Monday, October 5, 2015

HAUNTED TORONTO


THE HANGING HEAD OF CAMP CRUMB
            The name is forgotten, maybe because those who remember simply want to forget.
            But the memory lingers like a child’s nightmare, the repressed one deep in the seat of the subconscious, this one deep in the woods outside Toronto, taking one deep in time, back to Camp Crumb, where time seems to cease and the human psyche surrenders to fear.
            The tale of the Hanging Tree and its vile fruit the Hanging Head has been passed on from generation to generation until now it looms high with other urban legends.  Is it truly legend, a myth worthy of the lunatic with the prosthetic hook, or just another haunted forest yarn to scare schoolboys on pitch dark, campfire nights?
            As the legend goes, a distraught man hanged himself near the cliffs at Camp Crumb sometime during the 1930s.  Camp Crumb is situated a quarter-mile up Sloane’s Run along the northeastern base of Wallace Hill.  During the latter decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, it was a popular site for picnics and other outdoor excursions.  Hundreds of initials tattooed into the bald gray beech trees still attest to this day how popular Camp Crumb once was. 

            These ancient gray trees cast gentle shadows upon a terrace tasseled with ferns and sitting-sized sandstones velveted with moss at a site during the day Zen-like, a setting tranquil enough to meditate.  But after the sun goes down…
“That’s where a man hanged himself,” said Dick Walker, who has lived all his 50-plus years in Toronto.  “My mother and some old-timers told me how the man hanged himself with a chain at Camp Crumb and that he remained missing for two weeks until his dog dragged his hand home.  When the search party finally arrived at Camp Crumb all they found was the man’s head swinging from a chain wrapped around a limb of a beach tree near a cliff.”
His late mother told Walker the hanged man’s name, but he can only remember the gruesome details and that the man worked for Mike Henry probably during the 1930s at the White Front CafĂ©.
“I heard too many people talk about the Hanging Tree to pass it off as some campfire tale,” Walker said.  “Besides, something is weird up there at night. Just makes your skin crawl.  Me and five other guys tried camping out there overnight when we were young, but it was just too spooky.  Plenty of other guys have tried sleeping out up Camp Crumb, too, and nobody can claim he made it to daylight.”
“I remember one night like it was yesterday,” said Pat Daughtery about the adventure he shared with Walker at Camp Crumb.  “There were six of us laughing up a storm, telling stories when suddenly we heard a chain clanging high in the beech trees.  We took off so fast we forgot to pick up our beer.”
“We called it the Hanging Tree,” said Joe Nemitt Sr. recalling boyhood excursions predating Walker’s by two decades to the tragic site.  We got scared quickly and didn’t stick around long.”
“I wouldn’t camp out there with 50 guys and two kegs and a bucket of holy water,” added Daughtery, “and I bet no one else would last there more than a couple of hours.”
Exactly where this desperate deed occurred is a matter of speculation these days, says J.L. Minor a former deputy sheriff for Colliers County, Florida, now returned to the Ohio Valley, bringing home his passions that include paranormal arboreal phenomena and crptozoology. 
“You have to remember that trees in a forest tend to grow a few stories high before branching out,” Minor said.  “So the branch from which he hanged himself probably jutted from a tree ten to 15 feet above some kind of platform from which he could have jumped off.  Such a tree would now be around 85 years old today and much too high to determine where a chain or rope once hung.”
The American beech, according to Wikipedia, averages 150 to 200 years of age and can live up to 300 years in ideal habitat.  These trees reach maturity around 40 years of age and can attain heights of around 100 feet.

The beech, also according to another electronic web site, The Masonic Druid, was the most used tree for lynching and ritualistic sacrifices during the 1700s and 1800s in the United States, the limbs valued for their pliability, the tree for its purgative power.
From Google Earth, if one knows where to look, the latitude and longitude coordinates can be found to locate the lost forest camp, on the map, that is, but on foot one’s cell phone service seems to vaporize mysteriously in the mist.
Why the victim chose Camp Crumb as the site for self-destruction is another matter of speculation.  The camp had fallen into disuse for about a quarter-century when he committed the desperate deed.  Perhaps some tragic event predates his hanging and left an evil energy summoning the distraught and the desperate.  And, indeed, there are tales of unholy rituals, whispered, from those who seek the refuge of anonymity, but it is best to leave these tales untold and buried deep beneath the cryptic dark shadows of the forest.









