Ghost stories are a rite of passage in every child’s life.
In fact I think the urban legends and myths that are shared among friends, huddled together at sleepovers or on long walks home, are probably just as influential in shaping who we grow up to be as any schoolroom lesson we absorb over the years is. More than just scaring the wits out of us, these stories often equal as cautionary tales and warnings to heed — like D.A.R.E., only effective.
And while, growing up, we encounter many scary tales and experiences – each with their own varying levels of spookiness – I’m sure each one of us has one that beats all the rest. The one that, if it were physically possible, would’ve left our hair with a shock of white. For me, it was the ghost from Three Men and a Baby.
Like the Kennedy assassination for the generations before me, I remember exactly where I was when I learned about the ghost.
I was around 8 or 9 at the time, and I was with my buddy Jake. We had been hanging out with his high school-aged sister and her friend, Megan, watching movies and wasting the summer afternoon in Megan’s (parents’) basement. We’d wrapped up whatever we were doing and were heading upstairs for our next distraction when Megan stopped us abruptly.
“Oh, wait – do you guys wanna see a real ghost?”
Stupidly, unanimously, we did.
I’m sure I initially brushed off the concept of an actual ghost being caught on film, let alone one on the set of Three Men and a Baby: not only was I a pretty skeptical and unflinching little runt (watched The Brood before I was even in first grade, no big whoop), but I’d seen Three Men and a Baby and didn’t remember seeing any ghosts.
Megan popped the tape in the VCR (kids, ask your grandparents what that is) and hit fast forward. We all waited, silently, as the movie blurred by. She stopped it suddenly, excitedly. She hit play. Judgment Day was upon us.
As the camera pans across a room, following Ted Danson while he talks to some old lady, we saw it. The ghost of a little boy, plain as day, standing – nay, hiding – behind some curtains; the glow of daylight behind him making him look even more ethereal and haunting.
I was in shock. Holy fuck, was I in shock. I saw it, I saw a ghost with my own real human blinking eyes! I was struck with an awful sinking feeling – like I’d watched The Ring and suddenly knew my fate. And in a pre-Internet, pre-Google, pre-Wikipedia world, there was no debunking this. What I’d seen was real. No other explanation, it was a real goddamn ghost, and I was freaking out inside.
Megan explained the backstory – one she’d heard from a friend of a friend, naturally – about how the ghost was that of a boy who’d killed himself in that apartment before the movie was filmed there. Made total sense to me.
We kept the convo going as we headed upstairs to continue on with our day. We were just stepping down off the concrete stairs at her backdoor when I realized that I’d forgotten something in the basement. Shit. I told everyone to hang on – to absolutely wait for me – as I’d be right back. Reluctantly, I re-entered the house. I immediately ran down the basement stairs, eyes probably barely open, snatched what I needed and got the hell out of there. I’m sure I broke some sort of land speed record.
I make no exaggeration when I say that afternoon was easily one of the scariest moments of my childhood. I remembered it all these years later, didn’t I?
(Thankfully, obviously, it was not a real ghost but merely a cardboard cut-out [of Ted Danson himself, no less!] Head to Snopes for the full explanation.)