Thursday, October 22, 2009

This is the Right Place. To Freak Out.

I had the privilege and honor of being asked to shoot with Tyler Gourley for Deseret Book. I think Tyler is one of the most talented photographers in Utah and I have not worked for Deseret Book since the Jericho Road days. So I was totally excited when I was asked to come help shoot for their catalog at This is the Place State Park. Until I heard the ghost stories. Then I wanted to leave.

I have never in my life been up to This is the Place State Park. If you also have not, I suggest you go up there and take the kids. You can tell it's for kids by the font. It looks the same as the font used by The Children's Place clothing store. I hardly think that's a coincidence. I thought TITPSP was going to be a big statue of some Mormon dudes and their oxen sprinkled with seagull poop parked somewhere off the freeway. I had no idea there was a whole actual town, called Heritage Village. (It's right next to the big statue of some Mormon dudes and their oxen sprinkled with bird poop.)
In Heritage Village there are these beautiful historical buildings from all over the state that have been picked up and carefully tiptoed to this new resting place. They have furniture from their famous deceased homeowners and/or their time periods and the rooms are all made up as if they are being lived in currently. They are all very historically accurate and super fascinating. Especially for people who love aesthetics. So all of us could not help but to look around at things in between getting our shots. In the Heber C Kimball house there were some cool instruments, a funky chair made out of horns and a haunted doll. Yep. A rag doll that allegedly moves around on it's own whilst you navigate about the house. According to Diamond Jim, who is an expert on the place and a tour guide, the doll will be laying on the bed until you go downstairs, where you may then see it at the piano. Or sitting at the kitchen table. Or by the china cabinet. But this is not the only reported haunting. One time a little girl told her Dad she wouldn't go up the stairs with him. She was at the bottom of the staircase. He turned at the second to top stair and asked her what her problem was. She pointed to his pant leg and said something about not wanting to go near the child by his side. He then felt a distinct tugging on his pant leg and watched his jeans actually move, even though he could not see anything there.

I thought that was a quaint story and imagined the kind of attention starved people that must have made something like that up. Then we wrapped out our day and went home. The next day we were to be shooting in the park again. I woke up super early and got ready. I was drinking my hot cocoa in the Jeep when I turned the radio to 101.9 The End. They were doing their annual ghost hunters radio show where they bring people in from the Ghost Investigators Society or Ghost Hunters Club or whatever it's called. They do this for a few hours during October so they can tell stories about their ghostie adventures. They begin the show by playing a bunch of EVPs. These are taped recordings of ghost voices that can not be heard with the "naked ear". I never think they are accurate. Like if they say to the audience, "In this EVP you will hear a little child say, "Don't leave me!"" I always think its sounds like an old woman saying, "Cleveland." This year it is no different. Then they begin to talk about This is the Place State Park. And they all agree it's one of the most haunted places in Utah. So I turn it up, because I am on I-15 headed North. And Jimmy Chunga, AKA Brett Smith, tells a story about Cort getting hit with a ball of light and feeling really dark and gross, in the same exact spot a guy in years past had his wrist broken. Then a woman calls in and says she believes the park is haunted because her child saw another child that wasn't there and it happened by the white schoolhouse. And the hairs on my neck stand up. I pull into the entrance of the park. I see Tyler and his assistant Cody driving towards me. They tell me that they will stop by the building we are going to shoot at, so I should just follow them. I roll up my window and we start up a dirt road. Chunga is now talking about a night of ghost hunting at the State Park in the Andrus Halfway House. He was with a woman that is supposed to be a certified psychic. The two of them went into one of the upstairs bedrooms, he even got specific as to which one but I don't recall it now, and they suddenly felt cold and odd. He said the temperature in the room dropped like 40 degrees in fifteen seconds. Chunga then turned to see a little boy in tweed knee pants run past him and go straight into the wall. The psychic just dropped to her knees and began to cry. I assume she also wet herself and released her bowels. I would have.