CAMP CRUMB
It’s called Camp Crumb
Because everything falls
Apart like the dude
That hanged himself.
Limb by limb by

Limb fell to fertilize
The forest floor
Until all that remained
Was his head, a trophy
Defying gravity,

Defying the senses until it
Fell to decay, rotting
Into an unholy fruit,
A stagnant weight
upon a rusty chain.

It still holds, sways
In the windless rustic night,
Clangs-clangs like a train
Steaming from Hell,
Pulling up to Scaffold Rock

To offer passage
From a platform
Where everything falls
Apart—your senses, your sanity,
Even your soul.




ORIGINS, GEM CITY

So you think this is your town?
Call it Gem City,
Have been calling it Gem City so long
You don’t even know why
You call it Gem City,
Just take it for granted
Like on the corner of Grant Street
Those little noises, tweaks, bumps-in-the-night
At the old Melhorns building
At times strolling by old Harry Goucher,
Lost, looking for his home, you know,
The one no longer on River Avenue.
He doesn’t feel at home in the grave,
Either, up in Union Cemetery, absent
With a few other absentees
Like Suzanne Daniels, a centenarian
Formerly of the living some 90 years ago
So formal in place-setting her tables,
She’ll rearrange your forks, spoons and sanity
For you with an unexpected appearance
Here and there in her building.
Then there’s that John Doe
You call the Hanging Head of Camp Crumb,
He was distraught, all right,
Found out he married the wrong woman,
Turned out his black-hearted half-sister,
So he took the eternal plunge
Right off Scaffold Rock, keeps
Sentry up there high in the trees
Whistling trespass alarm through
The hollows of his eyes.
These common folks had so much in common,
My descendents who descended
Through my dark side.
Some call me patriarch, some usurper,
Me, who bathed in Chief Logan’s baby’s blood
At Yellow Creek, me, who lived to be 107;
So strange, don’t you think,
Even for strange folks like you,
You whose sires I sired so so long ago,
Me, Auver Michael Myers, the  “great”grandsire
Of you who not esca
pe this caging city—
Cousins, kiss-of-death cousins—
Who shall live a long long time,
If you can call ghosting living;
Such glowing examples of kin you are,
Even for inbred hybrids.
Shine shine shine on,
All my little gems.


THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE OF THE OHIO VALEY 

            September 1781, It was a scene worth of a Hollywood plot:  Andrew Poe and Wyandot Chief Bigfoot combating along the meanering stream of Tomlinson Run with riffles and tomahawks and continuing their struggle into the Ohio River where they were reduced to the savagery of bare-hand combat where the half-foot taller Virginian. Wading waist deep, finally gave the Wyandot subchief a fatal baptism.
            Witnesses stated that before his brother Adam could reach them with his scalping tools, Chief Bigfoot slipped away on the surface, rolled over and howled in pain and hate before the blue-gray currents claimed him and swept him away to his ancestral sky lands.

