Saturday, October 31, 2009

Demanding to be haunted

Since it's Halloween and all...

Some places speak distinctly. Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted; certain coasts are set apart for shipwrecks. --Robert Louis Stevenson

One would think that, of all places, the scenes of the Donner Party tragedy would be haunted, but there just aren't many Donner ghost stories, and with few exceptions the ones I've encountered are distinctly unsatisfactory. The paucity of stories is no doubt due to the fact that nobody actually lives at Donner sites to witness anything (if there's anything to witness at all, of course). Oh, sure, people "live" temporarily at the campground at the state park, but not at the actual cabin locations, and while the (shudder) development around Prosser Reservoir blights the environs of the Donner family camp, no one lives at Alder Creek. Whatever walks the meadow walks alone.

I've read a variety of "true" Donner ghost stories which are obviously based on peoples' faulty notions of what happened back in 1846-7, like the appearance of a woman in bloody, old-fashioned clothing (taken as "proof" that Louis Keseberg murdered Tamzene Donner). Pfft. I much prefer stories of vague, creeping dread that might -- or might not -- be due solely to the imagination of the percipient.

For example, back about 1997 I asked a Donner Memorial State Park ranger if she knew of any odd happenings. To my delight, she said yes. Occasionally when staff worked alone in the museum at night they would experience disquieting sensations of not being alone, of being watched, and would hear unexplained noises.

Then there was the woman who bought a Murphy cabin vial with tags signed by Frances Donner Wilder. The purchaser had never had any problems before, but after she displayed the vial in her home next to some old family memorabilia, odd things began to happen. She and her husband heard the sounds of a child's voice, her dogs whined and growled savagely when in proximity to the vial, a small rocking chair moved and rocked by itself, and so on. When they got the vial out of the house, the phenomena ceased.

Probably my favorite Donner "ghost" story comes from Alder Creek, where, in 1998, a young woman named Elizabeth toured the site. It was late afternoon and she was by herself -- no other cars in the lot, no other people anywhere around -- yet she was overcome with the sensation of not being alone, of panic, and depression as she walked the site. While using the women's restroom, she heard a sound like scuffling feet and a tinkering noise, as of someone sorting through a toolbox, coming from the men's room next door. She was relieved to get away.

When I related this story to a friend with whom I'd visited Alder Creek, she was taken aback. "Oh, wow," she said. "I heard weird noises from next door and got a really creepy feeling when I was in that restroom myself."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Another new book

Well, this one sneaked up on me -- I had no idea there was a new Donner Party book in the works when I stumbled on some buzz about
Dark Journey by Allan Eckert, published by the Jesse Stuart Foundation. You can read more about the book here. Sounds interesting, but it looks like we'll have to wait to order it -- I just visited the foundation's website and the book isn't listed yet. Keep checking!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Had to laugh...

Today my genealogy program told me that Noah James was the half-brother of the father-in-law of the brother-in-law of a second cousin of the husband of a great-granddaughter of George Donner.

I did not ask for this information.