Ready for Halloween? This frightening photo essay of Northern Nevada cemeteries and spooky story should get you in the mood.
Autumn seems an awkward time to tell you this story, since it happened in the spring, but maybe with All Souls Day upon us, you’ll forgive the transgression.It was a Saturday night in April 1985, and I was living at the Reindeer Lodge. You may not remember what Mount Rose Highway was like in those days, but it was treacherous—dark and snaky. A state trooper once told me it was the deadliest stretch of highway in Nevada. It was all the more treacherous that night because there was a spring snow, the type that melts when it hits the pavement, but since the temperature was hovering right at freezing, patches of ice could appear unexpectedly.
I remember I was headed home, and I’d rounded that hairpin 15 mph curve right below the lodge when, bright in my headlights, a young woman suddenly appeared on the road through the drizzle. I couldn’t have been two feet from her when my Toyota pickup slid to a stop. I was so close, her simple rose corsage cast a shadow on her features.
She was soaked through, her long, brunette hair plastered to her face in rivulets. She was wearing a formal dress—ivory-colored and satiny, I recall, with a crocheted shawl over her shoulders, which was obviously more stylish than warm.
I thought I could guess what happened, it being spring-prom season: She’d gone to dinner—probably at Gloria Michaels’ Christmas Tree restaurant—gotten in an argument with her date, and decided to walk the nine miles back to Reno rather than stay with the guy.
I reached over and opened the passenger door. She peered in at me, presumably to make sure I wasn’t some kind of homicidal maniac, climbed onto the bench seat and latched her seat belt. I remember the click.
“Would you take me home, please?” she asked, moisture on her face. “I’m sorry, but I live all the way in Reno.”
When I saw her in the cold light of the dashboard, I was struck speechless. She was gorgeous—cornflower blue eyes under arched eyebrows; long, thin nose; plush red lips. Her skin was as flawless and translucent as a porcelain doll’s. She was three or four years younger than me, which would probably make her a junior or a senior in high school.
I turned the truck around and headed back down the highway.
Pulling into the Galena Ski Rentals parking lot a few miles down the road, I got out of the car and took off my coat. In those days, I had a questionable sense of clothing style, and I was wearing my grandfather’s Broadstreeter cashmere topcoat, which was given to me after he died. Even with the heater on full blast, I could tell she was freezing. I handed the coat across the seat to her, and she wrapped it over her shoulders.
We didn’t talk much on the way into town. She said her name was Barbara. I remember her voice had a airy, flutelike quality. I’ve always been a little tongue-tied around beautiful women, and she seemed preoccupied. I didn’t ask her how she came to be walking on Mount Rose Highway on such a miserable night, and she didn’t volunteer the information, just the occasional “Turn right here” or “Around this curve.”
She guided me all the way around the freeway to a residential area of town west of the university, across from that old Grand Army of the Republic cemetery on Angel Street. I think there are apartments there now.
“This is my house,” she said.
Still playing the white knight, I walked her to the front door. Frankly, I was trying to think of a way to ask for her phone number, but I was too embarrassed. She used her key to unlock the door, and while standing with the screen door open and the main door cracked, she leaned out and quickly kissed me on the mouth. Her lips, truth be told, remained cold—even after a half-hour in the truck—but the kiss warmed me right up.
She slipped inside the house before it occurred to me that she was still wearing my Grandpa George’s coat. I thought for a second about knocking on the door, but I figured, since the house was dark, her parents were probably asleep, and she might get in trouble for getting in so late (not to mention trying to walk home from Mount Rose in the rain and hitching a ride with a stranger). Besides, that coat gave me a perfect, legitimate excuse to see her again.
The next afternoon, I went back to the house, which in the warm daylight I could see was a rundown clapboard, and I knocked.
An old, old man came to the door. He was an Ichabod Crane-looking guy, with an overhanging nose and prominent Adam’s apple. His ashen face and wrinkled neck had at least a week’s worth of whiskers. I remember he was wearing a knitted brown and gray pullover vest and slippers. The odor of stale cigarette smoke roiled out of the house.
I presumed him to be the grandfather, so I asked him if I could speak to Barbara.
“Barbara?” he asked, confused. “Barbara?” It was my turn to be bewildered, and I told him as much of the story as I didn’t think would get her in trouble.
He stepped aside and held the screen door for me to come in. After turning down the television and seating me on one of the broken-down living room easy chairs, he produced a yellowed photograph in a dusty, ornate frame. It was Barbara.
“My granddaughter is dead,” he said. “She was raped and murdered on the Mount Rose Highway 20 years ago … by her prom date.”
In the minutes—hour—that followed, that old man told me about the killing of his granddaughter in 1965 in the parking lot of the Tannenbaum ski resort. I didn’t know what to think. This couldn’t be an elaborate joke, could it?
As I left the little house on Angel Street, I decided to drive over to the Our Mother of Sorrows cemetery on Virginia. The old man—I never did catch his name—had given me general directions for how to find the girl’s gravestone, just in case I didn’t believe his story. It was north of the mausoleum in that section with the elms.
I found what I was looking for. It was an ash-gray marble headstone with the inscription, “Barbara Rosemarye Chancellor/August 20, 1947-April 17, 1965.”
I didn’t have any trouble finding the grave, though. You see, I spotted something familiar as I rounded the building, and I strode directly to Barbara’s final resting place. Draped over the tombstone was my grandfather’s tan coat. And pinned neatly to one lapel was a faded rose.
“Ghost story” adapted from urban legend by D. Brian Burghart.