Of ghosts and bones and vitamin D (on Halloween, before the election)
It’s a perfect time for a spooky tale of specters and midnights and skeletons. Well, how about a spooky story about a ghost haunted by his own bones? And to send a few more shivers down your spine, this story comes wrapped up with a history lesson—Boo!
It's a perfect time for a spooky tale of specters and midnights and skeletons. Well, how about a spooky story about a ghost haunted by his own bones? And to send a few more shivers down your spine, this story comes wrapped up with a history lesson—Boo!
"People who are badly misshapen," Simpkins explains, "or who have any physical or mental abnormalities, carry them into the spirit world after death." Simpkins is "second-class" because he's bow-legged. He pulls back his robes to expose his "phosphorescent skeleton." "He was," Mead observes, "the most hopelessly and ridiculously bow-legged individual I had ever seen." In life his legs had not hindered his success in business and society, but in the spirit world, he complains, "caste will exclude you from the higher spirit circles, unless you are just right." Their conversation is interrupted when an eerie parade of second-class ghosts appears on the road—"hunchbacks, several deaf and dumb ones … male and female cranks and lunatics … and divers other ghostly freaks and monstrosities," all shuffling by on their way to the Zion Grove Camp Meeting grounds. The ghost is chairing the convention and hopes to be elected president of the Unfortunate Spirits. His campaign speech is to be on the question, "Can Second-Class Ghosts Be Happy?" Eager to get to the meeting, the ghost excuses himself, promising that if Mead will "not stir from this spot," he will return and let him know the outcome of the vote.
The modern reader recoils at the casual mockery of people—or ghosts—with disabilities in Mead's story, titled "The Bow Legged Ghost." And while no one should expect a cultural satire from over a century ago to hew to modern rules for respectful discussion of disabilities, Mead's attitudes seem as remote to modern sensibilities as the spectral plane is to Mead's narrator—a powerful vantage point for seeing what has changed in our attitudes … and what hasn't.
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