The Pink Ghost of Franklin Square

by Charles Weathers Bump

The Ghost appeared very modestly at first. Some children sitting on a bench just before dark saw it in the second-story window of one of those big old brownstone fronts on Fayette street, on the south side of Franklin Square. It seemed so uncanny and weird to them that they talked a lot about it when they went that evening to their homes on South Stricker street. The parents pooh-poohed it, of course, and told the children there was no cause for alarm. But when one of the little girls, after a restless, troubled effort to get to sleep, had had a strenuous nightmare, and had alarmed the household by shrieking that the woman in pink was beckoning, the older folk decided to investigate.

The next night there was no ghost. Two fathers sat with the children in the Square from supper time until after 9 o'clock, but nothing happened. Naturally, the fathers thought it a pure case of nerves. But the children were so insistent and so circumstantial in their story that the older heads wavered and returned on the following evening.

And then they saw the Ghost!

Just after the June sun had left the trees and a few dying gleams were coloring the tops of the tall houses on Carey street, on the east side of the Square, the Ghost showed itself at the window the children had pointed out. It was a figure nebulous and hazy, but undeniably pink. It appeared right at the window, and after standing still for a moment began to wave its long arms with fantastic gestures, and to make other movements which the children interpreted as beckoning to them. Then it evaporated, but in another moment reappeared and went through more gyrations.

The exclamations of the children attracted the attention of others in the Square, and soon a score of people stood fascinated and puzzled by the weird vision. It lasted perhaps five minutes more, quite up to when darkness settled down on the Square, and none was able to explain or give any reasonable solution of what all had undeniably seen. They continued to watch, and continued to discuss, but the vanished Ghost came no more that evening.

The next night, the news having spread, there were a hundred persons or more in the southeast part of the Square. The Ghost came on time and went through the same antics. The wonderment and the mystery grew. And still none could explain, though a resident of the block stated that the house under watch was temporarily without occupants, as the family who dwelt in it had been gone to Europe for some weeks.

It was four days after this before the police heard of it. By that time, with the exception of the "cops," it seemed as though everybody in Southwest Baltimore was discussing the Ghost. A reporter worked up a lively tale about it for an afternoon paper, and Round Sergeant Norman, as he left the station-house that evening, was instructed to "lay the Ghost." You know the police don't believe in the supernatural. Too often etherealized ghosts turn out to be most mundane burglars and housebreakers.

The Sergeant found a thousand eager watchers in the Square when he arrived. The afternoon paper had evidently been digested well. Each watcher was straining his eyes at the brownstone mansion on Fayette street. From the windows of several Carey-street houses curious persons leaned out, and even on the west, at the Franklin-Square Hospital, there were other interested observers.

"It's either a 'fake' or a burglar," declared the Sergeant positively, as he took the "cub" reporter to task for making such capital out of the Ghost. He was just about to narrate some of his own experiences with bogus spooks when the Pink Ghost became visible, and the Sergeant started and uttered a surprised exclamation. A thousand other pairs of eyes had seen it, and a thousand throats called out, in varied strength of sound:

"There it is! There it is!"

A hush fell over the crowd as they watched the figure in pink. The deepening shadows toned the dark-brown front of the mansion until it framed the outlines in the window with considerable positiveness. But the uncanny nature of the appearance was also in evidence, for one could see right through the figure in pink to the room behind it. Those near the Round Sergeant saw him remove his helmet and mop the increasing perspiration from his forehead.

"That beats the devil," he muttered.

The Ghost began to wave its arms, to bend over and then straighten up; to beckon and then to make gestures as if of denial. The Sergeant's awe was great, but no whit more intense than that of the crowd. They were face to face with a bit of the supernatural, puzzled, wondering, doubting, scoffing, fascinated, alarmed.

"By Jiminy!" exclaimed the Sergeant. "That's the strangest thing I've ever seen, Howard. We'll have to go into that house."

But their visit that night was destined to be futile. Some minutes were lost in gaining access to the rear roof through the house next on the west, and some minutes more in prying open a shutter and forcing a carefully locked sash. By this time the twilight had deepened into night, and the Sergeant lit a borrowed lantern to make the trip down the stairway to the second-story front. There was nothing strange or supernatural in the room; no sign of a pink ghost or any other being, human or spiritual. The furniture and other fittings seemed undisturbed and as regularly arranged as they had probably been when the owners went away. And when Howard, the reporter, raised a window, a hundred watchers in the street and Square were ready to vouchsafe the information that the Ghost had been gone quite ten minutes.

