Yankee Classic: Ghost Town
Finally, each night a roof would be removed from a finished house in the town; cleanly and completely it would disappear from over the heads of its tenants, leaving neither a splinter nor a broken slate to indicate in what direction nor by what forces it had been spirited away. One of my informants maintains to this day that he twice saw a huge black cloud gather on the horizon where the pine trees showed themselves
against the blue of the sky, and in the form of a great tawny hand pass its fingers down the valley until it engulfed the superstructures of a building.
Conditions grew steadily worse after the immigrants moved in, and the nocturnal visits occurred more and more frequently. Indians were seen here and there throughout the settlement with but one exception. There was but one place in the village where they never had appeared, and that was in the plot of ground occupied by the tiny church, perched on a slight rise of ground to the north of town.
The pastor of the little flock began to feel that he might be able to learn some things regarding these disturbances if he could meet one of the intruders, and he at once moved into the home of one of his parishioners who had reported these occurrences most frequently. He had not long to wait, for during his second night there a marauder entered the gate-yard and the pastor challenged him.
The exact words which were exchanged are not a matter of record, but the following day the minister had the church bell tolled and the people assembled. He said that the Indian explained the village had been built over an old burial ground of his tribe. In this cemetery there were the remains of many important chiefs who returned every night and sent him and other braves to warn the white man against building his “cave-of-many-rooms” over their sacred ground.
He said that he was told to advise the white intruders to take their town to another location lest the Great Hand of the Evil Spirit descend from the mountain where the sun rises and remove all who remained, even as it had taken the roofs from off their houses.
When the good man had asked the Indian why it was that his church never had been the object of a visitation, he is said to have declared that the Great Spirits had directed that this was a bond to prove to the white man that even as the Indians had honored the
sacred place of the intruder, they expected the white man to do likewise — and depart.
At these words a great silence hung over the gathering, until certain individuals, bolder than the rest, began to scoff at the story, saying that the pastor was “just entering his second childhood,” and maintaining that all tales of spirits and Great Black Hands were the work of prattling old women.
Folks returned to their homes, and after a day or two of hushed discussions and placing of the family Bibles in the positions deemed to give the most protection against witches and other supernatural visitations,
the whole matter was promptly forgotten.
For a while there were no repetitions of the earlier misfortunes. The miners returned to their work in the pits, and housewives busied themselves with keeping their homes clean and putting up vegetables and preserves against the coming winter. The youngsters played in the village streets as usual and attended the Saturday and Sunday schools conducted by the old minister. Allwere lulled into a false sense of security.
And then …
It was late in August of that year. The diggings at the mines were just beginning to produce on a paying basis. About four o’clock on a sultry afternoon the sky became overcast. The sun’s rays which filtered down through the trees were of an eerie orange color. The slight breeze which had been fanning the tree tops suddenly ceased.
The orange hue deepened to a reddish vapor as though a Gargantuan shaker were pouring paprika down from the mountain top. At the mines a mile away the workers hastened to collect their implements and return home, but the sand banks which bordered the copper pits started to slide down. Ton after ton of sand and stones must have engulfed the poor wretches, leaving them not even the relief of an outcry. There were sixty-one miners in all.
As this catastrophe was enveloping the little group at the quarry, there appeared upon the eastern horizon a tiny speck of a cloud, black and sinister. It increased in size until it resembled a patch of soot pouring through the notch in the ridge of the mountain. As it passed to the river’s edge it grew larger and larger and the uneven, serrated borders which it had exhibited took on the semblance of fingers; long tentacle-like digits which spread from one end of town to the other; from east to west and from north to south it poured down on the settlement and its inhabitants.
Then as suddenly as it had appeared it was gone. A brisk breeze sprang up and the air cleared with that brilliant intensity which follows a summer thunderstorm. But this time it was not the roofs of the houses that were missing — it was the inhabitants themselves. Among all those dwellings marked by this scaring hand, it was the little church alone which remained unscathed — as you may still see it to this day.
No explanation has ever been advanced. No one has ever been found who survived that red day in August more than one hundred years ago. The buildings still stand, to be sure, some leaning, awry and bat-infested, but no new tenants seek them out. The depressions which mark the mines in the nearby hills are still there to be excavated by those who pooh-pooh the legends.