What follows was originally written as the epilogue to my current book project. I’ve withdrawn it from the manuscript indefinitely, and decided to share it here for now.
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Our history is a dry erase board. Some bits get smudged while others are erased deliberately, often without thought.
Looking out across the expanse of asphalt, fresh concrete sidewalk, and barren dirt, the whirring or speeding cars all around, one would never realize that a building once stood there on South Main Street in Akron, Ohio. The landscape has been so altered by freeway construction that the place seems almost unrecognizable from twenty years ago. In my mind, though, I can still conjure up the ghostly image of the two-story red-painted-red-brick building surrounded by vacant lots. A white logo on a black background proclaimed your arrival at 1009 South Main Street’s Cocktails Video Bar.
While it was said to have the oldest continually-operating liquor license in the city, Cocktails had only been open since 1999. Before my time behind the bar, I was a patron at this gay watering hole. It was a typical gay bar of its era, housed in a dimly-lit old building with black walls and a regular crowd of older thirsty customers who turned what should have been a dreary place into a lively, campy oasis. Being my single-minded inquisitive younger self, I feigned attempted casual banter and asked the manager, Jeff, if the place was haunted.
“Actually, yeah. You mean Karen? I think she’s still around. You know why the front door is covered over and we use the side door? She had way too much to drink one night and walked right into traffic and died.”
Brian, the owner, stood in his usual spot at the end of the bar clutching his Dewar’s Black Label. He nearly groaned with irritation when Jeff told him what I’d asked. He was a businessman with no time for silly ghost stories. This was not a man who would be too receptive to the idea of having some would-be ghost hunter asking to stay overnight inside his establishment. I was intrigued, but I didn’t push the issue.
Within a year, I started working behind the bar, mainly as a barback cleaning tables and picking up the odd happy hour shift when allowed. One afternoon, I arrived to find a more excited than usual coworker ready the moment I stepped inside to tell me about what had happened to him the night before. After closing time, he told me, he was alone in the building counting out the till when a crumpled white cocktail napkin sailed down the stairs leading to the upstairs bar. Catching it out of the corner of his eye and chalking it up to some freak natural occurrence, he went back to counting. Not even one minute later, a second balled-up napkin flew down from upstairs again, this time as he was looking in that direction. Struck with a sudden, overpowering feeling of terror, he ran out of the building, leaving the cash on the counter and the alarm deactivated, locking the door behind him. The next morning, the owner called him furious with the way he left everything and he made up some silly, flimsy excuse to smooth things over, knowing that Brian wouldn’t accept a napkin-throwing ghost as a valid reason to be so reckless.
Over the years, I was always on the lookout for any signs of Karen, though I never was told the whole story of who she was. One night while sitting in my car after a rough break-up I felt an ice-cold hand grip me, its invisible fingers pressing between my own, and after the initial shock thought it was perhaps her spirit trying to comfort me. She held my hand almost my entire drive home. Long after I stopped spending time there, I delved into local newspaper archives and discovered her story. Karen Clarr was a middle-aged regular visitor to the Teeter-Totter—as the bar was previously known—and lived just a few short blocks away. Her death outside the front door in 1998 was what finally closed down the bar and allowed Brian to buy it.
Cocktails was slated for demolition when the freeway expansion project began south of downtown Akron. A new place, Cocktails 2.0, was opened less than a mile south down a side street. I stopped in one final time to visit before it officially closed; gone were the campy characters I remembered—Ginger with his trademark, “Kitty, kitty, kitty…” sighed out drunkenly as commentary, Birdie flapping his hands wildly every time Aretha Franklin started belting out a tune from the never-ending supply of music videos playing on the row of televisions overhead, and even Jeff with his dry, sarcastic wit and endless supply of jokes. It had become a shell of itself, a vessel without a soul. I didn’t even know it was gone until I found myself staring at the new alien landscape before me, trying (and failing) to find the slightest trace of foundation or brickwork to prove it had ever existed.
My time at that haunted gay bar was a pivotal point for my journey into discovering where queerness and my paranormal interests could overlap. Though I was a young out gay man, I found it difficult to reconcile that with the paranormal groups around me. While I met other gay and lesbian ghost hunters and gay-friendly people who became good friends over the years, I often encountered conservative and devoutly-religious investigators who I felt uncomfortable being myself around. Writing about haunted places and giving tours of local sites of ghostly reports became a chore. My sexuality was an intricate part of my identity, and it felt stifled. I was blending in. The Technicolor landscape of unexplained phenomena was fading into its own empty lot of coarsely spread dirt and broken cement.
What began as a simple, reasonable question—are there gay ghosts?—became a research project for my own amusement. As the collection of stories grew, so did my interest. Within five years, I had gone from occasionally blogging about LGBT ghosts and haunted businesses to developing a book which was eventually published by Lethe Press as Queer Hauntings: True Tales of Gay and Lesbian Ghosts in 2009. The research never ended, though, and grew to encompass all manner of subjects from LGBT psychics to queer alien abductees. Yet as will often happen, life managed to get in the way. Less free time meant taking a brief hiatus from my passion project and devoting more hours to mindless drudgery.
It was my rediscovery of Michael McBeath’s journal article “Psi and Sexuality” that once again ignited my desire to delve back into further investigative research related to the overlap between sexuality and the supernatural. I scoured old archives and ordered hundreds of books, be them popular or obscure, filling my bookshelves and file folders with more and more data. Though I had been giving serious thought to revising and updating Queer Hauntings, my personal historical archive had eclipsed this limited topic. While I realized that there were still immense holes in my rediscoveries of people, places, and stories, such a fascinating history needed to be gathered together and given a voice. Even now, as I write these words to explain my finished manuscript, there are scribbled notes with names and incidents in need of further study scattered haphazardly about my dwelling and post office employees undoubtedly groaning as more heavy parcels are sorted and shipped from across the country and international borders.
One cannot consider the whole of unexplained phenomena—itself remaining a hotly-debated, unsolved centuries-old puzzle—from hundreds of years, countries, and cultures to be completed within a mere few years. Long after I’ve ‘shuffled off this mortal coil,’ the lingering questions and still-unknown tales will continue to rattle their heavy iron chains in the corridors of our ever-changing gay meccas or shamble through the forests of sexual identity politics. It is my sincerest hope, however, that the bizarre, amusing, and sometimes horrifying histories contained in this unprecedented volume may expand how some people view the paranormal and maybe—just maybe—inspire a new generation of investigators and enthusiasts to continue to dig through the decrepit vaults of our marvelously mysterious and often unseen world of the unknown.