We treasure our "spiritual" heritage hereabouts. We look forward to the occasional hauntings of the good Reverend Gerardus Haughoort, a folk hero here to be sure. Credited he is with having single-handedly starting the Revolutionary War with his firebrand speeches and inflammatory writings. Were it not for his foul temper, he might well have stood with the other founding fathers of our country. But, his sometimes outrageous behavior got him into frequent trouble. Still, we admire him for his accomplishments and listen carefully on quiet nights when, if you are silent, you can hear the echo of his fire-and-brimstone sermons chastising us if we are not running the town as he thinks we ought to. His remains are interred within the old Dutch church from where he ventures forth when he deems it necessary. He really does have our best interests at heart. He's a good fellow, but don't get him upset.
We still marvel at the tale of old Mr. Thomas, the Welsh miner from the Schuyler diggings, who rescued the village from the sky-blackening plague of millions upon millions of passenger pigeons that had descended on us, by his calling forth the miner's gnomes from the old hollering hole. You know the gnomes are still roaming about, they are the real reason for the pot-holes that often appear in our streets. They are actually sink-holes created by the gnomes digging their tunnels.
Not to be forgotten is the Old Miser who carted his late wife to her final rest in his wheel barrow to save himself the cost of a proper send-off. The squeek-a-squeek of it's wobbling wheel is sometimes heard now-a-days as he looks for others that might be ready for the same ride. There are lighter stories though, such as the tree spirits who inhabit our Cherry Blossom trees. A glimpse of them can sometimes be gained, dancing and pirouetting, in the long shadows of late afternoons near the end of Winter.
That most often told story, the most famous of all our village ghosts, is our poor, misunderstood witch, Moll DeGraw of Gully Road. During her lifetime, Moll DeGraw had been known as a witch, for what reason no one ever was able to clearly establish. While some believed her an evil personage who held communion with the powers of darkness and who was able to brew mysterious and forbidden potages for her dark purposes, others swore that she was a simple old soul, adept at finding herbs of curative qualities in the woods. Her ill repute seems to be dated from the time of some mother’s threat to turn her unruly offspring over to "the wicked old witch" Moll DeGraw. The effectiveness of the threat was so gratifying that the lady told her neighbors, who promptly applied it also when occasion warranted. Second River’s naughty children , whenever ill-behaved, were threatened with “the old witch.”
Stories of Molly’s witchcraft began to spread. Some claimed to have heard eerie shrieks from Molly’s little hut on the river road. Others reported outlandish noises after dark, as if of carousels and dark orgies, so they imagined. Others had seen strange men who spoke strange languages enter and leave the hut.
At night, in the taprooms of the village’s taverns, the talk would turn to “the witch” and there would be cursing. When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, there are those who need someone to blame for it. Often as not someone would propose to burn her at the stake. But when the question was raised who was to go after Moll, enthusiasm waned, faces blanched, and the brave villagers would quietly finish their beer and slip off, one by one, to the comfort and safety of their homes
One night, however, Dutch courage was running particularly high and a group set out to the little shack by the river to rid the town of its witch. But it was too late for any exhibition of civil indignation. When they arrived they found Moll DeGraw dead. For many of them no better proof of Old Moll’s witchcraft was needed. Her untimely demise obviously showed a profound lack of consideration for the well-laid plans of that group of high-spirited citizens. To them her death was nothing less than a personal affront.
Old Moll must have liked the village in spite of the ill will directed towards her because her ghostly image can still be seen on foggy nights along the banks of our three rivers as she gathers the spiritual essence of the wild flora which grows there. Haven't you ever wondered why a plant, an herb, a wild flower or such may be found brown, dried-up, while others near it are still green and vibrant ? That's what happens when old Moll's ghost extracts its spiritual essence for her other-worldly purposes.
We mustn't forget the elderly couple whose beloved cottage stood in the way of an intended widening of the road to the town docks. They refused to sell to the developers. The cottage had been their home for all their many years together and they loved it dearly. Impatient, not willing to wait any longer for "progress", the house was torn down whilst the old couple were still in it. It is said that they did not survive the traumatic ordeal. Ever since, they have been known to wander through our town searching for their cottage, from time to time taking up residence in one house or another to see if it feels the same as theirs. They seem harmless enough, these timid ghosts, but townsfolk sometimes complain about how things have been moved here-and-there and objects are found where they were not left. If you should find that happening in your house, not to worry, it's nothing. It's just the old couple rearranging your things to try to make it feel more homey to them. But then, they don't seem to stay in one place all that long. Still, you never know, they just might find your house to be that special place they are looking for and take up permanent residence with you. Think of how it would enhance your property value if you had resident ghosts !
They are a friendly lot, our town spirits. They are eccentric, to be sure, but mean no harm, except perhaps the Old Miser, I'd watch out for him if I were you.
Best of all, we have learned from a recent edition of our town paper, that new ghosts are afoot. If you happen to be down on Main Street this October, and if you are feeling quite brave, you might stop in at "The Scare Factory" located at the State Fair Halloween Superstore, a spooky site that is enriching our haunted heritage in a big way. Created by special-effects professional artist Anthony Giordano already famous for his work in Hollywood and on Broadway for "Shrek the Musical", "The Last Sumurai", "Spiderman 2" and others not to mention six seasons on "Saturday Night Live" on TV, it tends to be very intense, startling and down-right scary. New to town last year when they drew 12,000 visitors, their venue is now enlarged to 12,000 square feet with 31 rooms where 40 ghoulish actors are there to entertain and terrify you. We are told that ninety percent of the display is new for this year. They boast that last year, 32 visitors cried, nearly as many experienced a loss of bladder control and a couple lost their lunch. To them we say, "Welcome to Belleville, the old Village of Second River. You have surely come to the right place !" We delight in our other-world inhabitants.
Entrance to "The State Scare Factory"