The Ghosts of Rathburn Park

The Ghosts of Rathburn Park

5.0 3
by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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Eleven-year-old Matt comes face to face with his town’s haunted past
Matthew Hamilton—a.k.a. the Hamster—and his family recently moved to Timber City. More of a loner than his older brother and sister, Matt gets lost when he wanders away from the town’s annual July Fourth picnic into nearby Rathburn Park. He is rescued by a white mutt


Eleven-year-old Matt comes face to face with his town’s haunted past
Matthew Hamilton—a.k.a. the Hamster—and his family recently moved to Timber City. More of a loner than his older brother and sister, Matt gets lost when he wanders away from the town’s annual July Fourth picnic into nearby Rathburn Park. He is rescued by a white mutt with shaggy hair and pointed ears. Matt follows him into a clearing, but the dog vanishes.
According to legend, Rathburn Park is haunted. Weirded out by his experience but unable to stay away, Matt returns to the ruins. In a burned-out church, a girl in a hat and old-fashioned ruffled dress appears. She warns him to leave if he wants to stay alive. Her name is Amelia Rathburn. But when Matt looks her up, he discovers that she is one hundred years old.
Is Amelia a ghost from the past? Or someone a lot more human? The truth is stranger than Matt could ever imagine.
This ebook features an extended biography of Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Veteran novelist Snyder (Spyhole Secrets) offers up a contemporary mystery more satisfying for its wonderfully delineated cast than, perhaps, for its plot. Matthew Hamilton, a gawky 11-year-old, has just moved to Timber City, where his dad has been hired as city manager. While his older brother and sister almost immediately start making friends, Matt is more solitary. A story about ghosts appearing near Rathburn Park, home to an old mansion and, also, before a deadly fire swept through it, the original site of the town, prompts Matt to investigate. He meets a girl in old-fashioned dress (who dons white gloves and a hat held in place with a hatpin), and he is thrilled when she introduces herself as Amelia Rathburn-and stymied when, shortly afterward, he learns that the only Amelia Rathburn on the premises is almost 100 years old. Those who have read E.L. Konigsburg's Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth will know exactly what's coming; those who haven't will probably be able to guess the flesh-and-blood identity of the titular "ghosts." While this isn't Snyder's most suspenseful tale, her gifts for fashioning lifelike and sympathetic characters are as pronounced as ever, as is her understanding of family dynamics. The payoff here is the storytelling itself. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-The Hamiltons have just moved to Timber City. The family's introduction to the town is the July Fourth picnic at Rathburn Park. It is there that Matt hears about the fire that destroyed the original town and the ghosts that haunt the park. He wanders away from the picnic, gets lost in the forest, and is led out by a small dog that no one else can see. Then he meets Amelia, a mysterious girl dressed in old-fashioned clothes. They explore the burned-out church, the old Rathburn house, and the swamp as Amelia leads Matt, and orders him around. These two main characters are finely drawn, as are Matt's two older siblings. Suspense is created as the 11-year-old tries to connect the history of the area to the tales Amelia tells him. This skillfully told story is full of both history and middle-grade concerns about peer pressure and acceptance.- Kathryn Kosiorek, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Brooklyn, OH Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Matt Hamilton is more interested in learning about history, especially that of his new residence, Timber City, than he is in meeting other 11-year-olds who live there. After talking to the town librarian and reading Timber City, Phoenix of the Northwest, Matt learns about Rover, the beloved dog that belonged to the long-dead foreman at the Rathburn lumber mill, along with many local legends about the wealthy Rathburn family. He has never been able to have a dog because of his sister’s allergies, so he clearly remembers the Rover look-alike who rescued him from the woods when he got lost his first time exploring Rathburn Park. Snyder (Spyhole Secrets, 2001, etc.) does a credible job setting the stage for the mysterious events that keep Matt wondering if that dog is Rover’s ghost. Then there’s the girl dressed in old-fashioned clothes whom he repeatedly meets near the old Rathburn palace; is she the ghost of one of the children who grew up there? Plenty of clues prepare readers for reality: the girl playing dress-up is really the granddaughter of the nurse who takes care of the only surviving Rathburn. And the dog? In a perhaps too-neat wrap-up, Matt’s sister is cured of her allergies and gets a puppy that is likely a descendant of Rover’s and, in certain light, looks something like him. A satisfying read for those who like some character development along with their not-too-scary ghost stories. (Fiction. 9-12)

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Open Road Media Teen & Tween
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Read an Excerpt

The Ghosts of Rathburn Park

By Zilpha Keatley Snyder


Copyright © 2002 Zilpha Keatley Snyder
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-7152-8


He was lost. Matthew Hamilton, known as Matt or the Hamster, was hopelessly lost in an endless forest. And, as usual, it was all his own fault.

