a nation that has seen so much conflict, been the victim of so many
betrayals and broken promises, and has been laid to waste and been
rebuilt, the Czech Republic's history isn't so much haunted so much as it
haunts. But even so, while most nations have a history that doesn't
seem to die because someone from that period allegedly wanders the area
of a major battle, execution, or where an historic event took place, my
first foray into the Czech underworld of ghosts and misplaced spirits,
that being a two hundred and fifty crown Old Town Ghost Tour way, way,
way back in 2003, proved to be a disappointment, the tour seeming to be
a near-on word for word, perfectly scripted imitation of the Old Town
History Tour, the wandering undead of the Old Town proving to be the
same exact historical characters that I had heard about solely three
hours before on another two hundred and fifty crown tour.
That being said, I must point out that there were several other reasons for my disappointment, the main one being: the woman who gave the tour obviously didn't believe. Not that I went on the tour hoping to see something apparitional, uncanny or otherworldly, or to at least be convinced of such, but I was at least hoping for an entertaining stroll. But whereas on the tours I'd been led on in Dublin, New Orleans, New York and Paris, where the guide was an actor hoping to make a buck on fooling us into telling our friends how haunted their cities really were, the young lady who presented Prague to us seemed as disconnected to her material as a Middle Ages Catholic monk would be about modern day rave culture. The young woman, who was a student, dryly leading us from building to building, telling us tales that seemed as if manipulated from a textbook, rather than twice told tales that had come down as fact after generations of sightings.
Other reasons for my disappointment included no interaction with the guide, no (perhaps untrue) reports of sightings by other tour groups, and absolutely no sightings by the guide themselves. Businessmen lie for profit all the time, why shouldn't a tour guide? But the main thing that seemed to bother me, especially as we neared the end of the tour, was, where were the common people? The tour seemed to be a parade of Lords, Ladies, Knights, Alchemists, Kings and Queens, all of whom had decided to stay behind. But not one peasant haunted the land, not one common soldier, no young farm girls who fell for a Lord, and no serfs who were promised the world and ended up losing what little they had. It seemed as if Prague, being held under the tyranny that was communism for so long, had eradicated any traces of their royal heritage in their history books, leaving only their ghosts behind, ghosts who may just disappear if Schwartzenberg is once again returned to power, leaving the undead of the poor to once again reclaim the night.
Which of course begs the question: how the hell did I end up here? In Prague 5, at the end of the B-line, in a statek, or old Czech farm house in the village of Stary Zlicin on a warm, beautiful, sunny afternoon? The long and short of it: one of my co-teachers had a student who claimed that the west wing of her friend's square-shaped statek was haunted, and the teacher volunteered my services. For what? I don't know. I am not a ghostbuster, have never met a ghost, am not a priest so I cannot perform exorcisms, and I am cycnical to a fault, that fault being I tend to make a snide comment about everything and anything that anyone else believes in, even if my own beliefs concur fully with their own. But, according to my co-teacher, the fact that I am Irish (Irish American in truth, but let's not be particular), and well-read up on the subject (I worked for a publishing firm that did a lot of horror in the mid-eighties--ten years before I got a job there) makes me a quasi-expert.
But my own curiosity did get the best of me. That and the fact that there had been reports of a poltergeist bothering some poor family in the non-descript village of Strasnice. Not that I hopped a bus and went looking for the bitter spirits renowned for trashing places in that village. I just listened to the BBC Report. But two ghosts who had no claims to title, to manor, to dowry, or to a horse, but who were just haunting for the sake of haunting did strike me as odd in the Czech Republic, and still shaking the horrid memory of that 2003 tour from memory, I hopped the B-line and headed out of Prague. Now you have to understand where my Irish family is from: West Clare, in Ireland. This is the Irish county that forced the Irish State, attempting to build a highway to the district in the hopes of modernizing it in the 1990's, to build the highway AROUND a particular tree. Not for environmentalist reasons, but simply because fairies had been spotted there. This is the land where Ireland's greatest living bard has planted himself, Eddie Lonihan, and from where he goes looking for new fodder for his creepy, Irish tales. This is the land that my mother dragged me back to time and again, and though I was always cynical, this may also explain why my bluster at going to a haunted house seemed to wane the closer I got to the end of the B-line.
But on I went. And hopping a bus, I arrived at the statek, the square-shaped home that at one time hosted a farming community, but which now hosted some of Prague's nouveau riche, as well as the walking dead. The woman who met me at the gate, let me into her beautifully re-done garden area. I looked around and had a guess at which wing was the haunted one. The one that wasn't re-painted, re-done or redecorated. The work had been started, just never completed. "Poles," the woman said with a shrug. I sensed that they were the workers who could not complete the job. I checked my watch. It was one thirty in the afternoon. I was here at this time because I am a teacher and I have a pretty clear afternoon. I had to wonder if she is one of what the Czechs refer to as the 'green widows,' or women whose husbands have moved them out of the city where they had friends and a life, and dropped them off in an expensive house with an endless bank account, provided them with servants and a home that continuously needed to be maintained, but then wondered why their wives were never happy when they arrived home once again at ten o'clock at night from work.
Of course, I didn't ask about this, so much as I asked about the ghost. The house was a fixer-upper according to the lady of the manor, and her and her husband had to pay the prior families to leave. She claimed, in near flawless English that she learned ten years ago when nannying in England, that she knew something was wrong with the house when the previous fifteen tenants held out for more money. When I explained that I didn't understand her reasoning, she was once again curt, saying simply: 'lawyers.' I did not understand, but I assumed that she assumed that the previous fifteen tenants who she moved out so her and her husband could occupy the home alone needed the money to protect themselves should she and her husband sue over not being forewarned of the undead occupants. She said she had planned to use the wing for entertainment purposes and that she hated having friends visit so near to her sleeping quarters, that being something akin to communism. Bored with the woman's tales of present day society, I attempted to bring her back around to the ghost in the wing. He worked at the Zlicin train station, she began and seemingly ended. I probed for more and realised that that was it. He retired, she finally continued with a shrug. The boredom and melancholy got to him. He hung himself. The story wasn't story worthy,. though of course I brought my notebook and pen. I acted like I was writing, but there was nothing more to write. She took me to the room where he hung himself, and even pointed to the beam from where he swung. But I felt like I truly had my story already: the poor of the Czech Republic are back!!!!!!!!
I of course quickly typed up my tale and sent it to a friend who loves quirky haunted tales, himself always wondering why he keeps getting Irish tales from me and not Czech ones, himself claiming anyone with an Irish last name, from an O'Brien to a Gallagher, sends him at least ten of those tales a week. He asked me for more, getting me to even call down to the Old Town Ghost Tour and find out if there was still a guide named Martina there. The man on the line was confused, leading me to believe that my leader on my first quest into the netherworld of Czech upper-crust society had gone, and maybe, I wondered, I should take the tour again.
But the story did have a strange ending. My friend's student was excited to report to her that her 'Irish' friend, namely me, had somehow exorcised the ghost and that the Ukrainian workers who had taken over from the Poles had completed the job. I didn't think I had done anything special, except let the ghost tell his tale . . .