“Do you have anything you want to say?” I asked Dylan Thomas on a recent sunny afternoon. We were having lunch together at New York City’s famed White Horse Tavern, and I had ordered a cheeseburger. Nothing for Dylan Thomas, however. (He is a ghost.)
The White Horse Tavern, located in the West Village, was established in 1880 and, according to the White Horse Tavern’s website, is “the 2nd oldest continuously run tavern in New York City.” To me it sounds like “continuously run” and “tavern” might be used in this description to make the boast sound like more of a thing than it is, but who am I to judge? (No one but a simple seeker of ghosts.)
In any case, the White Horse Tavern needs no padded boasting—it’s already, aside from being the 2nd oldest continuously run tavern in New York City, a major “thing.” Lots of famous writers, poets, and musicians who considered themselves poets hung out under the Tavern’s tin ceiling—the very same tin ceiling that terrible NYU students hang out under today—in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Here are the names of some of them that I am quite certain you will recognize: Bob Dylan, Mary Travers, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac. Lots of celebs. There are more: Norman Mailer, Jim Morrison, etc. Also the Village Voice was conceived there, apparently. And they said “White Horse Tavern” on Mad Men once. But the bohemian most closely linked to the White Horse Tavern is, as you may know, Dylan Thomas. Why is Dylan Thomas the bohemian most closely linked to the White Horse Tavern? Well, I’ll tell you.
It’s because some say...
—he never left.
The story of Dylan Thomas’s White Horse Tavern embedment goes like this: One night, after drinking 18 whiskies, Thomas collapsed outside of the Tavern. He was taken to the Chelsea Hotel, where he fell into a coma, and was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital late that night. He was pronounced dead the next morning. Legend has it Thomas’s last words were, “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies; I think that’s the record.” Not terrible last words, really, considering anything you say throughout the day could be your last words. (“Can you throw this away?” “Why are you being such a prick?” “Sure, I’ll take one but only if you’re already getting one.”)
Some dispute this story, saying he died of pneumonia, or something, but—whatever, it’s not important. What’s important is: He died. What’s also important is: Maybe his ghost is here still, at the White Horse Tavern. The Tavern is often listed as one of the “most haunted” places in New York City, and many have claimed to see Thomas (see-through version) either seated at his regular corner table, where he was seated on his final night as a corporeal being, or walking around outside of the building. His table is also reportedly often found in disarray by members of the White Horse staff. From the National Paranormal Association, which is a BlogSpot:
If he happened to be doing both drinking and writing, he would twist the table slightly in order to make it easier to access the paper. And according to the staff, they find this one corner table slightly twisted every morning, even if they make sure to line it up before closing.
Still writing, even in death? Take a break, my man. I called the White Horse to confirm these claims and spoke with a very nice woman who laughed and then told me this: “We do have to straighten a lot of the table and chairs in the morning, but that’s mostly because the floor is crooked—it’s not just the one table. But I guess [whether or not it’s due to the ghost of Dylan Thomas] is subjective, depending on what you think.”
Very open-minded and understanding. But, hmm, is the floor crooked because of a ghost? I hoped to find out.
When I entered the White Horse Tavern, I was greeted with a “hello” but could not tell which person at the bar said it to me, which was unnerving. A ghost who sounds somewhat unhappy to see me—already?
No. A living lady who sounded somewhat unhappy to see me already.
She told me to choose any seat I wanted—a patron’s dream—and I chose a seat in a dark corner directly across from what is known to be Dylan Thomas’s table. Was this because I made a last-second decision that I later somewhat regretted? No, not just that. It was because I wanted to be able to monitor Dylan Thomas’s table in case something ghostly happened, like a chair moved, or maybe the ghost of him appeared.
In my ghost-hunting kit, I had my very loud EMF ghost meter, given to me for keeps by the ever-generous Taylor Berman, along with the various blinking iPhone applications I purchased with lightly-earned money last time. In honor of Dylan Thomas, I added one new trick to my ghost-hunting repertoire: Automatic Writing. (Dylan Thomas was a poet, you see.)
Automatic writing, I learned from various online sources including GhostlyActivities.com and Ghosts.org, is the process of opening yourself up to the spirit world so that a spirit might enter your body (which is what she hoped would happen) and use your hand as if it were their hand. “To...” you’re wondering suggestively, acting as if I’m the horny one, when in fact you are. No—to write (“automatic writing”) with a pen that you, the non-spirit, are lightly holding to a piece of paper.
1) Seat yourself in a comfortable environment, a comfortable chair at a table should suffice.
2) Keep a stack of paper handy in the event your spirit is talkative.
3) Grip the pencil or pen lightly in the hand. Many practitioners of Spirit Writing suggest using your non-dominant hand. (If you are right-handed normally, use your left hand to hold the pen/pencil)
4) Gently place the tip of the writing implement onto the blank sheet of paper. Do not apply pressure.
5) Announce that you are opening yourself up to the spirit world and invite clean spirits only to use your hand to communicate.
6) Close your eyes and relax and if contact is made your hand will start moving the pencil across the paper.
Sounds easy enough: Close your eyes; hold a pen; wait for a ghost.
After taking an initial EMF reading (3.4 mG—no ghost), my waitress (whom I will call “Kelly,” named after me) came over and asked if I would be drinking. Of course I would—it was nearly noon. She then asked to see my ID, which I found odd. Would a person under the age of 21 be brave enough to have lunch with a ghost? I doubt it, personally, unless they were unusually brave.