I am now driving through the park with my mouth open holding my cup of cocoa. We stop. I look to my right and there is the white schoolhouse. To my left? The Andrus Halfway House. I park and knock on Tyler's car window. I tell them to turn on 101.9. They catch the last of the story so I fill them in on the first part. We listen to them talk some more about other spooky experiences people have had there and we turn off our cars. I tell the guys that the building Chunga was talking about is *right there*. We all go up to the fence. It's not helping that it is all decorated for Halloween. They have a big HUGE haunted affair there, you can go around and look in the houses and the little orchards are full of fake bodies and stuff. It's cool. And they had begun the decorating THAT DAY. So we go look in the windows of the Andrus house and it's about one third of the way finished being decorated. Just as I glide along the porch casually looking in the windows, Cody steps away from one and reveals a dummy pressed up against the glass. I jump and squeal. A carnal sin. You never let other crew see your petticoat. It's like film rule 101. The rest of the day the guys keep setting me up and scaring me. We move from building to building taking care of our set ups and our shots. We'd turn the corner and see a pioneer walking towards us with a musket or a woman in a long skirt and aprons and I'd wonder what it would be like if I knew they weren't real.

It became a little old, the haunted thing, by mid afternoon. We left the main part of the park for Brigham Young's farmhouse. It's pink. It's a big pink gingerbread house. Which I venture to guess is why he never actually lived there. It was used instead for events and visiting dignitaries. We entered the thing and were greeted by a large sweet man. He told us about the house, it's purposes and it's ghost. One of the wives, Ann Eliza, loved the house. She was the only wife of Brigham's to divorce him. (I guess if you play the odds, even a prophet, and even back in those days, you're bound to lose one...) Anyway Ann Eliza did not like people in her house. He said that during a previous Halloween he was setting up a CD player for sound effects as part of the spook display. He left the room and came back to hear it playing. He turned the thing off and left again to carry in more things for the display. He entered, only to hear it playing again. This time he unplugged it. And it still turned back on. People use the building for receptions and parties and a lot of people claim to have seen a woman at the sink looking out the window or hear footsteps on the floor above. The footsteps thing may not be so impressive. I could hear what the people upstairs were wearing the floor was so touchy, but the woman at the window thing? Yeah. So again, we begin to set up our shots. I go out to my car and get my tool boxes but before I cross the threshold back into the house I spiritually ask Ann Eliza if it's OK if I come back in. I make it clear I want her permission, out of respect. And then I assume she says yes because I come inside. I clean her windows. I pick up all of the trash I drop. I make sure I don't leave behind any dirt from my shoes. I put everything back where it belongs and even fix and fluff the pillows on the couches in a drawing room we never went into. Because what could be scarier than an angry German ex-wife ghost? I plan on being one myself one day. Cody double dog dares me to go down a pitch black stairway that leads to a locked door to the basement. I feel like I have to make up for the womanish squeal on the porch of the Halfway house, so I do it. I am surprisingly not scared. I tell myself it's because I have been respectful of Ann Eliza and she likes me. When we write up phony names for a prop FHE chalkboard. I thoughtfully assign Ann Eliza a task. I think she was in charge of the opening prayer. We wrap up our day by watching the sun come down over the various workers prepping the park and even shoot one cool shed full of bloody broken dolls hanging from their necks. We stand in the gravel parking lot and talk about everything but spooky stuff. By now we are not into it anymore. We are sick of the topic. We stand in the parking lot and chat about people we know and how great a time we had and how we hope to be able to shoot for Deseret Book again because they are just really cool down to earth people to work for and then we say our goodbyes.

I stop for gas at the Chevron off 7th East. There is a super scruffy older guy in his car about to leave, but then sees me walking into the station and stops. He turns off his car, gets out of the vehicle, and stands on the sidewalk, staring. I put my hand behind me and make an unfriendly gesture then place it on my butt. If he looks there, he deserves to see it. I go in and get a drink and pay for my gas. I walk past the guy that now stands in my way. I get past him. He then turns 180 degrees to watch me walk back to my car. I grab my keys in my hand like a weapon. Just in case. I pump my gas while this Bozo stands there and stares at me without any hint of subtlety at all. I imagine that in this guy's POV I am like a Tweety bird that turns into a roast bird on a plate. I finish pumping, sprint into my car and lock the doors. I pull through the lot and see that the guy gets back into his car and finally pulls out going in my opposite direction. That was easily the scariest thing to happen to me the whole day. I believe certain people do see ghosts. I am sure they have a gift or a talent for it. I do not. I don't think I see ghosts because I tend to believe they are nothing special, really. They are just normal people like me, that just happen to be dead on the outside. I'm afraid I'm just not afraid of them. I am afraid of people that are dead on the inside.