Thunder Butte

October 29, 2006

Ghosts of Thunder Butte Follow the Family?

My family is filled with ghostly lore beginning with the days when the Crowleys lived around Thunder Butte. There was the face in the window the night brother Tommie died. There were the spook lights on the prairie – appearing like a pair of headlands traveling in deep snow where no car could go. There was the spectral lady who targeted a neighbor's place one night. Whatever these manifestations are or mean, perhaps they have followed the family as it moved to California and other places. Or, maybe they can simply be found across the country and are part of what makes the landscape so haunted this time of year—as we approach Halloween.

When I was a child in the San Francisco Bay Area, the house was prone to strange noises when no one else was home. Sometimes we thought that there was more to this than simply the settling of the house. Sometimes it might have been the small and barely noticeable earthquakes that regularly rippled the landscape. Other times we were not so sure. Once, when I was about 12 and had to get up early on weekend mornings to deliver newspapers, I was getting dressed in darkness one winter morning when suddenly a caterwauling howling, almost an earsplitting horrible moan literally seemed to grip the house for what seemed like an eternity. I was frozen in the pitch blackness for a moment before running to my sisters' bedroom to see if they were OK. Of course, they had been sleeping peacefully, and only protested when I woke them up. I've never headed for the door and jumped on my bike so fast to head out into the early morning gloom to pick up my newspapers.

The backyard was a place of mystery and very scary on dark, stormy nights. We kept a variety of animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits, and pigeons. All had to be fed, and we took turns—putting it off until as late as possible in the evening, and then running through the darkness to complete the chores—all the while feeling that we were being watched from the shadows behind the trees and bushes. We had an outbuilding we called “The Barn,” which was a place we were all frightened of. It was gloomy, filled with spiderwebs, and someplace we were afraid to play or be caught alone. Sometimes, on windy nights, the door would come free and begin banging as though something in the dark inside of the barn was beckoning, calling for us to come out into the night and meet whatever mysteries lay hidden inside. Woe to the one of us chosen to run out into the darkness with a flashlight to re-latch the barn door.

Some of my sisters believe the property currently inhabited by my parents in the Sierra Nevada foothills is haunted. There is a local story told about some miners who were murdered or somehow met a grisly fate on the property or somewhere nearby during Gold Rush days. But, this may simply be a tale used to help rationalize what some in the family have experienced. One of my sisters tells of sleeping in the basement and being awakened by the television turning itself off and on. Other times, belongings have been moved only to turn up in another corner of the basement. She and others in the family feel that there is a presence in the basement that is at turns mischievous and frightening. My dad, who keeps an office and his camera collection in the basement won't reveal what he really thinks, saying simply, “Oh, it doesn't bother me.” My mother, on the other hand, won't go down to the basement and when asked about it, says “I don't like it”—apparently fearing to give voice to any ideas about what might be happening. Whatever the phenomenon is, it doesn't seem confined only to the basement. One night, when my parents were away, two of my sisters were in the house when the kitchen cabinets started banging for no apparent reason. They both fled the house and would only return reluctantly in broad daylight.

Happy Halloween!

--Mike Crowley
Mike Crowley Sunday, October 29, 2006


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