THE LAWSON’S PEAK BOOKS

Happy Halloween

I think it’s only fitting that with Halloween this weekend, we light a campfire and tell a few ghost stories, eh?

As it happens, I was hauling some stuff to the back of the office this week to be sent to the dump when one of our circulation people asked if I saw any ghosts back there in the old press room. She said she had heard stories about it.

Well, I hadn’t seen a ghost. Not then, anyway. Here’s where you can officially write me off as a candidate for the funny farm, but this old newspaper building has definitely had its share of strange things. And I don’t just mean the people who have worked here!

Back in the 1980s, when I first worked here, I came in late one night after some government meeting or another to write my story. As I was sitting at my typewriter – yes, typewriter! This was about 1982 – I heard a sound that was familiar enough to not really get my attention. Then I realized that it was the sound of our press running on what we called “inch” mode, or a very, very slow speed controlled manually with a big button so that adjustments and such could be made. At 10 p.m., it should of course not have been inching.

I made my way to the pressroom, and the door was closed. That door was never closed. I could hear the press “inching” though, a distinctive whump, whump, whump sound.

I was a much braver man then. I creeped (there’s a fitting word) up to the door, grasped the handle, flung the door open and flipped on the light.

For a split second, I saw the rollers on the press move about a quarter turn, then stop, and there was nothing but silence. I decided to finish my story in the morning.

It’s not just me. Production room people have seen shadows and shapes move across the corner of their eye. One of them even got goosed by someone who wasn’t there. Someone tends to walk by the window between the paste up room and press room now and then when the lights are out.

This building was constructed in the 1940s, designed by Morris Raphael, I’m told. The number of people who have passed through these hallowed halls of journalism staggers the imagination, men and women such as Bob Angers, Jack Cain, Nora Lewis, Ella Mensman, John Landry, Bernard and Ray Broussard, John Travis, Clarence Delaune, Al Pellerin and so many, many more both alive and departed. If this old building has soaked up anything preternatural, it’s a whole heckuva lot of character, I can tell you that.

Another time I was here late waiting for a ride because my car was in the shop. Again, it was after a meeting in the courthouse. I was standing at the front windows looking out at the dark street and a voice right behind my head suddenly shouted, “Roger!”

I spun around and if anyone had been standing there they would have gotten clobbered because my fists were swinging like a prizefighter. But there wasn’t anybody there.

My dear friend Ella Mensman told me that there was a pit that had been covered up under the paste up room. It had been for the old press, before the one we have now. Operators used it to work underneath the machinery. Miss Ella said now and then, you could hear something scratching from down there, as if trying to get out. Whether or not it was because she planted that in my mind, I’ll be damned if I didn’t hear that scratching not much later!

Back in the old days, this place used to make lots of noises. Between the Banner’s sundry equipment and the stuff St. Mary Printers had in the back, things were always cooling down overnight and clicking, snapping, groaning and crackling. It was enough to get you jumpy.

Outside of the Banner, I was attending a reception at one of the historic houses down east Main Street many years ago. A bunch of us where standing at the foot of the stairs, and I looked up to see a woman in antebellum dress coming down the stairs. Thinking it was some sort of guest entertainment, I was smiling broadly when she just faded out, halfway down the stair.

I turned to my friend, the late Russ Comeaux, and saw he was also staring up the stairs.

“Did you see–?” I began.

“A woman in a hoop dress?” he said.

“Yeah.”

“Well. Now what do we do?” I asked.

“I don’t know about you,” Russ said, “but I’m going go check on the bar.” I heartily agreed and followed him.

It’s October, I think. October is thin. Its margins narrow, its boundaries flimsy.

Just a couple weeks ago, at home, I was sitting at the computer drinking my coffee and glanced up at the front window of the house, just in time to see the curtain open, as if someone were standing there looking out. It immediately dropped back down. Just one of the old folks coming by to visit, as is the Indian way. It happens mostly in October, you see, and doesn’t bother me at all.

My grandpa and I were sitting in the living room when I was a wee lad. He sat in his recliner and I sat on a footstool in front of him. Suddenly the door flew open and hit the wall with a loud crash.

“Get the hell out of here!” the old man yelled.

The door slammed back shut.

“And stay out!” he warned. Such occurrences gave my grandparents’ house – now my house – a reputation for being haunted. I call it “spirit friendly.”

My friend and I were housesitting for my grandmother back in the mid-80s. I wasn’t home, but my friend said he had gotten home from work one night, poured himself a drink and was sitting watching The 700 Club in the living room. He set his drink on a big, floor-standing ashtray my gramma had.

The ashtray started to quiver and shake, almost violently. My pal first and foremost snatched his drink to safety, but the ashtray continued to knock around. He loudly offered a donation to The 700 Club, but that didn’t help. He said eventually it calmed down and remained still after that.

My only experience during our stint there was when I awakened one night to find that the covers were being slowly tugged down my body, off the foot of the bed. Slowly. I mean, excruciatingly slowly. I was petrified, unable to move with fright. It seemed like an hour before the blanket finally crept down my legs, over my knees, across my feet and, at last, vanished past the foot of the bed.

I lay there, mortified of what would happen next. Then this trembling, clawed, hairy paw comes quivering up and snags into the mattress. Then another!

With great effort, my grandmother’s Persian, Crazy Cat, all of 15-years-old by then, hoisted herself up at last to the mattress and collapsed in exhaustion.

She looked at me as if to say, “Wow. It sure wasn’t that far up when I was younger!”

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