A Retired Ghost
Now, you must understand that we are a modern, sophisticated people who will never openly admit that we believe in ghosts, but sometimes a thing will happen, a vision will appear, that makes us pause, scratch our heads and say, "Hmm ...". And after all, it is nearly Halloween. So what better time is there for pulling out the musty old manuscript of a Second River ghost tale, dusting off the cobwebs and reading it anew.
Old Second River, before it's banks were adorned with Cherry Blossom trees, was once lined with stately, perhaps somber, weeping willow trees. If ever you have been in such a place, you know the chilling sound of the woeful whine of wind in weeping willows. Add to that, such as could be heard here, the higher octave timbre of a female voice wistfully whimpering over sorrowful remembrances in her heart. Here is an orchestration that could send a shiver up your spine, raise the hairs in the back of your neck and set your fight-or-flight self-defense mechanism on high alert.
Thus, the scene is set for this oft' told tale from our village annals. Indeed, we have been telling each other this tale, confirmed by several generations of historians, for beyond a century-and-a-half. It is repeated here that it may be transmitted to still another generation.
The roots of this story are anchored in the last decade of the 18th Century, just after the end of the Revolutionary War, near to the time when the Village of Second River became Belleville. Benson's Grist Mill stood on Second River near the bridge by which the old Back Road crossed the river. Mr. Benson, most recent owner of the mill had been found, quite dead, in the mill race minus his head. It is said that he was done in by a rival for some fair damsel’s affections. You might say he lost his head over her. Never-the-less, his apparition was seen by several, reportedly sober, townsfolk, howling in anger, demanding revenge, from the old bridge on dark, moonless nights. Now, the townsfolk were not afraid of ghosts, per se, but it was considered a matter of good common sense to not cross the bridge in the dark of night.
Stories of the apparition lingered for a long time, becoming more terrible with each telling, especially in the village taprooms. There was, however, a young lass of the village one who lived near the bridge, who looked with disdain upon ghosts, lost spirits and other such apparitions, who thought she might make use of the natural apprehensions about the bridge for her own purposes. It seems she had become disenamored with young men whom she thought were haughty and arrogant, even supercilious as a group, though perhaps not as brave as they boasted. She, with malice aforethought, would wait upon the darkest night to unfold her plot to terrorize wayfarers approaching the bridge. A young buck who had stayed out a bit too late would be making his way cautiously along the old back road approaching the crossing in the dark of night with naught but a hand held lantern casting light just a few steps ahead. There, at the bridge, with the murmur of the wind in the willows whispering warnings in harmony with the strange gurgling messages of the mill brook, perfectly accented with the hoots of an owl disturbed by the traveler's footsteps, the scene painted with odd shaped shadows cast by the lantern, there was reason here to give pause to the faint of heart. but not to a fearless, though on-guard, young man. But what? .. what ho is this? .. leaping out unto the bridge, a specter clad in gossamer, white powder and candle glow, wielding a detached head looking much like a carved pumpkin but flaming from every aperture, casting wild shadows all about, shrieking wicked shrieks, swearing ungirlish oaths in a high pitched voice, shouting terrible unpleasantries in an otherworldly voice. Then, if the lad had not already turned to run, she would hurl the flaming pumpkin head so that it crashed and exploded at his feet. It was a sight that would encourage the boldest young lad to return from whence he came and forego the notion of crossing the bridge.
This went on for a number of years, the bridge was declared off-limits after dark by rational folk. Too many people had actually seen the ghost to deny the truth of it's existence. But, in the course of time, the hauntings stopped. It seems that the young lass, Mary Ann Andrews by name we are told, had matured and become pretty. It no longer suited her purposes to frighten young men away. She hung up her gossamer gown, put away her pumpkin carving tools to become our village's first "retired" ghost, choosing the flesh and blood life of a winsome, eligible maiden instead. The headless ghost of Back Road Bridge was no more, at least not for Mary Ann's natural lifetime. She lived to an old, old age, surviving 'til the first days of the 20th Century. After her passing, in more recent times, although the spirit has not reappeared to the eye, and the willows no longer grace the banks of Second River, on dark nights it is said that hysterical laughter can be heard in the precincts of the bridge. It is thought that it is the spirit of Mary Ann reminiscing over her pranks.
For those who demand historical accuracy, I offer this epilogue. An elder historian, Charles Gilbert Hine, author of "Woodside", active at the beginning of the 20th Century, has told this tale with details similar enough to what we have heard from other historians to allow us to conclude that it is the same story, but with one remarkable difference. In Mr. Hine's version, the young lady is Mary Ann Adams, daughter of old Sam Adams. Mr. Hine tells us that he was acquainted with the lady, she, having died, ancient in days, just six years before the publication of his book about Woodside, had confessed her identity to him as the haunting spirit of the old bridge. Now there's a task for a modern historian-detective with a brave heart; track down the true identity, if you dare, of our Back Road Ghost! Perhaps if you stand there by the old bridge on a dark and foggy night, when the mill stream is gurgling it's secret messages and the hoot owls are about, she may come to you and whisper her true name in your ear, that is, if she doesn't hurl a flaming pumpkin at you!
For those who find our village spirit stories a little incredible, perhaps because you have never personally encountered one of our resident specters, may I respectfully suggest that you visit our neighbors at the "State Scare Factory", down on Main Street. They are more than capable of convincing you that Belleville is indeed the Ghost Capital of the East Coast!
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