This particular disaster was his own fault because it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been doing something he'd thought he'd pretty much outgrown and had promised to quit doing. Promised himself, that is. It wasn't the kind of thing you would promise your folks not to do anymore, because most of the time nobody knew he was doing it, at least not exactly. What the family thought was ... Well, the way his brother, Justin, always put it was "The Hamster is weirding out again."

Of course, if you really were looking to blame it on something else, you might say the forest itself was partly to blame. The thing was, it was the kind of forest that you read about and see fantastic pictures of, but that, if you were from a place like Six Palms, you'd never seen up close and personal. Back home in Six Palms, a hike might take you to where you could see a few scrawny palm trees and a lot of prickly cactus, but here in a place called Rathburn Park, enormous trees marched away into the distance in every direction like endless armies of green giants. And far above, row after row of needle-fringed fingers pointed toward a faraway blue sky. A heroic forest every bit as wild and mysterious as ... When Matt thought back over historic forests he'd read about and imagined, what immediately came to mind was—Sherwood.

That's what had done it. Remembering Sherwood had started Matt thinking that the forest all around him must be as incredibly dense and mysterious as Sherwood. Mysterious, that is, to everyone except Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Robin Hood had been one of Matt's favorite historical heroes back in Six Palms, and this certainly wasn't the first time he'd done the Robin Hood thing, but somehow sagebrush and cactus hadn't been nearly as inspiring. This time there was not only this real, honest-to-God forest, but also a sturdy walking stick that he'd just happened to pick up near the beginning of the trail. A walking stick that was almost as big and strong as—a quarterstaff, maybe.

So there he'd been, leaning on his walking stick/quarterstaff while letting his mind surf back over all the fascinating stuff he'd read about Robin Hood and seen in movies and on TV About a guy who'd robbed rich bad guys and helped poor people, and who knew every inch of an enormous forest the way an ordinary person would know his own backyard.

Remembering the quarterstaff fight with Little John, Matt had twirled his stick and sliced the air once or twice, and one thing had led to another. Before long, although he'd promised himself to stop doing that kind of thing, he began to morph into—Robin himself. So there he was, a tall, good-looking guy, dressed in Lincoln green, running down the rough trail with a speedy, surefooted stride. As he ran, he paused only long enough to whistle a signal to his Merry Men, or to listen, hand cupped to ear, for the approach of the evil King John and his dangerous gang of knights.

Somewhere along the way the trail rose, wound along the side of a hill, and then dropped again, crisscrossing a network of smaller pathways. Pathways worn into the forest floor by deer, perhaps? Or packs of bloodthirsty, ravenous wolves? As Robin picked up his pace, his eyes searched the underbrush for the gleam of white fangs.

Flecks of light filtering down through the branches looked almost like snow. And suddenly wolves were everywhere. Robin was forced to stop again and again to fight off their attacks with his trusty quarterstaff. He swung the heavy staff fiercely and the wolves yelped and cringed before they faded back into the snow-covered underbrush.

As he ran on, the wolves and the snow were followed by an even more dangerous attack. Warned by the distant thud of hooves, Robin hid beside the trail, his longbow ready. As King John's men appeared, he released arrow after arrow and then, as the few remaining knights turned and fled, he sped on.

But in the end it was just Matt again who staggered to a stop, his imagination as exhausted as his muscles. Just eleven-year-old Matthew Hamilton, propping himself up with a stick as he struggled to catch his breath. The sturdy walking stick that had been a quarterstaff and then a longbow was once again nothing more than a prop to lean on.

