In Stephen King’s IT, Bill Denbrough claims that all horror writers have to answer the question about where they get their ideas and if they come from scary dreams. He insists that the stories don’t come from dreams, and generally speaking, he’s correct. It’s a pipeline from the place those sorts of dreams come from that provides a lot of the stories, but usually dreams themselves don’t turn into actual tales to be told.
This is a little different.
About twelve years ago, I had a very detailed dream. Lucid dreaming is what some people call it; it was a dream so vivid that I couldn’t distinguish it from reality. The colors were sharp, the smells, the sounds, everything was crystal clear, more like a memory than a dream. Like most people, I rarely remember much of what I dream, but when I woke up, this one stuck with me and became a true memory itself, as if I had experienced it and not just dreamed it.
In the dream, I was at an amusement park. I’ve been to several parks here in Ohio and I was fairly sure this wasn’t one I had been to before. There was a castle-like entrance way, and a train track leading up to it. I remember a sky-lift style ride that went from the entrance to the center of the park, and a large swimming pool with people splashing and whooping with joy. It was a perfect summer day, warm with just a hint of a breeze that brought the smell of flowers.
There was nothing scary about the dream. There was nothing unusual about it at all. It could have been some sort of amalgam of memories of trips to the state fair, Kings Island, or whatever, but it felt real. It felt solid, not like the shifting quicksand that dreams usually are made of.
I didn’t think too much of the dream, other than how vivid it had been, and I simply stored the memory of it away. I did write down a few notes, “castle entrance”, “sky-lift”, “pool”, and “train tracks”, but that was all, mostly written down so I’d know I really had dreamed it and not just imagined it.
Here’s where the story gets hinky.
A few years later I was running an online roleplaying game based on White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting. I was coming up with a new story line and wanted to do something based on real Columbus history. I started cruising through websites looking for haunted house stories and stumbled on one about the Olentangy Apartments.
A fairly large development, the Olentangy Apartments were said to be haunted, possibly by people who died at the old Olentangy Amusement Park. I’d never heard of such a place, but the swimming pool at the apartments was apparently the last remaining piece of the park. Maybe it was the pool reference, or maybe it was just dumb luck, but I decided to check out the history of the park to see if it would fit into the game.
What I discovered still chills me to the bone.
I won’t go into a lot of detail about the history of the park. You can find that on Wikipedia. However, here’s the salient details:
- In 1895 the land that would become the park was purchased by the Columbus Railway, Power and Light company. It was just across the street from their trolley house.
- Sometime between 1899 and 1910, a “castle gate” was added to the park, which was a sort of zoo at the time.
- By 1910, the park was the largest in the United States and boasted several rides, including a sky-lift.
- In the 1920s, the “world’s largest swimming pool” was added to the park.
It seemed crazy, completely impossible. I looked further and found a photo:
The castle gate…the tracks…the pool…the lift… had I somehow subconsciously seen these images somewhere? I doubted it. I hadn’t even heard of the place before, and now, here was my dream park, only it was real.
To this day I can’t explain how I dreamed of a park that was torn down before I was ever born. Past life experience? Postcognition? I can’t say. What I know is that I did dream about Olentangy Amusement Park years before I knew it had ever existed, and it’s one of the reasons I like to write about the strange and unusual.