Grave’s End: A True Ghost Story was written by Elaine Mercado, a registered nurse. We learn this from the title. Then in the introduction, Hans Holzer, a parapsychologist, tells us that the events in the book were true and that he helped solve the problem back in the mid 90’s. Both of these things, the ethos established by a scientific profession as well as the fact that we learn that everything works out fine lend credibility to the story. After I was finished with the book, I believed in Mercado’s story, at least I believed that the book is an honest account of the events that she witnessed.
Then I asked myself, “Why do I believe her?”
The answer is the lack of formula.
To convince someone that an experience is true then you need a certain amount of credibility to gain their trust. Once that is established the events cannot be too over the top. The reactions in the story need to feel authentic, and the ending needs to leave a few things unexplained because that is typically what life gives us, parts of a resolution. In short, the story needs to be less formulaic and truer to life.
A great way to contrast this is to compare the book with the fictionalized version of the story. In the television show Paranormal Witness (season 2 episode 2) we get the Hollywood version of events. A lot of key elements were edited out of the Mercado’s story to squeeze it into the typical formula. The biggest one is the fact that the bride takes center stage in the hauntings. The miners in the basement aren’t mentioned, and the bride even takes the place of her husband as the entity that Christina sees on the staircase. There are no hovering balls of light, no amorphous shadowy shapes skittering about the room, and no aspiring artwork from the cat. The show then implies that the haunting happened as a direct result of Mercado throwing out the wedding dress. That’s when it lost me.
After I calmed down, I wondered why the show did this. Then it hit me. The television show needed to create a simple, closed narrative.
Every time I watch television shows about parapsychologists or ghosts I always have the same nagging sense of doubt. But since this is the first time I’ve had a concrete story to compare it to it comes as no surprise that all of these shows follow the same structure. There has to be a simple chain of cause and effect that the audience can follow without much effort.
One of the things I enjoyed about the book is that Mercado didn’t try to wrap everything up. In fact, she goes out of her way to explain to the reader that a lot of the things are still a mystery to her. This rings true to real life where lots of events, especially traumatic ones, are left open to interpretation.
It makes me wonder if there are any television shows out there that don’t try to wrap history around their narratives. If there are I’d like to see them so I could shed some of my skepticism.