But at that particular moment, a prop was exactly what Matt needed. As he gasped for air, he told himself he'd overdone it for sure this time. He'd really let his imagination run away with him. He grimaced again as he realized that his runaway imagination had somehow managed to cover up some unpleasant realities, like a blistered heel, aching calf muscles and—he swallowed painfully—a tongue-shriveling thirst. Turning back the way he'd come, he began to retrace his steps.

He moved more slowly then, glancing from side to side as he looked for something familiar that would prove that he really was heading back the way he'd come. But one tree trunk looked pretty much like the next, and a vine-covered stump was only one of many vine-covered stumps.

He wasn't lost, he told himself. Not really. How could he be, while he was still on the path he'd been following since he'd left the parking lot? On the same path—or not? It was a trail, all right, but could it be a different one? One that started somewhere else and led to who-knows-where?

The trail climbed again, and Matt began to notice other, narrower pathways intersecting it from time to time. What if he'd taken the wrong turn somewhere along the way? Maybe that was why the trail he'd been following had never passed the old Rathburn mansion, the way the guy in the parking lot had said it would. Which might mean—and this was a pretty scary idea—that he had been off course for a long time.

As the awful truth began to sink in, Matt's forward progress slowed and finally stopped altogether. Leaning on his stick, he shook his head in disgust. He really was lost, and it was his own fault—nobody else's. He grinned ruefully, imagining what Justin would say, or even his sister, Courtney. It was easy to guess what anyone in the family would say if Matt tried to blame it on Robin Hood. No way. Robin was long gone and, as always, Matthew Hamilton was on his own. On his own in another embarrassing, and this time maybe even dangerous, mess. And he'd done it on what was supposed to have been a really important day for the whole Hamilton family. A day when Gerald Hamilton, Matt's dad, was being introduced to all the important citizens of Timber City at their especially historic, traditional Fourth of July picnic.


Right then, while he was still waiting to catch his breath and decide what to do next, Matt couldn't help reminding himself about the importance of this particular day, and this particular picnic. He tried not to, but it wasn't an easy thing to forget.

According to The Timber City Morning Star, the town's Fourth of July picnic had been going on since 1929, and it had always been famous for its great food, as well as for all the important people who attended. People like lawyers and doctors and politicians and businesspeople and members of the city council. Important people who were the ones, according to Mom, who had decided to hire Dad as their new city manager.

"But in July. A picnic lunch for stuffed-shirt types in the middle of July?" Justin had asked Mom that morning at breakfast. "Why not in some nice air-conditioned restaurant?"

Mom had laughed. "Because, as I understand it, it's an old tradition that celebrates the founding of Timber City after the original town burned down and was rebuilt in its present location. Besides," she went on, "it probably won't be terribly hot. You're forgetting we're not living in Six Palms anymore."

"As if," Justin had said. "That particular fact doesn't happen to be something I'm going to forget anytime soon." Justin, who was sixteen and about to be a junior in high school, and who had been on at least a half dozen All-Star teams back in Six Palms, wasn't a bit happy about having had to move to Timber City, and he didn't care who knew it. Giving Mom his famous sarcastic sneer, he went on, "How about letting me stay home?"

"That's enough of that kind of talk, young man," Mom had said, and then she'd gone on to lecture Justin and Courtney, and Matt, too, on how the picnic was the community's first chance to get a look at the new city manager's family, and how important it was for all of them to make a good impression.

Dad had put in his two cents then, going on about how this picnic was held in an area that had a very unusual history, which he was sure they would all find very interesting. "Especially you, Matt," Dad had said. "Sounds like it's right up your alley. And, Justin, I hear that the food's great and there's always a baseball game or two. That ought to make you happy."

Justin had muttered, "Sure. Right," and sulked out of the room, but when they were getting into the car, Matt noticed that he did have his mitt buckled to the back of his belt.

It turned out that Rathburn Park was up a narrow valley only a short drive from the part of Timber City where the Hamiltons were living. Matt hadn't seen much of the scenery on the way there, however, because he was, as usual, stuffed into the middle of the backseat between Justin and Courtney. But from what Mom and Dad and Courtney were saying, it was pretty spectacular country, with lots of big trees.

