Trails of Ghost Stories

The following is a post from Joeth Zucco, Senior Project Editor at UNP. 

I live in a spooky neighborhood. On fall mornings when I head out for a run with my dog, Blue, the darkness feels overwhelming. And the sounds in the shadows—someone running down the street, automatic sprinklers starting up, the wind rocking a fallen trashcan back and forth on the street, or two tomcats with their yowling meows challenging each other—just add to the atmosphere.

As Halloween and the longer nights of fall draw close, I like to grab A Guide to the Ghosts of Lincoln, read a few stories, and check out the sites and sights. A couple weeks ago, I recruited two of my running friends who live in the same spooky neighborhood, and we headed out for an evening run with Blue.

Our first stop was “The Haunted Bike Path.” The story takes place on one of Lincoln’s busiest trails. It was nearly dark when we arrived “where the Rock Island crosses under a particular boulevard.” About a year ago the bridge above was replaced and some of the spookiness disappeared. This is how Boye described the original trail:

In order to approach this place from either direction, you must pass through a long tunnel of suffocating growth. Trees and bushes form a thick jungle of brambles that encloses the bike path. There is no way out. Don’t look for help from others on the path, for no one loiters here for long. As if sensing this tragic and sorrowful place, bikers and pedestrians won’t even slow down here (58).

Running on the haunted bike path (Rock Island Trail, Lincoln, Nebraska).

It was quite busy the night we ran on the trail. As we approached, the overhead lighting came on. Some skateboarders were hanging out (loitering?), a family of six took a slow walk, and another family with small kids rode their bikes north on the trail. We listened for the “faint weeping.” We stopped and quietly waited for the “story on the wind,” but there was no wind. Blue didn’t sense anything except the urge to keep running. So we ran.

Darkness was settling in as we turned off the path to head west. Our next stop was a few pages later in the book, “Near Twenty-Second and Harrison.” I’ve walked, run, and driven past this corner a lot over the years, and I’ve always tried to figure out which house Boye is talking about. Erin and Dawn have too, and as we ran past we were no closer to figuring it out. We didn’t hear any knocking or feel anything rush past, so we continued on our way toward Irvingdale Park.

I don’t like to run through the park in the dark because to me it’s just too spooky, but we were on the trail of ghosts, and I wasn’t alone. Dawn, Erin, Blue, and I made our first stop on the bridge described in “Shapes in the Fog around Lake Street Lake.” We looked up and down the creek. It was quiet. But in Boye’s account three girls on their way home from the pool heard a noise from below the bridge.

“It was like wind,” she said. “The sound was like someone blowing air across the top of a bottle of pop, only deeper . . . bigger.”

She stopped her friends’ chatter, and all three listened to the noise. Together they leaned over the west side of the bridge. What they saw at first did not frighten them. A man, but not really a man, sat slumped over on a large stone block just below them. Each girl felt something was different about the figure, something they would later describe as “unreal.” One of them spoke, “Is he okay?” but as soon as she did the three of them suddenly realized what they saw was not of this world. “He just kind of faded into thin air” (53–54).

Across the bridge, we continued on the path through the park, crossed Seventeenth Street, and turned down Lake Street toward the lake. The lake is not much of a lake these days. It’s been drained but you can definitely see where it once was. The area is low enough to hold fog some mornings, and the streetlights cast an eerie glow on the area. In this account, Boye says that most stories of the Lake Street Lake involve dogs.

beagles who run after rabbits but stop suddenly at the edge of the park, as if colliding with a brick wall; friendly, happy golden retrievers who become whimpering, recalcitrant weenies the moment they approach the place; and stalwart Dobermans who turn vicious, barking and growling at an unseen enemy (56).

After sniffing around and satisfied we were in a good place, Ol’ Blue plopped down in the grass, took a couple bites of the delicious green grass, and waited as Dawn, Erin, and I looked toward the lake hoping for some blurry wisp of ghost to appear.

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