The Pi-Rate Ratings

October 30, 2020

Halloween 1970–A True Story

This is a true story.  One part of it was left out to protect the identity of someone who is still alive and does not want to be mentioned in this story, ever.

It was October of 1970.  My maternal grandfather had passed away in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a year earlier, and my mother and father took our family to visit our grandmother for weekends quite frequently for the next couple of years.  It was Halloween weekend, and we were going to go trick or treating in Chattanooga with my grandmother’s neighbor’s children, and then spend the rest of the evening at one of their homes.  Some of the parents on the block were going to supervise the kids.  My parents, grandmother, and some of her friends were planning to spend that Saturday Halloween night at a dinner club, The Pan-o-Ram Club, on Lookout Mountain.

Plans didn’t come off as expected.  It began to rain heavily late on the afternoon of the 31st, and a windy cold front moved into Chattanooga.  Trick or treating would not happen due to the elements.  So, at the last minute, arrangements were made for a sitter for my 5-year old brother and me (then 10 years old).  A teenage girl from the neighborhood came over to stay with us.

About an hour after the adults left for dinner, the electricity went out in East Ridge, where my grandmother lived.  The rain continued to fall, but now there was thunder and lightning.  On top of that, there were some weird sounds emanating from outside my grandmother’s house.  Her house was located on the right side bottom of a hill where the road curved sharply to the left.  When cars came down the hill, their lights shone into her den and kitchen.  About once every 5 to 10 years, a car came down the hill too fast and couldn’t negotiate the turn.  The driver would run off the road into her front yard.  There was a huge crabapple tree preventing cars from potentially hitting the house.  Just beyond that tree was a three-foot deep ravine separating her house from the next one.  When it rained, the ravine became a rapidly flowing creek that spilled into the large creek, which ran across her back property line.

When we heard one of the loud sounds outside, our first thought was that a car had come down the hill and couldn’t make the sharp curve in the very wet street.  The sound wasn’t loud enough for it to have hit the tree, but it could have gone off the road, into the ravine, and been carried into the creek behind the house.

It was pitch black dark, except for the occasional bolt of lightning and car driving down the hill.  With the temperature dropping outside and no electricity, the house began to get a little chilly.  Our sitter went to the hall linen closet to get some blankets to put around us, as I sat on the den couch.  She also went hunting for candles to provide a little illumination; the house was as dark as the outside.  We had one little flashlight, and she took it to find her way. 

As she went into the other room, I peeked through the translucent sheer in the den to look outside toward the street and glanced over toward the tree and ravine where I thought I had heard the sound.  There was nothing there.  The streets were as empty as if it were 3 AM on a weekday.  There was no visible candlelight coming out of the other houses on the block.  For a 10-year old, this was not the most comfortable of situations. 

Things became a little tense, when the sitter returned from the hall with the blankets.  She had let out a tiny shriek as she walked through the kitchen into the den.  I asked her why she made the sound, and she told me she had looked out the breakfast room windows toward the back yard and thought she had briefly seen someone near the large creek.  The image was visible during a brief flash of lightning.  But, on the next illuminating bolt, just a second or two later, the image was gone.

“It was probably just in my head,” she said.

You can figure out what was racing through my mind at that moment.  No adults were in the house.  My little brother was sleeping on the den couch, and I was with a 15 or 16-year old stranger who wasn’t the brightest light bulb in the chandelier.  I decided to call my grandmother’s next door neighbor, a former minor league baseball player with the Chattanooga Lookouts and former football player at Auburn.  I figured he could protect us.  Unfortunately, he was not at home.  Neither was the family that lived on the other side of my grandmother.  I remembered that no other light seemed to be coming out of any of the houses on the block.  We might have been the only people on the block at home at that moment.

Nothing happened for the next 30 minutes.  It was eerily quiet and still quite dark, since we could not find any candles and had to preserve the flashlight batteries.  My brother slept, not knowing what was going on.  Had the drapes been closed and not just the thin sheer, we would have been unable to see anything and would not have looked at the door every time the lightning struck or a car drove down the hill.  It was the lightning and car lights that occasionally illuminated the den and preserved our flashlight.

It was approaching 10 PM, when a huge flash of lightning lit up the entire front yard.  I was looking toward the sliding glass door that led from the den to the driveway at the precise moment the lightning struck.  The sitter was doing so as well.  We both saw the outline of a large body trying to peer into the den through the door.  With just the sheer in place, it was quite easy to see the image. The image looked like it was a large man over 6 feet tall and bulky.  He was wearing a large floppy hat and possibly a rain slicker.  His hands and face were on the glass door in a position helping him in his attempt to see through the semi-transparent sheer.  We couldn’t see his face, just his outline through the sheer.  Luckily, the sitter didn’t scream this time, and I was too scared to move much less say anything.

