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The Old Jensen Place

T

he Old Jensen’s Place is the most reliable haunting in the Southern Central United States. It gets over fifty thousand visitors a year and this is how your tour is likely to go, if you’re lucky enough – and brave enough – to go get that ticket.

3:00am, and they come collect you in the tour bus. Kids will be climbing on everyone, and a bunch of folks will be complaining there’s nowhere open to get a stiff drink. Not to worry, they’ve got a visitor’s centre right out front.

Inside, there’s a café-bar and restaurant; soft play for the kids; while next door, a state-of-the art audio-visual tour takes you through the history of the Jensen’s – the petty rivalries, the affairs, the cyclical nature of the farming business – until one day, Ned Jensen, father of three, went berserk and burned the whole god-damn farm to the ground; the wife, kids and animals all packed inside. He may have shot a couple of them with an old bird gun – to get things warmed up – but that’s pure speculation on behalf of the on-site para-archaeologists.

Video displays run off some pop-psychology and the scientifically accepted explanation for ghosts, while big round boards show pictures of all the Jensen family, the sprawling family tree, and the probable line of psychosis (Great Uncle Albert Jensen was in the Bixby Asylum for the Criminally Maladjusted).

Torch in hand, a suitably downbeat tour guide for the ‘Jensen Experience’ will turn up and rip the stub off your ticket. “Welcome to the farm. If your group would like to follow me, I’ll give you the safety announcement.”

You stop in a large ante-room, where up ahead, an old farm door draws nervous looks. It’s set a foot and a half up in the yellow concrete wall, though there’s wheelchair access to the side. Black and yellow hazard stripes act as a door surround.

The spiel goes like this: “No touching the exhibit – this house has been left exactly the way it was when Ned Jensen did the deed. We get thousands of visitors every year, so if everybody touched the gore in there, that old blood would just give up the ghost. Literally.

“No photography. You want a picture, it’s in the gift shop next to the Café on the way out.

“No ghosting. That’s when you put your hand – or any other part of your anatomy – through an apparition. You may experience sudden drops in temperature, thrown objects, physical manifestations that some of you may find disturbing, but you aren’t allowed to touch or otherwise contact the undead exhibits here.

“You want to go pee, or a real fire breaks out, you can use a fire exit. In the event of fire, look out for a green sign like that one up there and we’ll all line up in the coach-park at the fire point marked ‘A’ for Albert. In the event of needing to go pee, there’s no need for us all to come line up with you.”

There’s a faint chuckle. Same joke, every hour.

“Finally, stick to the roped off areas and listen to what your tour guide has to say – that’d be me, Jilly. Any questions?”

That’s your cue to look at everyone else with a nervous grimace and a look of ‘What the hell am I in for?’ and ‘Why did I sign that release?’

But there’s no backing out now.

“No questions? No? Great. Okay, everybody synchronise watches to the digital clock on the wall. We hit 4:15 and things get real spooky round here. Not got a watch? I got packs on me. Jensen themed, just nine dollars ninety-five.

“Set? Great.

“Then follow me – if you will – into that terrible night that Ned Nathaniel Jensen killed his entire family in cold blood and burned his own farm to the ground.”

In the ante-room they switch out the lights on you. It’s a cheap trick, but it usually results in at least one scream. From then on, the tour guide uses his or her torch to point out the interesting stuff.

In through the front door. This is a bust-up old place – webs hanging on everything; dust is ingrained into every surface, so it all looks grey. On the floor a modern metal walkway, one inch off the ground, takes you through the hall, into the parlour. The guide lets you know about some of the events leading up to ‘that night’: the rows, the accusations; shines a torch on the stack of unpaid invoices on the old-country writing desk.

“Yes folks, Ned Nathaniel had debts. Farming back then wasn’t doing so well, when all those Okie farms turned to dust –”

“What time is it?” Someone will whisper.

“Five minutes to go.”

Of course, what they don’t tell you is that they lie about the time. That synchronisation clock is three minutes slow. The guide is telling you about farming practices at the turn of the century, and suddenly this lanky old Oakie pops into existence, shouting, ‘You whore of Babylon!’ Just like that, trailing blue fire that dribbles off him like smoke. If the guide has set it up right, the ghost’s facing the entire group, less than a foot away, and everybody screams right back at him.

“That’s right everybody, Jensen’s here. If you look behind you, there’s his wife…”

His wife’s on the other side of the walkway. “What do you want, Ned? Why are you doing this? Why?”

“You bitch,” he shouts.

“Sorry about the swearing folks.”

“We ain’t ever getting’ outta this. We ain’t ever.” And then he kicks over something. Buckets, barrels. Opalescent fluid floods under the walkway and then he flicks open a lighter. His face picks up a back-light of illumination and he says, real quiet, “Let’s take us to hell.” And whoomf! He throws in the lighter.

