I was a Boy Scout who never sat beside a roaring campfire without hearing a good ghost story.
During those years, now long ago, our troop would camp in some of the creepiest locations imaginable along the Florida Gulf Coast. Evenings in those camps were naturally spooky, as aged, live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss seemed to gather round behind us as we sat in front of a raging fire, a pyre that had been created from their brethren. I always felt that they were watching us, silently hating us for it.
And the ghost stories told at those times...oh, they were always scary. I remember the tale of "Doodalo," a killer of great repute. Though he was caught and hanged for his crimes, every evening his red-stockinged leg could be seen sticking up out of the grave, bent at the knee, in a nightly struggle to rise from the dead.
My favorite, though, was about the "Oochi Monster," a terrible being that roamed the woods of Defuniak Springs, Florida. If it ever gotcha, it would transform you from a lad of good deeds into an evil, soul-eating zombie!
But all that was kids' stuff, and as I moved into adulthood, my belief in ghosts went the way of Santa Claus. However, I purposely remembered the tales, so that I could frighten youngsters with them around some future campfire.
Imagine my surprise, then, when in January 1983, I took time-lapsed pictures of the Pensacola Naval Air Station National Cemetery and saw ghosts in the prints! For the first time in my life, I had in my own hands the other side to the argument over whether ghosts exist.
The side of the argument that I had previously subscribed to was that physical proof of ghosts did not exist, and that whenever evidence had been submitted for consideration, it was proven to be a hoax. Before January 1983, my opinion on the subject would have been a standard, sarcastic "Ghosts! Yeah, right!"
Yet, what I saw in the photographs was compelling evidence that I could have been wrong in my assumptions.
January 30, 1983 began as a very cold morning along the Gulf Coast. The camera I had with me that early morning was brand new, a birthday present from my parents five days earlier. As I drove by the cemetery at 2:00 AM, I noticed that it was brightly lit by street lights, so I decided to pull over and take my first ever time-lapsed pictures.
I did not yet own a tripod, so I pulled the car up on the curve and parked it next to the six-foot-high wrought-iron fence. I stood on the front fender of the car. The fence was spiked, so I held the camera down on a spike as steadily as I could in the chilly night air. I took three shots, counting to 30 on each one as I manually held the shutter open. I remember being a bit unnerved during the few moments I spent there.