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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Science fiction stories
- Subject: Ghost story
- Published: 01/07/2011
Jezeriah and The Effrom SandsBorn 1972, M, from Nanticoke, PA, United States
As I write this, I put down for my children, a story that I lived while I worked on The Captain Effrom Sands, the last riverboat in Pennsylvania that would run on the Susquehanna River. Being Amish, it was difficult to take this job because my family did not approve, in their hearts. Yet, I have always been more of a free thinker and a bit more rebellious in the eyes of my devoted parents and community.
I sit here now, in the newly built Lock Haven Hospital, and await the birth of my second child. My name is Jezeriah Samuel Horn, but people just call me Antsy Samuel; you could call me Sam. I was an obedient boy who loved his parents and knew only Amish Life. We worked hard, but did have fun from time to time. My family helped our community by plowing fields, milking cows, and making cheese.
The Horn clan was small compared to most. I was the 3rd of three boys and there were two girls also. By the time I started work on the riverboat, my eldest sister had married and started her own family. We lived near Salona but she moved all the way to Emporium! Can you imagine? Sure there was a small, Amish community that existed there, but rarely did we interact due to distance.
Amish life is one of simplicity, loyalty to tradition, care and concern for family, obedience, hard work, and especially, our separation from the world around us. At first, we only heard about news of outside events from the elders who were the first ones to have a radio. Later, we all were able to afford radios. But of course, there were guidelines to follow; as there are with many aspects of Amish Life.
There was time during planting and harvesting that one could focus their attentions to other chores. The community has among other stores that sustain us, a store for plain, hand-made wooden items, where toys or small practical tools are made. My father, brothers and I worked with cousins and neighbors making and shaping bowls and repairing butter churners while we waited for the crops to mature. It is amazing how quickly butter-churning pumps are worn down in a single year.
Upon my 16th birthday, I asked my father for permission to seek employment with the Captain Effrom Sands Paddleboat Company. See, I learned of the company by reading a story in the newspaper I found at a bank. I went to town, Lock Haven, with my father one day and as he concluded his business, I walked off unknowingly with paper in hand. I read the story to my father as we rode home in the old family buggy. Surprisingly, he was not angry that I had the newspaper in the first place; I still have the article.
I figured that I had the extra time to spend and, as there was plenty of help at the woodworking shop, and business had dropped due to the American “Great Depression”, I could afford to secure another job. Approaching my father was easy because he knows me: that I am respectful, but always have been a little hard to handle. I was not too positive that he would give me permission however. I had to think of and rehearse my argument: that it could help bring more money to our family and create better relations with the English. After discussing the matter with the council and smoking his corncob pipe for hours, my father conceded and granted me permission. I am glad he thought I was mature enough to take on the additional responsibility.
I began my new job in the summer of 1934. As you remember, it was a time during our history when everything seemed to be turned on its’ side. There were many poor families, both English and Amish; all we could do is work hard, save, skimp, and persevere. American President Roosevelt promised new changes, and change started to occur. In fact, the job on the riverboat opened due to a grant given to Clinton County and Mr. Jack O’Shea, the owner of the Cap’N Effrom Sands. The riverboat was going to provide transportation to new job sites all along the river, and serve as recreation during the weekends for families to relax and enjoy the summer nights. Big plans were in the works for the little ship: dinner cruises, the occasional poker games, trips to Dusty Spurs, a tavern up the river a piece, and Sunday afternoon fishing tournaments. I of course did not tell my father about the proposed gambling.
I worked with three other young men my age, one that was going to start taking classes at Lock Haven Teachers’ College that autumn. We were waiters paid to clear tables and sweep up, but we were also expected to be ship historians for the “out-of-towners” that visited the area. Mr. O’Shea made us learn some history of the area just in case people had questions.
The season was short, from the end of May until the beginning of November. Those last few weeks did get cold at times. For those with the personal fortitude to sail in the latter part of October, extra effort was shown to care for the patrons: warm drinks, blankets, and muffs for the ladies if they did not have their own. There was always an attempt to plan for a festive time around All Hallow’s Eve, what you now call Halloween. How strange it was to see our ship bedecked with unusual decoration, and the English patrons attend the function dressed in masks and elaborate clothes, Captain O’Shea called them costumes.
