I see it was April 3rd since I last updated all of you. My how time does fly. Especially spring and summer on the farm. I seems there is always something to do outside and if my master turns his back on it for five minutes it goes wild again.
If you remember from my last writing, I saw and heard The Ghost of 545. I wasn’t bothered by this too much since one often sees strange things when one has glowing green eyes, but I do remember promising to learn more.
During my investigation, I found it necessary to enlist the aid of, Andy, a lazy cat usually found hanging in a shady spot. Andy is only interested in food or money and in this instance I bribed him with some left over fish and the promise of cream for 3 mornings if he could find out anything. I met him yesterday morning on the front porch.
“I have learned a great deal. Brutis… The Ghost of 545 is real! Barns and sheds all up and down this highway know of the lady with the lantern. Many heard the story when they were young and it was passed down to them by their grand parents. A few have seen her themselves. None would go on record.”
I asked Andy why they fear her. “Has she done anything to cause them to be afraid? Has she hurt anyone?”
“As far as I can tell, no,” he answered. “But they fear her just the same. It seems this has been happening for so long – that over the years the eerie sound of her wailing, the glowing of her lantern, and her untimely appearances has scared many and kept so many pups and kittens awake at night almost all the animals great and small know the story of her and how she came to be. Or at least their version of what she is and who she is.”
After careful consideration and my promises of keeping all the names of the witnesses private, Andy related the legend below…
THE GHOST OF 545
A long time ago, in horse and buggy days, the original Mansfield prison was in full operation. It was winter time and snow was on the ground. A prisoner by the name of Jack Morphy was working off time for punching a Mansfield police officer.
Now Jack wasn’t a violent man. In fact he was a farmer in Epoch, a small village about 15 miles north of the prison on State Route 545. He had never been in trouble before but on that particular night Jack was paying for he was out with two buddies in the only tavern in Epoch, celebrating the birth of his first child, a son he and Mrs. Morphy named David.
I was cold that night and aside from the bar keep and Jack and his buddies there were two other customers. The pot belly stove was barely keeping the place warm so everyone had on thick winter coats. Jack was a whiskey drinker in the winter time and he was getting too drunk.
Unbeknownst to Jack, one of the other customers was a Richland county sheriff deputy. They got into it and Jack punched him. The man hit his head on the way down and the bartender halted the fight with a shotgun in his hand.
That was all there was to it. Jack was charged with assault on a police deputy. Before he sobered up he found himself inside of the Richland County Jail. The Sheriff back then was Richard Halster and he was a mean man and a crooked sheriff. He was also personal friends with the deputy Jack clobbered.
Sheriff Halster entered Jack’s cell at 7:00 am the next morning after the fight and informed Jack he had signed away all his rights and confessed and was sentenced to 6 months in the Mansfield prison late last night by Richland county judge, Forter Peatland. (Another friend of the deputy.) He would begin serving his sentence immediately.
All this happened within 24 hours of the bar punch. By the time Mrs. Alice Morphy learned about her husband’s arrest and incarceration 3 days had passed and she was wondering what had happened to him. She hired a buggy and driver as quickly as things could be arranged in horse and buggy days. By the time she had made it to the Epoch General store to send a telegraph 1 week had passed.
The Morphys were farmers and they had no extra money for a lawyer. It was all Alice could scrape together to secure a horse and buggy for a trip to the prison and the communications back and forth to the prison by telegraph. But she did what she could and on the Friday next a driver would pick her and the newborn up at her home and take her to the prison for a visit with her husband.
Now back then a fifteen mile ride in horse in buggy could easily be done in one day, even in the winter time. But on the day of Mrs. Morphy’s scheduled visit a snow storm hit and the buggy was late to the farm. Alice waited by her front door wearing her best white, knee length dress and a white coat with black stripes. The baby was wrapped up warmly too.
At last the carriage arrived. It was nearly noon. The driver apologized for being late and help load baby and mother into their seat. The snow continued to fall but the driver thought they could make it into Mansfield without putting sled runners on the wheels.
