Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
One of the people who wanted to go ghost-hunting with us was a big, strong, husky young fellow who’s afraid of the dark.
Maybe not afraid of the dark itself, but what may be waiting for him out there in the dark. I myself love being in the woods when it’s daylight; when it’s dark, not so much. It hasn’t always been that way.
Some of Gary’s buddies and their ladies from Mount Savage went to Gettysburg with us. Like us, they already want to go back.
No sooner than Gary and I checked into our room than we found a harbinger of what might be waiting for us.
“Look what was on the floor beside my bed,” he said. It was a “wooden nickel” coin from Chapter 172 of the Vietnam Veterans of America. It has the VVA logo on one side and “WELCOME HOME” on the other.
We’ve handed out hundreds of them on our trips to Gettysburg, to Vietnam Veterans and veterans of the Korean War and World War II and to those who are on active service. Some of the Vietnam Vets tell us tearfully, “You’re the first people who ever welcomed me home.” Awesome.
Gary hadn’t even started to unpack, and he had none of the coins in his pockets. It was just there ... in a place where it had no reason to be, with the “WELCOME HOME” side up.
“Our friends know we’ve come back,” I said.
“Uh-huh,” he nodded. “That message is for us.” (Now tell me this: Where did they get it?)
They do things that seem to be aimed at simply saying “Hello” and letting us know they’re around, but never when we’re watching. It’s like they don’t want to startle us.
During our latest visit, I woke up to find a bath towel folded neatly on top of the small pile of used shirt and socks that I had set beside my bed before retiring. (I do the same at home, anticipating the possibility of having to put them back on before morning.) A washcloth was laid out flat in the middle of the floor, where we’d have to step on it or walk around it.
Both the washcloth and the towel were dry. I had planned to take a shower that morning and used them, appreciatively figuring they had been put out for my convenience.
Folks ask us about this sort of thing, and we tell them that neither we, nor anyone else we know of, have encountered anything in Gettysburg that had the appearance of being evil. I can’t say the same for other places I’ve been.
We believe that if spirits do exist, those in Gettysburg are the spirits of good men who know how to fight, and there are thousands of them.
They’ve settled their own differences and won’t tolerate nastiness from outsiders — human (as one of our buddies found out after profanely taunting them to show themselves; they put him on the ground and held him there) or otherwise.
We took our friends to Spangler’s Spring, even though recent visits hadn’t given us anything to write home (or write columns) about.
The Park Service has removed many trees from the battlefield so it will look as it did during the battle in 1863, and it seemed that the spirits had left with the trees. You would think History Channel’s “Ax Men” have been to Spangler’s Spring.
Gary and I have ample reason to think of those who may be there as friends. Maybe some had returned.
As we stepped off the blacktop onto the grass, one of our friends asked us if we had noticed how cold it suddenly had become. We had. That’s one way to tell a presence is near. You walk into and out of cold and warm spots.
Later, he asked if we smelled something sweet. We said, “It’s pipe tobacco.”
We also smelled bread cooking. The soldiers had no ovens, so they wrapped a mixture of flour and water around a stick to cook it over a fire or just put it on a hot rock.
My mother and both of my grandmothers used to bake bread, and so did I. I know what it smells like, and there are times when I smell bread baking in my house.
(While as I was sitting at my desk typing the words, “smelled bread cooking,” I got a strong and unmistakable whiff of just that. Nobody was cooking in our microwave or having lunch, nor did anyone else notice it. I’ve also been alone in the newsroom and by myself in my car when I smelled the same pipe tobacco I’ve smelled on the battlefield.)
Digital and smart phone cameras were unlimbered. They produced photos of orbs, green mist and what looked like tree branches that appeared in several places where there were no branches. They were identical in each photo but showed up in different areas of the picture.
Makes me wonder: Considering what has been done at Spangler’s Spring, can there be ghosts of trees?
One photo of Gary shows him visible only from the waist up ... as if he himself were a ghost. Several photos of the Indiana Monument (where Gary does not appear in pictures taken of him standing in front of it) shows the progression of an orb across its face.
Later, our buddies had trouble with their phones — images moving up and down and sideways by themselves, and the like. One of the women hadn’t gone with us, and her phone behaved normally.
I went by myself to sit on a big rock that has become my favorite place to still hunt (as hunters would put it).
Not once did I see or hear anything, but I got the feeling, as I often do there, that people I couldn’t see were gathering to listen as I talked to them — and that I know them, just as they know me. Warm and cold spots both came and went, and there was no wind. I felt surrounded by a type of energy that by now has grown familiar.
As we left, I stood and turned toward what is now the edge of the woods, rendered a Civil War salute (palm turned outward) and said, “Peace be with you. Until our next posting.”
Immediately, an orb of light that was bigger and brighter than any star burst forth at the tree line, less than 50 yards away in a place where none of our people had been, and then it went out.
They’re still here, I thought. We will be back.
I’ve seen the same light, more times than I can count, on the hillside near my home where Fort Piano stood during the Civil War.
It happens at night, while I am sitting on my back porch, after I have saluted and raised a toast To Absent Brothers.