The Day I Died by Candace Fleming
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: What a deliciously creepy collection of ghost stories. On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave (Random House/Schwartz & Wade 2012) begins with a variation of the popular Vanishing Hitchhiker story that sets up the structure for the collection. Mike picks up a girl, she disappears before he gets her home, but leaves her saddle shoes behind so he tries to return them only to learn that she died years ago. When he decides to verify this news at her graveside in White Cemetary, he finds a group of teenage ghosts who gather around him and will not let him leave until they have each told him their story about the day they died.
The stories are all set in real Chicago locations, many surrounding local ghost legends, which lend the stories the necessary authenticity to make them more believable. And who wouldn’t be scared by a story set in the abandoned Chicago State Asylum for the Insane, or one that features a funeral home and Chicago’s infamous Al Capone? The stories are not arranged chronologically so they bounce around from current times back to the 1860s. At the end of each story another teenager steps forward to comment on the story just told and to launch into his or her own tragic tale. There’s humor and irony in the mix along with the supernatural and creepy.
This might be a fun launch into some research of the real locations and events or to research creepy locations in your own area. I live in Grand Haven, Michigan and our town’s Lake Forest Cemetary is featured in the book Weird Michigan due to a haunted set of stairs. We have many other ghost legends in Michigan including haunted shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. Students could also write their own ghost stories based on local places or events–why should Chicago have all the fun?
Lynn: Oh I love ghost stories and this collection is deliciously scary! I love the way the stories bounce around in time and how each story eases eerily into the next. I couldn’t begin to tell you my favorite except maybe it was the one about the evil hood ornament! No, wait, it had to be the one about Aunt Viola the hoarder. No, no, it was the one about …! Well, clearly I just need to let you decide for yourselves since I loved them all.
What I have no confusion about is how much I especially loved the Note from the Author section where Fleming tells about learning to love ghost stories from her mother, who told stories based on the history of the Chicago area. “The best ghost stories, I’ve learned, should always include a kernel of truth,” she says and oh is that ever right! Then Fleming goes on to tell us about all the historical kernels of truth that lie at the heart of each of her wonderful stories. Run and get this book now and start reading it around summer campfires. By the way, did I ever tell you about the story of the haunted carousel here in Holland?