Reprinted by permission
from the Kirksville Daily Express (10-28-01); thanks to Judy Tritz, editor
EMPORIA, Kan (AP) – There’s the story of the glowing gravestone in a local cemetery and another about the spooky sounds of a bouncing basketball in an empty dormitory room.
These are just a few of the haunting tales collected by Jim Hoy, an Emporia State University English professor who has taught folklore for a quarter century.
While this Lyon County town isn’t unique in having such stories, it may have a few more than most places in Kansas. But in nearly every county there’s a story or two designed to five the listener a spinal shiver or two.
Hoy said that, in many ways, interest in tales of the supernatural is, well, natural.
“There’s a strong need to believe in the purpose of life and the hereafter. It’s not a big step from mainstream religion to spiritualism,” Joy said during a recent walking tour of the Maplewood and Memorial Lawn Cemeteries.
And, he added, there’s another reason people are fascinated by ghost stories: “A lot of it is the desire to spook ourselves. There’s a thrill in being startled.”
Hoy said while he collects ghost stories, he doesn’t believe in things that go bump in the night.
“If I witness it, I’ll have more belief, but I don’t hold a whole lot of stock in it,” he said.
Cemeteries are afav0rite setting for ghost stories for obvious reasons – what better places for a tale from the crypt than near a crypt.
Many such places are what Hoy calls “legend trips” – where groups, especially teenagers, go seeking thrills and adventure.
“Almost every town has one, where kids go to spook themselves out,” Hoy said. “It’s like a rite of passage for them.”
At such places, the imagination can work overtime – a cawing crow in a tree on a late afternoon with its long shadows can become more a than a bird on a branch.”
“The mind can do all kinds pf things. The moon shines off the tombstone and if you are with a group and are inclined to be wanting to see something, you just might,” Hoy said.
“They wouldn’t be trying to make up a story. They would believe they saw something or experienced something,” he added.
Through the years has come the story of the glowing gravestone in the Emporia cemetery, although Hoy said he has heard stories of two such tombstones.
So the story goes, some claim to have seen a greenish glow at night at the gravemarker of Arthur Cooper, who was crushed beneath a train in February 1897 at age 25. Some versions of the story have him being killed in 1872.
“That’s the thing about folklore – the facts get moved around,” Hoy said.
But Karen Cope, cemetery manager, offers a more earthly explanation.
Cope said cemetery records notes the Cooper tombstone is highly polished and reflects light from a nearby parking lot. She said the second lowing gravestone mentioned by Hoy is nearby.
“I could see how it could be eerie if you didn’t know that it was there,” Cope said.
Another thing about ghost stories is they often involve someone who died a violent, untimely death as Cooper did.
“I guess that’s because the deceased hasn’t had time to make peace,” Hoy said with a chuckle. “It sure isn’t unusual for them to have died in violent ways.”
Not all ghost stories are found in graveyards. Hoy said stories about curious events also are found on the university campus. He cites the story of the sound of a bouncing basketball in a dormitory room. When somebody opened the door, the room was empty. It turned out the room was occupied by a basketball player who died years earlier in a car accident.
There’s also stories about drama students misplacing stage props, only to have them turn up in plain view where they had searched.
“It can be explained logically, but its more fun to think of a helpful spirit,” Hoy said.