Michaeline: A Nebraska Ghost Story for Japanese Obon

Today is the middle day of Obon, a three-day Japanese holiday honoring the dead. Ghost stories are traditional, because this is often the hottest, stickiest time of year, and the chills you get from spooky thrills are said to feel cool and refreshing.

I live in Japan now, but I grew up in Nebraska, and went to school there. I lived in one of the oldest dorms of my university, but I was in the new wing, which was built in the 1950s. No ghosts there, but we heard about ghost stories in the halls right next door.

Black and white newspaper image of a three story dorm with basement.
The story goes that this was a going to be a haunted residence hall. (Image via NebNewspapers)

The one I remember in particular was told to me in a room that had been converted to a TV room. Every floor had a TV room, which seemed to be a regular room that had been converted to communal viewing.

They (forgive me, it’s been so long that I no longer remember who “they” were – fellow students, and I think there was a boy and a couple of girls) told me that the room was haunted. They said during an influenza pandemic, the girl who lived there would open the windows because her fever was so high. Her visitors would shut the windows again, and angrily, she would open them as soon as they were gone.

I wish I could say at that point, the windows slowly and silently swung open. But they didn’t. A chill went down my spine, we finished watching the TV show that was on, and I don’t think I ever visited the room again.

However, the next year, I heard that there had been trouble when the cable guy had come to install cable into the room. (Oh, we were excited to get cable!)

Apparently, the window opened. The guy ran out of the room and vowed never to return. I suppose somebody finished installing the cable. Maybe someone with a stronger spirit, or duller imagination.

I think about this story every few months or so. Since our current pandemic began, I probably think of it every few weeks. It’s so weird that I didn’t hear stories about how great-grandma had to wear a mask, or that Dad’s friend at school wound up crippled from polio . . . but the ghost story did get passed down.

I’m planning to share more ghost stories during the rest of August. Feel free to share your own in the comments!

*Note: the story told here was in the tradition of oral storytelling. Inaccuracies abound. But, this is as it was told to me. For more information, check out these stories:




4 thoughts on “Michaeline: A Nebraska Ghost Story for Japanese Obon

  1. I thought about that, too–why no family stories of the 1918 pandemic? My dad was born in 1914 and Mom in 1922, so they were too young.

    Stories abounded in Mom’s family–including one from the Civil War–but nothing from the Spanish Flu, when her mom would have been a young girl. She lived in the Appalachians, isolated from other people. Maybe they were unaffected?

  2. My grandmother’s brother died in the 1918 flu epidemic, and she never talked about it, even when I went with her to the gravesite on Memorial Day. She was 20 in 1918, and he was younger than she; maybe his death was particularly painful. He was the only boy in a family of four. My mother clearly remembered the depression, but she never talked about that, even when I asked for memories. I think that generation just didn’t talk about hardship much.

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