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October 27, 2016

A Halloween Ghost Story

The blogger is too lazy to write anything relevant so instead here’s a scary story that really happened

Back in my early 20s I managed to get a job as a security guard for the first time. I was attending an institution of higher learning during the day and wanted a night job where I didn’t have to do any work, at least not very much work since after midnight there was almost nobody to watch and criticize me for reading and listening to the radio and occasionally dozing off. While all too many of my daytime coworkers were wannabe cops who took the job seriously, like most of the night shift security I understood full well that my sole function was to drastically lower insurance rates by being a warm body on the premises.

I didn’t encounter any serious criminality working for this particular security outfit, but I did have a couple of otherworldly ghostly encounters. Okay not really. But maybe. During the course of my life I’ve had more than a few real honest not kidding encounters with apparitions and such, but nobody believes me so I rarely mention them. We’ll stick with agreed upon surface reality here and that way everybody will be okay. Mostly. So let me tell you about The Lady In White.

A Recent Photo Of The Ryan Mansion In Rockland County, NY
A Recent Photo Of The Ryan Mansion In Rockland County, NY

My supervisor at the security job was a fat middle aged jerk who always wore a suit and a smirk and resembled the sexual predators that I would occasionally encounter when I was a teenager, creatures that would pull up to me in their big sedans, open the passenger door and pat the seat. Think Rush Limbaugh. For no particular reason he had it in for me, he took great delight in sending me to jobs that he thought were the most undesirable.

He assigned me to a big rambling old mansion surrounded by semi-wooded land that at the time was the headquarters for a mining corporation called Phelps Dodge. This big old hulk had been built in the 1800s by a wealthy robber baron named Thomas Ryan, thus it was called the Ryan Mansion by most. For most of the first half of the 20th Century it had been abandoned and vandalized until inexplicably in 1951 Phelps Dodge decided to renovate it for their own use.

It was an astonishing place, with 44 rooms, 13 fireplaces, an original electric elevator and a greenhouse. The company president’s office was once the private chapel with a high round domed ceiling that had reportedly sported a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel painting by Michelangelo, but, unfortunately, had been whitewashed over when the building was renovated due to water damage. In the basement was a long records room with a gorgeous blond hardwood floor that had once been a bowling alley, I was told it was not automatic and required servants to repeatedly set up the pins.

Robber Baron Thomas Ryan In 1913, Who Ordered Built The Mansion Which He Called “Montebello”
Robber Baron Thomas Ryan In 1913, Who Ordered Built The Mansion Which He Called “Montebello”

Next to the bowling alley records room was a special climate controlled room that I believe was once the kitchen. This room contained The Computer, an IBM 360 the size of a short school bus, and directly across from it an air handler approximately the same size that kept the temperature and the humidity just so. This was before microchips, this big old pig had way less computing power than the phone in your pocket. But it was a god that had to be appeased by a cadre of mysterious priests who fed it data and received the results... that is, when it worked.

The big front doors of the building opened directly into a lobby that was dominated by a massive winding staircase. It was designed to impress visitors, indeed the entire house was designed to impress. Even as an office building, stripped of all the fine furnishings it once had and with its rooms converted to offices it made first time visiting jaws drop.

But I have to say, for a single person all alone in this hulk, guarding the place from midnight to 8AM in the middle of a deserted overgrown grounds, it could be... unnerving. This is why my sadistic supervisor assigned me here. Because you see, it was generally believed by everyone who came in contact with the building, including all of the daytime office employees, that it was haunted by a lively serious ghost.

Ida Ryan When She Was Still Substantial

Ida Ryan When She Was Still Substantial

The apparition was referred to as The Lady In White. She was the wife of the wealthy robber baron Ryan, her name was Ida and she died in 1917 inside the mansion of heart disease. Or, as the story I’d heard went, she died of a broken heart because her beloved eldest son turned out to be an idle brat. It was said she installed the bowling alley in the basement to entice him into staying home, but to no avail.

Ida, so it was generally believed, did not like what her house had become after her death, a place of mercenary commerce. Anytime something went wrong during the course of the day, equipment failing, communications waylaid, or any other general snafu, it was attributed to Ida’s interference. Supposedly this was said tongue in cheek, but most persons I’d heard say these things had a look and a tone in their voice as they blamed her that did not sound completely sarcastic to me.

In particular it was believed that the one thing Ida hated more than anything else inside her building was the IBM 360. The damn thing was supposed to calculate the finances of the corporation and spit out spreadsheets, reams of connected pieces of paper with little holes all along the sides which were used by ratchet wheels inside the printer to move the paper with a godawful clackity clack. Yes, this was at the dawn of civilization.

A Priest Trying To Make An IBM 360 Work, A Scene I Often Observed At The Ryan Mansion

A Priest Trying To Make An IBM 360 Work, A Scene I Often Observed At The Ryan Mansion

More often than not the computer beast would stop functioning for reasons that the priests who serviced it would find perplexing. They would remove racks of electronics the size of top desk drawers from the machine and puzzle over the wiring. Then they would shake their heads and attribute the glitches and mysterious failures to Mrs. Ryan being particularly strong that day or “in a mood.”

It was actually true, as I and others observed, that the machine was most likely to stop functioning when the moon was full or nearly so, which is when Mrs. Ryan was considered by one and all to be at her most malicious. When certain lights would flash and alarms go off during my shift I was expected to call the high priests via pager to deal with the problem. Thus they would arrive at some horrible hour of the early morning bleary eyed to frown at the machine and pull out the racks and curse The Lady In White.

