It could have been a scene out of "Ghostbusters," only instead of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, it featured Alan Lowe, 55, of Roland, Ark., and his volunteers from Spirit Seekers Paranormal Investigation Research and Intervention Team. ("Where the Here and the Hereafter Meet," to quote his business card.)
Instead of wandering around the New York Public Library, these Arkansas ghostbusters were spending most of a dark if not stormy night in the friendly confines of the state Capitol, which must get a little spooky after the lights go out. Those long, echoing marble halls are a little scary even in broad daylight, especially when you remember some of the legislation that's been sneaked through those premises.
Mr. Lowe and his impressive team of eight came fully equipped with video and audio equipment, though not the 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Ambulance, aka Ecto-1, featured in the movie. Or even the particle accelerators that toasted my favorite character, the huge Stay Puft Marshmallow man. Ummm, he would have been delicious over a campfire complete with, natch, ghost stories.
So what did these intrepid Spirit Seekers come across during their eight-hour sojourn in the state Capitol on a Saturday night? Voices so faint they couldn't be heard with the unaided ear. Floating orbs with comet tails. Sounds like the psychic remains of some appropriations bills that should have been dead on arrival.
There were no signs of Slimer or the Terror Dogs from the movie, but the Capitol is still under psychic investigation. "We're still reviewing," says Mr. Lowe, Spirit Seeker No. 1, "but there's something paranormal in there." And the Legislature's not even in session.
The great god Gozer of Ghostbusters fame wasn't encountered during the night, but there were a couple of actual sightings and soundings. A spectral figure, after a grunt or two, identified himself as "Edward," and another, on being asked if he'd been a state senator, pleaded innocent. "Real lightly and faint in the background," reports Mr. Lowe, "you can hear 'No.' "
It couldn't have been Arkansas' own Jeff Davis, the Wild Ass of the Ozarks, who never spoke lightly and faintly about anything. Especially the state Capitol. In the early years of the last century, that legendary senator and governor was not at all eager to build a new Capitol in the image of the federal one - and on the site of the old state penitentiary at that. (Talk about inviting ghosts!)
To quote my favorite riff from that populist Demosthenes:
"The Helena World says that I'm a carrot-haired, red-faced, load-mouthed [sic], strong limbed, ox-driving mountaineer lawyer. That I'm a friend to the fellow that brews 40-rod bug juice back in the mountains. Now, I have a little boy, God bless him, and if I find that boy is a smart boy, I will go and make a preacher out of him. If I find that he's not so smart, I'm going to make a lawyer out of him, but if I find he has not a bit of sense on this earth, I'm going to make an editor out of him and send him to Little Rock to edit the Arkansas Democrat."
Not till Louisiana's Huey Long came along was there a more entertaining demagogue on the rollicking American scene than Arkansas' Jeff Davis. Naturally he was careful not to correct any unreconstructed Arkansas voter who might confuse him with the Jefferson Davis of Confederate fame. To quote one of his avid followers, "Not only is he a great man, but a mighty long-lived one!"
But any comparison to Huey Long is unfair. Of course the Kingfish would be able to tell more stories about political corruption, being from Louisiana and all.
As for ghosts I have known in my time, I can't be sure that's what they were. (The headline on this column was just to get your attention.) My ghosts were certainly not frightening. Anything but. I suspect they weren't ghosts at all but angels, for the ones I've encountered emanated nothing but pure love and care.
I'm thinking of a recurrent vision I used to have of my grandmother peeking in my bedroom door to check on me the way she used to do when I was a child. Then there was that conversation with my long since departed grandfather after I'd had too much of the sabbath wine and was doing a vigorous hora at a religious retreat. It was as if these ghosts had come to assure me that all was well in this world, and the next.
As an old black man down in Louisiana once told me, "It ain't the dead folks who'll hurt you."
He had a point. It's the living who scare me.