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Posts Tagged ‘spirits’

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The thing Mary enjoyed most since moving into the loft apartment in historic St. Charles was her daily morning strolls along the riverfront, especially now that autumn had arrived. On this particular day, the up-again-down-again temperatures so characteristic of fall in the Midwest caused a thick fog to rise from the water, wrapping her in a cloak of grey mist. Vibrant red, gold, and orange leaves hovered like clouds around the trees and carpeted the ground like so many crunchy area rugs.

It felt magical.

“A steaming mug of mulled cider might chase the chill off your bones, eh, Missy?”

The gruff voice startled Mary. She hadn’t noticed the tall, gaunt man approaching. He wore a heavy wool pea coat and a captain’s hat – strange attire for both the season and the circumstances. The dark, grizzled beard that framed his face contrasted sharply with his pasty complexion.

A reenactor, she thought.

It seemed that St. Charles hosted one festival or another almost every weekend… Scottish Games, Oktoberfest, Legends and Lanterns… No doubt there was some steamboat thing coming up that she hadn’t heard about.

paddlewheel

Mary smiled at the man. “Good morning, Captain.”

He groaned. “Fog’s too thick. Might be a good morning if a man didn’t have to leave his home just to get a glimpse of the river.”

Mary continued her walk, paying no attention to what the man said. It was a conversation in passing, nothing more. After all, she had more important things on her mind.

Mary didn’t know what she would do if she didn’t find a part-time job soon. With rent coming due in a little over a week and barely enough left in her savings to cover it, her immediate future looked rather bleak. She hoped her lunch interview with Donna, the owner of the Mother-in-Law House Restaurant, would go well. It wasn’t easy finding work that didn’t conflict with her class schedule at Lindenwood University. Waitressing at the Victorian-themed restaurant would be a perfect fit and the place was an easy walk from her apartment in the top floor of the historic Odd Fellows Hall.

Mary left the park at Jefferson Street and started the uphill climb to the campus. Two classes before her meeting with Donna would keep her busy. Hopefully she wouldn’t have time to get nervous about the interview.

Three hours later, Mary arrived at the Mother-in-Law House to meet with the owner. A matronly woman dressed in Victorian-style clothing rose from an elegantly arranged table to greet her.

Victorian woman

Mary said, “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting. It took me a little longer to walk here from campus than I thought it would.”

The woman smiled. “Don’t be silly. You’re precisely on time. Please, sit.”

Glancing around the dining room, Mary noticed that all the tables were full. One lone server bustled about trying to see to the patrons’ needs and comfort. A good sign, she thought. Donna certainly needs more help.

As the server approached to fill their water glasses, Mary said, “I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule for this interview. I hope it’s not too much of an imposition.”

“Actually, I wanted you to see us this busy.”

Before Mary could speak her goblet overturned, spilling water everywhere. “Oh my goodness, I am so sorry,” she exclaimed. “I’m not usually so clumsy. I don’t know how I did that.”

The server arrived with towels and began cleaning up the table.

“My dear, you didn’t turn over the glass,” the woman said with an enigmatic smile. “That’s just Christina’s ghost trying to get your attention.”

“Ghost?” Mary gulped. “You have a ghost?”

“The mother-in-law for whom this restaurant is named felt quite neglected in life, so she stays here demanding to be noticed in the afterlife. I hope the haunting doesn’t deter you from wanting to work here.”

Mary chewed at her lower lip. She didn’t believe in ghosts. Was Donna wacko or just messing with her? It didn’t really matter. She needed this job.

“No, of course not. What’s a little haunting among friends?”  Mary hoped that remark didn’t come off as too flippant.

“It took me a while to get used to the idea, but I promise you the specter haunting this place is not a mean spirit. None of the ghosts of St. Charles are evil.”

“There are others?”

ghosts

The woman nodded. “I saw on your application that you’re a student at Lindenwood.”

“Yes,” Mary answered.

“Have you heard Mrs. Sibley play the piano?”

“No. Who is Mrs. Sibley?”

“They say that the ghost of Mary Sibley, who founded Lindenwood as a girls’ school, remains there. One of her favorite pastimes seems to have been playing the piano. If the tales are to be believed, she still performs on occasion.”