            Some claim his final utterings were a curse, the dark tone of hatred in any language unmistakable.  Whether the curse theory is merely conjecture, there is some evidence to give credence to truth in it for drownings followed there by an unholy dozen.
            The first recorded drewning occurred April 12, 1912 when four young Port Homer men returning from a prayer meeting across river from Wesely Chapel in a john boat capsized, spilling Harry Brant, 20, and brother Earl, 18, along with Hugh Sproul, 18, and Clifford Howard, 17.  All four drowned.  A fifth passenger, J. Crosley, managed to desperately cling to the upturned craft until rescued.
            According to Crosly, during the boys’ return trip, they were rowing smoothly across the river, reached midstream, when for no apparent reason the boat overturned, spilling the crew of five into the swift spring currents of the Ohio River.
            It should be pointed out the Ohio River was much shallower and less wide at that period and that the navigational structure  Dam Number 9 just south of Empire was currently under construction. 
            The new dam when finished did slow the big blue stream some and widened it and then in 1960 the completion of a yet more modern structure, the New Cumberland Locks and Dam, made the water upstream deeper, almost lake-like, at times current-less, but not less dangerous.  Still the drownings happened at Port Homer, including one of a recreational boater in the chamber itself in the early 1980s and another on april 6, 2009 when 26-year-old Michael Harvey,  a deckhand for Campbell Towing Company, fell off a barge and drowned in harvor of the W.H. Sammis Plant’s harbor at Port Homer.
            The Sammis Plant harbor, incidentally, has also been a collectio point for victims drowning upstream, in colloquial river talk called “floaters,” three of which found their final passage downstream directl across te site of the deadly dunking of Chief Big Foot.
            Perhaps even outside the Ohio River did the Wyandot’s curse carry because in April 1935, a 12-year-old boy fishing in the lake used by Stratton Clay for industrial water slipped in and drowned, the accident occurring less than a mile from BigFoot’s watery grave, and what a quarter-century later would become the site of the New Cumberland Locks and Dam where two workers fell and drowned during its construction.

            Coincidence or curse-induced?  We will never know for sure, but a tally of 11 have found a watery demise within a one-mile distance of one another, and counting the first victim, the Wyandot subchief, a total of an unholy dozen, giving credence to the title “Port Homer—the Bermuda Triangle of the Ohio Valley.”

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

CROWIN'

