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1922 Basement Caper

Becky Burrichter, New York, USA
April 2001

This story was told to me when I was a small child by my grandmother, Loretta Johnson. Grandma J. is the reason I believe in spirits and this is the first ghost story I ever heard.

My great-grandmother died of consumption (tuberculosis) when Grandma J. was just 13 years old. My great-grandma had survived the influenza epidemic in the United States (1918-1919) to die of this equally as pernicious disease that still had no known cure in 1922.

It was common in those days in the underdeveloped cities of the United States, to lie the body out in a room of the house for the wake. Great-Grandma was so positioned after her death, which freaked out her young children to no end (there were ten small children in the family, about half were younger than Grandma J.).

The house in which Grandma J. lived still stands in its original location off of Maryland Street near Como Lake in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was built before the turn of the century. It was heated by a single wood-burning stove that was located in the kitchen of the house and, of course, the basement was dirt. Her family kept the vegetables they grew in their back yard in the basement. Since they were Romanian immigrants and very poor, potatoes, cabbage, and coffee comprised Grandma J.'s diet.

One night, shortly after the burial, Great-Grandpa Weinburger, Grandma J.'s father, took an oil lamp into the basement to gather enough potatoes for the evening meal. Grandma J., her grandmother Ann (my great-great grandmother), and most of her brothers and sisters were gathered in the kitchen, keeping warm by the stove. They were all shocked when Great-Grandpa W. came tearing up the stairs, white as a sheet, his extinguished oil lamp in his hands.

Great-Great-Grandma Ann asked her son what had happened in the basement. Great-Grandpa W. explained that he had walked down to the basement, set his lamp on the floor, and commenced gathering the potatoes. Suddenly he heard a whoosh and looked to the side to see his deceased wife standing near the lamp with a sly smile on her face. She disappeared, the oil lamp was knocked over by an unseen force, and immediately was extinguished. After the lamp went out, Grandpa W. heard laugher, "Hah, hah, hah, hah." He quickly grabbed the lamp and tore up the stairs, scared out of his wits.

After this incident, none of the children in the family would go into the basement.

Becky Burrichter, New York, USA
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