Friday, August 13, 2010

"I See Dead People"

One of the most unsettling experiences I've ever had occurred a few days after seeing "The Sixth Sense" in the theater when it was first released (August 1999). The movie affected me in a disturbing way. Like so many other people, I was shocked  by the ending. I really don't like horror movies, and the ending really turned it into a horror movie for me. Not in the sense that I could no longer enter a darkened room without someone chanting from the Bible, but I was just rattled -- I wasn't the same for days afterward. Maybe I was open to suggestion.

I'd just begun my quest to photograph cemetery statues, and the one you see here was one of the first ones I photographed (at Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon, a western suburb of Philadelphia), a few days before seeing the movie. I assumed all cemetery statues were pretty and angelic until I began creeping around graveyards and finding sculptures like this.

Our story begins one Saturday in Philadelphia, after I picked my daughter up from University of the Arts where she was taking  a photography class. This was a few days after I'd seen The Sixth Sense (which was filmed in Philadelphia, by the way, a few blocks from UArts, at St. Alban's Court near Grays Ferry Avenue). I drove toward Rittenhouse Square on Walnut Street and asked her if she wanted to jump out and get us a couple Frappuccinos at Starbucks. I told her I'd circle the block while she did that as there was nowhere to park.

On making my first left onto 17th Street, I hit a traffic jam. Instantly, I thought of that scene from the movie where the mom and boy are in the car, waiting in a traffic jam, and the bloody dead woman from the bicycle accident comes up to the boy's window. It was a bright sunny day and as I looked to my left down Chancellor Street, I saw a guy on a ladder painting a transom above a shop doorway, heard some music coming from somewhere, and a silver late-80s Volvo stopped in the middle of street. Relatively banal city scene. Now Chancellor is a small street, not really much of a thoroughfare, so, seeing a car stopped in the street is not unusual. What was unusual, though, was that the driver's door was open, and an old man was lying half in the driver's seat, having fallen onto the street with his head in a pool of blood.

I remember the blood vividly as it ran from the pool to a storm drain in the street. An old woman was standing in the street on the other side of the open door, looking down at the man. Just standing there. It was one of those things that is so unusual, it just doesn't register. I looked around for the camera crews and the Klieg lights--there weren't any. Why were no pedestrians or people waiting in cars going over to help? The guy painting on the ladder certainly must've seen or heard this happen. But...what happened? No one was gawking, or pretending not to notice. I was about to call 911 on my cell phone when it occurred to me that I might be the only one seeing this. As traffic began to move, I was jarred back to reality by honking horns behind me, and slowly drove away.

There was nothing in the papers the next day or on the news about any incident occurring here that day. Aside from a few close friends (who I trust with my sanity), I've told no one about my experience. Perhaps an inquisitive reader might want to check the police report archives to see if such a thing may have happened on this site, prior to my seeing it? Or...after I saw it, maybe?

Years later (2009 to be exact) I purchased a wooden file cabinet from a local thrift shop. It, along with a shop full of furniture, decorative plants, and what appeared to be movie props had belonged to Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan. Supposedly, he redecorated his home (outside Philadelphia) and donated all these items to the thrift shop. I guess I have to wait til the end to see if it really is a file cabinet....