"Just look at that," Mom kept saying. "Look at those enormous trees. And oh, look, kids, a deer."

"Oh, a deer!" Courtney squealed. "I see it. I see it." Matt didn't say much because he didn't get to see much of what was being commented on. And Justin, who was still sulking, didn't say anything at all.

And then they were there, at a shady park area with lots of barbecue pits and picnic tables and, off to one side, a nice, grassy baseball diamond. A pretty ordinary park as far as Matt could see, except for the size of the trees and the way they absolutely covered the hills that rose up on each side of the park.

While the food was being unloaded and the barbecue pits fired up, Matt had looked at all the cars in the parking lot. Not that he was all that interested in cars, but Justin was, and for once he actually let Matt tag along with him and even talked to him some. Justin pointed out the Mercedes and Jaguars and even an Alfa Romeo and told Matt a lot of important stuff about which ones were most expensive and which ones he was planning to buy someday.

Matt liked it because ... Well, for a while there, it was almost the way it used to be when Justin wasn't so busy being a teenager and a high school jock. Back then Justin and Matt used to spend quite a bit of time together, even though Justin was five years older and just naturally a lot better at everything important.

They were still in the parking lot when they ran into this other teenage guy. Justin, who never had any trouble talking to perfect strangers as long as they weren't adults, started the conversation. The guy, who looked to be about Justin's age, or maybe a little older, had spiky hair and pierced eyebrows.

Matt went on tagging along when Justin walked over to where the kid with the eyebrow rings was draped over the hood of a beat-up truck. "Yo," Justin said, and then, "Guess you got drafted too. Like, eat at the picnic, man, or you won't eat for a week?"

The guy raised a gold-ringed eyebrow and grinned. "Nah," he said. "I came to this one, like, under my own power." He patted the hood of the pickup truck. "The nosh at this bash is to die for. Like T-bones and ribs instead of hamburgers and rubber chicken. Picnics are real big around here and most of them are the pits, but this one is top-of-the-line, foodwise."

"All right. Sounds okay," Justin said. Remembering what a fit he'd just had about having to show up, Matt couldn't help grinning, but he stopped when Justin looked at him and frowned. "Well, okay foodwise, anyway," Justin said.

Justin and the spiky-haired guy went on talking for quite a while, mostly about cars. Matt didn't have much to add to the discussion, but at least nobody told him to get lost. The other guy, whose name turned out to be Lance Layton, had just gotten his driver's license a few days before, and he already had a car.

"Well, wheels, anyway," he said. "This antique is mine. Not exactly a Rolls-Royce but it moves. I haven't gotten around to the paint job yet, but under here"—he patted the hood again—"it's really souped."

Matt could tell that Justin was impressed. Justin, who had just turned sixteen, couldn't wait to start driving, and the thought of owning his own car, even an ancient purple pickup, was probably making him turn green with envy. It wasn't until they'd said just about everything there was to say about every kind of car in the parking lot that Justin changed the subject.

"So what's with this park? My dad was carrying on like it was something kinda weird, but as far as I can see ... " He looked around and then shrugged. "You know, looks kind of C average, parkwise."

"Except for the size of the trees," Matt piped up. "Those trees are really—"

Justin put his hand over Matt's face. "Cool it, Hamster," he said. (It had been Justin who'd given Matt the Hamster nickname.) "Cool it, Hamster. Why don't you go play in the traffic or something?"

The kid named Lance looked at Matt as if he'd just noticed him. "Nah, let him stay," he said, grinning. "I got things to tell him about this place."

Matt, who'd had a lot of experience with teenagers, had an idea what was coming next. But being teased didn't usually bother him as much as being ignored, so as soon as he could pull his brother's hand off his face, he asked, "About this park?"

"Yeah, that's it," Lance said. "Rathburn Park. The truth is, it's a pretty dangerous place."

"Dangerous?" Matt echoed cooperatively.

"Yeah, dangerous. As in, you better watch yourself, kid, or you may not get home tonight."

Matt wasn't really worried. He'd been around Justin and his friends long enough to know when his leg was being pulled. And at least this guy was talking to him. "So tell me," he said.

