Friday, March 27, 2009

Grinding Out the Troublemakers...

Many places are rumored to have a ghost or two. But does such a statement warrant a lawsuit?

That's the question tossed around in court down in Miami County, Ohio these days. It revolves around the Staley Mill, built in 1818 by Elias Staley and his clan. The Troy grist mill was featured in the book Weird Ohio and has become an attraction for would-be ghost hunters and bored teenagers. One descendant, Melissa Duer, is determined to stop all this.

Duer filed a lawsuit against people responsible for both the book and a website, Forgotten Ohio. She told local reporters that both her and her husband have been physically threatened when telling people to leave. Melissa has hired off-duty law enforcement and a $35,000 watch dog. A judge ruled earlier this month that Weird Ohio did not paint the grist mill or the family in an unfavorable light. Trespassers were not the responsibility of the author, nor was any emotional distress" brought on by the work. A contributing author and the website owner, Andrew Henderson, may be held responsible for some of the expenses Duer is seeking due to the website.

So, writing down what other people have been saying for decades is, apparently, a very bad thing. It's not so easy to sue someone for saying a place is haunted verbally among friends (probably because it's not easy to track them down). Writing down a rumor that is merely a rumor isn't against the law, in my opinion. Stating it as emphatic fact, however, with intent to libel, is. Freedom of speech covers most literary work, with the added disclaimer almost every book has. So, why go after a storyteller and not the trespassers? Because it's easier to blame one than punish the many guilty parties.

As a writer and teller of paranormal stories, there is always inherent risk that someone will break the law to see a place for him or herself. All we can do is be responsible, let people know that they need to get permission to enter a property (which might be common sense, but isn't so common), and hope for the best.

In my opinion, Duer would be better off turning the mill into a ghost tour location and charging people for visiting it. Aside from suing people, what could be more American than earning a fast buck?

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