As a kid, most movies I saw made me want to actually be in the movie itself. This compulsion lead my best friend and I to initiate what’s basically equivalent to role playing our own story lines with complete creative control, but without having to rely on rolling dice. We usually made the stories up as we went along, culled directly from our active imaginations. It’s a practice commonly referred to as pretending
. One of the earliest memories I have of one of these sessions was back in the summer of 1984.
We lived our characters. If we “played Batman,” we had costumes and props and if we “played Back to the Future,” my buddy wore his down vest a.k.a his “life preserver.” Aside from Masters of the Universe and Super Powers, one of the earliest memories I have of doing this was the day I became a Ghostbuster. This was way before being a Real Ghostbuster was even possible because it was right after my mom took me to see the original Ghostbusters at Movie City 5 in Iselin, NJ in 1984.
After seeing Ghostbusters, my path in life was revealed to me. Although, that same summer I also wanted to enter a karate competition and get a black skeleton body suit, but the Ghostbusters gig actually came in handy sometimes.
Some kids are fearless. It would be unnatural to say I wasn’t scared of anything back then, but as a little tyke I was really only scared of Michael Jackson in Thriller when he had those yellow eyes. Nothing was creepier to me. But when it came to the supernatural and ghostly activity, I loved it. I wanted to be around the supernatural as much as humanly possible. Even before I ever saw Ghostbuters, my favorite attraction in Disneyland was the Haunted Mansion. After my first trip there ever, all I talked about was that ride. My parents still tell me how enthralled I was with seeing the hitchhiking ghosts and how supremely amused I was at having sat by an actual ghost (or so I thought) in our Doom Buggy as the ride came to an end. I was the type of kid who loved all the stuff that scared the crap out of all my friends. It may have been all this conditioning that prepared me for my first ghostly experience.
It’s not often that I have to do much in the way of investigative work to formulate a post for this site. Once in a while though, it helps to return to the scene if details in my brain are sketchy. In preparing to write this post, I felt that I needed to jog my memory since what I’m about to let you in on happened so long ago when I was very young.
First, the back story. When I was a little kid, my older sister had a close friend who we’ll call Mary. It was no big secret that I had a major crush on the angelic Mary. Although I would get all weird and uncomfortable if anyone asked me about my dreamy, dirty blonde maiden or mentioned my infatuation for her in conversation, I still didn’t mind advertising the fact that I adored her, it just had to be on my own volition.
Mary’s appearances were rare. Only getting to see her maybe a few times a year amplified the occasions that I did see her. The only sucky part was that she wasn’t there to see me, she was there to hang out with her pal, my sister. When the time came that the two of them would get together, I knew that the time I’d get to be in her presence was limited. And yes, I was the annoying little brother, but I complied when I was told that they needed to hang out by themselves with no interference.
Once in a while, when the situation presented itself, I was invited to hang out with them. Those times were few and far between, but I savored those moments. And it wasn’t just to be able to hang out with the object of my desire, I also loved being able to hang out with my sister too.
Early on, Mary lived fairly close to us, but she moved about 1,400 miles away due to her father’s job. You can imagine how much more rare her visits became. Fortunately, Mary’s grandparents used to live in an old house a few towns away from us, and when she did come to visit, maybe once or twice a year, she’d stay with them. Their development was filled with giant houses built around the turn of the century. As I eluded to, I’m not sure why, but I was invited along with my sister to go to Mary’s grandparents house one day when she was visiting.
When we pulled up to the house in my Mom’s early ’70s Chevy Caprice, a car that felt like a 2-door Peacekeeper missile to a preschooler, I was in awe of the “mansion” that towered before us. It wasn’t an actual mansion, but to me, it sure looked like one. With an imagination as wild as mine was, this place could easily have had 37 bedrooms inside for all I knew. My house had 3 and I thought that was a lot.
Just like plenty of houses built during the same time, the interior seemed to be made of some kind of expensive wood. I’d never been in a house quite as stately before. We were in a middle class town, so the property wasn’t exactly built on a sprawling estate. My feeling probably stemmed from the fact that I was a little kid and it all seemed so grand at the time and different than what I was used to.
Perusing the inside, I noticed the seemingly never ending staircase, which immediately reminded me of the scene in Ghostbusters when they took the emergency stairs to the top of Dana Barrett’s apartment building. Thinking back, the staircase reminds me more of the one in the Bates house in Psycho rather than the scene in Ghostbusters, but I hadn’t scene Psycho yet.
It didn’t take more than a few milliseconds before my curiosity took control of me and launched me up the stairs without any regard for the inhabitants of the house. I sped up the stairs with reckless abandon. What if I’d be walking in on someone getting out of a shower, or waking someone up who was taking a nap? I didn’t care and I finally made it to the first landing. There was an open window adorned with white drapes that were slowly lifting by themselves (or so I thought) due to the incoming breeze. There was something so haunting about the silky, white, almost see through drapes, especially on such an eerily calm day. It was cloudy, warm, and comfortable, but not hot or humid enough to need air conditioning. In fact, it looked like it might storm later that day. As I toured one of the upper floors (there were at least 3 levels and an attic) I noticed that most of the other windows in the house had a similar drape situation as well.