At the risk of blowing the interview, Mary blurted, “Are you teasing me? Ghosts are just a figment of sad people’s imaginations.”

“My dear, I was just as skeptical as you are until I had my own experience.”

Impatient with this turn of the conversation, Mary asked, “So who are these other ghosts?”

“Let’s see, there’s the elegant French couple that likes to visit Winery of the Little Hills and Bradden’s Restaurant; the little girl who plays with the antique toy sewing machine in the quilt shop; the riverboat captain who’s still angry because The Crow’s Nest down the street blocks his view of the river; and the banker who opens and closes the door to the vault in the old Odd Fellows Hall.”

“The Odd Fellows Hall?” Mary gasped. “That’s where I live. Upstairs in the studio apartment, I mean. There’s a dead banker inhabiting that building?”

“He only haunts the main floor. That place has quite a history and has served several different purposes. At one time it was a bank and the safe is still there. People who work in that space see and hear the vault door opening and closing sometimes. It’s quite heavy, so it’s not as if the wind could move it.”

bank vault

The pair sat quietly for a few moments. Mary’s companion watched her face turn pale as she processed this information. Finally the younger woman found her voice.

“I have a question. Is there a festival coming up this week that has to do with steamboats or something?”

“No. Why do you ask?”

“Because I hate to admit it, but I think I met your riverboat captain this morning.”

The woman chuckled. “I’m not surprised. He likes to wander the riverfront on foggy mornings. And now you’ve experienced The Mother-in-Law, Christina. There are more spirits about, but I don’t want to frighten you so much that you won’t take the job.”

“What did you say?”

Smiling, the matronly woman replied, “I offered you the server’s job. As you can see, we really need help. If you can work the supper shifts, someone from the evening staff can be moved to help during the luncheon rush.”

“Evenings are perfect for me,” Mary said.

“Great! Can you start tonight around 5?”

“Yes. Thank you!”

“There is one condition.”

Mary asked, “What’s that?”

“It might sound crazy, but every time you arrive for a shift you must tell Christina hello and every time you leave, you must say, ‘Goodnight, Christina. We love you.’ She doesn’t act out as often when she knows she’s welcome here and that people care about her.”

As Mary rose from the table, she winked and whispered, “See you later, Christina. I love you.”

“I love you, too, my dear.”

What a peculiar thing for Donna to say, Mary thought. Turning to leave, she collided with a dark-haired lady dressed in a flattering black pantsuit, jarring her off balance.

Mary took the woman by the elbow to steady her and apologized. “Pardon me. Are you okay?”

With a kind smile, the lady said, “I’m fine. You must be Mary. I’m sorry I’ve kept you waiting so long. Don’t go before we’ve had a chance to chat.” She extended her hand and continued, “Pardon my bad manners. I’m Donna. Please sit and have some lunch with me while we talk.”

“I’m confused,” said Mary. “I thought it was Donna who offered me the job.”

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As she turned to gesture toward the matronly woman with whom she’d been speaking, Mary’s eyes widened in shock. Both chairs at the table were empty. It was as if the woman had vanished. No way could she have left the area without passing by.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “She was sitting right across from me at this table no more than a few seconds ago. She told me I could start work tonight.”

Donna patted Mary’s shoulder and said, “That must have been our resident ghost, the original Mother-in-Law. If she thinks you’re the one for the job, that’s good enough for me. But  if you don’t have to leave right away, please stay and have lunch with me. I suspect you could use a bite to eat…and maybe a nice glass of wine…after meeting Christina.”

 

©2018 Janet Y. Bettag, All rights reserved.

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Every human being has a story that should be told. Speaking a deceased person’s name acknowledges that a life mattered. Gone from this earthly plane, but not forgotten.

On Veterans’ Memorial Drive in O’Fallon, Missouri – next to the VFW Hall and across from Ethyl’s Smokehouse — sits a small, unpretentious graveyard. You won’t find massive ornate monuments in Sage Chapel Cemetery. In fact, a large majority of the graves are unmarked. Therein lay the remains of slaves and their families.