Remember, the Amish do not celebrate most Eng…I mean American holidays (we refer to you as English…it’s just our way.) So, imagine me for the first time, a witness to the peculiar carryings-on of those I served that night. All in disguise, among stuffed scarecrows, decorated pumpkins that glowed by candlelight, and paper streamers of black, gold, and orange: a colorful affair to say the least, and what fun! When the music started, I felt like I was living in the Old Country. Thank goodness there was no beer or stronger spirits. There was no need and my father would never have approved.
Usually there were six to seven people always on the boat: Captain O’Shea, the owner, Violet his wife, Helga Schmitz, the cook, Robert Cosgrove, the son of a restaurant owner, James Whyte, college bound, Lucas Evans, a farmer’s son, and me. Lucas and I got along quite well because we had things to talk about. I would talk to the other guys when time allowed, but usually we were busy preparing or cleaning up. One would never see Helga except if we had to make a delivery or, when serving meals. Mrs. O’Shea was also rarely seen, except on weekend evenings. I did not get to know her that well and she was not very friendly; a somewhat snobby woman that typified what we Amish were told the American people were usually like. I can see now she was the exception rather than the norm. She must have thought herself unaffected by the economic trouble that affected us all. Though making a profit, I know because I was paid every week, Cap’N Effrom did not generate enough money for the O’Sheas to live comfortably. For my family and community, the generated funds would have purchased newer equipment, a few more head of cattle, and several horses.
As you can tell, the time I spent working on the river was enjoyable and I learned a lot. We met all sorts of people: doctors, farmers with their families, former coal miners, and the tourists. People enjoyed a good fight with a small-mouthed Bass or a whirl around the floorboards as they listened to a nice tune. The views were always grand as well – so different from daily life on a farm staring at the udder of a cow or fields of corn. I grew to enjoy the river and was saddened when the Cap’N Effrom Sands sailed its’ last journey, some dozen or so years ago now.
The Northeastern part of the state of Pennsylvania is known for the mining of Anthracite Coal. Though there are some nice sights up there, the river is not as clean as in the Clinton County area that was known for lumberyards. The Western branch of the river I grew up near was not polluted by the acids that leaked into the north branch. As a result, the water here is clearer, people swim, and there are more kinds of fish. The river here was also wider and more picturesque, allowing for boats like the Cap’N E.S. to sail.
The summer of ’34 was a hot one and many excursions were full every evening. The CES, as I will call the boat from time to time, was pushed to its’ limits that season. There were some evenings that the ole ship was filled beyond government allowed capacity. That is the way Mr. O’Shea was, just to make a few extra dollars. I never though of it until years later, just complained at how crowded it was. On some evenings, there was a lot of money that was held in the old safe. It was a blessing that no one decided to rob the passengers of that fine paddleboat.
I‘ve seen the river swell with rain, be filled with floating, broken shards of bigger ice sheets, and get so low you can just about walk across to the other side. This summer was a rainy one. Rain fell here and there in terrible thunderstorms and of course, I was working that day or evening. The lightening cracked so loud sometimes on the farm that it would scare the cows, and they do not scare that easily! Not having electricity, we were not affected by power outages. Do not be mistaken, we did have generators for the refrigeration of milk and for special uses, like the radio.
The electric lights on the CES were hooked up somehow to the diesel-powered engines. Yet, occasionally, because the ship was old, the power would go out. One evening towards the end of July, an unpredictable storm swept through the usually peaceful dairy-farming region. The CES steamed towards the town of Renovo; unwaveringly, despite the strong winds and hail. In the middle of the river, during the horrific rainstorm, the lights went out! Many of the passengers were huddled down below as the lightning became very fierce. Several passengers and the crew were forced to or decided to stay on deck due to overcrowding, curiosity, or necessity. All of a sudden, the rumbling vibrations of the engines could not be felt; the mighty engines of the Cap’N Effrom Sands stalled and we were all, slowly headed downriver.
Captain O’Shea was well aware of the old locks several miles away that were in place as part of the river system and how they would not work if power was out there too. We became frighteningly curious about how the CES would handle the sudden drop of 6 feet into much shallower water. Would the boat capsize due to being overweight? Would it split apart with the current if the anchors did not hold? We were about to shortly discover the answers to our questions as we helplessly drifted down to where this journey began. I was naturally afraid of the dark. Now, add the disorientation of spinning down the river and the scariness of the lightning and thunder. That was the first of three times I threw up that night; I shouldn’t have eaten the cream puffs after eating the fish for supper that evening.
