By Troy Taylor
Founder of the American Ghost Society
American cities are filled with ghosts. Their streets are packed with spirits, wandering past derelict buildings and down misty alleyways where no man in his right mind would dare to walk. Such phantoms are of a particular sort. Theirs are the familiar faces of killers and victims, miscreants and priests, trapped in a concrete jungle for eternity. Our cities can be terrifying places; there is no question of this.
But what of the ghosts who haunt our prairies and fields? We may shiver at tales of haunted mansions, blood-soaked streets and ominous hotels that make our blood run cold, but is there really anything as eerie as the vast open fields and dark stands of woods that stretch across America's Heartland? What awaits us in this strange and unfamiliar region and what tragic ghosts still walk in the lonely places where no one can hear you when you scream?
The prairie of America can be a mysterious place and, to those who come from the more populated regions, a strangely unsettling one. Even to those of us who grew up on the prairie, it's hard to know what sometimes lurks around the next corner of the road, or around the next bend in the path.
More years ago than I would care to admit now, I happened upon an old, abandoned house in the woods. Such unusual finds were not uncommon for me. I grew up on a farm in a rural part of Illinois, and during the summer months, I would often explore the back roads, cemeteries and stretches of forest near my parents' home. This particular house turned out to be a little more unusual than most, though. In fact, it was at the moment of my discovery of this old place that I began to believe in ghosts.
The old house was located in a gloomy stretch of woods and it did not appear that anyone had lived in it for many years. There was no path left through the woods that would have provided access to the surrounding roadways. Only a shallow track remained, long since covered with brush and decades of fallen leaves. Remarkably, the structure remained in fairly good condition. I crossed the sagging porch, pushed open the leaning front door, and entered the shadowy interior hallway behind it.
Strangely, all of the furniture had been left behind, even to the point that there were photographs still hanging on the walls and coats in a closet that had a door standing open. Yes, there was evidence of animals passing through and the weathering of years passing by, but all in all, the place had been eerily preserved.
This was all strange enough to a young boy, but it was the kitchen that would unsettle me the most. It was here that I found the last real vestiges of human occupancy in the house. There were still plates and silverware resting on the table and pots and pans still sitting on the cold, metal stove. It was as if the family that had once lived here had suddenly just gotten up and walked away one day--never to return.
What could have happened to cause someone to leave a house, and to simply leave everything they owned behind, abandoning their lives and likely disappearing without a trace?
The house has long since been destroyed, and the answer to my personal mystery has never been solved. I returned many times to that house over the next several years, until I finally grew up and moved away from home. As time has passed, though, I have never forgotten this place; and the questions that were created on the day that I first found the house remain with me even now. I searched many times for some clue as to where the former occupants had vanished, but I never found anything.
I have since come to realize that this puzzle will never be solved. And like a ghost, it has haunted me ever since. At the moment that I walked into that house, I crossed a line that I have never been able to step back across. It was at that moment that the unsolved and the unexplained became an obsession for me and it was at that moment that I truly began to believe in ghosts.
Since that time, my fascination with ghosts and ghost stories has become more than just a passion. It has become a career. Much of my own writing and research is connected to America's prairie regions, exploring the dark woods and the open fields where I grew up. This is the reason I found the stories in this book so compelling. These are not tales of ghosts that you will find in the streets or in the buildings of our cities but specters who lost their way in the graveyards, forests and the open fields. It's no surprise that one can almost feel the desperation of such wraiths as they search for redemption and peace in the loneliest places in America.
How real are such restless ghosts? Obviously, the spirits who haunt these pages are the products of the fevered imaginations of the authors; many of you reading this book believe that the ghosts of the prairie are quite tangible. Many of you may even have had your own strange experiences over the years. Like many others, you may have tried to explain them away, but cannot. Readers like you are quick to accept the possibility that ghosts exist. Not everyone is so open-minded.
Those who do not believe in ghosts say that spirits are merely the figments of our collective imagination. Ghost stories, these readers insist, are the creations of drunkards, folklorists and fools.
If you are such a person, I hope that you will not be too quick to assume that you have all of the answers. Can you really say for sure that ghosts aren't real? Are you completely convinced that spirits do not wander the wild prairies of America? These are questions that you should ask yourself, but before you immediately reply from the comfort of your warm and brightly lit home, try answering them instead while standing alone in some prairie cemetery late one night.
Is that weeping sound you hear really just the wind whispering in your ear, or could it be the voice of a long-dead woman, crying for eternal peace?
Is that merely a patch of fog that you see moving out of the trees, or could it be the ethereal form of a forgotten pioneer, still searching for his final resting place?
Is that rustling in the leaves truly just the passing breeze, or is it the ominous sound of footsteps coming up behind you?
If you suddenly turn to look, you might realize that, despite the fact that there is no living person around you, you just may not be alone! Perhaps you are not as sure as you thought you were about the existence of ghosts. Perhaps they are not simply a part of fanciful fiction after all. Perhaps no one person among us has all of the answers...
To paraphrase the poet, there are stranger things out there than are dreamt of in our philosophies, and many of those stranger things are out there lurking, waiting for some hapless soul, among the windswept plains of the Heartland.
--Happy Hauntings! Troy Taylor