Search This Blog

Monday, October 5, 2015


            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.

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.


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.


            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, February 18, 2015


      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."