The reason I was given this job in the first place was because the last two midnight shift guards had quit abruptly. The employee two before me simply walked off the job and when they tracked him down said he never wanted to go back there again. As for my predecessor, it seems he ran in a panic all the way out to the highway, about a mile, and at a well lighted strip mall used a pay phone to announce his resignation.

Thomas Ryan Mausoleum In Virginia… But Where Is Ida Buried?

Thomas Ryan Mausoleum In Virginia… But Where Is Ida Buried?

Okay, I’m not making this up. Both of these fellows reported that as they were doing their hourly rounds they came into the front lobby and saw The Lady In White descending the big staircase. One of them, I forget which, reported a cold wind in the closed up building preceding her appearance. Both decided she was angry at them, neither stuck around long enough to find out if she had anything untoward in mind.

So there I was the first night. My jerk of a supervisor showed me the building and the routine I was to follow, then smirked out a giggly “Have fun” and left me all alone. This was after midnight, you understand.

My main duty was to every hour make rounds of the building and the nearby grounds. Starting at my desk inside the back basement door, which was the night entrance, I would hoist up my Detex Clock, which was a round mechanical timekeeper that ran a ticker tape inside. There were keys at stations around the route I was to traverse, I was supposed to go to each of these stations and insert the keys inside the device and turn them, thus punching the tape. This indicated the exact time I arrived at each key station.

The clock was heavy, designed so that it was practically impossible to bust into and alter the tape without leaving discernible damage. I had to walk hourly from the basement to the fourth floor where the servant’s quarters were, turning lights on and off as I went, 15 or so keys in all. I did my duty responsibly which was a good thing, as I eventually found out that every morning the president of the corporation would fetch the Detex Clock himself, open it up with his key and personally check the ticker tape to see if I had been diligently doing my job.

A Much Used Detex Clock

A Much Used Detex Clock

So there I was doing my first tour of the building, Detex Clock in its black leather case slung from my shoulder. I’ve always loved old buildings much more than anything modern, but this place was giving me the creeps. There were noises... it seemed that after I would pass a place there would be a knock or a small crash behind where I’d been. And up ahead bizarre creaks. I could feel adrenaline squirt into my blood.

So when I arrived at the last key, which was in the lobby, I’d just about had it. I wasn’t going to put up with any more nonsense. So I planted myself firmly in front of the big winding staircase and called to The Lady In White.

“Okay Mrs. Ryan,” I said very loudly, almost shouting so there was no mistaking. “I know you don’t like what’s become of your house. I know you don’t want a lowlife like me running around your house, poking into your rooms all night long. I’ve heard how you threw out the last two guys who had my job and I might be next.

“But please consider, your house fell into ruin and now it’s being used and being taken care of, maybe not the way you want it but hey. And okay you didn’t like those last two guys. But I’m gonna tell you right now that I like your house, I like big old mansions like this. I’m here to make sure it doesn’t burn down or get broken into or whatever. That’s my job.

“Maybe I don’t measure up to your standards but you know what? I’m the best you’re gonna get. I’ll keep an eye on the place. So you let me know right now if you want me to stay here and watch out for your house.

“If you don’t want me here how about you show yourself to me right now. You show yourself on the staircase and come on down just like you did to those other guys. If you do, I will turn right around and go out those doors behind me and I won’t come back. But if you think you can put up with me then don’t show yourself and I’ll stay.”

Detex Key And Box

Detex Key And Box

So I waited, peering up the gloomy staircase. The house had become totally silent, not a creak could be heard. The air was completely still. I stood there for a few minutes, but she most decidedly did not show herself to me.

“Okay Mrs. Ryan,” I said. “Looks like I’ll be here five nights a week. I promise I’ll watch your house. And if you ever decide you don’t want me here anymore just show yourself and I’m gone. I’ll be back here in an hour. Okay?”

I didn’t hear an “okay” back which was fine with me. In the time I worked there I would occasionally feel her presence, and once I got used to the routine creaks and groans of the building I would occasionally hear sounds that weren’t quite right. Like I would be down at my basement desk half snoozing between rounds in the quiet building and suddenly I would snap awake and listen intently. And I would hear... well, it sounded like footsteps upstairs, or a wrenching of wood on wood, stuff like that.

Apparently Much Of The Half Wooded Grounds Around The Ryan Mansion, Like Most Of The Area, Has Been “Developed” With Sprawl

Apparently Much Of The Half Wooded Grounds Around
The Ryan Mansion, Like Most Of The Area,
Has Been “Developed” With Sprawl

And yeah, there were some nights when she was particularly active. There was one back stairway in particular that had a small window halfway up. I would shut the window and turn out the light behind me, an hour later the light would be on and I would shut the window again and turn off the light, an hour later the same thing until dawn. There were plenty of other things like that but like I said, no one believes me so I’ll leave it there.

None of this bothered me because, you see, Mrs. Ryan and I had an understanding. As for my jerk supervisor, I never got the full story but he was fired for incompetence. He was replaced by a lady with whom I got along well, sometimes she’d hang out with me in the wee hours as we drank horrible machine coffee and I told her true ghost stories about the place. And today I wonder if Mrs. Ryan is still haunting the current tenants of her house, or has she finally, um, given up the ghost.

OMG OMG OMG I’m Outta Here

OMG OMG OMG I’m Outta Here


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