Saturday, August 2, 2014

Ghost Stories

My little town is having a Civil War historical event. There soldiers in costumes. There is (erg) a reenactment of a civil war amputation. Apparently, that is a big draw. There is historically accurate music from the era. All sorts of stuff going on.

I am part of the 'ghost walk'. We'll be speaking from different sites in town. I'm speaking from the site of the former Fifth St cemetery, which was the official town cemetery for forty years, until everyone was dug up and moved to the new cemetery up on the hill. 

That old cemetery is behind my house. I love looking up this sort of material. It is fun. 

Here is the story that I will tell:

Up until the year 1823, Warren had no official cemetery. Graves were simply scattered up and down the river bank. An acre was donated from the Jackson farm, but the graves were usually unmarked, or marked by primitive monuments that sadly lacked permanence.

This means that a great many graves were ‘lost’, including the grave of Warren’s very first settler, John Gilson who died in 1811.

When his widow, Patience Gilson died at age 70, on April 4th of 1823, she was buried near the river in a hurriedly cleared gravesite. However, this time, the city of Warren made the decision to purchase two lots in the area of what is now East and 5th St. At the time, if you can imagine it, this was considered ‘remote’ and ‘rural’ and distant enough from the few settlers scattered along the bank of the Conewango river to not cause a problem for them.

A work bee was held and a number of citizens came to help enlarge the clearing from Mrs. Gilson’s new grave, and to create the municipal cemetery.

One of those workers was a high spirited man named Eli Granger. He called ‘dibs’ on a peaceful grave site beneath a hickory tree with a sweet glimpse of the peaceful river rolling by. “This is my spot,” he laughed repeatedly. “This is where you bury me,” he called out to other workers. He went so far as to charge Judge Hackney and Zachariah Eddy, two other of the local citizenry, to insure that he was buried in ‘his’ spot. Within the matter of a few weeks he had drowned in the Conewango Creek. His sad friends ensured that he was buried in ‘his’ spot. He was the first to be buried in the cemetery.

The story of the second person to be buried in the cemetery is no less riveting. Caleb Wallace was murdered. Jacob Hook was a local business man, the owner of vast expanses of timber and 5 sawmills along the Allegheny River. Now Jacob was having a rough week, on the receiving end of multiple lawsuits, including one in which he was accused of lying on the stand. A very ruthless man with a very questionable character. But he was also very wealthy.

One of the lawsuits brought against him was by an employee who accused Mr. Hook of not paying his wages. Both men were convinced that their position was right. A deputy was sent with a warrant for Jacob Hook’s arrest, but Mr. Hook arrogantly refused to accompany the deputy, saying that he’d been into Warren every single day that week, and that the law would simply have to wait until the following week.

This went over like the proverbial lead balloon, and the deputy came back to Warren to form a posse and headed out once again to forcibly remove Jacob Hook from his home. Jacob Hook decided he wasn’t going, and the posse laid siege to his house. Jacob Hook booby trapped his front door with a loaded musket set to go off when the door opened. Young Caleb Wallace was the unfortunate young man. He was almost immediately dead when the musket ball pierced his chest.

Caleb Wallace aged 28 joined Eli Granger in 5th St cemetery, the second person to be buried in the new municipal cemetery, joining Eli Granger. 

Jacob Hook turned himself into authorities the next day. Because the posse was not formed legally, he got away with murder. The prosecuting attorney was so very critical of the verdict that one of the jurors hung himself.

Of course there was a third person to be buried in the cemetery, and a fourth, and so on and so on and so on. It is the way of life. Each person who was buried in this cemetery had their own story. Unfortunately, due to the poor record keeping, we don’t have an accurate count of people buried here. There generally were no monuments, so the graves were poorly marked.

The cemetery was moved to the present day Oakland cemetery in 1863. Well. They tried. But with no monuments, no records, well…

Be it sufficient to say that there is a house behind Water St that required some repair. When the section of old basement wall was pulled away, the remains of a very old grave were discovered behind it. I’ve no doubt that there are others. Step carefully, my friends, lest your careless feet stir up something more than dust."

I think the story turned out very well, and I am proud of it. I have my long black skirt and my shawl. I have my kerosene lamp. The telling starts at 9 PM. I hope it doesn't rain, but the thunder rattling across the sky will lend a certain mystery to the old stories told by lamp light. 


Bush Babe said...

AWESOME! I am agog... and checking over my shoulder for ghosts!!

jeanie said...

A lady I "met" through blogging is Shelly Cumber Tucker - she does this - - I love history being told by people, and you do the telling so very well.

steviewren said...

I love it! How did it go?