As quickly as it started, the storm dissipated. The trip to Renovo would not be made that night, but it was decided to stop in Farrandsville where there was a dance hall and a saloon. My father would be quite vexed if he knew we were stopping there. It was a saloon that looked like one from The Old West; Dusty Spurs had been there for 27 years but I had only heard of it that summer. Amish children do not know much about Western History, only the big names: Billy The Kid, Doc Holliday, Jesse James and Wyatt Erpp. Once, I actually got to see a John Wayne Movie. It was exciting to see the buttes and rock formations in the desert; views I had never seen before. There was a saloon in that movie too, but it was not as nice as Dusty Spurs. There were some similarities though. For example, the owner of our local saloon had people recreate a showdown at High Noon, shown three times a day. Our bar also had a chanteuse and sold “red eye” and Sarsaparilla.
There were few patrons at the Dusty Spurs until we arrived. What a fun night, at least it was for a while. I didn’t get home ‘til it was cow-milking time. Luckily, I was able to go to bed after the breakfast chores were done. Oh, I almost forgot – The Dusty Spurs was haunted!!!
When the Iron Furnace and Works plant first opened up in Farrandsville, it took time to control the smelting process. As a result, there was an unfortunate accident within the first months of operations. Several workers were seriously burned, but eventually recovered and returned to work. Two others were not so lucky. Two people died that day, a man and a woman; they weren’t even married to each other. These visitors from New England were on a tour of the facility as part of their job. They were from the parent company that owned the locally based smelting works. It was a lucky thing for the town of Farrandsville that people were not as likely to litigate, as they seem to be more inclined to do today. Jobs were saved and the village tried to move on. Then, the sightings began. It has been rumored that the couple haunt the Valley to this day. It has been reported that when their ghosts are seen, they are always seen together; not a couple in life, apparently married in Death. They have been seen in the county courthouse, at the Roxy movie house, at an Amish farm near the Belle Springs golf course, and a report of a daytime sighting, a sort of glowing that took place at the new Chinese restaurant downtown.
Excuse my language as I use a phrase I learned on the riverboat that summer, but I would have to say that the ghost couple looked pissed the night of the July storm. That day was July 21, 1934 -the date the couple died over ten years before. They were first seen during the height of the storm, but we all thought it was the lightning, for they were not heard. They reappeared an hour into our stop at the Dusty Spurs. After my inaugural drink, ‘the shit hit the fan!’ This was a phrase Helga the cook taught us; I still do not understand the meaning. Who in their right mind would turn on an electric fan, scoop up some horse, cow, or man dung, and hurl it at the fan? I do not understand many American sayings.
With a nice light-headed feeling, I sat down to enjoy the bosomy singer and music. She sang a few songs, one in French, and then, for the second time that night, the lights went out. It had stopped raining and everything was calm. “What the Hell was going on?” someone said as I ordered my second drink.
The bartender was lighting candles just as the two glowing heads appeared. Hardly visible at first, they slowly made their way upriver toward the saloon. There was hideous laughing and the shrieking of some drunken patrons. I was enjoying the effects of the scene through my drunken eyes. Ever closer and closer, the spirits approached. “What the Hell do you want?” a man with a low voice uttered as the ghosts, their features clear now, entered the bar. I wondered what I would order next as the ghost couple spoke their demands to us: “Our lives were taken from us! What Justice do we deserve?” No immediate answer to the eerie question was given and the specters became angry, shouting the statement and question again while throwing chairs about the place. Then, a brave woman asked, “What is it that you think we can do?” “Yes, what is it that you want?” another asked; the first person turned out to be the sexy singer. No answer was given at first and then this phrase was heard: “We want our lives back. WE WANT OUR LIVES BACK!” How can this be? Now, responses were numerous: “What do you expect us to do??” “We know of no way to bring back the dead. What you ask is beyond us and impossible!” The ghosts replied, “beyond you yes, but not impossible”. The patrons asked for a few minutes to discuss the matter. The ghosts agreed and returned in 5 minutes; many beers were poured within that time span and the bartender gladly counted the profits. It was decided that there was no choice but to listen to the demands of the creatures and probably act upon whatever odd task was about to be proposed. They must have some knowledge that may bring them back from beyond; we all wondered what that was and how we were able to see them at all.