            I picked up Singing Dick at what we called the Market Street Wharf those days, now Newburg Landing.  He hopped into the bow of my Skadaddy, and I gently steered us out into the gray-green Ohio.
            He was the Dick Clark of T-town, being the city’s oldest teenager at 50.  This Dick could do one better in one-upmanship than the famous Bandstand emcee—he sang a lot, especially Motown hits.  He called it crowin’.  At the age when most people began to think about collecting Social Security, Singing Dick had yet to pay a nickel into it.
            Dick was wearing his standard Singing Dick fare: a white T-shirt, its right sleeve bugling with a plastic cigarette case.  He wore faded tight pencil blue jeans and pointed boots.  His brown hair was slicked back 50s style.
            We could not have been 15 feet offshore when he asked, “You got a smoke I can bum?”
            “No, I quit smoking years ago,” I replied.  Dickie was the answer to the Surgeon General’s pleas to quit smoking: over the years Dick had bummed so many smokes some guys would rather quit than to give him one more.
            “You know I’m good for it,” he said.
            “Sorry, I haven’t had a smoke in five years.”
            “Can I borrow a rod?”
            I handed him a rod, a spin cast outfit I seldom used.
            “How about a couple of lures?  You know I’m good for them.”
            We motored downstream to the tip of Brown’s Island where we began casting along the weed beds.  We could not have been fishing for more than three minutes when Dickie began singing a medley of Motown hits: “The Same Old Song,” “What Does It Take” and “You Really Got a Hold on Me.”  I don’t think the fish were so fond of Dickie’s singing and probably scattered all the way to Detroit.
            I gave Dickie the Medusa look I learned from my Little Pop Tart.
            “What’s the matter, Bobby?”  He was the only person in Toronto to call me Bobby since I was a Gerber baby.  “How about crowin’ a little with me?”
            “Can’t,” I said, “it will spook the fish.”
            “Not my crowin’.  Why, last week I caught a walleye this big.”  He extended his hands to indicate its size, a new world record and then some, in the process knocking his borrowed rod right into the water.
            Dickie plucked his cigarette case from his sleeve, snapped it open and offered me one.  I shook my head.  “How about lending me another rod.  You know I’m good for it.”
            I had two rods remaining, both of which were precious to me.  I also had a suspicion fishing was going to be the second thing I gave up in the last five years.
            “Okay,” I said.  “Be careful with this rod; it’s been very good to me.”
            Dickie grabbed the rod and ran a hand along its length, tenderly, exhibiting an emotion he usually reserved for the finale in his medley.  “I’m sorry about that last rod.  I’ll buy you one tomorrow.”
            I gave him another secondhand look.  Dickie appeared ready to cry.  He worked himself up so much his next song wailed with more emotion than normal.  Turkey vultures scattered from their roosts, flew downstream.  I revved the motor, more to drown out his lament than anything else.
            I piloted us to an off-channel about ten yards from shore where the water depth averaged about four feet in gentle current.  “Can I have another lure?” He asked, already rummaging through my tackle box.  Dickie pulled out my all time favorite lure, a chartreuse Dutake Special.  “I won’t lose it to a snag,” he said.  “I promise.  If I do, I’ll buy you a whole new tackle box—full of them.  You know I’m good for it.”
            Dickie was right, he didn’t lose it to a snag, in the traditional sense.  He looped his first cast around a tree limb, behind us on shore.
            We both sat there staring at the lure pendulating like a pendulum on a grandfather clock until it ceased swinging.  I was about to give him a borrowed look that could turn most guys to stone, but he said, “Don’t worry, Bobby, I got out of worse snags before.  I’ll bet you five dollars I won’t lose this lure.”
            He yanked and yanked on the line, whipping the rod his body length, the 25-pound-test line testing its limits.  Then Dickie jerked and came the nearest to sweating and overstraining himself in fifty years.  That lure broke free, all right, as the line snapped and directly toward Singing Dick flew the tree limb.
            For a guy whose fastest pace was usually in line of a free luncheon, he reacted quickly enough to fend the branch off with his borrowed rod, splintering the rod upon impact.  The lure fell harmlessly into the boat, right at Dickie’s feet.
            He held the lure up, glistening in the sun, with one hand, the other hand, palm open, extended toward me.
            I have been pushed into rage before, though never so much I reached the point of hysteria.  I remember reaching mechanically into my pocket, pulling out my wallet and handing Dickie a five.  Then I snapped out of my stupor.  He was crowin’ more Motown, a lit cigarette jutting from the corner of his mouth.   “I think I’ll have one of those smokes now,”
I said.
            “Sorry, Bobby, it’s my last one.”
            I started the motor and slammed the throttle hard, nearly thrusting Dickie from his seat.  After a ten-minute ride, I coasted the Skadaddy to Market Street Wharf.  He hopped out.
            “Hey, Dickie, I’ll pick you up this time next week.  You know I’m good for it.”
            “And I’ll be waiting with two new rods for you.”
            Singing Dick turned around and trudged up the embankment, lighting up another smoke along the way.
            There was plenty of daylight remaining, one rod and my favorite Dutake Special.  Or was it?
            I searched everywhere in the boat for that lure—everywhere.  I had a good idea where it went.  I looked toward Dickie again.  He was already past the trees, beyond my view.  But I could hear him.  He sure was crowin’.