Sage Chapel Cemetery

To appreciate the tales of the spirits of Sage Chapel Cemetery, it’s important to understand some of the area’s history. Two powerful and wealthy white families played central roles in this story: the kin of Samuel Keithley, Sr. and two Krekel brothers.

If not for Samuel Keithley migrating here from Kentucky in the early 1800s, Sage Chapel Cemetery would likely not exist. When he settled his large family here, he brought with him with him not only his slaves, but also those who were the property of other family members. By all accounts, he did not arrive here a wealthy man. He didn’t prosper right away, but within 40 years, the family owned hundreds of acres of land.

Samuel Keithley Sr

Known in the area as Uncle Sam, Keithley earned the respect of many of his neighbors through his generosity to the poor as well as his acts of kindness toward friends and strangers alike. But his charity extended only so far. During the Civil War a group of Union soldiers confiscated horses from some of his neighbors, telling them that “Uncle Sam” would pay for them. Imagine their disappointment and embarrassment when they went to Samuel Keithley requesting compensation and learned they had the wrong “Uncle Sam.”

When Congress granted Missouri statehood in 1820, slavery was already a topic of heated debate. The influx of German immigrants some ten to fifteen years later only served to intensify the tension. Along with them came the Krekel family. Arnold Krekel and his brother, Nicholas, became key players in founding O’Fallon. Like Keithley, it’s said that the Krekel family arrived in the area with few possessions and little wealth.

Arnold Krekel

Arnold Krekel

But Arnold Krekel studied and worked hard to establish himself in St. Charles as an attorney, surveyor, and politician – among other pursuits. In 1855, he invested in 320 acres adjacent to the Keithley plantation. He platted out a town, naming it after John O’Fallon, the president of the Northern Missouri Railroad. Then he granted right-of-way through his property to that concern. As part of the deal, he arranged for his brother, Nicholas to be named station master and postmaster. So the younger brother left the farm where he’d been working and built a log cabin facing the tracks – later expanding and improving it. The Krekel House still stands today, the large two-story structure on the corner of Main Street and Civic Park Drive.

Nicholas Krekel

Nicholas Krekel

 

Shortly after the formation of the Confederate States of America, Nicholas Krekel joined the Union cause as a private in Company H of Missouri’s Home Guard. His brother, Arnold, served as the Company’s lieutenant colonel. As one might imagine, this did not set well with the slaveholding Keithley clan – especially since the Union soldiers known as Krekel’s Deutsch patrolled what is now Main Street, regularly marching up and down right in front of the Keithleys’ home.

One morning a member of the Keithley household noticed from an upstairs window as Krekel’s Deutsch paraded past once again. In an impulsive moment of wickedness, she threw open the window and yelled, “Hooray for Jeff Davis!” As the soldiers scrambled to see who had the nerve to say such a thing, the matron of the family came running to hush the thoughtless girl for fear that the furious Yankees might invade their home.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. But does Krekel’s Deutsch continue patrolling? Some claim to hear the sound of boots echoing through the dark as the spectral squad marches along Main Street in the wee hours of the morning.

Krekel House

The Krekel House

 

As a border state, Missouri was exempt from President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which only decreed the freedom of slaves in the territory claimed by the Confederacy. Not until two years later did a state constitutional convention vote to abolish slavery here. Arnold Krekel served as president of that body and signed Missouri’s Emancipation decree. On the same day, Governor Thomas Fletcher issued a Proclamation of Freedom, effectively ending legal slavery in the state. The key word here being “legal.” True liberty would evade the former slaves for more than a century.

Sixteen years after Missouri slaves were emancipated and 11 years after Samuel Keithley Sr.   had passed away, his daughter, Mahala, and her husband, Jasper Costlio, transferred one acre of land, now Sage Chapel Cemetery, to the trustees of an African Methodist Episcopalian Church.  This ensured that former slaves of the Keithley family could continue being buried there. The deed also conveyed a building and one-half acre of land along a dirt road that is now known as Sonderen Street.  After selling ¼ acre of that land to a former slave, Liberty Abington, in order to settle their $150 Deed of Trust debt with the Costlios, the trustees established a church there – Sage Chapel. That church and two other black churches that eventually laid folks to rest in Sage Chapel Cemetery are long gone, as are their records.