The specters returned and gave us their directions. “We have decided that we will help you but, how?” “Return with us to our grave where you will dig up our bodies to perform a séance at the site of our demise.” Dig up their bodies??! This would require someone to open the hardware store to get tools and several cars would be needed for a light source and transportation. What have we gotten ourselves into? ‘What does an Amish boy know about such ceremonies and raising the dead?’ I asked myself. All of the men working on the riverboat were asked to ride in a truck to the hardware store. It was decided the older men would dig and, however many were needed, these men and women would help with the body transfer. Someone suggested that we vote on the issue. But, all of us knew that if we did not do what the specters asked, we would never be rid of them.
We got back on the CES and headed downriver towards the city of Lock Haven. Our ride stopped very close to the mooring area. Those that needed to go to the hardware store and elsewhere, got off; the rest of us continued towards that eerie place.
There are several cemeteries in the Lock Haven Area. A small one owned by the city is located close to the airport; near the bend in the river. At that time, you could see the graveyard from the opposite banks or from the CES. Trees have since been planted for privacy, but the glow of the candles is still visible while driving on either side of the river.
I wonder if anyone ever gets used to the waiting, while their wife is in labor? A man next to me said he is expecting his first child; he is hoping for a boy. One peculiar statement he made to me was, “I feel like I am smoking coffee and drinking cigarettes”. He offered me a cigarette. I tried one and it reminded me of the first time I smoked during that summer I worked on the CES. The man seemed too nervous to listen to my story, so I picked up my favorite pen and continued writing.
I rode with Lucas and a few of the other guys, in the back of a truck, to the hardware store where Mr. Snyder was waiting for the unusual business. We gathered a dozen shovels and pickaxes, flashlights and batteries, a folding table, chairs, and canteens that Mrs. Snyder filled with cool water. We were driven to the cemetery, where a small crowd was gathered around the graves. Remember, these were the graves of two people that died as a result from an accident at the Iron Works plant in Farrandsville over ten years ago. The graves were close to each other but stood away from those of the rest of the townsfolk. A closer walk would reveal the names carved into those lonely stones - Ester Wilcox and Frank Gibbons. Their families, for some reason, decided that it was easier or cheaper to leave their bodies in Pennsylvania, than travel with them by train in the heat of Summer. Frank and Ester – now we knew what to call our troubled hosts!
Within three hours of their request, Frank and Ester had us digging to unearth their bodies for the séance. We were instructed that once the caskets were opened, the skeletons were to be placed on a sheet or blanket. At which time, the spirits will tell us the words to speak over them. I felt so ill, and wished I was back at the Dusty Spurs enjoying a song while drinking another beer. I had so many mixed feelings that night: fear, lust, insobriety, and nausea.
It was unusually cool for July; that must have had something to do with the rains and hail from before. The mud smelled like the river, pleasant and sweet. But digging through the fresh mud and softened soil was not very easy. There were enough of us to share the task and only have to dig for 15 minutes at a time. My father would have locked me in the ice shed and made sure I never returned to work on that vessel of degradation if he knew all that I had been through that evening. Only my sister in Emporium knows about the events and has kept them hidden these many years.
Another trip to town had to be made; this time for candles, 2 large blankets, food, more water, and Bi-Carbonate of Soda. At a few minutes before three o’clock in the morning, all preparations were made to start the unholy ceremony. Helga said, “the shit is about to hit the fan”. I agreed, not exactly knowing what she meant. I remember it was a very strange scene: six automobiles surrounded the site providing ample light; but it was not as bright as day. Two new plaid cotton blankets were stretched out near the grave. On the borrowed table lay a box of candles and a platter of hastily made sandwiches with coffee.
We had not seen the floating heads for over an hour, so we decided to eat something and relax a while. We all wondered what they would tell us, what they knew, and wondered where the police were! Fear was gone. It was replaced by acceptance and fatigue. The sandwiches tasted really good but I never liked coffee. Luckily, Captain O’Shea brought the CES as close to the cemetery as he could and we relaxed there. The other guys and I searched for some sodas and milk. James Fisk, the councilman, proposed what we were all thinking: it was odd for a ring of cars to be in a cemetery this late in the evening.