They had made it nearly 14 of the 15 miles it took to get to the prison while the blizzard worsened. There were no cell phones back then. No weather radar. They simply did not know it was going to get that bad. Disaster struck on a curve when a deer jetted across the road and frightened the horse. The buggy wheels slid on the icy road and horse, buggy and people skidded down a steep, snowy embankment.
The buggy driver was killed. His neck had broken. Alice was knocked unconscious and the baby landed in a snow bank. Several hours passed and darkness started to fall when Alice awoke. Baby David, though alive, was docile and still. He hardly moved when his mother reached him. She warmed his chilled body with the warmth of a mother’s love. He began to stir.
The horse had died and lay covered with about an inch of snow. Alice climbed over it with the baby when she found the driver. She wept and prayed, then started up the hill toward the road.
No one came along as Alice walked toward Mansfield. Their tracks had been covered by snow fall so no other traveler noticed the accident in the ditch. It was Alice and her baby, walking alone in a blizzard toward the Mansfield prison. The only thing she had in her favor was the prison and her husband were expecting her. The telegraphs had been sent and received. This very thought kept her walking along. She knew the prison employees would offer her warmth and shelter. Finally she saw the lights.
As she trudged through drifting snow she made her way to the main prison door. A huge double wooden door fit for any castle entrance. But darkness had fallen and her and the baby stood in spot lights pounding on the prison doors.
“Help! Help! she yelled as she pounded. “There has been a terrible accident. My baby and I are freezing.”
The blizzard wind blew but Alice over came and made herself heard. Guards from brick towers on both sides of the entrance pointed rifles at her from above and yelled, “Step away from the doors.” Alice did as she was told.
One door opened and the prison warden himself stepped out. “My dear woman,” he stated. “Visiting hours are over. It is nearly 7 at night. You must leave.”
“I’m sorry,” Alice said, shivering. “I was on my way to visit my husband and there was a terrible buggy accident about a mile north of here on 545. The driver and the horse are dead. I’ve walked here with my baby. Please help us.”
Warden John Heck assisted Alice and baby into the vestibule. But he was drunk. He often drank and he often had female visitors willing to do most anything for some small benefit to their prisoner husband. He thought of them as whores. Having an apartment in the main prison building allowed him to behave this way.
This night he had been drinking heavily. He eyed Mrs. Morphy up and down. The accident had torn the hem of her dress and her thigh was exposed. Her black striped white coat had become soiled during the accident. In Heck’s mind, this was just another visiting whore.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he told her. “I’ve heard it all before. What is your husband’s name?”
“jack Morphy,” Alice said while unbuttoning her baby’s wrap. “He was expecting me today.”
“Morphy?” the drunken warden said. “You mean the guy who punched a deputy?”
“I have been told that’s what he’s done although I have no knowledge of it myself.” she answered.
“Another hussy come make things easier for her sheriff punching husband, aye? Well not here. Not this night. Come back tomorrow!”
“But I can’t go back.” Alice protested. “Haven’t you heard me, there’s been a terrible accident.”
“Yeah, I bet. There always is one. It’s called an excuse for never being on time. Now get out!’ he wailed.
“It’s freezing outside. We’ll die!” Alice screamed back.
“Go back to where ever you came from.” the warden muttered as he shoved Alice and the crying baby toward the door.
“No, please, don’t. It’s dark out there and cold.”
“Then take this lantern so you don’t lose your way back to the slums.” The warden grabbed a lantern hanging near the door and through it out into the snow. Then he pushed Alice out and the door slammed with a great thud and echo.
Alice couldn’t believe it. Anger enraged her. She stood with her baby cradled in her arms and picked up the still lit lantern. I’ll go to the road she thought. Someone will come along and help us.
As she again trudged through drifting snow banks, a guard in the tower spotted Alice Morphy making her way to the road. Her striped coat looked to him like a prison uniform and she definitely had a prison lantern. Without warning, he shot twice at the escaping prisoner.
Alice was killed and became The Ghost of 545.
To be continued
Mark E. Schrull
All rights reserved.