Meg: The Ghost of Hidden Springs (Meg Duncan #4)

Many years had passed since Kathleen Hannigan had died in a tragic accident, but her ghost was still said to haunt the old mansion…

Ghost of Hidden Springs

Background: From the 1950s through the 1970s Whitman published a huge number of these squat, dust jacketless hard covers, separately targeting boys and girls. Some of these were based on TV shows, some were based on celebrities having imaginary adventures and solving crimes (Annette Funicello! Patty Duke!), and some were original series about plucky eponymous girl-heroines solving mysteries, having adventures and learning valuable lessons: your Trixie Beldens, Ginny Gordons and Donna Parkers.

While Julie Campbell’s Trixie Belden series is probably the only one of these that can be considered a certified classic, the others are, at least by reputation, satisfyingly solid efforts.

Again this year, we’ll be looking at these series over the next few weeks, starting with tweenage suburban sleuth Meg Duncan.

The Plot: “Holly Beth Walker” is a Whitman “house name” for an unknown number of ghostwriters- while Gladys Baker Bond has been identified as the author of the first book in the series, the other writers are unknown and the books sometimes vary wildly in terms of content and tone.

To add to the confusion, the series was re-ordered when it was released in paperback by Golden in the late 1970s, with volumes 3 and 5 flipped in the continuity (I use the word loosely).

I bring all this up because when last we met Meg Duncan and her BFF Kerry Carmody they had just solved a genuinely spooky mystery while on vacation in Maine with Meg’s dashing bachelor uncle; this time around we return to suburban Hidden Springs, Virginia dealing with age-appropriate and mildly mysterious happenings.

Meg’s Uncle Hal is making one of his frequent visits from Washington DC, where he works as a museum curator and Meg is working as his assistant in taking photographs of the abandoned Hannigan House, a once-luxurious mansion whose owner recently died.

Amelia Hannigan was a noted local eccentric, kindly towards the village children, but shying away from the adults. Adding to the mystique were rumors of the ghost haunting the place, supposedly, Miss Amelia’s younger sister who died in a tragic accident around the turn of the century. But the adults in town are reluctant to discuss the matter, leading Meg and Kerry to their first order of sleuthing, when Meg and Uncle Hal find signs of life in the “abandoned” mansion.

Meg and Kerry know that Mrs. Partlow, the grande dame of Hidden Springs likely has the answers, and they pay her a formal call, complete with a gift of lemon cake. With some prodding she reveals the tragic story of the Hannigan family:

“Kathleen Hannigan was about fifteen when her family came here from New York.

There were still many people in the South who were suspicious of northerners- especially wealthy ones. They felt bitter because the Hannigans had bought the old plantation house.  The ladies of Hidden Springs didn’t call on Mrs. Hannigan. They didn’t invite her to their homes. In fact, they quite ignored newcomers- except for little Kathleen. She was such a bright, happy girl that people couldn’t help but smile when they saw her on the street.”

The Hannigans throw an elaborate 16th birthday party, complete with an orchestra, for Kathleen and invite the entire town. But when the big night arrives, everyone is a no-show and Kathleen is heartbroken:

“Then little Kathleen began to cry. She ran out of the house… the ground was slippery from the rain,” said their hostess. “Kathleen must have fallen over the bank. When her father reached her, he found her with her face in the water. She had struck her head on a rock and drowned.

Nobody ever wanted to talk about that night again. Those who had snubbed the Hannigan family wouldn’t even tell if they had been invited or not.”

The plot thickens when Meg and Kerry return to the Hannigan House and Kerry’s twin brothers lock themselves in the cellar. When the girls are unable to free them they run for good ol’ Constable Hosey for help, but run smack into a teenage girl who has a striking resemblance to Mrs. Partlow’s photograph of Kathleen Hannigan!

Later the girls see the mysterious stranger at the local soda fountain, and when they hear her addressed as “Kathleen”, Meg boldly forces an introduction.

It turns out that she is the grand-niece of the late Miss Amelia, and potential heiress to her fortune; however Miss Amelia’s will had some peculiar stipulations. First Kathleen must live in the house for a full month, at the end of which she will give a party to Miss Amelia’s exact instructions.

The residency of the younger Kathleen and her mother coincides with an uptick in paranormal activity at Hannigan House: mysterious footsteps on the stairs, a player piano that starts and stops on its own, and that pesky cellar door that has a mind of its own! After Kathleen’s mother takes a bad fall on a stair that was deliberately loosened, they’re ready to forfeit the inheritance and go back to California. But Meg’s father reminds her (via cablegram from Europe, where is on secret government business) that GHOSTLY SHENANIGANS ARE USUALLY THE WORK OF HUMAN HANDS.

