bales of hay pulled by a tractor. A whole group of us kids—I’m guessing I was maybe ten or eleven at the time—were pulled in this trailer until the tractor stopped at the top of Green Hand Bridge. Then, an adult told us a ghost story about how the bridge earned its name.
A little extra geography backstory for you. Green Hand Bridge is a closed-spandrel arch bridge, one-laned, that transverses Cane Creek. It’s located on a stretch of Old Landsford Road that was once one of the county’s busiest thoroughfares, over 100 years ago, but is now overgrown and abandoned. These days, it’s less a road than a wide path in the forest.
Why “Green Hand” Bridge?
That’s where the story gets wacky and difficult to swallow, although using the words “green hand” is certainly provocative. I can recall being at least a little scared during the hayride, although I tried not to show it. The local newspaper, The Lancaster News, printed a story about the bridge legend in October 1988.
“One night, me and some of my friends were coming across here (Old Landsford Road) and we saw him walking on the bank over there,” the man said, as he motioned to an area on the left side of the creek.
“Right there’s where I saw it,” the other man said, pointing to the water below the bridge.
“It was green and coming out of the water. Nothing but the hand.”
No names, just quotes from anonymous sources. There’s also a story that purports that the creek was once the site of a deadly skirmish during the American Revolution. During the clash, a British soldier’s hand was separated from its body by a saber and it fell into the water below. Some nights, it’s said, the British soldier’s ghost can be seen searching the area along the creek for his missing hand.
It’s a great story, and I believe I heard some version of it on that Halloween excursion.
There are a couple of problems with the story, however. One, losing your hand in a fight doesn’t necessarily mean that you were killed and doomed to keep searching for your hand as a ghost. Two, the American Revolution took place many, many years before the bridge was constructed.
In any case, it’s a great local legend. Plus, it’s a great name for a bridge.
And, even if I still don’t believe in ghosts, it is things like the Green Hand Bridge that keep some of that childhood magic alive.
Happy Halloween, my friends. And happy ghost-hunting.