The weather is appropriately damp and dreary here in the upper Midwest, and we’re only a few days away from Halloween. So gather ’round, folks, it’s ghost story time!
The following was courtesy of actress Nancy Carroll, whose screen stardom began in the late 1920s and who was at peak popularity by the time this Screenland article was published (in 1932).
Carroll had been born in New York City to Irish parents, and their ghost stories from the “Old Country” were the basis of this charmingly spooky interview. Also note the game Carroll talks about at the end, which is still pretty popular today!
And Now For Halloween! The Ghost Walks With Nancy Carroll
Listen to some real Irish folk-tales of the spooky season
By Ruth Tildesley
How would you like to go to a Hallowe’en party held in a haunted castle in Ireland?
That’s the spot Nancy Carroll chooses for her ideal party whenever the Fates permit. “I’d like to give it in Castle Ree,” she bubbled, “My mother used to live near the old ruins of that castle and she’s told me so much about the spooks that were supposed to walk there. Maybe Castle Ree would be too dilapidated for hospitality, but anyway we’d have a haunted castle.
“In Ireland, you know, nobody dare go out the night the ghosts walk–they all stay home and cover up their heads–but we’d take plenty of holy water with us and be careful what we said about spooks, and perhaps the bad spirits would go out and do their haunting somewhere else and only the fairies would come.
“We’d all believe in fairies that night. My father truly believes in them. Do you know, when he was here visiting me I was terrified for fear people would laugh at him and break his heart? I gave a party for him one night and he was telling us about fairies and how close he came to seeing them, and someone asked why it was that no one sees fairies here.
“‘God love ye,’ says he, ‘Fairies live in Ireland. They can’t cross water. Ireland is an island and that’s where they’re bound to stay.’
“One night when he was a little boy, my father was sitting on the doorsteps with his parents and all the other children.” Nancy’s voice sank to a thrillingly low note, proper to all ghost stories. “Through the dusk they began to hear the music of a band.
“‘That’ll be the Killarney band!’ says his mother, pleased, and began to keep time with her knitting needles.
“The music came closer and closer and they watched for the band to come marching down the road. But no band came. When the music was very close and not a soul in sight, my father’s mother got up and ran indoors and all the other children followed her. They were all afraid to wait for the Little People.
“But my father was a brave boy and his father was a brave man, so they stayed there together on the doorstep, with their hands and their feet and their hearts turning to ice the while. When the music was right opposite them there in the road, my grandfather bowed his head in his hands, but my father stared straight at the place where the trumpets were blowing, and the fifes shrilling, and the drums going rub-a-dub-dub–and not even the dust stirring under the Little People’s feet!
“I’m sending my mother and father back to Ireland now–their first visit in thirty years–and they’re so excited, God love ’em! I’ve never been there, but from all they’ve told me, it must be heaven. Suppose they’re disappointed! Suppose the place with filled with black strangers!” She brushed the thought away.
“Anything can happen in Ireland, and that’s why I’d like to have my party there. Do you know, my grandfather once played cards with the devil?
“It was this way. He was a man who loved his game of cards, my grandfather. One night, there was nobody at home who would play with him, and he was very cross; he sat there, shuffling the bits of pasteboard and grumbling.
“‘Sure and I’d play with the devil, if he’d only come along!’ he says.
“And with that, comes a knock on the door.
“Grandfather jumps and his heart skitters about, but he goes to the door, bold as brass. ‘Who’s there?’ says he, down deep in his throat.
“‘The Story Teller!’ comes the answer.
“In Ireland, at that time–and maybe today, for all I know–men who called themselves Story Tellers used to go from place to place weaving tales for their super or a night’s lodging or a bit of silver.
“Grandfather lets him in, and a chill breathe comes with him. He has a scarf about his neck, and though the room is warm and the fire is blazing, he refuses to take it off.
“After he’s told his story he suggests a came of cards. They play and the Story Teller keeps winning. Grandfather steals little glances at him, as he sits there, studying his cards, and he sees that the man’s ears are pointed, like little horns. Grandfather begins to shake and tremble so that a card goes fluttering to the floor, and when e bends to pick it up he sees that the strangers feet aren’t feet at all, but cloven hoofs!
“Grandfather’s hair is standing straight up on end by this time, and he stumbles to the door, stammering something about more wood for the fire. But he doesn’t get more wood. He gets a bottle of holy water and runs back quickly and throws it on the Story Teller, and the dreadful creature vanishes in a whoosh of smoke!”
Nancy’s own red-gold curls stood up a bit, too, and her bright blue eyes were twice their usual size.
“I’m horrifying myself!” she chuckled. “Everybody who comes to my party must enjoy being horrified, because that’s the fun of Hallowe’en.
“We were dressed in sheets and everywhere you looked it seemed as if there were ghosts. Finally Father made us all sit around in a ring, and he turned out the lights.
“He began to tell a story about a man who had been murdered in that very house and how his spirit always came back on the nights that shades go walking to try to gather up bits of his former body.
“‘He’s here in the room now,’ says Father, in a terrible whisper. ‘These are his teeth!’ And we passed the teeth from hand to hand–they were really kernels of corn, but they felt like teeth and everybody shrieked.
“‘And this is his hair–‘ That was corn silk, the dry pieces that feel so dead.
“‘And these are his eyes–‘ And what do you think that was? GRAPES! All clammy from being in the ice-box. I won’t forget the feel of them if I live to be a hundred!
“That’s the sort of entertainment my guests will get at the haunted castle party!”