Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Put the 'Ghost' in 'Ghost Town'?

The best of times.
The worst of times.
My parents had decided that our family needed to visit Montana.
And Virginia City.
It sounded . . . Western.
To those of us from the ranch, that translated to mean – exotic.
We led a small life, I admit it.
I don't remember much about the 'getting there'.
I was four.
It was long.
And sleepy.
But I do remember stumbling along wooden slats with my Mom.
Then being carried by said Mom.
That's when it got exciting.
We were in an old fashioned, western town with boardwalks and hitching posts.
There were even a couple of watering troughs.
But no horses. I noticed that straight off.
We went into the museum.
I should explain, here, that there are two different kinds of museums.
The slick, professional, institutional showcase of fact.
And the humble, heart-felt, community tribute to history or 'collection of stuff out of Gramma's wash shed'.
And, because my husband is an historian, we've seen many, many examples of each kind.
Moving on . . .
Virginia City's museum was the warm, homespun type.
Long glass-topped tables filled with . . . curiosities. Those little, wondrous items which fill the local citizen's heart with awe and amazement.
But really don't have a global impact.
I stared obligingly at antiquated pieces of equipment and tools. Signs and billboards of past eras. Household paraphernalia.
But what I most took note of was anything that suggested 'horse'.
Oh, and the preserved bodies of two-headed lambs and calves and kittens.
While my family wandered around, I stood nose to nose with one or another of these amazing specimens.
While they exclaimed about 'memories' I pointed out numbers of eyes and ears.
It was a fascinating visit.
But it ended.
All too soon.
And suddenly we were back outside on the boardwalk.
We moved to the next building.
A drug store.
Or at least that's what Mom called it.
It didn't look like the one in Milk River.
But I was willing to give it a shot.
I followed Mom inside and wandered up the first aisle.
I was bored.
Maybe if Mom picked me up again.
Things always looked more interesting when she carried me.
I help up my arms.
She obliged.
Okay, I was right. It was a bit better from up here.
We wandered through the store.
At the back, against the wall stood a large, wooden cabinet.
With one door.
Which was closed.
I stared at it as we grew closer.
It seemed . . . mysterious.
Okay, I admit, I didn't know what the word mysterious meant.
But the mere mention of the word sounded . . . mysterious.
Ahem . . .
Mom stopped beside the cabinet.
With the only closed door in the entire place.
I stared hard at that door.
What secrets did it hide?
Candy? Toys? Maybe another two-headed kitten?
I looked at Mom. “Open it, Mom! Open it!”
“Well I don't think I should,” she said uncertainly, glancing over at the proprietor.
He merely smiled and nodded.
“Open it, Mom! Please?!”
“Well, It's probably storage or something.”
“Open it! Open it!”
“Well, I guess it's all right.” Another glance at the proprietor.
“Open it! Open it!”
Her hand reached out and grasped the knob.
I held my breath.
What were we going to see?
Something magical?
Something wildly exciting?
Something . . .
The door swung back with an appropriately spooky 'screech'.
Hanging quietly within was a skeleton.
“Ai-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi! Close it! Close it! Close it!” I hid my face in Mom's shoulder.
Mom must have swung it shut.
I didn't see.
And I missed quite a bit of the rest of Virginia City, glued as I was to her shoulder.
But that was all right.
How could they top that?


  1. So mummified remains of two headed whatevers, no problem, A few bones dangling from a string and gah!!!!

  2. Well, I hope Mom didn't buy any penny candy in that store!

  3. Did that care you of your curiosity any?

  4. Oh, that's hilarious! I would like to know who's bones they are... do you think they were real or fake?

    That sounds a bit like Old Tucson... I've been there a couple of times - but I haven't been there since it burned down several years ago and been rebuilt. One of these days I'll make my way to Tombstone and poke around there. It's only a few hours from here, but I've never been there. This makes me want to load the kids up and go see it! :) Great story!... as always!


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