A couple of years ago, I bought one of those cheapo CDs of spooky music they put out at Halloween. I bought it for Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s immortal “Monster Mash”, but it also includes several spooky pieces from classical music, my favorite of which is the third movement of Chopin’s Piano Sonata no. 2 in B flat minor, the “Funeral March.”
And that reminded me of a story from the Gulf Coast about a ghost who played Chopin.
I first read the story, I think, in W.K. McNeil’s compilation Ghost Stories from the American South (1985), where it is given exactly as its narrator told it.
Some background: the narrator, Fran Franklin, was for many years a communications instructor at the University of Arkansas’s Monticello campus, and told the story as a true experience. The story was collected from her in 1982, and she said that the events had occurred some forty years before, when she was eleven years old.
The house was quite a large one, not far from Gulfport, Mississippi. Built barely a decade earlier, it had been abandoned by its owners sometime in the late 1930s, and at the time of the story had sat vacant for three or four years. The owners had left the house following the suicide of their daughter, because, they said, she was haunting them. In life a gifted pianist, she was, said her parents, still playing her piano, in the music room just off the front hall.
Fran had an aunt named Harriet Gibbons. Aunt Harriet was a professional journalist and newspaper editor, and a longtime friend of the family who owned the haunted house. Aunt Harriet wanted to investigate the “phenomenon,” as she put it, and took her niece along with her, having obtained the keys to the deserted mansion from her old friends.
The pair sat in the mansion’s front hall and waited to see what, if anything would happen. Toward midnight, Fran said later, they heard footsteps and the sound of a door closing upstairs, and then the footsteps came down the staircase to the front hall. Fran was sitting directly opposite the stairs, and in the dim light saw depressions in the carpet, just as if someone was walking on it, but she didn’t see anyone.
The footsteps continued across the hall’s marble floor and went into the music room. It had double doors which were left open, and Fran and her aunt could see into the room. They still saw no figure, but they saw and heard the piano stool move back, saw the lid over the keyboard raise, saw the stool’s seat depress as if someone had sat down. And the person–still unseen–began to play Chopin–three or four pieces, rippling, ravishing, melodious Chopin.
Then the whole routine happened in reverse: the lid was closed, the stool pushed back into place, the footsteps crossed the floor of the music room, shut the doors, and clicked back across the marble floor to the foot of the staircase—only this time, the footsteps stopped for a moment, as if the invisible person was looking at them, wondering why on earth these strangers were sitting like statues in the hall. Then they went on up the stairs, the door up there was opened and closed, and everything was still.
On the way back to their hotel in town Fran asked her aunt if they had indeed witnessed a ghostly visitation.
Aunt Harriet said, “There is no such thing as a ghost.” And never another word did she say about the Chopin concert.
I don’t know if the old mansion haunted by the ghost of a girl who loved Chopin still stands. So many hurricanes have ripped the Gulf Coast in the sixty-odd years since the events Fran described—Camille and Katrina being only two of them—that wind and sea may have taken it. But Fran certainly never forgot the events she witnessed from outside that sad music room.