My mother’s father was quite a story teller, when we were kids he often told us of his youth in the northern part of New York State, here is one of his tales about so-called “Ghosts.” He explained it this way:
There was a man I called a “ghost” since he didn’t have any hair. I said to him, “How come you haven’t gotten any hair, you’re the first man I’ve ever seen that didn’t have any.” So he told me.
He said that he had fallen into a trance, where he couldn’t talk and move, but he could hear what others were saying. Everybody thought he had died. In those days they didn’t have many methods to tell whether you were dead or not. They kept him four or five days and then they put poison all over him instead of embalming him. Here he was in a trance, but everybody thought he was dead. They decided it was time to bury him–they made a box, but since his brother was coming to see him they decided not to nail the cover on until they got to the cemetery.
Maybe meanwhile, his brother might come. Just as they were about to put the cover on, they heard horses and the brother finally showed up. They took the cover off and the minute they did the man sat straight up. He was all confused because he heard all this and he knew that they were going to bury him, but when he looked around he was the only one in the cemetery. He didn’t know what to make of it. The long and short of it was the poison that they had put on him made him lose all his hair. That was my “ghost!”
On one other occasion I met another “ghost.” Well back then, and I don’t know why, they always opened a window around the casket and they always had candles lit near it. One of the relatives got too close to the window and the wind blew the candles and set the curtains on fire. They had to get water and by the time that they did, the corpse in the casket had gotten pretty well disturbed. While this was happening, we had just gotten there. During this rumpus nobody offered to take us in to see the deceased and I went in alone. Well the body wasn’t anyway near the way the undertaker had laid him out.
I took his hands and straightened him up and went out. About that time other relatives went in and they got very excited. When they saw the body, they started to holler and jump in the air, scared to death–“Daddy’s alive.” After a while they went back in to look at him and see if there was anything moving and of course, there wasn’t. I started to laugh and they looked at me and asked what I was laughing at. I said, “I straightened him out”–and that was the end of this ghost.