Just like for everyone else, Halloween can be a spooky time for journalists as we investigate and explore strange occurrences related to the supernatural.
|A copy of an Oct. 29, 1988 newspaper article about a|
'Hanging Tree' in New Mexico where a ghost has been
reported over the years is contained in a box of old clippings
in Ed Pierce's basement. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE
Back in the early 1980s, airmen at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona where I was stationed, kept telling me about seeing strange lights and being subjected to unusual experiences inside an aircraft hangar there. Being close to Halloween, as editor of the base newspaper I thought it would be an interesting article to report about it for that week’s edition. I spent an evening in the hangar interviewing several people who worked in the structure and was told a wild story.
It seems that the hangar had been used as a training site for German airmen and pilots learning to fly older American fighter aircraft. One of the German mechanics had died from a fall inside the hangar and according to the story, his spirit would return at night searching for tools and his flight suit. Three base security guards told me that while on routine patrol of the flightline during the night, they could see lights coming from inside the darkened hangar, which had been abandoned when the German Air Force began training on a newer aircraft from a hangar up the road on the base.
I also spoke with a civilian painting crew that had been contracted to repaint some offices in the hangar so it could then be used by an American aircraft company testing a new jet there the following year. They said that because of other work obligations, the crew could only work inside the hangar at night and just like the security guards, they also experienced some odd things while working there.
The painters said once without any reason, the overhead lights inside the hangar suddenly went off, leaving them in the dark. They claimed to have heard footsteps walking around inside the hangar and one man said he turned a corner and saw the apparition of an individual walking in the other direction holding a flashlight.
Along with a base photographer and base security, we toured the hangar after dark but unlike our interview subjects, we did not experience anything out of the ordinary. The article appeared on the front page of that week’s base newspaper and each time I ran into the major who directed base security thereafter in the course of my duties, he called me “Ghost Hunter.”
In October 1988, I was reporting on small town south of Albuquerque, New Mexico when I met several people who claimed to have had encounters with ghosts near an old cottonwood tree. According to legend, the tree had been used as a “hanging tree” for convicted criminals in the 19th century and on occasion, people had said they could see bodies hanging from the tree in the middle of the night.
An older resident of the area told me that sometime in the 1890s, a drifter by the name of Homer Salas had been lynched on the tree on Halloween night by a mob which accused him of horse theft. Through the years since, town residents said a ghost would appear in the wee hours of the morning kicking and tugging while hanging from a rope on a tree branch. One man told me that he had been kicked in the face by the boot of the ghost while walking home late one Halloween from an evening spent at a local bar.
He said he thought he heard something in the tree and when he walked closer, he encountered the ghost of Homer Salas up close and personal. He reached into his pocket and showed me a photo that his family had taken of him the next morning with a large red bruise on his cheek.
The article I wrote about the tree appeared in the newspaper on the Saturday before Halloween and after its publication, several other people informed me that they had also experienced unusual events near the tree. One of those people was the town’s assistant librarian, who said her car broke down on the road by the tree and while she waited for her husband to arrive to jumpstart her car, she could hear moaning and sobbing coming from the tree. Another was a man who called me and said his grandfather’s brother had been a part of the lynch mob and he always had avoided that area because he believed that the ghost would exact revenge upon him or his family.
After listening to all these stories, it was difficult to determine if they were credible or figments of these people’s imagination. All these years later, the jury’s still out on that question. <