Friday, February 20, 2015

The Beast of Bald Mountain

Author Maurice Russell* had retired to a cabin in the mountains of Northern Georgia to work on his writing. His abode was somewhat remote, so a knock on the door was always a surprise.

However, this day the surprise was somewhat unsettling.

A new neighbor, who had just moved into a cabin down in the valley, introduced himself as Carl Janus. Russell was taken aback by the man's rude appearance: a wild mane of dark, untamed hair framed a ferocious countenance of piercing eyes and a powerful jaw swathed in a bushy black beard; his canines were pronounced to an unsettling degree; and the man's hands were comprised of haggard digits, terminating in claw-like nails.

In all, the man was more beast than anything--or at least it seemed to Russell.

After bidding farewell to the unkempt stranger, the writer was left with many puzzling questions. However, he needed only to wait a week to get some of the answers.

Another neighbor, Sol Pritchard came by to chat about something that had just happened.  The son of another local man, Tom Westerfield, had been walking across a field when a large dog or wolf had attacked the boy, tearing him to pieces.

It was then that the image of Carl Janus came unbidden to Russell's mind. A wolf, he though. That's what Janus looked like.

Over the next few weeks, four more men were attacked by the local predator. None of the locals could manage to track the beast. It seemed to manifest from the ether, attack, and then disappear whence it came.

One night Russell's neighbor Sol was driving his wagon home from business in town, tracing the sinuous route up Bald Mountain, when suddenly his horse reared up and to Sol's horror he spied the beast. The animal burst from roadside, launching itself in Sol's direction. Thinking quickly, the old man grabbed his pitchfork and jammed it into the body of the descending monster. The dog or wolf--or whatever it was--let out a terrible cry of pain. Without so much as a glance back, Sol drove his horse swiftly from the scene.

The next day, after telling locals of his harrowing ordeal, a group of men went out to the spot where Sol had stabbed the beast. But no animal lay dead. There was only the bloody pitchfork tossed aside like garbage.

The locals never did find the creature, but the attacks ceased. Perhaps Sol managed to inflict a mortal wound upon the animal, which limped off into the brush to die somewhere remote.

That's what happened, the locals will say.

But Maurice Russell and Sol Pritchard have a different thought on the matter. Some nights after the attack, the pair arrived at Carl Janus' cabin in the valley. They knocked on the door, but no one answered. Since the door wasn't locked, the men decided to poke their heads inside. There, laying on the bed, was the body of Carl Janus. His shirt front was stained with blood.

Gingerly, the men unbuttoned the shirt and gasped when they discovered three deep, pitchfork-like wounds in the man's abdomen.
*I believe this is the same author of a notable--if forgotten--collection of folk tales entitled "As Told To Burmese Children"

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Ghosts of Shakespeare

Dressed in white as she exits the old hotel, a lovely woman of graceful form walks down the street and is lost along the curving track of the long dead rail line....

It is now little more than a cluster of adobe buildings, including a hotel in which Billy the Kid worked as a dishwasher, but the small New Mexico community of Shakespeare was once a bustling town where people lived, loved, and died. Like many mining settlements, this one rose, bloomed, and then passed into oblivion as the years went on and the mines played out. In time, the railroads whisked away what few residents remained.

At one time there were a reported dozen ghosts remaining to occupy the old town.

Writer Ted Raynor shared in 1969 that there was a famous “lady in white” who haunted the town.  She was reported by longtime residents, who had first heard the story from their own ancestors.

It was the classic story of long lost love.  In the 1880s a woman came to the community in search of her fiance, a notorious gambler.  She discovered that he had gone south into Mexico and so she remained to wait for his return.  Soon, however news of his death reached her and she walked away from her room one day, leaving behind her only a wedding dress in her room.  No one ever saw her alive again in Shakespeare but her ghost became a regular feature.

When seen she was she was usually in white but sometimes in black causing some to wonder if she grieved at times for her lost love and unused wedding dress?

The small community is said to be home to at least a dozen specters who return from time to time to provide a glimpse of the unknown under the desert skies. There were the ghosts of three murdered African American miners who were robbed and their bodies dumped in the spot that took their name, Arroyo de los Negros.  

A gambler who, despite warning to the contrary, carried his winnings on him as he headed out into the night.  And a man who must have enjoyed meals at the local spot called the Grant House. His shadow could be seen there, looking like a man casually smoking after a delicious meal long after the last meals were ever cooked and prepared.

Other reported sightings, some that seem to have faded away, and some that remain included the ghostly canine capable of putting fear into the husky heart of a police dog and a strange ghost thought to be made of sulfur fume that would crawl up from beneath the basement of the old general store, and a gentle ghost that seemed merely to guard the resting sport on the hillside where so many were laid to rest over the years.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Two's A Dream, Three's Company

The City of Limerick, a 1300 ton vessel built in 1867 by the Royal Mail Steamship Co. and sailing out of London, had spent the past nine days being tossed about by storms in the North Atlantic. One of its passengers, S. R. Wilmot* of Bridgeport, CT, was returning home to his factory, his children, and his wife, Margaret. Or at least he hoped to.

The relentless squalls were casting a pall over the whole trip. Finally, on the 10th night, the seas calmed and Wilmot looked forward to the first decent sleep in a week in his cabin, which he shared with a man named William Tate** who slept in the bunk above his.

Wilmot lay there in the dark, listening to the gentle creaking of the ship and to Tate's sonorous breathing when suddenly the door creaked open. Wilmot opened his eyes to find a woman standing in the doorway. After a long moment of staring at her in the dim light from the hall, he was startled to realize it was his own wife.

"Margaret," he called out. "What are you doing here?!"

She said nothing, but rather seemed to float across the floor to where he lay. Margaret gently touched his face with her hand and then leaned over to kiss him.

Surely, he thought, this can't be a dream. It felt so real. Suddenly Margaret vanished from his eyes. In the confusion, the overworked gears of his brain, racing to fathom the reality of his experience, began to shut down and sleep soon overtook his exhausted mind.

In the Morning, Wilmot resigned himself to the conclusion that he had had a dream and nothing more.  And he would have been fine with that had his cabin mate not asked him who the woman was that came into their room last night.

Wilmot was shocked. How could Tate have seen his dream? It simply wasn't possible.

When he docked, Wilmot raced to his wife, eager to tell her of his strange experience. But before he could even recount the tale of his peculiarly shared vision, his wife asked him why it was that he didn't have a private room on the ship.

Startled by the curious question, he asked her to clarify.  Well, there was a man sleeping above you, she responded. "How could you know?" he asked, as a cold, queer feeling rose up from the depth of his being.

She explained how she couldn't sleep last night, having read about the storms affecting his voyage. When she did finally drift off she had a strange dream where she floated across the sea and aboard his ship where she entered his cabin and kissed him.

The date of the tale isn't clear, but it must have taken place between 1867 and the The City of Limerick's notorious vanishing (it was as the heart of a mild scandal involving the Centaur Line's newly lengthened steamers that all went down along the same route within a short time of each other) in January 1881. One source has his trip as being October 3, 1863, but the ship had yet been built in 1863. Perhaps there is confusion on which ship he actually sailed. Or perhaps this source is in error as to the date. 

*S. R. Wilmot was a businessman working in the metal industry in the latter half of the 19th Century. He had several successful patents, including improved methods for joining metal sheets and for a successful style of burner plate for oil lamps. 

**In some accounts, his name has been spelled Tait.