John Bruce Shoemaker,
The Black Hope Horror:
The True Story of a Haunting

(Berkley, 1993)

There's nothing like a good ghost story, especially when it's a true one, but I must say that The Black Hope Horror is a rather unusual tale full of untraditional, poltergeist-type events. Ben and Jean Williams were the first couple to move into the new Section 8 subdevelopment, but the home of their dreams soon became the home of their darkest nightmares. At first, strangeness came in the form of material things: snakes, many of them poisonous, all over the place (not necessarily unusual), freak rainstorms leaving behind large numbers of huge worms, invasions of giant ants oblivious to hot water cycles of dishwashers, toilets that flushed themselves at all hours of the day and night.

Members of the family also often had the feeling they were being watched by someone or something, footsteps began to haunt the halls and the older and younger members of the family changed significantly in terms of their personalities. Cold spots manifested themselves quite often and electrical malfunctions of an inexplicable sort began happening. One night, Ben encountered two black forms whose icy, enveloping touch sent him to the hospital with something akin to an asthma attack. Similar events influenced the lives of neighbors as the new community began to grow, although no one communicated their experiences with one another until two decomposed bodies were found buried beneath one neighbor's backyard, thus confirming the Williams' fears about the sinkholes in their own property. The family is shocked to learn that the development was constructed above an old black cemetery.

Assuming this story is true (and handfuls of families don't just leave homes and their investments behind and let their properties be foreclosed upon without good reasons), it is quite an interesting, somewhat nontraditional haunting. Two things about this book pose a small problem in my mind, though. First and foremost is the style of the narrative. This is basically the Williams' story as told to John Bruce Shoemaker, and he writes of these events as if he were there recording everything that happened along the way. Memories, especially negative ones such as these, become distorted rather quickly, and I find the plethora of direct quotations from multiple family members, including some this author never met, somewhat laughable. I think the story would be more believable if it was simply described in standard, objective narrative form.

Secondly, there is far too much emphasis placed on peripheral events; I refer especially to the very unusual number of emotional problems, sicknesses and deaths that affected the Williams' while they lived in the house. I just think too many things are blamed on the "haunting." The fact that a couple visits the house a time or two just doesn't seem to explain the breakup of marriages. While it is quite remarkable to see six close family members die in a period of only three years or so, it does not mean the "things" were causing all of the problems. After all, Jean and Ben never got sick or divorced and they lived in the house for several years.

This is a vivid, sometimes fascinating tale of undeniably bizarre events; there aren't as many goose pimple sections as you might find in a more traditional haunting account, but clearly something of a very unusual nature took place on this area of land that was once Black Hope Cemetery. I don't think this book will change anyone's opinion about ghosts or unduly frighten anyone, but certainly there are elements here of high strangeness that make for a compelling read. Even if you set aside the whole haunting premise, what you have left is a pretty powerful human-interest story.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 12 April 2003

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