NR Digital

City Desk

The Spirit Level

by Richard Brookhiser

The city is not an obvious candidate to be a ghost town. While it is old for America, it is still not very old. We won’t turn 400 for another eleven years yet — loose change in the time pocket of Rome or Jerusalem. The city doesn’t think about its past the way even other American cities do. How many Richmonders does it take to change a light bulb? Twelve — one to change the bulb, the other eleven to say how lovely the old bulb was. Not here, pal. The very streets — one great grid ten miles long — make the place everyday and businesslike. Here are no hidden ramshackle neighborhoods of the sort that Dickens loved; few places that time forgot, and where those outside of time might linger.

The most I hear about the dear not-departed is from my trainer, who is not from here. He grew up on an island where the family cemetery was down the hill and lights-out came with sunset, so it was perhaps natural for him to have seen spirits sitting on gravestones. In ghostly matters he is to me what Jeter is to a Little Leaguer, though he considers himself to be an amateur: His mother knows more, and her mother knew still more.

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