One day I was having a semi-serious discussion with some of the Friends about paranormal activity within the cemetery and in general. I have always made the joke that I think I must be "paranormally challenged" (maybe I'm eligible for a special license plate) because I have never encountered any ghosts within the cemetery. It's the live ones, not the dead ones, that tick me off.
I have actually had a few visits before...Commander Lingo when he died, as well as my dad a few times. But I saw them with my "inner eye", not the ghostly images which have become the staple of often-poor fiction.
Since everyone always seems to want to hear a ghost story, maybe the following will satisfy them...
Early in the morning, maybe a few times a month, I would notice a woman in her late 60's or early 70's coming into the cemetery. I always greeted her, as is our custom, and she would never say anything, but the giving me of a weak smile was enough to suffice. She always had a string-handled department store bag with her, what, in New Orleans, we would call a "Schwegmann's bag".....a Macy's bag for all of you Yankees. She could have been a family member; remember, "families first" is the motto of the Project. Not connecting the two, I had also noticed that fresh flowers from interments would disappear rather quickly. And looking back I can also attest that the average number of interments is about 2-4 per month. No big deal with the flowers. They only last a short period of time, only up to two weeks or so, and family members would also take flowers to keep as mementos.
Well, one day I went out to the French Quarter to visit. Sometimes I would stand-in at the Famous Door, or the Jazz Cafe, which no longer exists, especially before Sammy Alcorn passed away. When I would take a break, after the world cooled down, I would stroll over towards Jackson Square. There is the artist district which surrounds the Square.
There she was. She had a card table set up which was filled with lovely red and yellow roses, carnations, etc. I recognize cemetery flowers; it goes with the territory. When I saw her I admonished her as only someone from New Orleans can do. She suddenly stopped showing up at the cemetery. It didn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out at this point that she would read the obits and go out to collect the flowers and bring them out to the French Quarter to sell.
At least a year or so later I was talking with an artist friend who still works at Jackson Square. When I asked him about the lady who was selling the flowers, he mentioned that she had passed away. Sad. But something happened months later which scared me more than I have ever been scared in my whole life.
People ask me about being scared while I'm in the cemetery. Believe it or not, I feel safer in the cemetery than walking down the streets most of the time. They also ask me if I've ever seen ghosts. I've had a few very personal experiences with ghosts before; I still have to say that, within the cemetery, at least, that I must be "paranormally challenged". I guess they know me and don't mind having me around. I am more worried in general about the condition of the cemetery that it is actually the live ones instead of the dead ones who cause me grief.
But this one night I had an experience which is very fitting for a ghost story. It was during Mardi Gras or Jazzfest, a time when many people visit the city. We always pull extra time, making sure that people aren't messing with the cemetery. We have lost too many artifacts and plaques and certainly are never happy under any circumstances when it happens repeatedly. What happened in Greenwood Cemetery in 2003 was unacceptable...and you better hope I'm in a good mood if I catch you in there after hours.
Well, I took a nap on my sleeping bag. We set hours as we see fit and (of course) make regular reports to the City. Being a light sleeper, I became completely awake when I heard a sound coming from the main gate. You can hear just about everything at night in the cemetery. It was about 10pm. I got up and walked over to the main aisle.
There she was, walking towards me from the main gate. She had the same string-handled bag which she had always carried. We noticed each other at approx. the same moment. Her eyes grew very wide when she recognized me. My eyes also grew VERY wide when I recognized her. We both stopped in our tracks. Not a word was spoken for what seemed like an eternity. Then she turned around and walked back to the main gate, hopped over it and went up the street.
I was still standing completely still. Then I started to laugh. Ghosts don't normally have to hop over the gate to get into the cemetery. It seems my artist friend was mistaken. She hadn't passed away. He had been thinking of someone else. We had had a burial that morning and she must have figured that if she came late at night that she might miss seeing me. But I'm still wondering who was the most scared in that eternity, which had lasted all of 30 seconds or so...
Copyright 2001, Sean M. Perry