Monday, October 13, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack -- Granville Sentinel 10-23-08
Jeff Gill

Is Granville Haunted?

What a rich and beautiful season, if you’re watching the hillsides and treeline instead of the financial and news channels.

Pumpkin patches like Devine Farms down Rt. 37 (turn left at US 40 for the Devine’s, or right a bit further to Pigeon Roost Farm) are a riot of orange and yellow and many shades of brown. Summer spoils us with green, and we brace ourselves for the whites and greys of winter, but the rich palette of autumn deserves some close attention.

You have to look fast, because of the shortness of the season, and with night falling ever sooner (and look past the political signs with their own unique color schemes). But even the nature of the darkness has a special fall quality, with mists in the early morning and still a wisp of hanging smoke some evenings.

It’s just warm enough to let a few more grills to fire up for dinner, and a fire pit or chiminea is especially welcome for a group to huddle around when the cold knife of an October night slices the sunset away.

As a general rule, I don’t tell ghost stories. We have plenty of practitioners of that art, starting at certain inns with great skill, and being told alongside the stray bonfire or camping lantern by us amateurs.

Granville is haunted, though. Make no mistake about it. I actually am quite skeptical of ghosts and hauntings and poltergeist tales; the Bible has a couple of ghosts in the Old Testament, but they seem to be more dream figures and guilty consciences than apparitions of the sort featured in your usual ghost story.

Haunted is another story. Haunted is a state of mind, and an openness to evocations that help to make us sense, more directly, of the reality of lived experience not our own. A moment that may be long past, but still moving through and past our lives today.

Passing the Four Corners, with a “ghost” of a high conical mound in the center of the original street plan, a point from which the very visible grid we now drive was platted; a block north, where “The Drag” curves up College Hill, there was set into that alcove where a stone panel now faces south, once a building, a market and school and structure whose keystone stares at you in the basement of the Granville Historical Society. It may sit in darkness most days on the floor there, but I see the sun-face gazing back contentedly, above the spot where Denison’s open book now looks blankly down Main.

East of the village, where new and comfortable homes now spread past Bryn Du, I walk often through an intersection where the first European settlers here, a young Welsh couple, spent a winter, survived a year, and then Lilly Jones died a few weeks after giving birth. Some evenings, you can almost hear the low cry of a baby, and the muffled sobs of a strong man brought low by frontier life, punctuated by the impact of a spade into cold earth, now simply still-green lawns.

Heading back towards the village, past the Great Lawn, over ground well populated two millennia ago, with the rustle of fallen leaves turning into the shuffle and stomp of moccasined feet, a chant blending into gospel cadences softly sung by escaping slaves not two centuries back.

The historic center of the village spreads out before you as Mount Parnassus, spirits of the Greek Muses hovering over the very name, recedes to your left, and John Chapman walks past you, padding along barefoot and long-limbed, invisibly returning to the forest where Mr. Appleseed is most comfortable, even if he did sleep in the stable basement of the Buxton Inn on harsh wintry nights. The sidewalk past the Granville Inn, with the remnant of one of our many vanished colleges now just the back wing, was once the favored stroll for courting Victorian era students. Kept male and female on their respective ends of Broadway, healthful walking, at least, was never discouraged, so this very promenade was where those young passions found their object and focus . . . who courted and proposed and plighted their troth in front of a tree shaded lawn where now couples marry under vast white tents, right into October.

Is Granville haunted? I should think so. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a haunted tale at

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