THE GHOST OF
– 545 –
by Mark E. Schrull
Most of my years are behind me now. I spend more time sitting and thinking and reflecting then I ever thought I would. I often think of my teenage years growing up on a farm in Ohio. They were awakening years filled with the excitement and anticipation most teenagers have. They were years of school dances and Friday night football games at Madison High.
It was the year The Exorcist premiered at The State Theater in down town Mansfield. My buddies and I all had dates on opening night. Renee Klingshire was my date. We were both in choir together but hardly knew each other. It was a first date. She dug her fingernails into my arm every scary scene. It was the year of the scariest movie I ever saw. It was also the year I first saw the ghost. My life was changed forever.
It was a foggy morning and I was driving my 68 Mercury to school. It was a sky blue 2 door hard top and had a bench seat in front. I loved that car. It was my first car and I earned the $600.00 to buy it helping my father bring in the harvest. Thick fog and mist covered our farm in the late fall when the nights turned cold but the days stayed warm and this morning was one of those. I pulled out of our drive unto Pittinger Road and approached state route 545 slowly, looking and listening for traffic.
I was almost ready to hit the gas and pull out onto the highway when I heard horse hooves clopping quickly on the pavement. This horse was in a hurry and I thought it odd anyone would be out so early on the highway in the fog. It blurred through the intersection with a woman looking back as if something was chasing her. And then she was gone. Sound and vision both. Just gone.
I remember being so flustered I actually got out of my car to look and listen. It really shook me up. She was there and then gone. The only person I trusted to tell was my best friend John Komeo, and to my surprise, he wasn’t surprised at all.
“It was the ghost of 545 you saw, Mark. Geeze oh man don’t tell me you have never heard of her.”
I told him I hadn’t.
“You got to be kidding me,” he said. “It is one of the most well known ghost stories in Mansfield. They say she will appear in your back seat and make you crash.”
“No way,” I said.
“Yeah hun,” he said. “Even my Papa George knows the story. He told me about it. He said it happened to a friend of his who worked at the prison. He said his friend lived the rest of his life in a wheel chair because of his crash. I can’t believe you haven’t heard of it. Everyone knows the story.”
“Well I don’t,” I snapped. “Now spill.”
“Okay, Okay. Don’t be a jerk.”
So we sat there at the lunch table between 4th and 5th period and John related the story as he knew it. I listened intently about a ghost I didn’t believe in, and a story I thought was not nearly as scary as the movie I’d seen last weekend….
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. 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. However, the 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 had named him David.
I was cold that night and aside from Jack and his buddies and the bar keep, 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 and before he sobered up he found himself inside of the Richland County Jail. The Sheriff back then was Richard Halster – 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 morning after the fight and informed Jack he had signed away all his rights. He told Jack that Jack had confessed and was sentenced to 6 months in the Mansfield prison late last night by Richland county night court 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.
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. It was a huge double wooden door fit for any castle entrance, flanked on both sides by parapets with arm guards. 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 Alive over came and made herself heard. Guards from the 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 step 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 have 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 have 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.”
“Murphy?” the drunken warden said. “You mean the guy who punched a deputy?”
“It is Morphy, Sir, and I have been told that’s what he’s done although I have no knowledge of it myself.” she answered.
“Well, Moo-Orr-phi then. 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 will 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. He pushed Alice out and the door slammed with a great thud and echo.
Alice sobbed. 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.
Mark E. Schrull
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This story and art work are the intellectual property of Mark E. Schrull. The Ghost of 545 is a fictional story and any similarity between actual people both living and dead is strictly coincidental. It is published on this blog for readers enjoyment only. It is a free read here at markeschrull.wordpress.com and may only be read here. It may not be modified, adopted, copied or disseminated, in any way, in any form period! Mark E. Schrull may modify, edit, change or delete any or all parts of this story at any time. with out warning at his discretion. It should be considered a serial story series which is a work in progress. Comments on content or art are always welcome. Snippets may be used only for review as per the copyright laws of The United States of America and other countries.