It has been said that as long as a person’s name is spoken, their memory will live on. Sage Chapel Cemetery is the final resting place of slaves and their descendants, but it’s impossible to know all of their names because burials were taking place in that section of the Keithley Plantation long before the Civil War. There exists documentation of 117 interred there, but only 37 of the graves bear markers. At least 17 people buried there were both born into slavery and still living on Missouri’s Emancipation Day. Perhaps some haunt the area hoping their names will be spoken and their lives remembered.

Pricilla

Pricella Admire Ball’s headstone is so weathered that it is difficult to read. Born into slavery in Kentucky in 1811, her 89 years on this earth must have been difficult. Like many among the newly-emancipated, she and David Ball, who was born into slavery in Virginia, married in1866. Little more is known about her experiences, but the inscription on the monument makes clear that she bore at least one child. “Rest mother in quiet sleep…While friends sorrow….” The rest is illegible. Her only documented living relative at the time of her death was a grandson, David Clement, born in Kentucky many years after Samuel Keithley brought his slaves to Missouri. Whether Pricella was David’s maternal or paternal grandmother is unknown, but one thing is certain: Pricella’s child was sold at auction and left behind in Kentucky. It’s unknown if the two were ever reunited. Perhaps that sound we hear when we visit Pricella’s grave isn’t the wind in the trees after all. Could it be a mother whispering prayers for her long lost child?

Mishey Edwards.JPG

The grave of Mishey Edwards, stepdaughter of Daneil H. Frost

Sage Chapel Cemetery is the final resting place of Daniel H. Frost, born into slavery in 1839. No monument adorns the grave of this man who served during the Civil War with the 2nd Missouri Colored Infantry, later designated U.S. Colored Troop 65, Company B. Research has not yet revealed how Daniel came to escape slavery to fight for freedom. After the death of his first wife, Daniel married Frances Rafferty Dryden, a former Keithley slave, in 1901. Both are buried in Sage Chapel Cemetery, both in unmarked graves. As is often the case with those born into slavery, this family’s genealogy is difficult to trace. Husbands often left widows who subsequently remarried. Daniel passed away in 1913, Frances survived until 1938. Cemetery records show that she left behind a daughter named Mishey Lechter Edwards who was born prior to her marriage to Daniel. Some say that a tall man in Union blue can sometimes be seen standing at attention in the graveyard. Is Daniel Frost paying tribute to Frances? Maybe. Perhaps he simply chooses to bloom where he was planted.

Lucy Hughes White

Lucy Hughes White was born enslaved on the Keithley Plantation in 1864. Lucy outlived three husbands – all of whom were also born into slavery. She bore seven children and raised several stepchildren who had survived their father. Lucy worked as a laundress and took in boarders to support herself, her children, and her grandchildren. The large, loving family lived in a log house on Lincoln Street. Her eldest son served as pastor to several African Methodist Episcopal Churches in St. Charles County and in California. Like his mother, the Reverend Fred Hughes lies at rest in the graveyard. Among the spirits of Sage Chapel Cemetery are others who bear the surnames of her brood: Claiborne, White, Lewis, and St. Claire. Despite the hardships she must have endured, much joy and happiness filled Lucy’s life as she helped her children and grandchildren grow and prosper under nominally better circumstances than she had experienced. During her final years, she lived with a daughter in Kinloch, Missouri until she came home to rest in Sage Chapel Cemetery. The maternal instincts of a hard-working, devoted woman like Lucy might extend beyond death. One might imagine her fussing over the graves of her descendants, making sure that they are comfortable and at peace.

Sage Chapel Overview

Who else might be roaming that sacred ground?  Perhaps the nameless souls whose existence has not been documented along with the enslaved people whose names we now speak.

Eldora Logan Abington, Liberty Abington, Frank Brady, Maria Brady, Martha Williams Burrell, Lucy Whitehead Claiborne, Mary Claiborne, Winston Davis, Frances Rafferty Dierker, Mary Stone Edwards, Alena Burrell Rafferty, John Rafferty, George Sanders, Okay Thomas, Mary Tucker, and Rufus White

Born into slavery; truly emancipated in death. May their souls rest in peace.

 

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