The Polish Ghost
Angelina and Micu Fanello made settlement for a two-story brick house on Pierce Street on an unlucky day. It was a Tuesday, the seventeenth day of the month of April in 1911. They had left Sicily four years earlier to find themselves in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania. Micu cried every day as he entered the dark mine. Angelina hated the cold and missed her mother. They made their way to Philadelphia where their paesani, Antonia and Pietrinu Crispi lived. They saved every penny they could to buy a little house on Pierce Street, Antonia and Pietrinu helped Angelina and Micu move into the house. They noticed nothing out of the ordinary.
Three days later, Angelina, pale and shaking, visited Antonia. Angelina had seen a tall, handsome, blonde ghost. “He is Polish,” said Angelina and described how the ghost had stood at the foot of the bed. Both she and Micu awoke at the same time, but they could not move, they could not speak. They heard the ghost’s voice clearly. “Get out of my house,” he told them. “I was murdered here. I am condemned to stay here and you must get out. My bloodstain is under your bed. I won’t harm you if you move out, but remember, this is my house.”
As the ghost vanished, Angelina started to scream. Micu jumped out of bed and asked her to help him move the bed and search for the bloodstain. They found the dull, red stain under the peeling linoleum. Angelina raced around the room, emptying drawers and closets, throwing clothes into their trunk. Micu pushed back the bed. He grabbed her hands. He said firmly, “We are good Christian people. We have a crucifix on the wall over the bed. This ghost cannot harm us. We paid for this house. It is ours now. We are staying.” Angelina wept and begged Micu to leave, but his mind was made up.
Angelina told Antonia of her fear. Antonia listened, but wondered if her friend could really have seen this apparition. Perhaps Angelina was over-tired from moving. She asked Angelina how she could understand the language of the ghost, since she did not know either Polish or English. Angelina shrugged. She could not say how she and Micu understood him. Yet, he had spoken clearly to them and she explained that she knew this young man to be handsome, blonde, and Polish. She said, “The dead must have powers the living do not.” Antonia tried not to scoff. She took her friends hand gently in her own and said, “We have more to fear from the living than the dead.” Angelina left with tears in her eyes.
A month went by and not mention was made of the ghost. Then, one Tuesday night, Angelina banged on Antonia’s door. In a frightened voice, Angelina cried, “The ghost has hurt Micu! He was thrown off the sofa in the parlor. He can’t speak!”
Antonia ran with Pietrinu to Angelina’s house. They found Micu, his eyes glassy and wide, sprawled on the parlor floor. Micu tried to speak but could not. Pietrinu lifted him back onto the sofa. Angelina ran up the stairs, crying. Antonia followed. Antonia made it halfway up the steps when she felt a tremendous force grab her legs. She shrieked and struggled. Pietrinu watched as his wife was thrown down the stairs.
Antonia regained consciousness after a few minutes, but Micu was never the same. By the next day, he was able to walk slowly, but he hardly ever spoke again. He could say only short words, a few at a time, and he often stared at things no one else could see.
Angelina had begun packing the night of the ghost’s anger and she and Micu stayed with Antonia until they moved to New Jersey where Micu had relatives. Angelina took care of all the business of buying some New Jersey farmland. Antonia asked how after only two months on Pierce Street they could buy land. Angelina explained to Antonia that the ghost had shown Micu the sufferings of hell to punish him but to Angelina because she believed, the ghost had shown a loose brick in the cellar wall. When she removed it, money fell into her hands.
A year later, the city tore down five houses on Pierce Street. The neighbors chipped in to build and Italian American Church on the lot. Antonia and Pietrinu donated generously as did Angelina, who sent money from New Jersey.
Some people said it was the best thing for the neighborhood because one of the houses had been haunted, but only Antonia thought she saw a tall, blonde man standing alone in the empty lot. In 1914, the new church of San Sebastiano was consecrated. When Antonia first entered she looked for the tall, handsome blonde. She remembered the wrath of the Polish ghost. She believed he had looked into her heart that terrible night she climbed the stairs and had seen the shred of doubt.
For all the years of her life, whenever Antonia Crispi knelt in a pew at San Sebastiano, she crossed herself three times and prayed first for the repose of the soul of the Polish ghost.
Maria Fama lives and works in Philadelphia. She is the author of four books of poetry. Her most recent book, Looking for Cover, was published by Bordighera Press.