A spooky story for the season

Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Neosho Daily News

As a child, I dreamed about living in the woods like a pioneer. Maybe it was inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilders' books which were favorites and it was probably due to the fact our family often went to the woods to forage or to hunt.

When I was married, we moved to a old mobile home in the woods, part of a parcel of land that my father-in-law had purchased, then divided among his kids. We eventually ended up with three of four pieces of land and put a new mobile home on a different part of the property but we were surrounded by trees and I enjoyed the experience.

Since we lived in the woods, my husband and I often trekked into the forest. Sometimes we were squirrel hunting or searching for elusive morel mushrooms, sometimes just enjoying nature.

One fall day, my husband told me about an abandoned home place on land adjacent to ours. Since old home places have always fired my imagination, I had to see it so we hiked over some rugged terrain to reach it. I was enthralled with it, a big two story farmhouse and barn, both still standing against all odds and an intact outhouse. I knew I'd have to come back at least once with a camera and so we did.

It was early November when we made the hike again and I took numerous photos in both black and white and color. A few weeks later, I got the photos back and sat down on a Saturday afternoon to look through them.

The photos were clear and I was pleased with the results. I thought perhaps I could use them to accompany an article about old home places in the Ozarks.

As I studied the photos, I noticed something strange about the black and white photos but I thought I had to be mistaken. I looked closer and then I got out a magnifying glass to confirm what I saw. Then I had my husband look them over, without telling him what I saw, and he noticed what I did - there were people in some of the windows.

There was an old man in an upstairs window gazing out and in another, also upstairs, an old woman wearing an apron could be seen pointing a finger as if to say she saw us. In another window on the side of the house, a younger woman peered out, standing sideways.

The images were clear, the features were distinct but there was one thing we'd noticed on our visit - the stairs were rotten away. In fact, we'd been concerned enough about safety that we peeked from the front door but didn't dare walk across the floors for fear the floor might collapse beneath our feet.

I still can't explain those faces in the photographs. I've often wondered if I saw images of the original owners of the home if they would resemble what I captured. I can't claim they're ghosts but there is something unexplained in those pictures. The color images taken on the same day show nothing unusual.

I've shown them to various people over the years and most found them to be creepy. I never felt that, myself, just curious, left with more questions than answers.

The old house is now gone. We moved a long time ago and the site is inaccessible by road.

I have encountered my share of unexplained things. I grew up - not in Neosho - in an old home where the surreal was part of the daily reality. I've had experiences in a few places that still cause a shiver or two to run down my spine.

It's the season for spooky things with Halloween just ahead and this is my story. My name's not Ripley but believe it - or not.

-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is the editor of the Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is also a published author as both Patrice Wayne and Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy.