Writing “Vagabond Heart”: My Encounter With a Ghost

I’ve never seen a ghost. While I won’t contradict others who say they have, my pragmatic nature leans toward cynicism when I think of Ouija boards, séances, and the Amityville Horror. I always knew someone was moving the pointer during a Ouija board session because I was the one doing it.

During my research for Vagabond Heart, my wife and I stayed at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona. You know, the town where Jackson Browne stood on the corner decades before and wrote “Take It Easy” with Eagles front man Glenn Frey. (Youngsters, look it up.) La Posada, which means “The Resting Place,” is one of the most amazing places I’ve visited. I could feel the stress sloughing off my shoulders as we wandered through the gardens toward the front door. If there was ever an oasis to rejuvenate, reflect, or write, it’s La Posada.

It was nearly destroyed twenty years ago, but a French millionaire and his artist wife saved it from the wrecking ball. They recreated the vision of Mary Jane Colter, the female architect who’d designed La Posada in the 1920’s. Since its rebirth, many have claimed it was haunted. In fact, a week before we were to leave on our research trip, I read an article about haunted hotels along Route 66. La Posada was mentioned, and I couldn’t know it then, but it foreshadowed my one and only ghostly encounter.

We were there one night, on our way to Colorado for a friend’s wedding. We spent much of the afternoon exploring little Winslow (cute!) and wandering through the many public rooms of La Posada. After dinner we ventured toward the art gallery of Tina Mion. Ms. Mion is one of the owners and her artistic flare can be seen throughout La Posada. Her artwork is over the top, macabre satire on contemporary life and issues. One of her most notable paintings is titled New Year’s Eve in Purgatory. In hindsight, a ghostly encounter shouldn’t have surprised me.

The gallery was dark except for the individual art lights that illuminated each canvas. The effect was chilling but matched the tone of the paintings. My wife and I were the only ones in the gallery, and the quiet was numbing. We slowly strolled past each painting, commenting on Mion’s talent or laughing at her unique perspective. Who wouldn’t laugh at George W. Bush depicted as the Cowardly Lion?

Toward the back of the gallery was a 3-D display. A floor rug lay in front of a painting (whose content I don’t remember). On the rug was a rocking chair. Since it was part of the art, we stepped carefully around the rug as we moved on. I saw a sliver of light to the left, beyond an alcove just past the display. While I ventured toward the light, which led to another wing of rooms, my wife moved to the next picture.

And that’s when we heard it. Creeeeaaaak. It was loud and broke the absolute silence we’d enjoyed during our tour. I immediately ducked back into the main room and looked at my wife. “What was that?” I asked. She was staring at the rocking chair. She pointed and said, “It moved. Like someone got out of the chair.”

I can’t describe the expression on my face or what I said next because everything blurred. I grabbed Amy’s hand and we skeedaddled down the corridor I’d found and headed back to a more populated area. After immersing ourselves in the presence of other human beings, we finally went upstairs to our room and prepared for bed. Tucked under the covers, I glanced about the room, wondering if spirits traveled about or if they were confined to certain spaces. It took an hour or two before I finally fell asleep (fortunately, ghost-free).

That night was certainly memorable, and Vagabond Heart includes a fictionalized account of our experience. Ghosts are just one example of the colorful characters found on Route 66, which serves as the backdrop for this romantic comedy. Because hey, who doesn’t need a good laugh about now?

Vagabond Heart is available on October 12th, and you can pre-order it now. 

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