A New Halloween Ghost Story: Mostly True as Far as You Know
by Elaine Marranzano –
It was a weird Halloween. For one thing it was snowing. The “white Halloween” of 2011 blew in on a Nor’easter which dumped 12 inches of snow on Westchester. Trees that still had their leaves caught the snow and snapped under the weight. Power lines were down, and I had one of the strangest experiences of my life.
Something odd always happens on Halloween. When I was 10, a group of adults in black robes came to our door and snatched the candy bowl full of witches’ fingers and chocolate eyeballs right out of my hands. My mom, dressed as Dolly Parton, chased them down the street in cowboy boots and fake 44DDs. That was pretty entertaining.
But the year of the Halloween blizzard was something else entirely. My mom dug out the Christmas wreaths and hung them on the porch alongside the witches and pumpkins. We made a sign wishing everyone “Merry Halloween.” Lying in bed later that night, after the revelers had given up and the streets were mostly silent thanks to the soft snow, I heard something. Clop, clop, clop. Sounded like a horse to me, but surely the Headless Horseman was by now safely back in his grave until next year. Clop, clop, clop. I heard it again and headed out to see what was going on.
The air was cold and misty, sort of what I imagine London weather to be. I started down Devries Avenue, the best street in the Manors in my opinion. I have seen coyotes and deer on this street. Once a herd of escaped sheep were seen relishing their short-lived freedom on Devries. But unless the Headless Horseman decided to stick around, I wasn’t sure what horse I heard or even if it was a horse. Then I saw hoof prints in the middle of the road.
I followed them down Devries, up Broadway and then onto Pocantico Street where they stopped in front of the Morse school. Standing in front of the building where I went to second and third grade, I looked around for a horse. It couldn’t have just disappeared. The mist was getting thicker, making it hard to see. I walked hands outstretched, trying to feel my way out. What happened next was in the margins between a dream and full consciousness.
Rising from the mist in front of me, like an ocean liner, was a large brick building in the middle of the Morse school playground. It didn’t make any sense. That building wasn’t there yesterday. I was sure of it. Rubbing my eyes in disbelief, I stood frozen in place until the sound of a striking clock shattered the silence and sent me stumbling backwards.
“You alright, son?”
An elderly man was reaching out his hand to help me up.
“You look like you saw a ghost,” said the man who appeared to be in costume. His high-waisted pleated pants, plaid cowboy shirt and striped tie looked more like 1940 than 2011.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” I stammered. “How did that building get there?”
“Well, it’s been there since 1900. That was old high school until we built Morse in 1922. Now it’s the high school.”
I thought surely this man was mental. Morse was not the high school. The high school was up on the hill overlooking Broadway. Everyone knew that.
Just then a little white pony with brown patches sauntered up.
“This here is Snowball, said the man, giving the pony an affectionate scratch on the head, and my name is Johnny. We live right over there on the corner of Howard Street. Where do you live?”
He pointed to a small yellow house with a tin roof and a small stable in the back yard.
“I live in Sleepy Hollow,” I answered.
“Sleepy Hollow, huh,?” he seemed bemused. “This is North Tarrytown, always has been, always will be as far as I know.”
My head was spinning.
“Are you sure you are feeling okay son?”
It was all too much. I felt dizzy. When I reached out to steady myself, that pony sunk his teeth in my upper arm.
The pain jolted me awake and I bolted. I ran all the way home, checking behind me to see if Snowball was in pursuit or if a flaming pumpkin was aimed at my head. This was Sleepy Hollow after all. I burst through the door and breathlessly told Mom everything. At the mention of Snowball, she stopped me.
“Did you say Snowball? Was the man’s name Johnny?” she asked.
“That’s it,” I cried. How could she have known?
She flipped through the pages of a book from the Historical Society and pointed to a black and white photograph.
“Is this who you saw?” she asked.
I looked closely and gasped. There, staring back at me, was Snowball and Johnny in a photo from the 1950s. Johnny was wearing the same cowboy shirt and striped tie and, according to the caption, Snowball had been the pony mascot of the North Tarrytown High School football team since 1941. Mom flipped through the pages again and showed me a photo of a large brick building with a clock tower on its roof standing in front of Morse school.
“You must be making this up,” my mother said. “They tore that old building down more than 60 years ago. And there is no way you could have had a conversation with Johnny and Snowball. They have been dead for decades.”
I was stunned. Could I really have imagined everything? Then I remembered.
“But Mom,” I said. “Look.” I raised my sleeve to reveal a horse-teeth-shaped welt on my arm.
What’s the explanation? Who knows? Maybe there was something magical in that rare Halloween snow storm that roused Snowball and Johnny from their slumber and allowed them to return to a time, ever so briefly when Sleepy Hollow was still North Tarrytown and I was not yet born.