Call it what you like. Ghosts, spirits, superstitions, or belief in the paranormal are part of life in Hawaii. Even if you have just moved out here, it won’t take long before you run into someone who insists on blessing a home or someone who refuses to live in a house without ti leaves nearby. It simply comes with the territory.
I’ve always been fascinated by the subject. I remember in elementary school looking desperately for scary stories to read about. And for all of the superstitions and local lore we have in Hawaii, there weren’t a lot of books on the subject.
Sure, they were easy to come by when everyone gathered around during sleepovers to talk about them. I can still remember being scared of the Guava Man at Camp Maluhia (it might have been Camp Keanae). That was the strange man that came out of the woods looking for kids to take back with him into the dark. Everyone had stories about vanishing hitchhikers, Madame Pele, or the night marchers roaming the old trails and beating drums.
But you could never find a place to actually read about this stuff. Our library had Eric Knudsen’s “Spooky Stuffs,” which featured not only homegrown ghost stories about the Garden Isle, but brilliant watercolor illustrations of Guy Buffet. Knudsen’s stories featured giants, one-eyed monsters roaming the mountains and woods, and skeletons. They were timeless and seemed to have come from a different era. None of his stories were about modern Hawaii.
That all changed with Glen Grant’s “Obake: Ghost Stories of Hawaii.” Unlike Knudsen’s timeless stories about Kauai, Grant’s tales took place in metropolitan Honolulu. They were told by local folks, who had witnessed something supernatural. Some saw the faceless woman in the ladies’ room at the Waialae Drive-Inn. Others claimed to have felt the presence of ancient spirits on lonely stretches of the roadway out to Kaena Point. All of the stories were on Oahu.
Grant got popular when I was in high school in the 1990s. Not only did he write books, but he also conducted walking tours around Honolulu at night. He even made it out to Maui once. I remember going to hear him tell stories at Iao Congregational one night around Halloween time. He was a fantastic story teller and it always seemed like he was smiling as he talked about mythology or some kind of weird tale.
His books made me think that I could do something like that too. My chance came when my English teacher told me I had to write a book report. Now, back then, I hated reading (most people have a hard time believing that). I couldn’t get through a novel to save my life. So I chose a book I read already: Glen Grant’s.
My teacher saw right through it and challenged me to do something more than just write a report. What I came up with ghost stories of my own? If Glen Grant went around Oahu for decades collecting ghost stories, why couldn’t I do that for Maui?
I used the book report as an excuse to call anyone who’d talk to me about ghosts and the supernatural. I sat down with windsurfers or hippies, there were retired cops, the long-time residents recalling the by-gone territorial days, and the hotel workers who had all kinds of rumors floating around the work place.
It was my first taste at interviewing witnesses. I was learning as I went. I took notes and put it all together until I had the story. Then I’d set out writing it down. In the end, I had about fifty stories. One of them got published.
I stopped the ghost project when people started calling my house asking me to investigate the spirits in their own home. No thanks. I’d rather listen to a good story. The last thing I wanted to do was see a ghost.
By then, I was finishing up high school and I was in the school paper and starting to outgrow the subject anyways. But Grant and the experience got me hooked on writing and stories. Glen Grant was not a literary genius, but he was a local author. He wrote about Hawaii and entertained people with his stories about the weird, the unexplained, and the downright scary.
I never met him when I moved back. He died in 2003, the year I graduated from college with a journalism degree. But he’s far from forgotten. Glen Grant’s student and protégé, Lopaka Kapanui, has picked up where he left off and continues to talk story about the unexplained. His books are still reprinted and sold all over the place. Who knows? He may even appear in a ghost story of his own someday.