Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ghost Hunt in Lund, Nevada

This is where we're going today.
We're meeting friends in Lund, a tiny town in western Nevada.

In 1991, Stephen King drove along US 50 as part of a cross country trip. He stopped at Ruth, a ghost town near Ely. Studying the abandoned city, King fantasized about the fate of the last residents. King then heard a local legend about how the ghosts of Chinese miners, who died while trapped in a cave-in, can be seen crossing Highway 50 to haunt the city of Ruth. King merged these details into his own story, including references to The Loneliest Road in America, which became the novel Desperation.

We're driving Highway 50 and searching for ghosts is our objective, too. Dee is a professional ghost-hunter. He hunts for skeletons in closets and in libraries, on microfilm, in archives, in letters and in people's memories. Usually he does enough homework before a project even starts to know where to start digging. On the way to our first excavation he introduces me to the main characters in our story. His animation is palpable, and I can already tell he's haunted by them.

Dee not only hunts for ghosts, he learns to love them, and weirdly enough they love him back. We can always tell. They lead him to clues and secrets that will flesh out their story. The most important part of Dee's work is writing down the things he learns in a book for their loved ones. The ancestor will then be known, appreciated, forgiven and understood through the experiences and circumstances Dee describes. It's exhilarating to bind families through stories.

There's sometimes a family member who planned on writing the history himself, but got lost in the graveyard of old newspaper clippings, and day-timer notes. Years have passed and there's still just a jumble of jottings filling boxes instead of a book. He's no closer to sharing his information with the family than he was when he started accumulating.

Dee helps dust him off, and listens to the frustrated disappointment of the would-be ghost buster. He's extremely understanding, recognizing the desire, and the difficulty in fitting the hard work around a real life. Even doing it full-time, with 25 years of experience, and a well-developed method to his madness, Dee knows the obstacles to uncovering a life-story. But he's very familiar with the steps to producing a book that can be shared in a set amount of time. He's a starter and a finisher, and an objective historian who knows what's valuable and what's trivial.

Unlike Stephen King, who can fill in blanks with fantasy, Dee must find and verify facts in a variety of places, using a number of skills. The well-intentioned Uncle Doug doesn't have the time to dig. Reluctantly he hands over the shovel and then becomes a great asset to the investigation. With his connections, Dee gets lists of places to hunt and people to interview.

For this history, a sister has already emerged in that role, full of helpful information and anxious to make the introductions to wary, older relatives. She has caught the vision of how history will make a difference in her family: descendants will feel guidance, empathy, comfort, understanding, and love in both directions as they become acquainted with their ancestors. Relationships in families are not affected by death.

On this trip to Lund, Dee will conduct several oral interviews with folks who actually knew our current ghost in real-life. These friends from many seasons of life, create a well-rounded picture and balanced personality. The ghost is emerging and ready to get acquainted.

This is when the relationship starts: Dee and the ghost begin bonding. I've said it many times—Dee's best friends (and most enthusiastic clientele) are all dead! But they're still real. Dee's joy is introducing great-grandchildren to ancestors, giving them a key to their past.

Matthew Heiss, archivist in the LDS church history department, recently said, "Without a history, we are like people with amnesia. When we have a record of our past, we have a memory."

So we'll be watching for ghosts as we travel the Loneliest Road in America. I'm excited to track down a few and hear what they have to say!

Get acquainted with a few of your own ghosts. You know the drill: Look at pictures of your grandma, visit your mom's high school, reminisce with your sister, drive by your childhood home, write a description of your dad when you were little, re-read your childhood diary and figure out who you were talking about.

Visit your Opa's office.

There are friendly ghosts on even the loneliest stretches of life.


kenju said...

Very good advice. Now, if only I had started when I was younger - I might be half-way there.


Terrific post. I fell in love with this same kind of ghost hunting twenty years ago. It touched all my Agatha Christie instincts and led me to stotytelling. You do such a marvelous job of describing the process and the passion that drives the search. Appreciate the ending - which urges folks to start their own searches and capture their family stories.