Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ghost Story: Milk Bottles

This is a ghost story that I told many of my adult students over the years. It is a traditional American folktale.* 

The story of Milk Bottles always takes place in a small western town; the time frame it is placed within is either frontier or depression era. 

An older man owned the town’s general store. Times were tough so his customers were few and far between. 

One day he became curious when a young woman entered his store holding two empty milk bottles. He knew everyone in the town and the surrounding area. He had never seen this woman.

She approached his counter and placed the two empty milk bottles down silently. He reached back and took two full ones off the shelf and placed them next to the empty ones. She picked them up and left his store, with barely a nod of acknowledgment.

The next day she entered his store once more. Again she placed two empty milk bottles upon his counter, with two pennies. Times being tough, he didn’t point out to her that this was not enough money, instead, he placed two full bottles on the counter. 

As he watched her leave the store his curiosity peaked.

That afternoon he inquired of various townsfolk if they knew who she was. To his surprise, no one else had seen or heard of her. 

His neighbor that evening speculated that maybe she was the daughter of one of the travelers camped by the river north of the town. 

She cautioned that most of the townspeople had stayed away from the camp because it had been plagued by illness and several of its members had not survived. But she had heard the surviving members of the group had moved on recently.

The following morning the same young woman entered his store holding empty milk bottles. He replaced them with filled ones and tried to engage the woman in conversation. But she silently nodded and left the store. 

This time the man followed her. He watched as she walked down the main street, and then left town heading north toward the river.

He followed her along the river and into the town’s makeshift graveyard. Surprised, he spotted her disappear near a large wooden cross. 

He approached the grave to see where she might have gone. As he stood near the fresh mound he heard a baby’s cry. Concerned he realized the wail was coming from below where he was standing. Without hesitation, he started digging. 

He opened the wooden lid of a coffin and discovered the young woman dead and holding a baby who was obviously still alive. The two milk bottles were placed near her side.

For years afterward the town told the story of how the young ghost mother whose baby had been wrongfully buried, had kept her child alive until help arrived.

* Even though my version of this tale is from a traditional African American folktale, told in America from the mid to late 1800s on. 
The original version of this tale was first passed from one generation to the next in Northern Europe. It is a prime example of how folklore moves from country to country. 

Versions of the basic story of "a dead mother who returns" have been told in Germany, France, Scandinavia, and Lithuania--just to name a few. 

As with all folktales, this story is often recreated to fit the culture it is told within. Even in America, it changes from region to region.

This story originated in China in the 1100s, and then was shared in Japan--where it is still told today.

Read my newer post about the Kosodate yurei here.

1 comment:

Leona Joan said...

What an interesting yet sad story. Thanks for sharing, Virginia.