Believe It or Not
Anyone that has spent any time in the Old Jail has a ghost story. Over the past four days, Andra has told you mine.
This is MTM, and the ghost story you have been reading really happened. Mostly.
Of course, my way of telling the story has always been drier, more factual. When I was on the faculty at the CAC-Charleston I had shop privileges, and the CAC Shop was in the tower part of the jail. One late night I was in the shop: it was close to midnight, I was alone (as far as I knew), and I was working some wood. I’m certain all the doors between the shop and the rest of the jail were secure; the padlocks were all on my side of the doors, and I saw that they were locked. Moving back and forth between the table saw room and the jointer room and focused on my work, I stopped cold when I came back into the jointer room and the door to the jail proper was wide open. You now know what I saw: a single light burning above an empty chair in an empty room.
But reporting the facts short-changes the truth. Herein lies the ingenious method of our beloved blogger and author: Andra weaves a web of words, characters and settings, enticing the unsuspecting to succumb to her storytelling. Before her series, I never much thought of the person that sat in that chair, of how they got there, of what they experienced in its clutches. The soul of the torturer was as opaque as the crumbling masonry walls that soaked in the shrieks, the sound of flagellated flesh, the cries of the vanquished.
Like John Coffey in the Green Mile, she breathes life into words….Each night I get to watch Andra’s alchemy of taking a sliver of reality and turning it into universal truth. Good storytelling polishes facts, impressions and lies until they shine with resonant beauty. Whether it is one of her mind-blowing fiction series or a random daily post, the inspiration is always a pale shadow of her resultant creation. More than anything, the scenario is the setup for developing a character and their voice, in a similar manner to how she approached developing the essence and mannerisms of any character she played when she was acting. Her inveterate “What am I blogging about tomorrow?” can lead the most mundane prompt on a wild ride that eventually lands in your inbox (if you are wise enough to subscribe). Imagine the riches begging to be unleashed in her novels!
Like all the best stories, ghost stories are a shared commodity. They belong to everyone: the teller, the listener, the subjects and the spirits. The chill we feel, the morbid curiosity that draws us in, the disbelief and the dread unite us in the bonds of human uncertainty and faith. The continuity of architecture is an empty vessel without the stories that play out within their walls.
It is a tragedy that the Old Jail has been turned into a cash cow for an ostensible institution of higher learning. Tasked with the charge of preserving and restoring the jail, its current owners have let it fester and fall apart. Instead of rejuvenating it, they reap from it. The paddy-wagon in the picture from day one of the series? Sold for scrap. The jail itself has been turned into a spirit sideshow, with ‘ghost tours‘ nightly. And it is slowly dissolving before our eyes, until it too is merely an apparition, no longer able to contain the years of human experience that have given it its own soul.
My biggest fear is now that the ghosts’ stories are for sale, that the ghosts will be moving on out. And the tragedy of that is that the ghosts’ stories will become fossils, not the living breathing reminders of lives lived and lost, often violently or tragically, of our common bonds of life and mortality.
This guest post by MTM ends the series Jailhouse Rock, set in and around the Old Charleston Jail. If this is your first visit to the series, please click here to read the first installment, here for the second, here for the third, here for the fourth, here for the fifth, and here for the final installment. And, if you’re ever in Charleston, do not miss the Old Jail….just don’t take the blasted ‘ghost tour.’