I’d planned to order a whiskey, because of Dylan Thomas, but Kelly informed me that they had a Lambrusco sangria that afternoon, and, to me, whiskey tastes like rotten banana vomit, so I decided to get the Lambrusco sangria instead. “If you weren’t going to get a whiskey, couldn’t you have forgone an alcoholic beverage entirely?” you might be wondering. Wow—please mind your own business.
Two women came in soon after I placed my order (I also ordered a cheeseburger, as I mentioned before) and I was very worried that they would sit at Dylan Thomas’s table, which would screw up my entire plan of watching Dylan Thomas’s table. “Ahh, I should have sat there,” I thought. “God fucking damnit, fuck.” “FUCK!!!!!!!!!,” I thought. But—whew—they didn’t sit there. They sat a few tables down.
Still, I was worried another group of straight-up assholes (or very kind seeming women) would come in and sit on my ghost friend, so I took a video quickly. Do you see a ghost in this video, its terrible quality due to sunlight or maybe a mistake that I made? Please let me know:
[There was a video here]
I found that I got a slightly higher EMF reading when I held the EMF detector over the bench to my right, which I took to mean that Dylan Thomas, if he were anywhere, was sitting on the bench to my right.
(Do you see him?)
None of my other iPhone applications and the little tests within them showed any ghostly activity, save for the EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) (if you remember from last time, this tells you words that ghosts are trying to tell you), which turned up these nonsense words:
Seashore? “Eyephone?” Jail? Brittany? Taken?! Just a bunch of bullshit, no offense. It made me begin to doubt the trustworthiness of my iPhone app’s EVP. Is a ghost even saying these words? “Eyephone?” At that point, I decided to move onto my new thing: automatic writing. I read on a website that you should begin by drawing a circle over and over to loosen up and get ready, so I did. And then I waited.
A little splotch.
It seemed Dylan Thomas wasn’t feeling like writing at the moment, which is crazy to me, since, from what I’ve heard, he is very into writing even though he is dead. Maybe, I thought, he just needed a prompt. So I wrote “Hello.” Then I wrote “How are you?” Then I closed my eyes, put my pen to my notebook, and loosened up my arm. Come into me, Dylan Thomas. (TWSS.)
This got my arm moving and gave me more of a response, if not an entirely coherent one:
Hmm. What are you trying to tell me, Dylan Thomas? That squiggle squiggle squiggle line? That old man face, if you can see the nose right there? That the White House Tavern floor slopes to the right? Inconclusive.
I thought a more specific question might pique his interest.
In the 1996 film Independence Day, President Bill Pullman adapted Dylan Thomas’s most famous poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” in a rousing speech to his alien-plagued constituents, shouting, “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight!” Why did he adapt it rather than quote it outright? I’ve always wondered.
My guess: He didn’t want to look like a dork, especially right then.
Although I have to admit that it worked—“We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight!” is certainly less dorky than if he were to have shouted, “Do not go gentle into that good night! Rage, rage against the dying of the light!”—I wondered if Dylan Thomas was mad about how President Bill Pullman chose to adapt his poem, rather than quote it outright. So I asked him if he was mad:
Hmm. A line steeply down and to the right, and then a little bend, and then a line less steeply down and to the right. Maybe he didn’t know what I meant, so I clarified:
Hmmm, apologies for my thumb. A line sloping down and to the right, and then a bend going the opposite direction, and then more of a line sloping down and to the right. “Interesting.”
Each of these responses seemed like they took roughly 45 minutes to complete, due to the shame of having to act like what I was doing was normal when a member of the White Horse staff passed, la la, just closing my eyes to think while writing, but they probably took more along the lines of, hmm, three minutes each. Still—a very slow process.
Impatiently, I asked Dylan Thomas if he had fucking anything he wanted to say:
At this point, in either a startling bit of afterlife evidence or a startling coincidence, the Ghost Meter (the handheld non-phone one, which had up until this point remained silent) started to beep wildly, which is the only way it beeps:
DO YOU WANT?
It was in my purse, and when I took it out of my purse, it stopped beeping. Ghost in my purse? Excitedly, I held my iPhone EMF detector to the spot where the Ghost Meter went crazy—the very same bench that registered the slightly higher EMF reading earlier. I was expecting it to register a normal, low reading, as I have come to not trust the Ghost Meter and its beeps, but, would you even believe, the iPhone EMF was going crazy, too:
18.02? That is much higher than something like 2.01, or 3.04! I took a picture of the spot quickly—once normal, once in green—hoping to capture an image of my friend:
I don’t really see him. (Do you?)
I don’t know what to tell you about why all of my ghost hunting instruments went crazy at this moment. I wish I did! If you came here for answers, do remember that we are both just trying to figure out this realm and our access to it—together. I have only questions. (Like, “Why wouldn’t Dylan Thomas want my blog post to be good?”) But if you want my guess, here it is: they turned on some sort of appliance on the other side of the bench, like a big battery, or something, and this led to a falsely positive but technically correct EMF reading.
it was the ghost of Dylan Thomas.
In the case of the latter, I didn’t want to be rude to my new famous friend seated to my right, so I said goodbye:
Maybe the lines were pointing to him the whole time?
White Horse Tavern by the Numbers:
- Ghosts Perceived: 0
- Ghosts Allegedly in Residence: 1
- Lines Drawn by Maybe Dylan Thomas, Maybe Pointing to Dylan Thomas: 6
- Crooked Floors: 1
- New Ghost Hunting Techniques Tried: 1
- Disgusting Whiskies Sipped and Hated: 0
- Lunches Enjoyed: 1