October 17, 2023 at 8:45 a.m.

Phantom Encounters

By Larry Perkinson

Eerie tales, true or not, do not require a late-night audiences or macabre scenes or popcorn. Salesmanship and an eager mind are the true catalysts for suspense. If the narrator paints the event as true and the listener wants it to be, the gateway to apprehension and/or awe opens.

My father, for example, occasionally told of being on guard duty in Germany at the end of World War II. His body language and soft voice commanded attention. When I was small, I barely breathed as he shared that the quiet of night was interrupted by a shadow and by the pounding of his heart.

Something approached, but the image was blurred by the fog. He shouted a version of “Halt! Who goes there?” But, the presence disappeared as quickly as it had materialized. Days later he received word that his father had been run over by a train as he walked the railroad tracks home in Scottsburg, Indiana. Grandpa Perkinson had died about the time my father had witnessed an unknown entity walking toward him.

On September 16, 1957, The Republic newspaper published “Azalia Bridge Ghost Is out of Retirement.” Nearly twelve years to the day my grandfather died, an early morning motorist “telephoned the county sheriff's office and reported a figure was hanging from a rafter in the old, covered Azalia bridge over Clifty. He said he thought it was a dummy but wasn't certain and didn't stop to find out. Officers found it was a dummy, dressed in trousers and sweater and wearing a red cap.”

My dad generally grinned as he shared the family secret. My uncle knew a man who was susceptible to apparition anxiety and who was terrified of crossing a bridge with a ghost connection. Now that offered an opportunity for selling a story to an eager mind. My father saw what he saw in Germany. My uncle designed what was seen in Azalia.

According to the paper, “The last big stir over ghosts at Azalia bridge was in 1945 when three Cummins Engine company employees reported they saw a ‘ghost’ at the bridge on Halloween. Groups of Cummins employes visited the bridge the two succeeding nights but their ghost failed to re-appear.”

Strange stories have continued for my family. When our oldest was a toddler, she sometimes talked to the ceiling at bedtime. She claimed to see a clown. In the same house, she would race to the landline shouting “I got it” seconds before the phone would ring. Odd if not eerie!

I did not see the clown or hear the phone ring before it rang, but in our current home a handprint on the ceiling would appear and reappear for years in what had been our girls’ bedroom. Apparently at least one of our young ladies would bounce on the bed and tap the ceiling as she played. For a long time, I could walk into the room; and if the light was just right, the palm and fingerprints were visible. In my head voices and laughter accompanied the smudges.

Over the years new colors refreshed the walls, but the ceiling was not touched. I could not bring myself to erase the memories. Finally, I invested in a flat-paint exorcism and almost removed the spirits of young hearts.

However, if I look hard enough and want it to be badly enough, the doorway to yesteryear opens, a faint hand reappears on the plaster and voices still echo.