STILL HERE IN SPIRIT A Centennial Ghost Story

September 06, 2016 Posted by: George Jacobi

Black and white historic photo of El Tovar Hotel front porch with several well dressed people reclining in rocking chairs

I have no more explanation for what happened to me than you will have if you chance to see me now. There are things, dark and strange things, that science has no business meddling in. I know, you laugh when you read these melodramatic words. That's ok. This National Park Service Centennial seemed a good excuse to ride the train from Williams to the Grand Canyon, an adventure I wished to have since arriving here at the end of June. Alas, it was a decision now too late to regret.

The historic steam engine returned for the Celebration, pulling ornate passenger cars into the Village, but I needed to ride the rails the day before - to both get a ticket and write this blog in advance of the event. It was a monsoon kind of day, thunderstorms beginning before noon, the rich smell of damp dust in the air.

The lightning strike took place a mile or so outside the Village itself, where the tracks cross Rowe Well Road, and I think it was a direct hit on the rail car I was in. A long blank space came next. The whistle woke me as we were pulling into the Depot. I realized first that I was uncomfortable –the seat I was now in was an old straight-back one –and then I saw that I was alone in the compartment, and became aware that my head hurt terribly. The smell of burnt hair was vivid. It turned out to be my own hair. Still laughing?

My memory tells me that I was carried to the El Tovar Hotel –there was a steep flight of stone stairs, then the sight of that old Oregon Douglas Fir porch roof going by overhead. I remember the odor of mules, the croaks of ravens, and the hissing and creaking of a steam locomotive. They laid me in a small alcove to the left of the main lobby. Some faces loomed above, hands were in my pockets, a wet cloth on my brow. The breath on me smelled like chewing tobacco.

"What is your name?"

I weakly answered, "George".

"What year is it?" someone asked.

"2016".

"It's Nineteen Sixteen, sir," was the reply. "Were you struck directly by the lightning? Perhaps you hit your head?"

From then on I was no longer able to answer;I felt my hold on the world fading. Voices continued. They discussed, in whispers, the odd bills in my wallet, the odd (to them) clothes I was attired in. I suppose I solved most of the problems for them by dying then and there. I kid you not - I rest now in an unmarked grave, yes, cliché and all, in the town graveyard behind the Shrine of the Ages, next to the NPS Headquarters.

But my spirit –my spirit seems to want to hang around the El Tovar, where it finally lost its tenuous grip on the reality you all still enjoy. I can't seem to get out of there.

The alcove has become a little gift shop. It's full of things to buy;perhaps you will bring something home to celebrate your trip to the Grand Canyon on the Centennial of the Park Service. While you're in there, though, be alert. A baseball cap might fling itself off the top rack and bump you in the back. A Grand Canyon souvenir might roll across the floor and bump your feet.

No, these are not accidents. There's no wind in there. Ask the woman at the counter;she'll tell you it's happened to her.

Two Thousand and Sixteen was a great year. I bet you enjoy those beautiful orange sunsets here as much as I once did. Do you see me? Anybody? Can you help me?

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This blog is meant to encourage awareness and thoughtfulness about the Grand Canyon, one of our most precious resources. It is not merely a story of what happens or has happened here, not a cookbook for what you should make of it yourself, but more an example of the many-faceted inspiration the Canyon nurtures in an artist, perhaps in you. Indeed, inspiration may be the Canyon's greatest resource. These words are sincere, my own take on this world, deliberately non-academic and directed toward users of social media. In no way does it represent the policies or opinions of the National Park Service, although it is done under the auspices of that entity, but is offered in gratitude, with my respect and admiration for these soldiers of conservation. George H. Jacobi 2016

Last updated: September 6, 2016

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