Wednesday, February 18, 2015

MELHORN'S CORNER

      The Four Tops' "Same Old Song" blared from the jukebox in the corner while the four of us puffed away on Old Golds, blowing smoke so thick you could have cut it with a knife pawned at Richie Wallace's.  We were nursing our bottles of Coke, about 15 cents a bottle and deposit- worthy those days, when suddenly Lou Melhorn swept his arm from his side toward the exit.  "All you boys do is come here to smoke behind your mothers' backs," he cried in that reedy voice of his.  "Now get the Hell out of here."
      Hell was a smokey place we had heard, perhaps not so smokey as the ledge upon which we were now smoking outside Melhorn's overlooking the sidewalk.  We were somewhat critical of Lou's entrepreneurial skills.  How could any T-town businessman risk losing such big and influential spenders to perhaps Happy's up the other side of the block or even to Rudy's near the high school.  Crossing over the north end boundary of Cleveland Street was akin to scaling the Berlin Wall because a few north end toughies always seemed to materialized out of the Ohio Valley pollution and participate in their favorite pastime: rearranging your face simply because they didn't like your looks.
      Me, Tim Maple and the two Jocko twins would take our 27 cents elsewhere and tell Lou where to stick his Popsicle sticks.
      Back then tobacco companies like Lucky Strikes, Marlboro, Winston and Old Gold advertised on television how relaxing, soothing and James Dean cool cigarette smoking was.  The only side affects that we knew of was that smoking stunted your growth.  So whenever a faintly familiar car would approach along Trenton Street, we would deftly cup our mouldering smokes inside the palms of our hands because we did not want the Red Knight coaches thinking the next Don Sutherins and George Deideriches were going to develop into some puny weaklings good for only practice dummies.
       Coming from the direction of Lenny's Sunoco down our side of Trenton was Doughnuts, stooped over as though looking for money, hands folded behind his back.  Occasionally, he stopped inside Melhorn's to drink tea from a saucer.
      A cocker spaniel yapped along the white picket fence two lawns above us.  Doughnuts slipped a hand into a pocket of the baggy hobo jacket he always wore--even in the dog days of summer as was this day--and stuck his hand inside the fence, the dog licking the treat from his hand and Doughnuts's face.
      One of us, probably a Jocko, would have asked Doughnuts how he was doing, but Doughnuts would have most likely told us "None of our God-damned business" as he did the day before.  We watched Doughnuts shuffle down Trenton Street onto the overhead bridge, only seeing his blue ball-capped head appear as he ascended the summit of the bridge.
      We knew any moment Lou would beg us to go back inside to spend the 27 cents remaining amongst us.  Five, six…15 minutes later we were still awaiting the apology when Bill Jaco came lumbering toward us toting a black umbrella with a wooden hook despite the cloudless sky.  Bill was making his early evening rounds and we could tell by the pizza sauce and chocolate on his white sleeveless T-shirt he had already made his stops at Johnny's Pizza and the Dairy Aisle.
      "How's it hanging, Bill?" one of the Jockos asked.  I couldn't tell which Jocko; they both looked the same that day.
      Bill stuck out that footlong pointer finger of his and poked Jocko right in the stomach.  "Whoops!" Bill said.  His voice sounded as though it trumpeted through an elephant trunk.  To us, his shoulders were as broad as an elephant's.
       A white Ford Fairlane rolled to a stop at the corner.  "Ford junk," Bill tooted as though he were reading a fact from the Encyclopedia Britannica.  "Ford junk.  Hit a bump and the seat falls down."
      The driver rolled his window down, asked Bill, "Can you tell me where Clarke's Funeral is?"
      The man was obviously from out of town.  Only out-of-towners got lost in this town of 7,000 residents or stopped for the stop sign at the bottom of the overhead bridge.
      "Up bay," Bill trumpeted, "Up bay."  Toot fix Fords.  Fix junk.  Clarkie's goosey.  Clarkie's full of stiffs."
      Bill was talking talk only T-towners could interpret while the out-of-towner just shook his head from side to side.  Bill must have seen the guy's wife in the car and said, "Man marries woman something loose--something loose."
       Finally, the man poked his head out the window and shouted, "Man, you are completely nuts!"
      Bill merely eyed the man as if adding another nut to a town already full of nuts and then said," "Not lost."
      The man peeled rubber onto Trenton, smoke fountaining from his wheels still crossing Findlay.  Bill philosophically said, "Town's full of nuts" and then lumbered his way toward downtown.
      The four of us figured we would let Lou off easy and returned inside, lit up four Old Golds while we listened to "The Same Old Song."
   