More screams. Spectral fire, cold as ice. “Keep steady folks,” says the guide. And it all burns out. Whoom! The room’s dark again. “That’s it folks. That’s it. Follow me. Hey kid, that bit’s out of bounds. Pick up that litter!”

They say it’s enough to put you off smoking for life.

Out through the back way they got another café, a small shopping arcade, and plenty of hokey gifts to buy: a Nasty Ned doll that shouts ‘Whore of Babylon!’ at a pull of a string, sponge-dart firing shotguns for the kids, holographic cards where if you waggle them back and forwards you can see Ned or his wife manifest and then whoosh up in flames. And how about some Silly Putty ectoplasm?

‘Course, kids always got questions; smart, too, some of them.

“But, Pops, I thought the farm musta burned down, already.”

“It’s recreated all historic, of course. Them ghosts used to float right out in a field. They built a new place for ’em. Says so in the guide. Ten bucks, worth every penny.”

“Why they go at it every hour like that?”

“Jeffrey, read the book, son. Says, they have no idea, but it’s the best god-damn thing to happen to paranormal tourism in fifty years.”

 

9 comments

1 Deanna Schrayer { 03.24.11 at 8:58 pm }

Oh boy the money we could be making off…well, just about anything. Great matter-of-fact voice in this Stephen!

2 Steve Green { 03.25.11 at 11:33 am }

A well written take on the “genuine-ness” of many tourist attractions. I like the kids questions too, they tend to speak the truth as they see it, rather than as they are told it is.

3 Jenny Dreadful { 03.26.11 at 1:01 am }

Hello.
Now that is what I call critique.

Damn fine points, thank you kindly. (I was wondering if the punctuation would lend itself to an childish character, but I’m glad to know it just rubs the reader the wrong way, instead conveying a childish lack of skill.)

And emphatically – I want to thank you for the points you brought up, for taking the time to thoroughly comment. It’s hard to get an honest critique, and yours will be put to good use.

4 Aidan Fritz { 03.26.11 at 4:18 am }

Cute. I really enjoyed the second person voice you used in the story. And you had me chuckling throughout. One of my favorite bits was, “…if everybody touched the gore in there, that old blood would just give up the ghost.”

I’m glad “Ned” was considerate enough to ignite the family in a non-dry county. I’m sure that provides more value to the “paranormal discoverers” of this place.

5 Harry B. Sanderford { 03.26.11 at 3:56 pm }

I think you pegged it Stephen!
Before Disney & Universal Studios took over there were lots of little roadside draws like this in Florida. I remember traveling in the back seat of my parents Dodge from Jacksonville to West Palm Beach and always wanting to stop at them all. They were of course silly by today’s slick theme park standards but it was a different world then.

6 Stephen Hewitt { 03.27.11 at 11:21 pm }

@Deanna, sometimes the voice seems to rattle along. Happily it was one of those days. Thanks for that.

@Steve, I love it when kids say it as it is.

@Jenny, you’re welcome (and I popped a longer reply back on your site)

@Aidan, glad you liked that voice and the wry humour. And, well, Ned was a considerate kind of maniac. 😉

@Harry, I’d love it if those sorts of attractions came back. I guess a lot of them were probably a bit disappointing if you did stop, but the ‘what if’ of the drive up to the door would’ve been worth the price of admission alone. Had an ‘I love the internet’ moment reading your reply, considering I come from Scotland, how exotic it sounds travelling in a ‘Dodge from Jacksonville to West Palm Beach’. 😉 St.

7 justin davies { 03.28.11 at 4:34 pm }

Love the detail of the guide making the joke about lining up to pee, This sort of thing annoys me so much at places like this. (not that i’ve been to a place like THIS).
Great idea and well written. Also very entertaining.

8 Joan Enoch { 03.31.11 at 7:03 pm }

I like the idea that a haunting can be ‘reliable’ – all is revealed regarding that as you read on.
‘. . . the probable line of psychosis’ – I like the idea of the thoroughness about that – there must be one, right? – a line of psychosis, that is.
It’s a spectacular, the Jensen experience, or an attempt at one – thinking this has given me cause for further thought (got to be a good thing). In fact, I’ve been interested in the idea of the spectacular for some time.
‘ . . . it’s enough to put you off smoking for life’ – any ex-smoker (like me) would like that line.
And the last line ‘ . . . it’s the best god-damn thing to happen to paranormal tourism in fifty years.’ Loved it.

9 Stephen Hewitt { 04.01.11 at 1:52 pm }

@ Justin, lol. Yes, I’ve been there — where repetition has reduced everything to a scripted part of the show and you’re kind of desperate for your guide to stop droning and say something ‘real’. Glad you enjoyed this one. The Jensen caps are in the foyer.

@Joan, I was interested in what it would be like if there was a real haunting that was so reliable, that its started to become commonplace; a thing for tourism, and tacky tourism at that. And yes, the Jensen Experience is trying to be a spectacular, but has descended into being horribly mundane. That’s the bit that would make me shiver.

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