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Festival of Ghost Stories: Chilling tales to tell in the dark


Inside the packed auditorium of the Monroe County Public Library, the Festival of Ghost Stories kicked off Halloweekend with stories of ghosts and horror.

The Festival of Ghost Stories has been a Bloomington Halloween-time staple for more than 34 years, according to the city of Bloomington's official website. The event on Oct. 26 featured stories told by experienced storytellers for adults, teens and older school-age children.

“When you’re working on your own stories, the ultimate test is presenting it in front of a live audience,” storyteller Ken Oguss said. “I think tonight went pretty well.” 

The stage was decorated with piles of pumpkins and stickers of leering jack-o’-lanterns while some audience members wore costumes — Halloween was in the air. 

Around 7 p.m., the lights in the auditorium went out as the night began. Bloomington Storyteller Guild member Patty Callison started off the night by serenading the audience with the song “Black and Gold,” which referenced classic Halloween components such as pumpkins and black cats. 

Lisa Champelli was the first storyteller of the night to spin her tale. Her story, “The Three Journeymen,” was adapted from the Brothers Grimm collection. To make the story more interactive, Champelli divided the audience into three sections, with each section playing one journeyman. 

Storytellers told tales such as one about a haunted fiddle owned by an old crippled man killed by drunken Union soldiers during the Civil War and one about a young woman reading a thick book of ghost stories on a Southern California train, who abruptly vanished when confronted by a fellow passenger skeptical of the supernatural. 

There were local legends as well. "The Witch of Stepp Cemetery" is the story of a grieving mother haunting the Stepp Cemetery deep inside the Morgan Monroe State Forest singing an old Irish lullaby to her daughter, who was tragically killed in an auto accident.  

Oguss has been a member of the Bloomington Storyteller Guild for nearly a decade and has been a professional storyteller since 1978. His story, “The Wisconsin Trowel Murders,” was about a young woman exacting revenge on a group of archaeology students on Halloween night every year, whose prank left her disfigured by a bear. 

“It is a story that I’ve been working on since 1976,” Oguss said. “I did do an archaeological field school at that time and created the story back then. It has since evolved into the story I told this evening.” 

Oguss said he chose to tell this particular story because it is spooky and gruesome — a good tale for Halloween.

Told by Patty Callison, “Beginning with the Ears” is about a man who disregarded his wife’s warnings and ended up getting eaten by a witch disguised as a harmless old woman. 

The night ended with David Peerless’ “Summer Solstice.” The story, which Peerless said is drawn from personal experience, detailed his search for a missing girl through a pine forest.

“Probably nobody believed me when I said the story really happened,” Peerless said, “A part of it did. I went for a walk through the pine woods, and I found the altar with the gutted candles and pentagon, minus the blood stain, of course.” 

During his search, he came across an altar decorated with gutted candles and a pentagon, in the middle of which was a blood stain, thus discovering that the girl was the subject of a druid sacrifice. 

“What really happened was the basis," Peerless said. "I merely added the horror component to make the story more compelling.” 

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