Arts & Entertainment

A New Hal­loween Ghost Story: Mostly True as Far as You Know

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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.

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