The Sergeant swore. Then he muttered: "It certainly is queer." Then he took Howard on a thorough inspection of the house, from cellar to roof. They poked into cupboards, turned over mattresses, peeped into bureau drawers and boxes and a score of other articles too small to have hidden anything human. But nary a sign was there of ghost, burglar or joker. "It beats the devil," again remarked the Sergeant as he and Howard, perspiringly hot, left the house about 9 o'clock.

The following morning the papers were full of it. Southwest Baltimore no longer mortgaged the new sensation. All Baltimore discussed it and speculated what it might be. And, as a result, the crowd of watchers as the June day drew to a close numbered not one, but many, thousands. Around at the Concord Club they said it beat any political mass-meeting ever seen. The Square was overrun, and everybody talked "Pink Ghost." Captain Delany ordered out the police reserves to keep the crowd in check and give the cars a chance to get by. With Round Sergeant Norman, the Captain personally superintended the preparations to lay the ghost.

The Pink Ghost did not disappoint them. It came to the window on scheduled time—just as the shadows deepened in Franklin Square—and it waved its arms from the window and beckoned to the awed and puzzled multitude. Captain Delany gave a signal, and from front and rear his picked men swarmed into the empty house and rushed up the stairway. The Round Sergeant was in the van. He had been berated and ridiculed for not solving the mystery the night before, and he determined to be in at the death now. But as he crossed the threshold of the front room he started back in amazement and fell against the bluecoat behind him. The Pink Ghost was not in the window, but swaying and frantically waving on the west wall of the room.

"My God! what is it?" cried the man behind.

Norman could only point to the wall. His own hair was, he felt, actually raising his helmet off his head, and there was a curious contraction in his throat. In an instant, however, this had passed, and, with club in hand, he charged bravely upon the Ghost. As he neared it, however, a surprise awaited him. Instead of waving arms, he saw his own burly form shadowed on the outer edge of the pink nebula. He turned upon his heel, quickly bent over, and then burst into loud laughter. For him the riddle of the Pink Ghost was solved.

"What is it, Norman? What is it, man? Is he crazy?"

The other policemen pushed into the room to be enlightened, but the Sergeant only laughed the more immoderately. Delany became angry and started to seize Norman by the shoulder. This brought the Captain into the pink nebula and he understood Norman's hilarity.

"By gad, that's funny," he cried, and he entered upon a joint spasm of mirth. The other bluecoats drew near, and as each came into the pink glow the chorus swelled. Such a lot of uproarious policemen had rarely been known in Baltimore.

Five minutes later Captain Delany and Sergeant Norman, having at last controlled themselves, left the closing of the house to subordinates and crossed the square to a house on Carey street, where they asked to see a young lady abiding there. She was a very stately and fine-looking young woman, and when she tripped down into the parlor the attractiveness of her face was heightened by a slight flush, due most likely to her wonderment at a visit from two policemen. When they left her ten minutes later her face was rosy red and her stately carriage had given way to a combination of mirth and embarrassment. But Delany had her positive assurance that there would be no more Pink Ghost.

"For, you see, it was this way," he explained to the reporters who stopped him outside. "The young woman seems to have a steady beau every evening, for whom she likes to do a bit of fixin' up and primping. And after supper she makes her way to her room, which is in the front of the top floor, and there she combs and rearranges her hair and puts on gew-gaws and trimmings. And in these long summer days, when the sun has left the square, it is still comin' into those high windows."

"But what has she to do with the Ghost?" asked one irrepressible.

"I was a-comin' to that, youngster," retorted the man in blue; "but if ye're overanxious, it may satisfy yer to know she was the Pink Ghost. Leastwise, the sun's reflection was the ghost and she was the movin' figure that made the shadow do such queer antics. She had a bureau in the back of her room so fixed that when the rays of the dying sun come into the window on the north they are reflected in the bureau glass and pass out of the south window and across the square to that there brownstone front where you all saw the Ghost. Every time she raised her arms to her hair or made any other movement in dressing before the mirror she butt into the reflection and caused your Pink Ghost to do stunts."

"And you say there won't be any more Pink Ghost?"

"Not unless the young woman gets careless and leaves up that south blind. For she sort o' has an idea tonight that the whole of this end of town has been watching her get ready to meet her beau."