By Karen Governo Ingraham
Have you ever missed someone so much that you wish you could speak to them just one more time? Maybe you never had a chance to say goodbye before their death, or perhaps your last conversation with them contained angry words that you wish you’d never spoken. Tell it to the wind.
Nestled on the side of a private, one-lane road in Marshall rests a British-style phone booth with a disconnected 1940s rotary dial telephone known as the wind phone. The concept behind it is that you can “speak” with deceased family and friends, sending your messages on the wind to the spirits of those loved ones. Saying that it helps deal with their grief and loss, visitors from all over the country have come to “call” deceased family and friends. Some may have asked for forgiveness or, perhaps, said a final goodbye they were denied due to an unexpected death.
Marshall resident Susan Vetrone installed the phone booth in mid-October, a week after her mother died. Inspired by a podcast about the original installation in Ōtsuchi, Japan, Vetrone wanted to bring the wind phone to Western North Carolina. “If it helped those affected by the tsunami in Japan, maybe it could help others with their grief,” she says.
She started the project in late spring with friend Steve Reed, transforming a stock phone box by painting it white, adding a decorative copper roof and solar lights, waterproofing it and adding a landscaped garden area. “It’s a private space where people can feel free to express their grief and love,” she says. There are tissues and sanitizing wipes inside, as well as a guest book, where people share stories about loved ones.
A visit to the wind phone is “something that pretty much anyone can benefit from,” says Teri Browne of Portland, OR. “We all have grief in our lives sooner or later.” Like many visitors, she came to Marshall’s wind phone to remember her parents. Browne left a rock painted with an image of a cat in the garden to honor her mother.
“It’s a peaceful, reflective place, that—when you go there, it will be what you want it to be,” says Kim Johnson of Wheaton, IL. “There’s no set way to grieve. Sometimes speaking into the air—it’s comforting, it’s okay.” She honored her brother, who was a firefighter. “He loved the mountains; he loved North Carolina. He used to hike the Appalachian Trail.” She felt that the garden area outside the phone box was the perfect place to sprinkle his ashes. Johnson left a rock there that was painted with a silhouette of a man playing a guitar, since her brother was also a musician.
“I talk to her all the time,” says truck driver Craig Pontius about his girlfriend, Jenna Lynn Vanhorn, who was fatally shot in 2019 in Indiana. “Some people probably call that, ‘you have a screw loose,’ but her picture’s right in front of me all the time.” He says that his visit to the wind phone “was very calming.” He heard about it through a grief support group on Facebook.
“It’s very sentimental, very soothing,” says Amy Hughes. She discovered the wind phone online and traveled from the greater Charlotte area to honor her parents. Hughes was accompanied by her fiancé, who lost his mother a couple of years ago to breast cancer. “I can see where some people might think it’s silly,” Hughes says, “but I believe it helps. I wish heaven had a phone line.”
The Wind Phone is located at 386 Madison Heights, Marshall. For more information, visit Facebook.com/WindPhoneUSA.