Friday, December 9, 2011

Historical Hauntings

A couple of days prior to Halloween, The Colonel, Darling-Sister-In-Law and I participated in an event that took place in the second oldest cemetery (established in 1886) in the county where I live.

The county historical center was hosting the first ever "The Tales of Indian Spring Cemetery: A Hauntingly Historical Walking Tour".

During this event, patrons (the tour was $10) would come to the cemetery (6pm - 8 pm) where they would be taken on a tour through the oldest section of the cemetery, as "spirit guides" would show them grave sites and tell them tales of those buried there.

The Colonel was dressed as a grave digger spirit guide. He was at the beginning of the tour. Some of his tales included one about Katie Sloan. She was mauled by a dog in the late 1880's and died. She was also eight months pregnant with her second child at the time. He also spoke about Swede Johnson who worked with the Ringling Bros. Circus for over 50 years and his son, Hunkie Johnson. Hunkie also worked with animals, especially bears, but he should have been more careful around the most dangerous animal...the human animal, because his own son-in-law murdered him. The Colonel also spoke about Albert W. Gilchrist. He was leading area real estate developer, orange grove owner, cigar factory owner, state legislator and state governor.

There were other spirit guides pointing out and sharing tales of the dead along the tour's route between The Colonel and myself. Darling-Sister-In-Law and I were near the end of the tour.

I was also a spirit guide, dressed as a fictional character I created and named, "Cemetery Mary". Mary was a drowning victim of the 1894 hurricane. She was fished out of the harbor, was unknown to anyone and consequently buried in the cemetery's Potter's Field. I played my character so well, even my mother-in-law did not recognize me.

As a guide, my first stop was at Marshal John Bowman's graveside. Darling-Sister-In-Law was at that stop. She was portraying Marshal Bowman's daughter, Betty. As Betty (grown up), she told the story of how her father was killed by shotgun fire that came through the window one evening in 1903. He was shot in the back of the head and died instantly. Betty was sitting on his lap at the time of the shooting; she was about 4 years old. After telling her tale, Betty would hold up her childhood dress which was covered in her father's blood.

Leaving Betty and Marshal Bowman behind I then took my tour group to the Potter's Field area of the cemetery. That area of the cemetery is where the poor and indigent are buried. The term Potter's Field is found in the Bible.

When Judas betrayed Christ, he was paid in 30 pieces of silver. Judas soon became guilt-ridden, gave the silver back to the chief priests and then hanged himself. Well, the chief priests did not want to use the "Blood Money" for the synagogue's poor box, so they took the silver and purchased a field of clay. This clay was used by potters to make pots, hence the name Potter's Field. The chief priests designated this field for the burials of strangers and the poor.

While in the Potter's Field area of the cemetery, my next stop was at the grave of "Big 6". There is no real headstone marking exactly where Big 6 is buried, so The Colonel and I created one for the tour.

Well, Big 6 was a local prostitute, over six feet tall and working under the name of Miss Ollie Bracket. She ran a "bawdy house" of ill repute and had seven girls working for her and had a few customers of her own she would personally entertain. She would wear provocative dresses, large hats and feather boas as she rode side-saddle on a big white horse down the streets of town.

In 1894, Big 6 fell ill with dysentery. She did not want a doctor and refused to let the girls call one in for her. Eventually she fell into a coma and the girls had to call in the doctor.

The doctor discovered the Big 6 had a big secret...she wasn't a woman, she was a man!

Big 6 soon died and the coroner called in several prominent citizens to witness the body. They all agreed that Big 6 was a hermaphrodite...having both male and female sexual organs.

Personal papers were found in Big 6's trunk and one was a marriage certificate stating that under the name of Mariah Dempsey, Big 6 married a man, Dan Patrick, in Tampa in the year 1892.

Big 6's real name was George Asbell. He was from Alabama. Upon learning of his death, a niece from Alabama claimed that her uncle George had to flee that state and assume a female identity because he had killed his cousin Tom by pushing him off a cliff.

One of the other spirit guides' husbands bravely put a dress on and portrayed Big 6. He was terrific. As I told the tale of Big 6, he was standing at the headstone with his back to the tour group. As soon as I said, "Big 6 had a big secret...not a woman, but a man", he turned around and faced the group. There were many gasps and much laughter.

After bidding farewell and thanks to Big 6 (who said, "You're welcome sugar", in his best falsetto, which brought on more laughs), I took my tour group to the cemetery section called Baby Land. As the name implies, this is the area where babies and small children are buried. Legend has it that some visitors to Baby Land can hear the sound of children playing and laughing.

The final stop on my leg of the tour was at a family mausoleum. Most graves and mausoleums in cemeteries face east...this one for some unknown reason faces west.

It was fun to give the tours (about 6 or 7 groups) and give the history of some of the people buried in Indian Spring Cemetery. It was the first time I had ever been in a cemetery after dark. My inner thespian loved the dress-up and play-acting/theatrical aspect of the tour.

The Colonel, Darling-Sister-In-Law and I had so much fun participating in the first cemetery historical walking tour, if there is a second one I think we'd like to do it again.

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