By Ed Staskus
Lake Erie College is a liberal arts school in Painesville, Ohio not far from where Oliver and Emma lived in Perry. It was founded as a girl’s seminary before the Civil War. It allowed boys to join the girls in 1985. Nobody knew what took so long to get it done. Boys need good schools, too. Oliver, who was the Unofficial Monster Hunter of Lake County, wasn’t planning on going there, but his older sister, Emma, who was his right-hand man, was visiting the school that day with their mother, even though the day was still seven or eight years away.
Their mom had it in mind for her daughter to attend the same school she had attended when the time came. Emma wasn’t so sure. She had heard rumors the school was haunted. She knew full well her brother wasn’t going to be around much to lend a helping hand. He was probably going to be in Boston when the school’s spooks started to ectoplasm and poltergeist her to death.
Oliver had just turned eight. Emma was ten-and-a-half. She was a smart cookie. She reminded Oliver about how brainy she was every day. Oliver had long since learned to ignore her crowing, although he knew without a doubt she was smart, as well as sassy. Sparks sometimes flew fast and furious. He jumped her from behind with cries of “Brainiac Monster!” whenever she let her guard down.
Oliver wanted to go to any school in Boston, so long as it was in Boston, and it was top-notch in the sciences. The Atlantic Ocean was right there, like Lake Erie was right where they lived. Emma and he pedaled to the lake all the time. The big city of Cleveland 30-some miles to the west of their home had grown out of the Western Reserve. Boston was modern but ancient, century piled on century, and had more than its fair share of spooks and monsters. It might not have been the scariest city in America, but it did its best. Oliver thought he could learn a trade there and take care of monster trouble at the same time. He could be a part-time monster hunter in ‘The City of Notions’ and keep himself in pocket money.
There were plenty of troublesome places in the United States, like St. Louis, the most dangerous city in the country, #2 Chicago, the whole state of Texas, and all the other no-law lock and load states. Dangerous was different than scary. Dangerous meant a bad feeling in your brain when bullets were flying. Scary meant a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach when something was spine-chilling.
New Orleans had mayhem, mysteries, and devilry in its roots. It had the mojo hand, but Oliver didn’t like floods, and so Tulane University was out. He had a soft spot in his heart for the Voodoo Queen of the city, however. Marie Laveau was buried near the French Quarter, where people left bottles of booze, handfuls of money, and clumps of flowers. If you needed a favor, all you had to do was knock on her crypt three times. She always got it done. Whenever anybody stole money from her grave, their goose was cooked. She made sure those who deserved bad luck got their fair share of it.
Savannah is one of the cities the American Institute of Parapsychology gets the most reports about. The Mercer House was once the home of Jim Williams, a voodoo-practicing antiques dealer. The house is haunted by the man he killed in an argument. Even though Jim Williams was acquitted in three separate trials, everybody knew he did the dirty deed. The ghost knew it better than anybody and never stopped spooking the place.
In the city’s Bonaventure Cemetery, there was mad laughter. Spirits haunted its grounds. The Pirate’s House restaurant in Savannah is haunted by a buccaneer named Captain Flint. There used to be a tunnel leading from the Rum Cellar to the street. Men would drink at the bar, get drunk, sing sea shanties, pass out, and come to on a ship miles off shore. They had been shanghaied! They were sold to sea captains and forced to set the sails and batten the hatches.
Oliver liked northern climates and disliked soggy humid swampy climates. Savannah’s technical colleges were out. As it was, he sweated up a storm doing his homework. He wished he could be like Thomas Edison and never go to school. He would rather find things out for himself.
He knew there were plenty of ghosts in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin was said to climb down from his statue in front of the American Philosophical Society Library and dance in the streets at night. He didn’t think he could deal with seeing a philosopher dance, so Grim Philly was out, too. When the landline rang he answered it. It was Emma. She was on their mom’s cell phone, something she was supposed to never do.
“How did you get mom’s phone?” he asked.
“Never mind about that,” Emma said. “There’s a ghost dog after me.”
“Oh, don’t worry about him, that’s just Tiberius. He’s not after you. He thinks something else is after you and is trying to protect you.”
Emma wasn’t surprised Oliver knew who and what the ghost dog was. Even though she considered herself much smarter than her little brother, she had to admit he knew everything about monsters near and far.
“Did you see the statue of him?” he asked.
“I saw a dog statue in front of a building, but I didn’t pay any attention to it.”
“Pat him on the head for good luck when you leave.”
Tiberius was a Labrador Retriever that belonged to Harriot Young, a dean of the college at the turn of the 20th century. The dog hung around, wandering the grounds, and attending classes when he wasn’t taking a nap, even though he couldn’t read or write. Everybody knew and loved Tiberius. When he died there wasn’t a dry eye on campus. He was honored with a statue in 1910. It became a tradition to pet the statue for good luck before exams.
Early in 1957 a student woke up in her dorm room in the middle of the night to the sound of a barking dog. The barking wouldn’t let up. She got up to see what the matter was. A friend joined her. They discovered the building was on fire. They ran back inside and woke up the other girls in the dorm. They stood outside in their night clothes as Memorial Hall burned to the ground. Nobody could say afterwards what dog raised the alarm, until they realized it must have been Tiberius, the school’s guardian.
“A ghost dog barking wasn’t all I heard, Ollie,” Emma said. “There are toilets flushing by themselves, lights turning on and off by themselves, doors opening and closing by themselves, moans and groans, and other creepy noises. I’ll tell you the rest of it at home.”
Emma was a sensible girl and wasn’t about to pat any old statue on the head for luck. Shallow men believe in luck, Emma thought. Sassy girls believe in cause and effect. On the other hand, maybe she would just this one time. When she was leaving the campus with her mother she patted the statue of Tiberius on the head.
She didn’t notice the unworldly glow in his eyes as she walked away.
Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Made in Cleveland http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”