Mr. Fisk made a wise observation. Doesn’t anyone get up to let out their dog or answer Nature’s call? Maybe our ghostly visitors scared the police and anyone looking out their windows. That may explain why no one called the police and why we have not seen them. A few gathered said we should flee. Mrs. O’Shea pointed out that we would not be able to rid ourselves of these unwanted pests if we did not do what they asked; many agreed. Just as our discussion ended, Ester and Frank returned.
Forty-seven people were gathered when our hosts returned. Some that were on the CES earlier had slipped away into the night. Ester and Frank said that only fifteen would be needed. We were chosen and the rest congregated at the Texas Restaurant or got some rest at the old Queen Fallon hotel. The spirits seemed pleased with our work as they hovered over their earthly remains, laid out on brightly-colored picnic blankets.
The scene was odd to say the least: two glowing heads of the angry victims, fifteen people holding lit candles, and a circle of large, steel automobiles all surrounding two open graves, mud covered coffins and two clothed skeletons that looked like they were sun tanning. I imagined, if the bones had gotten their way, they would have preferred to remain in the ground. This was the first time in over ten years that the victims saw their bodies. It seemed that all was ready and we assembled, just awaiting their hidden knowledge.
Frank spoke first. “We have been told, by those that have passed on before us, that our return to Earth, as living persons, is not possible. Seeing our bodies though, may give us the peace we sought for so long.” Ester declared, “We demand justice. We want those who work at the Iron Works to speak to us directly. Time will be needed to locate these individuals. We give you one day to obtain someone that worked with us the day we died. Until someone is found, we require several of you to keep vigil with our bodies. Everyone else may leave but should return after the sun has set.”
Some of us believed these disturbed souls wanted us to resurrect them; they just wanted an apology! I returned home, struggled to do my chores and went to sleep. I awoke and told my parents that I had to return back to work. They were aware of nothing and what I stated was not exactly a falsehood.
In the time that passed, the following events occurred: two men were sent to awaken the foreman of the Iron Works. The trio then drove to Farrandsville to look at old ledgers and time cards of people that worked on July 21, 1921. Four other people were found. As the original fifteen were walking toward that spot, five others holding unlit candles, now joined the circle. It was after dark when the disturbed souls arrived.
Five workers, two women and three men, spoke contrite words to, “the two glowing heads and a bunch of bones”, as Helga later phrased the scene. These people were there the day Ester and Frank toured and now offered their apologizes on behalf of the local plant and company. As they did this, they explained to the little crowd, the events of that day.
On the morning of July 21, 1921, only five weeks after the opening of the Furnace and Iron Works in Farrandsville, three visitors from the company were expected to take a tour. However, a business related matter arose for the president to iron out and he was not able to attend. A vice-president and a secretary flew on an airplane, in from Westbury, Connecticut. No special preparations were made, except for the continental breakfast that was to be enjoyed by all. The workers were told days before about the visit and came to work like it was a typical day; glad that they had a job.
It was determined that the wrong type of coal was delivered for use in the furnace. This coal raised the temperature of the molten iron too high, causing the bolts holding those huge steel kettles to weaken and eventually give way. A kettle of the day’s first batch of product was on its’ way to the molding floor, when the bolts gave. The mandatory foot-high pool of water, pumped in from the river, surrounds the mold floor. Workers call it “fishing for trout”, because both actions are similar. The water cooled the iron, but caused sparks that started a fire. It was the unfortunate timing of the tour group that they were hit by a burning support beam. Doc Jenkins eased their pain and stopped the bleeding. It was smart of the foreman to insist that a doctor is present throughout the day, in case of accidents like this.
Ester Wilcox and Frank Gibbons learned that day, from those who were there, that people felt saddened by the event and that the Iron Works was closed for a week for repairs and mourning. Those assembled told of how someone goes to the cemetery every year to pay respects. This explanation was enough to calm the restless specters. They quietly floated away after giving us instructions to rebury their bodies and depart.
Sightings continue to this day, but no report has been heard of the ghost couple causing mayhem in Clinton County. Frank and Ester, as they are now known throughout the area, are usually seen visiting their own graves. Maybe they are happier now, especially when visitors are seen recounting the story of that fateful day to faces of those they have never seen before. The cemetery still looks ominous when you see it at night. But for me, it is a little less disturbing. Occasionally, I see newly placed flowers next to the graves that now do not appear so separate from the other eternal residents; this is true to those of us who know the story and were there.