Halloween is the season for ghost stories, but the Rim country comes up short in that department.
"Please help," said the urgent appeal I received a few years ago, "We need any information regarding haunted roads, ghost houses, time warps, phantoms ..." It seems they were writing a book, but I was hard pressed to give them any help from our neck of the woods.
You may remember that several years ago a semi-truck was found abandoned on the Rim. The driver was missing, and the national news picked it up as a possible abduction by extraterrestrial beings.
Some time later, they found the poor fellow's skeleton.
Some folks claim the lodge at Tonto Natural Bridge is haunted. A crew building the new trails was living at the lodge and the noises made by the old building in the night gave rise to several ghost stories. I slept there in 1959 and 1961 and never encountered any ghosts. Of course, the photo in the dining room, purported to be the mother of the first bridge settler, David Gowan, has eyes that follow you as you walk by it. But mother Gowan was never there herself, so her ghost probably did not find its way from Scotland to the bridge.
In 1999, columnist Myndi Brogdon wrote in the Roundup of a 14-year-old girl whose house in northwest Payson was haunted. The ghost appeared to be a young woman who "wore a dress, poofy and big at the bottom, with fitted sleeves and ruffles up around the neck." Her long hair was pulled back and "she has a blemish-free face" an ideal for any teenager. The apparition would turn lights on and open doors, and her face was fearful as though asking for help. The girl, whose mother would not believe her stories, only saw the ghost for moments at a time, but something scribbled on her homework and turned off the TV while she was watching it.
I would have expected a ranch house like the Doll Baby west of Payson to have a ghost story. After all, many families have lived there and family members have died there. Little Carrie Bee McDonald is buried not far out in the yard from the ranch house. Sure enough, one night while visiting the Doll Baby I was talking with ranch foreman David David and Mary Armstrong, who, with her family, owns the ranch.
"It started with my niece," Mary said. "It's always in that original ranch house. Two of my nieces have wakened from their sleep, looked out and seen a ghost outside the house. And they are pretty bright girls."
David confirmed that the girls had seen the same thing at different times. It was a woman with a baby in her arms, and the baby's eyes were glowing bright red. Mary added, "Then my brother said he was sleeping one night, and he woke up feeling this tremendous pressure on his chest. It was as if things were swirling around the room, but he could not get up out of the bed. Something was holding him down."
At that, another person present suggested it sounded like a heart attack. "No," insisted Mary. David filled in what had happened earlier that evening. Mary's brother heard somebody at the back door and when he went to it, someone was pushing from the outside. Trying to hold the door closed did no good, and finally the pressure was so great it sent him reeling all the way back into the kitchen. After that, he returned to bed, and later felt that pressure on his chest.
The realist in our conversation protested. "How could he go back to bed after that?" David David answered, "I don't know." And then went on to tell another instance. A cowhand who lived out there had gone outside to gather firewood, setting it by the back door. Upon returning, the firewood was all gone. Another night when the air was perfectly still, the cowboy said the front door began slamming back and forth, out of control.
Just at that moment, in all of these tales, a blue heron made a weird screaming noise outside in the trees along the river. It seemed quite timely as we gave a start.
David went on with a report from another fellow working at the ranch. It seems an old tractor suddenly started up by itself in the middle of the night. They were all so scared they just let it run until it burned up all the fuel.
David's own experiences of ghosts at the Doll Baby were more limited.
"One night, I was sound asleep and there was this big crash. It woke me up, and the wastebasket from the bathroom was lying on the bedroom floor turned upside down. There was no wind, nobody else in the house, no animals. I couldn't even go back to sleep for a long time."
Yet another time when David had guests sleeping in the original ranch house, the lady woke up screaming because she had seen someone. Local lore says that there was a murder there once, but no documentation goes with such a story. Perhaps some of those still living who made the Doll Baby their home could tell us more.
In the meantime, we will just have to admit ghosts are few and far between in the Rim country probably too busy reliving the great days of riding the range.