The breeze moving the drapes made me feel like this place had to be haunted. I ran back down the stairs to make sure my sister and Mary were still there. Oblivious to the fact that Mary was standing behind one of the drapes, she jumped out at me and thought she scared the living crap out of me, but little did she know that it was merely a matter of a day or two since I’d seen Ghosbusters so instead of getting scared, I just got excited. “This could be my first job” I thought to myself. Next thing I knew, I was pretending to bust ghosts while upstairs in her grandparents house.
We couldn’t find my sister but I assumed she was hiding to try and scare me too. As Mary and I descended the stairs, my sister seemed to have come out of nowhere before us. That’s when they started getting serious. Keep in mind, the girls were only a few years older than me, but we were all very young at the time. They started telling me that they planned on trying to scare me, but instead they began telling me all about the ghosts that they believed haunted the house. Just as I expected. Janine, don’t worry about ringing the buzzer, I got this one. Sorry about the bug eyes thing, I’ll be checking out Mary, uh, I mean Mary’s grandparent’s house.
It did cross my mind that if this house was haunted, that’s precisely why I was asked to join my sister – to bust some ghosts! Of course! I listened intensely to Mary and my sister describe the array of mysterious occurrences that happened in the house. Mind you, these are stories that were actually reiterated by her grandparents to my own parents, meaning this was the real deal, not just a couple of ball busting kids trying to scare the youngest one.
I heard all about bedroom doors that slammed by themselves and the aforementioned drapes on the windows continued to ripple even after the windows are closed. I knew something was up with those damn drapes. They went on to describe hearing people walking up the creaky wooden stairs, but no one was ever seen.
I believed ALL of it, and I was taking detailed mental notes as if I just accepted a job to eliminate a focused non-terminal repeating phantasm or a class 5 full roaming vapor at the Sedgewick Hotel. I would’ve given off a more professional vibe, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that Kenner marketed an actual Proton Pack and Ghost trap toy. Armed with nothing but an imaginary proton pack, I swore I would protect the girls if anything happened. It wasn’t about showing off or being brave in front of my princess. It was now about defeating evil spirits who may not have liked us being in their old dwelling playing around. I knew how things worked, even back then and I didn’t need Tobin’s Spirit Guide either.
The fun didn’t end after the girls kept trying to freak me out. That didn’t work because I just kept getting more excited. Another kid might’ve cried and begged to go home. I wanted to stay forever.
As if the day wasn’t overwhelming enough, Mary asked if we wanted to go try on costumes. When the hell could any kid refuse a good cosplay session? I’ve always loved dressing up for Halloween so this was a super appealing suggestion to me. We made our way back up several flights of stairs and then it was time to go into the attic.
The attic was huge. It was a quintessential attic that you’d see in a movie. It was filled with dusty old creepy paintings in ornate gold frames, seasonal decorations, ancient photos, and boxes of random knick-knacks. The Goonies hadn’t been released yet, but if you remember when Mouth, Chunk, Brand, Data, and Mikey were all up in the attic discovering all the cool artifacts up there, this was very similar. There were big old wooden trunks filled with costumes and masks that we tried on. My sister and Mary wore beads and put on crazy hats while trying to act glamorous. I wasn’t part of their little costume party since there was mostly just girl stuff and I was on important business to take care of. I was concentrating on locating the evil spirit and locking it away indefinitely.
My endorphins were off the charts and I didn’t think my imagination could get any crazier at that point, but it did. We left the attic and Mary and my sister brought me over to a small compartment in the wall outside a couple of the bedrooms. Mary opened it and told me it was a trap door. Where the hell was I? This was a haunted house! It was actually a dumb waiter! I thought a dumbwaiter was a secret elevator for kids. Other than Webster, I personally never knew of anyone rich enough in my limited circles during that time to have one of these. At that moment it was so cool and mysterious. In my mind, it very well could’ve been a trap door.
It really felt like it was just the three of us. As I made my way up the stairs even further, I remember the house being virtually empty except for “the spirits,” that my sister and Mary told me about. To you, the reader, it sounds logical that my sister may have informed Mary that we had recently seen Ghostbusters and they devised a plan to try to freak me out. A game of “hide and scare,” if you will. Little did they know that I was on my way to becoming an official pint sized junior Ghostbuster and it would only enhance my experience “playing Ghostbusters.”
If you ask my sister about this, she’ll remember the day, but not the details. That’s most likely because it wasn’t as monumental of a time for her as it was for me. Coming off seeing Ghosbusters for the first time ever and getting to hang out with Mary, I was pretty much on a high that whole summer. A young boy let loose in the immense antique abode in the early ’80s, just call me Danny Torrance. Only I was a kid turning the corners of the halls of the house in an imaginary Ecto-1, not getting scared by the Grady Twins, but my big sister and her friend…my first crush.