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The Ghost of Pearl White

The Ghost of Pearl White by S.E. Schlosser

A true ghost story collected by folklorist S.E. Schlosser

When I was a kid, my grandparent’s bought a huge old boarding house in Jersey City. It had once housed the actresses working for a big silent film studio across the street, but the film studio was long gone, and the boarding house was unused. My grandparents converted it into a 3-family home. They moved into the bottom floor, offered my parents the second floor, and rented out the third. It worked out pretty good for everyone. Extra income for my grandparents, privacy for our family with quick access to Grandma when it was wanted or needed, and the couple on the third floor were quiet. Very quiet.

Not sure where I got the notion from – maybe I overheard my parents talking – but I soon got it into my young head that the wife of the man renting the upstairs apartment was a recluse. M parents never saw her, and when it was time to pay the rent, it was the man who walked downstairs to the ground floor to speak to my grandparents. We all thought it a bit strange that the woman was so unsocial, but other school concerns quickly drove the woman out of my mind. At least for awhile.

Now bedtime for me, at the new house, was eight p.m. sharp. My bedroom was opposite the staircase, and I could see it clearly when lying tucked up in my bed for the night. So when the stranger-lady in the gorgeous, fancy yellow dress came walking past my room, and headed up toward the third floor staircase one night, I blinked for a moment in surprise. Then I realized it must be the reclusive wife of our neighbor, and I relaxed. She sure was a pretty lady, I thought as I drifted toward sleep. And that dress was to die for!

After that, I saw the lady most nights, walking past my door to the staircase. I loved her clothes. Often she wore the yellow dress. But sometimes it was blue or pink or white, with lovely lace or embroidery. One night, she came right into my room and went into the closet. That surprised me a little. Then I realized there must be a secret staircase in my closet, leading to the third floor. In the morning I tried to find it, but it eluded me. I saw her walk into the closet a couple of times over the years, but usually she just walked up the main staircase.

Eventually, my grandparents sold the house to my aunt, and all of us went to live in a nice home in the suburbs. About a month after the move, my aunt came to my parent’s house in a rage. I sat in the kitchen, eating cookies and listening quietly, hoping no one would notice me and send me away while they talked “grown-up” stuff.

“ I can’t believe you sold me a haunted house!” my aunt said to my grandpa.

“What do you mean, haunted?” Grandpa ask. And my aunt explained. In detail. About the ghostly woman who walked up the second floor staircases each night at eight, and who sometimes went into the closet of my old room.

I stared at her, pop-eyed in wonder. The woman had been a ghost? Really? I could barely believe it. Still, my aunt had seen her, long after the couple on the third floor had moved away from the building. Feeling it was time to speak up, I told my parents and grandparents about my own ghostly sightings. So they had to believe it, since both my aunt and I had seen the ghost. I told my parents that I never felt threatened or frightened in any way when I saw the ghost. Indeed, my memories of the ghost are all pleasant ones.

A look through old photographs of female stars of the old silent films identified the ghost as that of Pearl White, and further research revealed that my old closet had been the dressing room for some of the actresses. So that explained why the ghost had sometimes walked into my closet, although I was a bit disappointed that there was no secret staircase.

To this day, I sill have no idea why the ghost of Pearl White still walks the halls of her old boarding house. Perhaps it is to remind herself of a happy period in her life. All I know for sure is that she has the best clothes! I’m still envious of her beautiful dresses.

 Read more New Jersey folklore in Spooky New Jersey by S.E. Schlosser.

Author retelling: This is a unique author retelling of this folktale. This version of the story is copyrighted to S.E. Schlosser. See the Permissions page for information on reprints.