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Friday, August 2, 2019

DOUGHNUTS

DOUGHNUTS


            What I am attempting to write is urban legend, what I remember of Doughnuts.  Not too much to tell, really; not so urban when you consider a town as small as Toronto-- Toronto, Ohio, that is, if I may be so bold to borrow the tease on words from a local cookbook.
            Doughnuts walked in a perpetual stoop, hands folded upon the small of his back, his oversized overcoat swaying from side to side.  You could not see one feature of scenery where he trod, not so much as a flower, a mailbox, a lawn ornament, when you saw Doughnuts walking, you saw only his gait.  Whether he liked it or not, whether he wanted it or not, he commanded attention.
            They said he walked this way because he had spent so much of his life down in the local mines.  Doughnuts had a pair of paws like sledges, forearms and wrists like steel cables, no doubt from picking veins of coal.  His bewhiskered face was as angular and chiseled as the coal veins he hacked daily.
            Or had he been a miner at all?
            There were other rumors about his origins.  The one I heard most and the one making the most sense to this then teenager was Doughnuts held a patented invention for Titanium (Timet today) that made him a millionaire eccentric, our little town version of Howard Hughes.
            The locals said that Doughnuts lived along the riverbank in the company of dogs in the south end.  They also said he walked stooped over because he was always searching for money, a strange habit I thought for a millionaire, but befitting of an eccentric one.
            I encountered Doughnuts only a few times.   I was inside Melhorn’s, sitting upon a red vinyl bar stool sipping on Cokes and puffing on cigarettes with friends.  Doughnuts came in and skulked to the corner booth near the jukebox. Whether music played, I cannot remember, if it did I wouldn’t have heard anyway, his presence commanded that much attention.  The waitress came to him.  He ordered coffee and powered doughnuts.  A couple of minutes later, Lou Melhorn himself brought the man two doughnuts and the coffee pot.  Doughnuts carefully tilted the pot and trickled the steamy coffee into a saucer, not a cup.  He then dipped a powdered doughnut into his coffee, nibbled on it, and then tilted the saucer to his mouth.
            He was British, we decided.  That’s how they drank coffee over there.  We were 12 and 13 and worldly.  Worldly, we watched him dip his doughnuts and sip his coffee, until he finished.  And then he stood, hunkered over and wobbled through the haze of tobacco smoke, out  the door, into the invigorating air, seasoned with coal soot, fly ash, lead fumes and steel dust.  We watched through the big picture window his head hobble by, disappearing south on Trenton Street, then Ohio Route 7, busy with traffic.
            One other time, I encountered the man everyone called Doughnuts, perhaps that same summer of Kool Aid, Melhorn’s Popsicles and filterless cigarettes. 
            One of the Conlon twins accompanied me along the north sidewalk of the Overhead Bridge.  Hardly anyone walked the south side, still to this day.  If you wanted to take the shortcut, you sidled along the concrete base and skipped across the railroad tracks in the cool eternal shadows below, saving you something like 15 to 20 seconds.  Above at the western base of the north sidewalk, we saw Doughnuts heading toward us, a caricature of a man from where we stood, his head seeming directly stemmed to his shoes because of his pronounced stoop.
           
Usually in the Gem City, they name the streets and buildings after someone, someone deceased.  Pretty sure no one in town had bore the surname Overhead.  “Overhead” made more sense when you were taking the 15-second shortcut.
            But we were not taking the 20-second shortcut; we were striding along the side of the sidewalk everybody took, including someone walking stooped over with his hands clasped behind the small of his back.
            Our paths intersected near the top where in my insolence, I said, “How are you doing, Doughnuts?”
            He swiveled his head, his eyes steely and penetrating, “None of your God-damned business how I am doing.”  His voice was like sandpaper, number 2 grit.  It certainly wasn’t High Tea British.
            Another time I saw Doughnuts up close.  I am uncertain what year.  I certainly couldn’t pin a date by his visage.  He was one of those people like your Great Uncle Harry or your afghan-knitting baba, who always looked old, even when they were younger than you in those faded brown vignettes sitting forever with the knickknacks upon the fireplace mantle.  Doughnuts, I had to believe, was born gray on a gray day and swaddled in sandpaper.
            He was part of a crew pouring a sidewalk in a neighbor’s yard on the Federal Street side of the ally, cattycorner from my parents’ home on Biltmore.  Shielded from potential steely rebuke, I spied upon him behind shrubs.  Immediately I lost focus on the other workers and features of the house and yard.  Had a spittoon of gold glistened at the end of the rainbow, I wouldn’t have paid it a glance.  I saw only Doughnuts, his whiskers glistening with sweat.  He worked hard.  He wheeled the wheelbarrow, hoed, shoveled, troweled. He made that concrete lay down like an unruly puppy.  Occasionally, he would stand erect, all six feet of him, to point out some flaw in the concrete that needed attention, and then he would resume his robotic labors. 
            He had what we T-town Hunkies called the Hunky work ethic, although I didn’t know ethic from ethnic, but I did know Doughnuts was one hell of a worker and didn’t stoop because of some physical impairment.
            I would later learn the man I had insolently called “Doughnuts” to his face was actually named Barney and like a large number of T-townies, he was of Eastern European descent, like me.  I would also learn later somehow through the self-awareness that the slow incubation of
 maturity brings, I had stooped lower than the tail of Barney Evanosky’s overcoat and was most deserving of being called a few choice names, the one most salient starting with the letter A and ending in E, and I don’t mean Ace. 
            I did learn Mr. Evanosky wintered in Bergholz and returned every spring to Toronto. I like to think Toronto, Ohio is the center of the Universe. 
            I like to think of him as another colorful character in the history of this colorful city, another gem of the Gem City, and upon a soft windy summer evening, you can smell a trace of powdered sugar in the air and you can hear the steady clomp of invisible footsteps ascending the north sidewalk of the Overhead Bridge, and somehow the surroundings become fuzzy as though you are looking through a time telescope out-of-focus, and all so silent,  and the clomps trickle into the distance while dogs howl in recognition.

            

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.”