"Well, for one thing"—Lance was pointing at the baseball diamond—"there's a swamp full of quicksand, right over there."

"In the ball field?" Matt asked.

"Yeah, sure." Lance did sarcasm almost as well as Justin. "Right behind second base." He laughed and went on in the tone of voice you'd use talking to some kind of rugrat, "No, not on the ball field, Dumbo, but not far from it. Right out there past center field there's a place that floods every winter, and the rest of the year it's just lots of marshy stuff—and quicksand. Lots of quicksand."

"Okay," Matt said, "so I'll watch out for the quicksand. That sounds easy. Anything else?"

"Well, what do you know," Lance said to Justin, "the little dweeb's a wise guy." He grabbed Matt by the front of his shirt, pulled him closer, and whispered, "And then there's the graveyard."

"There's a graveyard here in the park?" Matt asked.

"Yeah," Lance said. "Well, right beside it anyway. You know, tombstones and monuments and like that. And next to the graveyard there's what's left of the old church. See, that's it, over there."

Following the direction Lance was pointing in, Matt saw, sticking up among the trees, what looked like the jagged remains of a burned and broken steeple.

"And on back that same way," Lance continued, "there's what's left of a whole town, and all of it, the church and the graveyard and the town, is"—he leaned closer—"haunted. The whole place is lousy with ghosts."

Matt's interested act became easier to maintain. "Wow!" he said. "Real ghosts?"

"Sure," Lance said. "Lots of people have seen them. And there's this path that starts at the other side of the parking area. It goes up the side of the hill, and there's one place on the trail where you can look right down on a palace."

"There's a real palace?" Matt asked obligingly, even though he'd already heard about the big old Rathburn mansion, which people in Timber City called the Palace. You couldn't live in Timber City very long without hearing all sorts of stuff about the Rathburns. Lots of places in Timber City, like streets and buildings and businesses—the Rathburn Lumber Mill, for instance—were still named Rathburn, after the family that had once owned practically everything in the area. And Matt had heard something about an incredibly huge house way out in the country, but he'd not been certain where it was. Not until this guy Lance had told him.


Excerpted from The Ghosts of Rathburn Park by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Copyright © 2002 Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Zilpha Keatley Snyder (b. 1927) is a three-time Newbery Honor–winning author of adventure and fantasy novels for children. Her smart, honest, and accessible narrative style has made her books beloved by generations. When not writing, she enjoys reading and traveling. Snyder lives in Mill Valley, California.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder (b. 1927) is a three-time Newbery Honor–winning author of adventure and fantasy novels for children. Her smart, honest, and accessible narrative style has made her books beloved by generations. When not writing, she enjoys reading and traveling. Snyder lives in Mill Valley, California.     

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The Ghosts of Rathburn Park 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love every book by Zilphia Keatley Snyder that I have ever read. I love this book too! You don't expect what's next and in the end the 'ghost' has a twist that I didn't expect! This book is an easy read book and I enjoyed it very much! If you love Snyder's books or are just looking for a good read I would recommend this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
You have tyo read this book!!!!! I reallly loved it!!!!! YOu have to go buy it right now I promise you wont regret it!!!!! Zilpha is a really great writter!!!!!! She will keep you reading until you can't read anymore!!!! I really love zilpha's books!!!! If i could put more stars i would this book is sooooooo great!!!!!! I love this BOOOK!!!!!! I love zilpha's book!!!!! This book is kinda scary too!!! It will make you wanna check in the closet, check under the bed, and spend all night under the covers with a flashlight in one hand an d the book in the other. THis is one of her greatest books ever!!!!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is the BEST!!!!!!!! This book will keep u HOOKED all the time!!!! U can never PUT it DOWN!!!! Well, I mean like when u have 2 go 2 sleep then u have 2 put it DOWN. Otherwise, u can't. This book is SCARY, MYSTERIOUS, and will keep u INTERSTED!!! IT will KEEP u on the EDGE of your seat!!!!! If u don't finish the book U will REGRET it!!!! So, now did I CONVINCED u that this book is GREAT!!! U can go buy it anywhere!!!! Just remember there's always Barnes and Noble!!!!!!!!!!!!