I picked up Spooky Oregon: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore by S. E. Schlosser at our local library the other day, as I have a fondness for supernatural stories that have a local bent to them. I expected some decent narratives with background and history. Unfortunately, what I ended up with were a number of campfire "ghost stories" that seemed to be only marginally set around the state of Oregon. Had I been looking for that sort of story telling, it might have been fine. But my expectations were somewhat different.
For instance, Tommy Knockers takes place in John Day, a community that showed signs of gold during the Gold Rush days. The main character telling the story relates how he and his mule Bessy were working a mine when they first discovered that Tommy Knockers were real. A partner of his was able to accomplish more than most miners, and one day the storyteller stumbles on mining tools that were working without any human assistance. His partner said the Tommy Knockers used them, and that's why he was able to get so much done. The storyteller marginally believes him, and starts leaving food "offerings" to the little Tommy Knocker statues that his partner leaves all over the place. Then one day his partner warns him to run out of the mine as fast as he can as the Tommy Knockers were warning of a cave-in. Of course, the cave-in happens, he barely escapes, but Bessy is killed. When he goes back in after the disaster, he sees a Tommy Knocker ghost riding a ghostly version of Bessy, and he knows that all is well. Fun little story, but I would have liked to have known if this had some basis in "reality", or if this was just a general ghost story conveniently set in the mines of John Day.
Another example involves a logger who was killed by a falling tree that happened to go in the wrong direction. While two other loggers waited around for help to show up, the dead logger sat up and killed the other two with his axe. He also sat fire to the forest to prevent others from looking for him, and it was rumored that people occasionally saw a flaming logger coming after them with his axe. This particular storyteller is a kid who goes camping with a friend in the burned-out area of the original accident. They're aware of the legend, but are determined to not wimp out and go home early. As expected, the logger shows up, cuts the head off of the storyteller's friend, and chases him through the forest. He finally ends up tripping over a tree trunk, the logger stands over him, and the assumption is that the storyteller's head is separated from his body. Obviously a little hard to be the person telling the story when the last thing that happens is that you get off'ed...
On top of the lack of historical background I expected, I was also bothered by the difficultly of placing the story's timeframe. In very few cases do the stories ever come out and say "in 1857, I was hiking through..." Instead, the story starts and you have to deduce the time period of the piece. Some are easy when they mention SUVs and other modern elements. Others are a bit more difficult, only revealing general periods where "new-fangled automobiles" would be present. I know it's probably not a major thing, but it was just one more "disappointment" that I didn't want to deal with.
Spooky Oregon works well if you keep in mind that the story telling is the primary focus, not the facts and details behind whatever may or may not have happened to give birth to the story in the first place. But if you're looking for something more detailed and documented, this may not be the book you're looking for...
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