Teaching through Ghosts

I know this may come as a shock to most readers of this site but *gasp* I'm a history nut. My idea of a really fun day in Ontario is to visit museums and forts anywhere in the province but that dovetails very neatly with ghosts and hauntings.

Mentioned on the site somewhere is the fact that not too long ago, I signed up to an e-mail group devoted to reenactors of battles and military regiments from the American Revolution and the War of 1812 (for our UK visitors, the "American War".) Both conflicts were fought both in and around the US and Canadian border and therefore having a great impact on the history of early Canada.

Needless to say, when I posted, my e-mail address (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) caught the attention of MANY of the reenactors who I'm very happy to say I'm still in contact with and many I now consider friends who visited the site and then told me of their own "ghostly experiences camping out and generally reenacting in the forts and battlefields across the US and Canada.

In fact, I have SO many stories from reenactors I could easily write a very large book based only their experiences. (Before you think anything, the GHRS/PSICAN privacy agreement forbids me from doing this.)

The problem is that most of these reenactors do have stories or other types of reports of ghosts (I think everyone involved has something to add even if it's just a case of "My buddy in Ohio once..." or "X place has a really weird feeling to it that we all noticed...",) but there is a VERY vocal minority who thinks that this kind of "publicity" is bad for history.

To quote someone not related (to the best of my knowledge,) with reenactments, Joe Nickel from CSICOP, teaching history using ghosts and haunting legends is "cheapening" the history by using "hoaxes and frauds" to get people to visit instead of getting people into these sites for "the right reasons".

This view is not a popular one in private but unfortunately, in public, it's spewed out as a pat answer when asked. I guess it makes the person(s) asked feel more academic and "pure to the history".

Beside, only "nuts" believe in ghosts, right?


To these people I usually give this example...

It took me FOREVER to get an answer as a younger man to the question "How did the British Army tell units apart if they all wore tall hats and red coats?"

Here's the answer I always got...

"By the colour of their facings."

I never got more explanation than that and, I'm sorry, SOME folks involved in reenacting and historic interpreting can be a little snooty when they don't think you know what THEY feel you should know.

So, needless to say, that answer not only didn't help me but thoroughly confused me.

Now, let's look at another story...

I've used this example in another forum but I will use it here... This is a paraphrased story from Kyle Upton from Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake... I've copied it down from memory as someone has borrowed (read-stolen) my copy of Kyle's EXCELLENT book on the ghosts of Fort George. I have no doubt, some of it is wrong but it'll help me make my point.

A young boy and his mother were visiting the fort during a rainy day. One of the "costumed" or "uniformed" guides who because of the rain had extra time to really give a great tour and tons of info went with the two around the blockhouse and then ventured out towards the officer's quarters.

The mother and guide noticed that the little boy had not joined them and quickly went back to the blockhouse to retrieve the tardy child.

When they got him, he said he'd been talking to the "other man" in costume.

The guide, being the only interpreter on site, immediately thought that the little guy's imagination had run away with him and brushed it off but the mother asked, "What other man?"

The boy answered that the man was older than the present guide and very sad that all his friends were gone and all these strangers were coming and going through his home.

Then he said the part that would chill me...

"His costume looked just like yours except his collar and the ends of his sleeves [cuffs] were blue, not green like yours."

This is significant because the little boy had seen the uniform of the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles (a force raised in Canada,) and not the guides' 49th Regiment uniform which is the uniform of an English unit in Canada.

It is unlikely that this little guy knew that indeed, the Royal Newfoundlander's were stationed at Fort George for a while during the War of 1812 but somehow, he had seen a soldier in this uniform, in the blockhouse when this was seemingly impossible.
So, do you now know what a uniform's facing is? Can you name two regiments of the British/Canadian Army stationed at Fort George? Would you not be wondering how someone may have died and come to haunt the blockhouse?

...and if you didn't before, do you now believe in ghosts? Probably not BUT you just learned a bit of history and if you attended a British Napoleonic fort, you might comment on the "facings" of the uniform of your guide.

I wonder if these people who say that this is the "wrong" reasons for people visiting historic sites believe we should trash Greek mythology? Maybe, since Mr. Nickel is American, we should NEVER utter the story of young George Washington and the cherry tree?

As someone who frequents museums and forts, I can tell you FOR SURE that these sites NEED YOUR MONEY! Government funding is at an all time low and I'm sure all reading this will agree that you may go "for the ghost" but you'll stay for the history.

I've found for every one person that poops viamently on ghostly legends that's involved in reenactments there is at least one other that will certainly chat about it and also, for every one person that is (forgive the term,) "anal" about what YOU should know about history, there's four others who will be happy to take the time and talk to you about what they are doing and why.

So, head to your local "fort" or historic home and don't be afraid to ask. Even if they don't want to talk about ghosts, they SHOULD tell you about the history of the place and that, when you do find your ghost story (if one exists,) might be very important to understanding the legend of that site. Knowledge is power and knowing the facts will assist you in understanding the legend.

Remember, we are only a decade away (when this article was written,) to 'celebrating'(?) the bi-centennial of the War of 1812.

If you would like to take your kids and visit a haunted spot during a GREAT historical reenactment that, when we visited, was filled with happy and helpful people, try Discovery Harbour in Penetanguishene (NOTE: The "ghost story" is not related to the battle,) during the August mock Battle of Georgian Bay. It's fun and a GREAT place to start!

Trust me, take your kids to this and it might wet their appetite to visit the forts and sites within the province, learn more about their history and maybe get an idea of this land that they come from.

Oh, and by the way, the Battle of Georgian Bay is a mock battle and it never actually "historically" took place... It's just "for fun" for reenactors and the viewing public... Hmmm... Maybe, Mr. Nickel, we should cancel this event too? It's getting people interested in history using a "hoax and fraud" so it must be bad!