Local Urban Legends
by Brian Myers
While digging through a box of books that were buried in the back of my closet recently, I rediscovered a tome that I thought was lost years ago; The A to Z Guide to Urban Legends. Almost immediately, it was bestowed a place of honor in my downstairs bathroom, so that I may peruse the pages at my leisure, re-familiarizing myself with some of the more common myths, as well as filling my brain with some that were totally new to me.
Whether it’s the classic “killer in the backseat” yarn or the horrific tales of Chinese organ thieves, most of the urban legends have two threads in common; while they are fed byparanoia,they are made believable to most because they sound just plausible enough to be true. And when these stories come from trusted sources, we never doubt their validity. My own experience with this stems from my high school health teacher, who would barrage us almost daily with tales of gay men deliberately infecting straight women at clubs with HIV, babies being cooked alive in ovens by their marijuana crazed parents, or children that were given stickers and stamps laced with LSD. It wasn’t until my college years that I realized that she was totally full of shit. And I felt like a moron for taking it hook, line, and sinker.
Our own community is full of this lore. Some of the following tales you will recognize, and there will undoubtedly be a few of you that will swear that they are true . . .because someone you know and trust told you ALL about it, and they witnessed it, or their mother did, or blah blah blah. I assure you of this; all of the following tales have been extensively researched and debunked. And if you still think there is any truth to them, thenyou’re a gullible idiot.
The KKK House
This is a tale that goes back to the 1960s, in what may have stemmed from the Civil Rights Movement and the racial backlash that ensued. While this isn’t a widely discussed story now, this alleged Klan house was a source of concern for two generations of area high school and college age children. Whispers of a home high in the bluffs near Sun Bridge Hills where the KKK would have weekly meetings and plan their next act of racial terrorism, or political activism, or inbreeding, or whatever it is that Klansmen do when they meet. Anyone caught tresspassing on Klan property would be nabbed, murdered, and buried on the grounds. And good luck getting any assistance from local law enforcement apprehending these monsters. The Klan house and it’s organization were so feared by the public, that even the police gave them a wide berth.
This one is laughable for numerous reasons. While there isn’t anything humorous about the lynchings, the Jim Crow Laws, or the segregation that our darker skinned brothers and sisters endured for generations, I do get a kick out of people thinking that there is a KKK conspiracy so large that the above story is passable as truth. The KKK as a group has not existed since before the days of WWII, and, while there are a handful of small regional groups that have popped up from time to time since then, there is no national organization. The idea that members from a defunct hate group would travel to our community on even a semi-regular basis and meet in secret is ludicrous at best, and would involve a massive stretch of the imagination to believe as truth.
In spite of the above, and the fact that there is no evidence of ANY homes on the top of the bluff where the house was allegedly located, this local urban legend persisted with flourish until the last twenty years or so.
The Satanic Rituals in the Riverbluff Caves
Ask anyone over 30 that lived in the North End about the “Devil Worshippers” in the caves north of Waterworks Road, and you’re sure to get an earful. Stories of animal and human sacrifices, demonic transference, and the conjuring of Satan himself were the topics of discussion at countless sleep oversand keg parties. The growing number of Satanists in Saint Joseph would meet on moonless nights and practice their perversions deep within the man made caves that wound endlessly into the river bluffs.
Does anyone else remember all the paranoia concerning the occult in the 1970s and 80s? A daycare in Florida shut down for initiating pre-schoolers into devil worship, scores of psych patients suddenly “remembering” sexual abuse at the hands of cultists via repressed memory therapy, teenagers commitingsuicide after listening to heavy metal music . . .there were numerous paperback books, written by “experts,” convincing a gullible public that there was a Satanic conspiracy within this nation, day time talk shows dedicating entire hour long segments on “survivors” of cults, and after hours lectures in churches educating parents on how THE DEVIL is trying to own their children.
Turns out, all of this was bullshit. The FBI conducted a massive investigation into cult conspiracies, and came back empty handed. Repressive memory therapy has been shown to leave the patient highly open to the power of suggestion whilst under hypnosis, and the teens who blew each others brains out who severely troubled pieces of trash that no one outside of their families really missed anyway. It seemed to be a long trend to blame THE DEVIL for behavior. From the infamous LA based serial rapist/murderer Richard Ramirez, to young Oklahoma family killer Sean Sellers, to Amityville slayer Ronnie DeFeo, this country had it’s share of winners on trial blame the dark master for their deeds.
Keeping in mind this climate during the time, it’s no wonder that local people flipped their lids when someone painted a pentagram (an inverted five pointed star, for those of you who haven’t seen a Slayer album cover) on the interior walls of one of the caves. Keep in mind that the caves in question were agraffeti hotspot, and taggers made quick work of such the large canvas that lay out of sight from the watching eyes of the law. The stories that people spread about the caves were born out of the paranoia of the times, no more, no less. It’s also important to note that there are no police reports of any satanic or occult activity, even from that era.
The Murder Cellar
There is a home in the 1900 block of Laffeyette that was the site of dozens of child murders in the 1970s. Young girls were lured there by a seriel murderer, who subjected each of them to days of rape and torture, before slitting their throats. Their bodies were unearthed from a mass grave in the cellar after the murderer had fled the city. It is now the home of resident C.W. Farquhar, who will occassionaly allow a paranormal group to stay the night in the cellar for investigative purposes. Those who have braved a night in this place have reported that the cellar door will lock, the lights will turn blood red, and spectral images of bloody, dying girls appear on the cellar floor.
This tale surfaced on the internet a few years back, and is 100% fabricated. Records show that no one named Farquhar has owned property anywhere near this neighborhood, and there is nothing in the newpaper archives about anything even close to this story. Such horrific acts surely would have garnered national attention. For purposes of perspection, remember that the Amityville Murders claimed five victims, and that spawned two books and half a dozen movies.
A couple years back, Keep St. Joe Weird, a popular local web site, investigated this myth, and discovered that the entire story was spread on line after an annonymous person posted the tale on numerous “true” ghost story bulletin boards. An intriguing work of fiction, to be sure, but a work of fiction none the less.
The Witches Grave
So the tale goes, an elderly old crone was executed for the crime of witchcraft soon after the city of Saint Joseph was founded in the early 19th century. Before entering the gallows and having the noose secured around her wrinkled neck, the “witch” cursed the city, and proclaimed that her spirit would always manifest itself near her grave. You can see proof of this if you shine a bright light on her headstone at night, extinguish it, and then the stone will glow bright with her spirit.
Actually, part of this story is true. There used to be a headstone on a woman’s grave in that very cemetary that would glow (but only dimly), after it was exposed to the headlights of a car for several minutes. My own eyes have seen it on several occassions during my high school years, and while I found it to be a bit eerie at the time, logic has completely defeated any sense of fear about the matter that existed in my youth. Some stones are manufactured with a phosphorous material that will glow a bit in the dark, but only for short periods of time after exposure to bright light. So, yes, there was a headstone that glowed a bit. I write this in past tense because the head stone has since been stolen (or removed to keep people from trespassing at night).
As for the person who was buried there years ago, no one really knows much about her, although there is zero evidence of any woman being hung any where close to Buchanan County EVER, for any offense, and no record of any person ever being tried in this area for the “crime” of witchcraft.
Like ghost stories and campfire tales, these local urban legends are fun conversation pieces. Also like the aforementioned yarns, you’d have to be an idiot to believe in them.