I haven’t finished the book yet, so this isn’t a review, but rather some thoughts inspired by some of the bits I’ve read so far, that mention places that are familiar to me, or at least that I have been to.
Arthur Goldstuck has written several books about South African urban legends, and there is an overlap between urban legends and ghost stories, especially in the legend of the Vanishing Hitchhiker. Hitchhikers have now vanished in more than one sense, and I’ve written something about that here and here.
In one of his earlier books Goldstuck mentioned the Uniondale ghost as a story belonging to this genre and he has dealt with it more fully in this book. I found it quite interesting as I recently travelled the road in question, though when he mentioned the Barendas turn-off the name didn’t ring a bell, but when I looked it up on a map I did find that the road we had travelled along passed a railway halt called Barandas. Perhaps the ghost entered the typesetting machine to add a little more mystery to the story.
The story is of a motorcyclist who have a hitchhiker a lift, and lent her his spare crash helmet, and a little further on he felt the bike swerve a bit, and looked round and the hitchhiker had gone, and the helmet was in its usual place.
We travelled that road four years ago, and again in September this year. On Friday 29 April 2011 we drove down the N9 from Graaff Reinet, noting the empty dam on the Groot Rivier (a trickle), and about 40 km south of Willowmore we turned west on to the R341, leading to De Rust. I think this is what Arthur Goldstuck refers to as “the Barendas turn-off”.
We had only gone a few kilometres when an ambulance came the other way, lights flashing, and the driver signalled to us, and stopped, so we stopped, and he asked if we had seen an accident involving a motorbike. We said we hadn’t so he turned around and passed us going the same way we were, and past the turnoff to Uniondale we came to the scene of the accident. The ambulance had obviously come up from Uniondale and hadn’t known which way to turn.
We didn’t stop at the scene of the accident, but passed by sending up a silent prayer for the rider, since the ambulance was there. Now, having read the stories in the book, I wonder if we had stopped, would we have found that the accident was caused by a ghostly hitchhiker?
The other thing that struck me in the book was the mention of the Sandringham Dip. I lived for 6 years at Sunningdale, on the ridge above the dip in question, from the age of 7-13, and four years down the hill in Sandringham itself. The dip actually leads from Silvamonte to Senderwood, and as you go that way the grounds of the Rietfontein Hospital were on the left, and on the right was the Huddle Park Golf Course. At the bottom of the dip is a stream, a tributary of the Jukskei, which runs between Sandringham and the golf courses. As a child I used to play in the stream, and I went through the dip many times, by car, bicycle and on horseback. I rode on horseback with friends to see another friend who lived in Bedfordview, and a little way up the hill past the dip was a gate that opened to the Huddle Park golf course. When the gate wasn’t locked we would take a short cut through the gofd course, galloping down the fairways. There was a danger of being hit by a sliced ball perhaps, but we were more afraid of municipal officials who might accuse us of trespassing and make us go back. Nothing could be further from our minds than the fear of ghosts.
Goldstuck mentions a grave at the bottom of the dip. I never saw that, but I did know of a graveyard at the top of the hill beyond the dip, and took photos of it because I thought it was picturesque, with mouldy wooden monuments and crosses rotting under the trees.It may have been the graves of people who died in the hospital, but I doubted it. It was too far from the main hospital, and looked more like old farm graves.
As children we also used to ride on horseback through the grounds of Rietfontein Hospital, because there were plenty of wide-open spaces, which were (and are) getting harder to find in an increasingly urbanised landscape. We gave the hospital buildings (a few old Victorian houses) a wide berth, partly because of the fear of Authority, which might chase us away, and also because it was an isolation hospital for infectious diseases, and we were afraid of catching something.
More recently I have been in correspondence with people who are concerned about proposals to develop the site, because apparently a lot of people who died at the hospital have been buried there over the years, and local history groups believe that these sites should be respected.
So I seem to have missed the ghosts. Though I was in the right places, obviously it was at the wrong time.