Book's travels over centuries make for good ghost story

November 20, 2003|By DAN RODRICKS

MY BROTHER is the scientist in the family, not I. He believes in logic; I believe in mysterious life forces. I believe in the immortal soul. I believe the soul leaves the body at the moment of death and, immediately, a divine air-traffic controller dispatches it to another body in need of a soul. I further believe that the secondary users have no awareness of the previously owned nature of their souls, and so we are all, to some extent, possessed by ghosts.

And these ghosts have a sense of humor, and they like to play tricks -- just to remind us of their existence.

How else to explain the late Donald Forbes' copy of The Military and Naval History of the Rebellion in the United States going from a house in Wisconsin in the mid- to late 19th century to a yard sale in Pennsylvania in 1970 and being purchased there by a woman who would marry Forbes' great-grandson in Maryland 18 years later?

Let me run that by you again.

More than a century ago, Donald Forbes of Bloomfield, Wis., acquired the book, a Civil War history published in 1867, and signed his name inside. Somehow the book ended up at a yard sale on a farm in southern Pennsylvania on Aug. 6, 1970, where Joyce Barnhill of Reisterstown purchased it, along with two other reference books that had belonged to the Forbes family of Wisconsin. She paid $8 for the three books and tucked the receipt inside one of them.

Barnhill neither read the books nor examined their inscriptions; she mainly liked the way they looked on a restored library table in her home. She kept the books for years -- after a divorce and through six or seven changes of domicile, and, starting in 1988, through 15 years of her marriage to a man named Jim Forbes.

It was only this year, when Joyce Forbes (nee Barnhill) was dusting the three books and thinking about getting rid of them, that she noticed the Forbes name inside each of them. She showed them to her husband, who recognized the names as those of his Wisconsin ancestors. In addition to Donald Forbes' Civil War book, there were two other reference volumes, one titled The Complete Library of Universal Knowledge, that had belonged to Doric and Dora Forbes, Jim Forbes' grandparents. One book had been inscribed as a gift to Doric Forbes on Christmas 1904.

Jim has no idea how his ancestors' books ended up in Pennsylvania in 1970; neither Donald Forbes nor any of his descendants ever moved to that commonwealth, as far as Jim knows.

But that's not as strange-but-true a fact as his future wife's buying the Forbes family books 18 years before they met.

How do you explain that? If not old souls and playful ghosts, then what?

Yu-Gi-Oh No!

Neither Mark McGrath nor his wife, WMAR-TV anchorwoman Mary Beth Marsden, could explain the sudden disappearance of Marsden's diamond engagement ring last week at their home. They searched high, they searched low. It was nuts.

Marsden's 5-year-old son, Jack, got into the act by suggesting that a classmate from kindergarten be brought in to locate the ring. "Maybe we should get Matthew to help find it," Jack said. "He has really good eyesight."

The search continued until Jack, sensing his mother's growing frustration, offered this bit of code: "I think it's over by the monkeys."

That was an apparent reference to a game, or toy, involving monkey figures, in Jack's classroom. "What are you talking about?" asked Marsden, the veteran journalist. "What is going on here?"

Going on?

I'll tell you what's going on. Seems little Sticky-Fingered Jack here took Momma Marsden's pretty finger ornament to school, where he swapped it for a Yu-Gi-Oh card.

Not a set of Yu-Gi-Oh cards. Just one Yu-Gi-Oh card -- the "blue eyes white dragon." (In case you missed it, Yu-Gi-Oh is the latest Japanese trading-card game craze, and there's a television cartoon show based on it.)

"My son is a bad trader," mourns McGrath, a stockbroker who recently became an assistant vice president at Ryan Beck. "I thought I had taught that boy the value of equity!"

Marsden located the ring with a quick phone call to the parents of one of Jack's kindergarten classmates. The ring came home the next day.

Dundalk, beware

In the mid-1980s, they were the biggest thing in morning drive-time radio. Then, after about four years, Brian and O'Brien went poof, and it wasn't a pretty poof. It was more like an ugly, greenish mustard-gas poof. The two deejays had a less than amicable split from each other, and from the station that aired their funny, irreverent, Dundalk-bashing show: B-104 FM.

The two men haven't spoken much in the 15 years since they went off the air. An attempted reunion in the early 1990s didn't carry Don O'Brien and Brian Wilson much beyond a one-night stand.

But tomorrow, they'll try it again -- from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. as part of the 20th anniversary of the station that currently employs O'Brien, WQSR FM (102.7). That should be good for some nostalgic smiles, except in Dundalk. I don't know what rates lower among Dundalkians -- a proposed 1,750-bed prison in Turners Station or Brian and O'Brien together again.

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