Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Brownspur claims ‘hainted’ wardrobe

A few years ago, someone finally made a movie of C. S. Lewis’ great work, The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. Mr. Lewis didn’t have the only Hainted Wardrobe in the world. We had one right here at Brownspur.

I don’t recollect ever telling this story in a newspaper column.  Having said that, I’m sure that some reader will call or write to say, “Yeah, you have: in October of 1988!”  So be it.  I’ll plead Lyme Disease, if that happens.

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Yet I had told this story in person many times during the past two summers while storytelling at the Bologna Performing Arts Center Janice Wyatt Summer Arts Institute.  I am their official Uncle Bob, the one they blame when a Carolina youngster months later declares to his mom that some friend is “As happy as a dead pig in the sunshine,” or that Grandpa “Had enough money to burn a wet mule.”  During those sessions, we always have one day devoted to Ghost Stories.  Almost all of mine are true, as in the Haunted Wardrobe!

I tell it like it happened, over a period of a few years after we moved the house out here to Brownspur.  The front room and its wardrobe may have been haunted when the house was in town, but if it was, we didn’t know it.  It was when we up and cut the house in two, took the roof off, and moved it eleven miles, then put it all back together and moved a daughter into the former guest room, that the ghost became active.  Christie kept complaining that something up there growled during the night, but since we had dogs and cats, and her windows opened onto the front porch, I just assumed that an animal was out front doing the growling.

Then Chris graduated and went off to Tulane, so we moved B.C. up front.  (When a child leaves home, get their room occupied as quickly as possible, or they may come back home!)  She began to hear the growls as well, even though the windows were shut and storm windows affixed.  Older brother Adam volunteered to stay up there for a night or two.  He heard them too, and said they weren’t outside on the front porch: “Something’s in that room!”  Well, I slept up there a night or so, and I never heard anything growling atall.

Then B.C. said she woke up during the night and a soft greenish-yellow light was emanating from inside the wardrobe.  She got out of bed and opened the wardrobe doors, and the light went out.  She unloaded the shelves, but nothing but sheets, blankets, and clothes were in it – no battery-powered toys or lights.

So, I went to see my preacher, who had only recently graduated from the seminary and taken a local church for his first pastorate.  “Mike, I want you to come to my house and do an exorcism,” then I explained.

“Bob, I think that’s the Catholics who do that, from a couple of movies I’ve seen.  Maybe even Episcopalians, as you should know.  But we’re Baptists.  They never taught us about exorcisms at seminary.  Baptists in general ain’t bad about writing down prayers anyway, and I’m not sure I ever heard anyone mention haints in all my classes.  Certainly not a Haunted Wardrobe!”

“You saying I need to become a Catholic or Episcopalian to get the Ghost out of the Wardrobe?” I asked.  “Why, I’m a deacon in your own church!”

He finally came out Bible in hand one August day to confront the Wardrobe Ghost.  In his words, “As soon as I started reading verses, I felt a cold chill,” but the air conditioner wasn’t on, nor was the ceiling fan.  Mike continued to read from the Bible for a while, then rebuked any assorted ghosts, goblins, or demons within the proximity.  Then he went through the music tapes in our daughter’s room, and the ones he judged to be “Devil Music” we took out and burned.  It worked, and no one has ever confessed to experiencing a lighted growling Wardrobe since then.

But after I tell that story to the assembled kids, I close the door into the hall, cut off the lights (it’s during the day, so the windows let light in), and in dimness tell them that there is, at that moment, a real ghost present within the room.  Can they guess what it is?  There’s always one kid who knows about The Holy Ghost, so we get to explain that very real Ghost, too.  Then we ain’t skeered any more!