The next bolt of lightning came about 15 seconds later.  The image was gone.  The sitter started to panic not knowing what to do.  I knew we had to call the police ASAP.  The phone in the den was at the end of the room nearest that sliding glass door, so there was no way I was going to go near it.  Then, the thought struck me:  the door was unlocked!  Back in those days, people didn’t always lock their doors.  In fact, people frequently left their homes with the doors unlocked.  Times were different, or at least people were naïve enough to think so.

I told the sitter the door was unlocked.  She had no intention of walking over to it and turning the lock.  So, in my best G.I. Joe impersonation, I crawled on my belly to the den door.  I peeked out the drapes from the opening in the very bottom.  The image wasn’t there, so in Speedy Gonzales fashion, I jumped up, locked the door, pulled the thick drapes shut, and ran back to the couch next to the sitter.  She hugged me tight enough to feel her breasts hitting my face.

She was still too scared to use the phone by the door, and by this time, the sitter realized she needed to contact the East Ridge Police.  She went into the kitchen to use the phone in there.  As you might have guessed, the image was now in the backyard visible from the breakfast room window (a window that also had only a translucent sheer).  She let out a huge scream, and the image ran away.  This time she got a better look at the image and knew she had seen a real, live human male.  She quickly picked up the receiver.  The line was not dead, but it was cracking and on the verge of going dead.  Several inches of rain and hours of lightning had taken its toll on the primitive phone lines of that time.  By this time, I was in the kitchen trying to find out what the commotion was.  She told me she had seen a large man in the back yard, and I told her to call the police immediately.  She was now scared that lightning would strike the line and blow off her ear.  So, I picked up the phone to call the police.  The line wasn’t dead, but I could hear a faint voice on the line.  It sounded like a man talking in a low, dull, somewhat ethereal voice.  I couldn’t make out exactly what he was saying, and he could not hear me or at least didn’t acknowledge hearing me.  It was obvious to an adult that the phone lines were crossed due to the storm, but of course, I immediately put two and two together and came up with five.  I immediately thought it must be that image outside tapping into the line and keeping us from calling out.

For the next few minutes, I picked up the phone in 15-second intervals trying to get an outside line.  The voice on the line was gone, but I couldn’t dial out.  The sitter had gone back in the den to look after my brother, who was sleeping through it all.  Finally, I got a live line.  40+ years ago, 9-1-1 did not yet exist.  I had to dial the operator and ask for the East Ridge police.  She connected me, and I began to explain what had happened and the situation with us being alone with a panicking sitter.  Luckily, they didn’t consider this a prank from a kid, and within two minutes, a patrol car came by with a huge search light shining into every yard.  They stopped between my grandmother’s yard and the house to the left.  I watched from a tiny side window as they apparently spotted something in the neighbor’s side yard and got out to investigate, but at a very slow speed.  It appeared as though they didn’t want to confront whoever it was that was running around in the dark on a cold rainy Saturday Halloween weekend night.

The officers walked back to their car and drove off.  They never came to our door nor called.  So, at about 11 PM, the sitter called them back.  They told her that they had seen somebody run behind the neighbor’s house and disappear around the area of the large creek or possibly run up the hill through the small patch of woods.  By the way, those woods ended at an old cemetery. 

The sitter was told on the phone that the police drove around to the street on the other side of the creek, but they could not locate anybody there.  They told her a squad car would periodically patrol the area on either side of the creek for the rest of the night and for us to keep all our doors locked and drapes closed. 

About a half hour later, the adults returned from their night out.  We told them what had happened, but they thought we were making it all up as part of a Halloween prank.  The next morning, my dad called the police just to make sure this was all a joke.  He found out to the contrary.  Several people on the other side of the creek had also seen the person and called the police, which was why they took my call seriously.  It was not the first rainy night, nor the first Halloween that they had received this call.

For the next few years, other people saw this person in the area of South Chickamauga Creek late at night, especially when it was raining.  Nobody ever caught him or got a picture of him.  Then, after about 1975, nobody ever saw the image again.

I do not believe in paranormal phenomena.  I believe there was a rational explanation like someone trying to pull off a prank, maybe someone from that neighborhood who knew where to cross the creek on the two little wooden pedestrian bridges or where the roads crossed it.  He moved away, stopped doing it, or died.  Many people in the neighborhood joked that it was the ghost of a man who had been hit by a car in 1959.  He supposedly had been walking in the rain late at night and had been knocked into the creek with his body never being found.  I don’t know if that accident actually every happened, but I do know a few people drowned in that creek in the past without the aid of a car hitting them.

My grandmother passed away in 1992 in that same house.  When we went back for the final time to clean out the house prior to its sale, I walked into the back yard toward the creek.  Things had changed, as the once five or six feet body of water was now a dry rocky ravine.  Only an occasional puddle of water was visible.  I walked down the creek for a few hundred feet, and lo and behold, I found an old, floppy, faded yellow rain hat, in a state of disrepair like it had been there for several years.  Might it have been THE HAT that the image was wearing that night?  We’ll never know.

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