But who could it be? The late Miss Amelia’s devoted servant, Miss Jenny? Those pushy realtors who want to buy the property to build tract housing? The unknown back-up heir? Kathleen Hannigan’s ghost?

In a mildly surprising twist, they discover it is Miss Jenny’s son, who works for the phone company and has planted electronic devices all over the house to simulate ghostly happenings. He feels that he and his mother should be awarded the house for her years of devoted service. Miss Jenny is not impressed, reminding him that it was Miss Amelia who paid his way through “electronics school” in the first place.

HOWEVER, Meg gets to solve an even better mystery the night of the party the Martins throw to fulfill Miss Amelia’s last wishes and win the estate. Meg notes the oddly-composed guest list: only direct descendants of Hidden Springs’ oldest families. With a flash of inspiration she runs to the old window seat she and Kerry had found mysteriously nailed shut upon their initial search of the mansion; prying it open, they find the 70 year old stamped and addressed invitations to the original Kathleen’s birthday party: jealous of her younger sister’s popularity, Miss Amelia had never mailed them! The unusual party was her way of atoning to both her sister and the entire town.

Kathleen Martin decides to return to California, but the Hannigan House will become a local museum under the direction of Mrs. Partlow. Meg and the Carmodys speculate that Kathleen Hannigan’s ghost will now finally rest easy in Hidden Springs.

Sign It Was Written In 1970 Department:

“I heard in Washington that some real estate people are trying to buy the property for a subdivision. That’s why I was anxious to get down here and take my pictures. These fine old buildings sometimes disappear overnight. Men bring in bulldozers and push them down. They build modern uglies in their place.”

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23 Responses to Meg: The Ghost of Hidden Springs (Meg Duncan #4)

  1. Susan says:

    I totally missed the Meg Duncan books; I didn’t know of their existence until now, but I see you have several in your reviews. Maybe it’s a good thing because that business of not mailing the invitations, which resulted in the sister’s death, would have totally haunted me in my youth. That’s a rather grim plot twist, yikes!

    Two sidenotes regarding Whitman Classics: they had one about the TV show F-Troop which I bought because I loved the show; although I have no memory of the plot, I remember not liking it and wishing I hadn’t wasted my money. My favorite Whitman Classic book, besides Donna Parker, was called “That Certain Girl” and I still have it in my basement 🙂 . It was my introduction to southern-style living, as least as depicted in tween/teen lit!

    • mondomolly says:

      That is the really weird part of the series- I don’t think it is ever mentioned how old Meg and Kerry are exactly, but they seem like they’re probably 9 or 10 and most of the plots seemed really geared to that age… then the author throws in some thing genuinely scary or tragic, like the business with the invitations!

      My sister and I had Whitman’s Zorro book, based on the Disney series, and we could never get past chapter 2 because we found it so slow-moving.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Jen says:

    I think I owned a couple of the Meg books as a kid, but mine had a yellow paperback cover. I remember one adventure had them looking for some lost silver, possibly crafted by Paul Revere. I remember a doll called Mrs. Manythings. I was done reading any more of the mysteries after a scene where the girls were trapped in a closed space. I can’t remember whether it was a basement or storm cellar, but either way it brought my claustrophobic fears out. I was a wreck, I tell you, a wreck.

    • mondomolly says:

      I have the yellow paperbacks too! They look a lot like the Golden Trixie Belden reissues of the same era. I think the one you remember is The secret of the Witch’s stairway, where Meg and Kerry get trapped in a collapsed root cellar overnight- it was definitely a memorable scene!

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Jen says:

        That’s the one–you really know your stuff. Thanks for the title!

        I’ve been pacing myself on your blog because I don’t want to finish the archives too quickly. I’m having fun reliving my child and teen years through your articles. Sometimes I can’t believe how much time has passed because these books still make me remember my young self so vividly. Thank you for sharing your engaging writing style and collection of books with us.

      • Susan says:

        Nancy Drew had many scary incidents but to me the worst was one where Nancy was trapped somewhere, in a closet I think, and spiders were crawling down her back. In another one Bess and/or George are trapped with her and one of them mentions spiders crawling on her too. Totally traumatizing 😉 .

        • mondomolly says:

          Did you ever read the Trixie Belden series? I had a similar experience reading about Trixie being tied up and locked in a camper in order to be kidnapped by the villain. The authors really knew how to tap into those childhood neuroses, LOL!

          Thanks for your comments!

          • Susan says:

            Sorry I missed this before. I did read Trixie Belden but only several that I got at the store or borrowed from someone. I didn’t find a full set until I was a sophomore or junior in high school and they didn’t hold my interest the way they would have a few years earlier.