Sunday, February 8, 2015

THE BEST THERE NEVER WAS

     When a few old sports veterans get together in the Gem City, the topic of Toronto High School's greatest athlete arises occasionally.  Names such as Chip Coulter, Clark Hinkle, George Deiderich, Don Sutherin and Otis Winston are always mentioned, but one name I always bring up won't be found in any of the record books.
     You see, a classmate of mine, Harold "Oink" Coulter, played basketball only his freshman year.  Had he continued to play--that includes any sport--I am certain he would have been crowned the best.
     Oink possessed the hand-eye coordination of a magician.  He wasn't the tallest, fastest or strongest athlete in our class, although he was gifted in all these attributes.  What he possessed was way above what everybody had and that was coordination.
      Playing Little League for Cattrell's during the early 60s, I had heard all about the legend way before I encountered him  He was rumored to throw the only curve ball in the entire league, and to an 11-year-old batter during those days to face that kind of skill was akin to confronting someone with supernatural powers.
       I recall the fateful day when we were finally going to face Oink on the mound.  We were undefeated, with Oink posing as our last obstacle to remain unblemished for the 20-game season in a league consisting of twelve teams.  Our strategy was to step up in the batter's box when Oink started hurling curves, an approach enabling the hitter a good shot at the slower pitch before it broke.  Oink recognized this plan immediately and reared back and blew his lively fastball by us.  So--we moved back in the box and he curved us simple.  The game was our only loss of the season.
      I recall another time when we were in seventh grade playing pick-up football at S.C. Dennis School.  Oink was passing by on his bicycle and stopped.  I never saw him play football before, or even hold one in his hands for that matter, but he asked for the ball and promptly punted a perfect spiral 45 yards.  "Let's see you do that again," everyone said, knowing football was our rare chance to embarrass Oink.  He duplicated more kicks, all going 40 to 50 yards--all perfect spirals.
      Another time I recall sitting in sixth grade at St. Francis School.  For some reason the public schools were off that day and we weren't.  I was daydreaming out the window when I saw Oink approaching on his bicycle.  At the corner of Grant and Euclid, he popped a wheelie and pedaled right by the sixth grade windows, the seventh grade windows, the eighth grade windows and continued, reared back in the banana seat, hands braced on the handlebars, churning the pedals until  turning the corner on Daniels Street, two blocks away, out of sight.  The first flight by the Wright Brothers could not have covered the same distance.
       Basketball was by far his best game.  He could do anything with a round ball except make it talk.  Oink was the only ball handler I had ever seen being guarded by defenders with their legs crossed.  Nobody wanted embarrassed by having the ball dribbled between their legs by anybody.  And Oink could turn an opponent's face redder than a Red Knights jersey.
      The best way to defend Oink was to stand under the basket and bet him he couldn't make a shot from half court, and maybe his heel would accidentally touch the mid-court line so that you could get him on and over-and-back violation.  Oink was the only kid I knew who practiced shots from half court, and he made a good percentage of them.
      He was the last guy you wanted to challenge in a game of H-O-R-S-E.  Besides being able to rainbow shots from various distances, he could bank a ball off both walls on the northwest corners of the Franklin School building and swish it through the hoop.
      As I mentioned, Oink played only one season at the high school level, most of which was on junior varsity, although everyone in school and in the stands knew Oink was the best player on the varsity.  A few times the coach would put Oink in the varsity game.  I remember one time Oink was dribbling about 20 feet from Toronto's basket, an opponent between him an the hoop, arms raised high, knees bent in defending position.  Oink nonchalantly dribbled behind his own back and then around the defender, a complete 360-degree sweep and then swished the ball through the net.
      This wasn't exactly the type of tactic coaches in those days had in mind regarding fundamental basketball and was probably the main reason Oink spent most of his varsity tenure on the bench.  The coach tried to make Oink play basketball the way the coach thought basketball should be played.  Oink could achieve greatness and lead the Red Knights to the state title someday, only via the way of the head coach.
      But sports was not about titles, the state and the greatest--certainly not about pressure.  If he could not have fun, he wasn't going to play.  He never shot his majestic arching set shot in a Red Knights uniform again.
      Looking back, Oink was right all along.  If anything motivates you in sports other than having fun, you are participating for all the wrong reasons.  Coaches and athletes work themselves to the brink of exhaustion.  Heck, Oink was good at what came natural to him.  He was the best that never was.
 
Harold Coulter, shown on THS 1967 squad, was the only guy who could have wore a name like Oink gracefully