St. Louis & St. Charles, Missouri
We had been at a local area toy show and I had brought my father’s digital camera along to take some pictures. On a whim, I talked my traveling companion into driving across the Missouri River bridge into nearby St. Charles. There was a “haunted cigar store” on Main Street that I wanted him to see. Dengler’s cigar store was formerly home to Missouri’s very first governor. The old brick two-story has been used for many things over the years since, including a boarding house. In the 1800s, there had even been slaves housed in special quarters in the cellar. There had also been a death in the building; a firefighter. It was his ghost that some suspect as having a predilection for “pinching and pestering” some of the women clientele who visit there. Other ghosts no doubt inhabit the historic landmark, but I only had personal knowledge of the one; told to me by the building’s current owner and proprietor.
My father had passed away earlier in the year. Since then, I had found myself beleaguered by a whole host of personal and financial problems as a result. Detouring my attention for the day provided a welcome distraction from all the misery. For two and a half weeks following my father’s death, his apartment (that we shared) exhibited what could only be described as “highly peculiar activity.”
My father’s personal home computer would turn itself on in the dead of night, then shut down suddenly whenever I noticed the light coming from the room and moved in to check it out. In life, he had spent many a day into the long nights in this room, and on this computer. It finally stopped one day, after the computer’s hard drive suddenly crashed. That was at the end of this two and a half week run, I speak of. My father’s bedroom phone had also developed this same habit. It was this particular phone that had been lying next to him when he passed. The phone’s display face would light up, as if a call were “coming through.” But when I tried picking it up to answer, the light on the panel would suddenly go dark. After the computer went down, the strange phone activity stopped. It had been quiet and uneventful at the apartment ever since.
His name was Paul Wood. A former professional magician in St. Louis, he appeared regularly on television in fellow prestidigitator Ernie Heldman’s locally-produced show Parade of Magic, beginning in late 1948. He gave up magic following his military stint with the Army (1953-55). He and my mother (a local nightclub singer) married in 1955–and divorced in 1980. I moved in with him in February of 2012, shortly before his 80th birthday. I lived with him a year. Then, in February of 2013 (almost a year to the day I moved in with him) he died. Just like that. Doctors were unable to determine an actual cause of death, but believed he had passed away in his sleep after suffering a heart attack.
Back to St. Charles and the cigar store…”Take a picture,” I told my friend, having brought along my father’s personal digital camera. “Just in case anything strange might want to show up on the film,” I added, jokingly. We both laughed. He took a few pictures, and that was that. We left. It was only later, after reviewing the photos my friend took that day that I noticed something odd about one of them. What looked like “white, bright letters” were emblazoned across the front of my jacket. It was obvious they were a result of where I happened to be standing at the moment, but an anomaly nonetheless. Still, I found the phenomenon a little “too conveniently odd.” See, the interior of the cigar store is predominantly dark, with high shelving and lacy curtains blocking out the majority of outside light. The sun on this day was playing “peek-a-boo” with the clouds, so it made only sparse and occasional appearances. For it to have found its way through the crevice of a curtain the way in which it had to in order to reach me in such an exact and peculiar fashion, was unusually bizarre.
My father’s death had been weighing heavy on my thoughts that day; much more so than usual. Having heard stories about “after life communications” from the grave, I flipped the image around in my father’s old computer once I had failed to make sense of the “lettering” the way it appeared. It was then I felt a sudden chill race up the back of my spine. These “letters” do seem to suggest something, I thought to myself. Perhaps they were “a message”? From left to right, across the jacket, the “lettering” appeared to be P – W – I – M and S. Ironically, my father’s initials were “P and W” (i.e. Paul Wood). Even stranger were the last three (I – M and S). In the months prior to his death, I had noticed my father had become quite fond of using the phrase “I’m Sorry.” Could the last three “letters” have stood for that? I and M; standing for “I’m,” and the “S”–perhaps an abbreviation for the word “sorry”? Was it true message from beyond the grave? Or just idle randomness and perfect lighting conditions? I’ll never know for sure…but still, it does make me wonder a bit…and often.