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Go Visit a Cemetery!

Go Visit a Cemetery!

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The Deathbed grave referenced in my first book. It resides in Bayview Cemetery, Bellingham, Washington.

I’ve been obsessed with cemeteries since I was a child. It all began when my mom, needing to attend night classes for her Master’s program, hired an unusual babysitter. The lady was nice enough, but she happened to be the daughter of a cemetery caretaker. Yes. Our sitter lived in a graveyard.

On that cold autumn afternoon, darkness descended before my brother and I had so much as swallowed down a decent after school snack. Cozy in the caretaker’s cabin, we started in on our homework when the babysitter encouraged (okay, maybe pushed) us out the front door. “Go get some fresh air before supper.”

I clung to my big brother’s arm, looking at the gray tombstones through my fingers. “What’re we supposed to do out here?” I asked.

“Well, how about hide-and-seek?” she offered. “My brother and I spent hours playing that out here when we were kids.”

That was a long night. And, toward bedtime, I was grateful to see the beam of mom’s headlights flash through the front window. I had nightmares after that. Well, in truth, I’ve always had nightmares. But after that experience, graveyards burrowed under my skin. My new two-headed fascination and phobia began.

FullSizeRenderFast-forward to 2015. Traveling through London with my family, I stumbled across a book, HAUNTED LONDON. During an hour of down-time in the hotel, I read it cover to cover. Inside the author mentioned a place called, “Crossbones Cemetery.” A quick Google search and I found out it was a stone’s throw away from our hotel. I was determined to see it myself. Click here to book a haunted London walking tour!

IMG_6289The Crossbones Cemetery holds somewhere around 14,000 women and their children. There are no gravemarkers and prayers were never uttered over any of the bones within the property grounds. These were London’s castaways. Women of the night or Churchill’s geese for the orange hoods and white cloaks they were required to wear, these women were seen as too steeped in sin to warrant niceties like church rites and grave markers. That was 200 years ago.

Modern Londoners are atoning for the mistakes of their forefathers. On numerous occasions, developers have attempted to morph the property into a parking lot or other profit-churning venture. It’s always been fought and defeated. And now, well, what’s happening leaves me speechless.

IMG_6299Londoners come together once a month at Crossbones Cemetery. After uncovering the names of the women and children, they write those names on pieces of ribbon and tie them onto the surrounding fence. Slowly, they are remembering the dead, honoring their lives and reclaiming those lost souls.

As I tied our flower offering to the fence, I stood in awe. There was an overwhelming sense of peace at Crossbones. And love. And forgiveness.

This week, not because it’s Halloween, but because history lives and breathes in these sacred spaces, walk a cemetery. Take a photo. Tidy the leaves off a grave. And maybe utter a name etched into a tombstone. Who knows what this simple act will do for you or the person buried beneath your feet?

Be Careful What You Wish For!

Be Careful What You Wish For!

black-cab-in-londonWe jumped in the cab at the foot of London’s shiny new landmark, The Shard. Excited to see the hotel we’d call home for the last leg of our stay, we barely noticed the luggage that totterer and shimmied at our feet as we crossed the Thames. As we drove, my family and I agreed, the Shangra-La had been posh in every way. But it was too perfect somehow.  The Shard was merely a glass and metal picture frame, perfect for viewing the historic city from a lofty height but not for experiencing it. Yes, we filled our lungs with smells as we explored the city during the day, filled our stomachs with pub food. We savored old churches and visits to countless museums. But at night, we fell asleep to the twinkle of the London skyline from 46 stories above the bustle, grit and character. We were ready for a change. As the cab neared the corner of Kensington Gardens, we pulled to the curb at the foot of a pink-brick hotel that throbbed with authenticity.

There was an inevitable mix-up during check-in, but after a time, we were given keys to a suite with two adjoining rooms at the back corner of the property. We turned the key and as the door creaked open, the kids buzzed past, ran up the steps to check out room number one, then whizzed past again to see room number two. “This one is ours!” they shouted. I climbed the steps to see a room decorated in black, white and silver and flooded with natural light that came from a generous bank of windows.

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Color palette of our room

My husband and I smiled and settled our things into our room-by-default. We set our luggage down below an oil-painting of twenty or so dogs, hungry ribby dogs. The rest of our room was painted in the same palette of browns, tans and grays. Two small windows and one lamp gave the room a tobacco-stained haze. Giggles from next as the kids set up house kept us from insisting they trade.

The location was ideal, within walking distance to our favorite London pub, The Britannia, we all went to bed feeling fat and happy.

Somewhere past midnight, I woke to the feeling of a cold hand gripping mine, which dangled out from beneath the duvet. It was the cold that made me tuck my hand into the blankets again. Two times more I would wake before morning light to a soft, “Mama.” The second cry caused me to walk the hall and steps up to check the kids next door. They were sound asleep. I smiled at the light they left on in the bathroom and the door they left ajar. I don’t think I was meant to know that they still needed/wanted a nightlight. I returned to bed and tucked the blankets around my ears, then slept once again.

The days after that were busy with plays, museums, trips to every H&M my tween could locate on Google maps. Every night I woke to the quiet, “Mama.” Once, I opened my eyes to see a little girl in a flouncy white dress standing near my side of the bed. She was watching me sleep with a tiny smile etched across her face. I  smiled back at her. You see, I’m no stranger to ghosts and hotels. Click here to see my post about the ghost writer I had on book two.

steve-donna-o-meara-ghost-in-the-hall-at-the-hawthorne-hotel-one-of-america-s-most-hauntedHalf-asleep, I whispered, “I know you’re interested in me because I’m a mom, but, please stop running back and forth in the hallway. You’ll wake up the kids.” Yes, the little girl spirit had been trailing behind me since we’d checked in. I asked her not to follow me into the bathroom, “That’s just plain rude,” I said. And thankfully, she obeyed.

The day of our departure, I did a thorough check of both rooms in search of  forgotten items. As I zipped my daughter’s bag shut, I bit my tongue. You see, we have a couple rules when we travel. Rule 1: Never use the ghost app in a hotel room we have to sleep in. Rule 2: Never talk about any “spirit” activity in the room until we’re checked out and away from the property. I knew the rules, but we were basically checked out. The cab would be here soon. I blurted out, “Have you guys had any ghost stuff happen to you?” There wide eyes and pink cheeks confirmed the truth.

“There’s a white light that follows you everywhere, Mom,” said my teen. “It’s not a bad energy, but it’s always there, like a blur, no matter where you go.”

Then my youngest child confessed, “One night, I woke up and there was a little girl standing over me. She was watching me and sister sleep,” She glanced at the bathroom door, “And there’s a mean woman in the bathroom.”

“Oh, yeah!” interrupted the teen. “She’s horrible. That’s why I never showered here.” She scratched her head and shivered.

On the drive to the airport we exchanged stories, shocked at how they intersected. We were all grateful to be away from the historic hotel and eager to sleep in our own beds that night.

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 10.11.44 AMWe never seek this out, but it happens to us. I guess if we had read all the Travelocity reviews before we’d booked, we would’ve known what we were getting in to. The title of one is, “Not as good as we thought and possibly haunted.”

If you’re a thrill-seeker, check this link to find the five most haunted hotels in London.