            I seem to remember that the series had two different authors? Looking it up … yes, Julie Campbell Tatham wrote the early ones and then in-house authors wrote the later ones under the name “Kathryn Kenny.” I remember, especially since I wasn’t reading them in order, a shift in the character. There was one book, I don’t remember the title, where Trixie’s mother takes her shopping for some girly party dresses and a GIRDLE, which Trixie ends up appreciating and which seemed unfathomable to me, a teenager in the 70s. It seemed to be leaning toward a flirtation or romance betweenTrixie and Jim (is that the right name?), but since I didn’t finish the series I don’t know where that went.

            • Susan says:

              Oh, and I just realized why the name Julie Campbell Tatham is familiar, she wrote some of Cherry Ames!

            • mondomolly says:

              The differences between the various “Kathryn Kennys” can make your head spin! There are a few post-Campbell books that are really good, but there are also a lot of plot and tonal changes (especially regarding the budding relationship between Jim & Trixie). A few specifically weird examples are #17 The Mystery of the Uninvited Guest, which gives Trixie an uncharacteristically existential inner monologue about “growing up”; #19 The Secret of the Unseen Treasure, which involves drug trafficking in Sleepyside (!!!); and #28 The Hudson River Mystery, which involves a mechanical shark that would be more at home in a James Bond movie.

              Thanks again for your comments! 🙂

  3. Susan says:

    Does Meg not have a mother? Neither did Nancy Drew or the Dana girls. Or the Boxcar children. I guess the thinking was that mothers would not let them go off on dangerous sleuthing expeditions.

    And bachelor uncles seems to be a common theme. Donna Parker had the dashing uncle who gave her a fancy dress and invited her to California — and married her teacher, so he was no longer a bachelor but I think was still supposed to be a dashing. The Dana girls lived, when they weren’t at boarding school, with their maiden Aunt Harriet and their bachelor Uncle Ned — although I don’t think he seemed dashing, he was the Captain of a cruise ship.

    And you’re right, the girls do look very young in that picture.

    • mondomolly says:

      It’s true, there are a lot of deceased mothers in the genre! Meg’s mother is one of them, having passed away from unspecified causes a unspecified times before the series starts. I actually think that one of the things that makes the series stand out from the others is that Meg is almost a poor-little-rich-girl: dead mother, father always away on important state business, she’s mostly raised by the family servants, Uncle Hal and the Carmodys!

      Thanks for reading & commenting, I’ve got a Donna Parker review coming up in the next few weeks! 🙂

      • Susan says:

        Cherry Ames had a mother, at least! And a very likable and normal one too 🙂 . I think there was one book where Cherry was coming home from one of her wartime deployments and her mother arranged for the town to meet her at the train station but Cherry came on a different train and went home and the only one there was a cleaning lady who Cherry had never met. I felt so sorry for Cherry’s mother, having her surprise ruined, if that’s what I’m remembering correctly. I always loved the descriptions of Cherry’s house and her room.

        I also remember when Nancy Drew’s housekeeper, Hannah Gruen, made some pretty cupcakes (I think they were described as frosted tea cakes?) and kept trying to serve them to people but then a crisis would arise and everyone would run off and leave them uneaten. Then she would try again with the same result. They sounded so yummy that I got really annoyed because I certainly would have enjoyed and appreciated them 🙂 .

        Sorry to be wondering so far off topic … that’s what my brain does because you’re bringing back so much of my childhood when books were my life!

    • Moon says:

      Trixie Belden is about the only one I can think of with a living mother. I think Honey’s mom showed up for a little while

      • mondomolly says:

        Girls Mysteries are rife with orphans- it does provide a handy way to make the characters more independent. It really struck me re-reading some of the early Trixie Belden books as an adult that the kids are *constantly* getting injured- falling out of windows, bitten by copperheads, hit by the mailtruck while riding your bike, driving into shallow water and cracking your head open, REPEATEDLY thrown from horses, and of course fighting a fire in a decrepit mansion. It’s amazing they survived the first volume 😉

  4. This was one of my favorites back in childhood and I ordered a copy off Amazon so my daughter could enjoy it too. I ended up rereading it myself and found it just as enjoyable this time around. So many years had passed since I read it that I couldn’t remember many details, so it was almost like reading it for the first time. I also reread the Mystery in Williamsburg and have just ordered three others in the series. Thanks for the blog, it’s fun to find others who like these vintage books!

  5. Moon says:

    I think I was ten or eleven when I read this one. I made the grownups a little anxious when I said to a friend that I concluded that Kathleen committed suicide. It was 1976ish, imagine if I said something like that now!

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