Memories of Rev. Will Walker
Submitted by Nancy Paine, Typed by Eileen Tims and Annotated by Joyce M. Tice
Memories of ghosts, and wild west shows
About a mile and a half from my home in Perrytown there lived a "Pennsylvania Dutch family" whose names were "Sweely". I do not know if this particular race is superstitious or not, but this certain family was, to the ninth power, or degree.
It began this way: Mr. Sweely, whose first name was "Mack", decided to build a porch on the front of their house. The house had been built many years, and evidently had a history before Sweely's came there. In digging for a corner foundation they came to a large flat rock which covered the whole bottom of the hole being dug. A workman tested the rock with a heavy crow bar, was surprised to see the rock shatter at the first blow with the bar; At the same time he lost his hold on the bar, which slipped downward through the shattered rock or stone, and disappeared from sight. The stone proved to be a cover over an old well; possibly covered over by dirt from digging the cellar, or grading dirt. Thus curiosity was aroused. They found the well contained no water and was about 20 feet deep and stoned up. In going down to recover the lost crow bar, they found bones at the bottom also. The whole family immediately began to conjure a murder in the past.
Within a week things began to happen, there at Sweely's. To relate this as it should be, I suppose the solution to the many "Ghost Happenings," should come at the end of the "Sweely narrative"' but I will let you into the secrets as we go along.
The Sweely family numbered 13. Among the eleven children, were three (3) boys and (8) eight girls. It is a long list. These girls' names, at present I will give but one. Elsie, a slip of a girl about 13 or 14. Most of the ghosts were perpetrated by Elsie. How she could think it all up and put it over, and carry it over so lengthy a period of time, has been a marvel. For about three years Sweelys were kept in turmoil. Not every night, but a good ghost was pulled once a month at least.
As well as the large farm, they ran a general store in the town of Roseville, a town about three miles away. About a week after those bones were found, Elsie was left alone at the farm most of the day. It being Saturday there was plenty of work at the store all day and late into the evening. The men came at chore time, did the chores and returned to town. Elsie had been busy. No doubt her plans were laid ahead, for the mysterious bones had been talked a plenty. Up the road leading to Roseville, there was an orchard on the same side of the road that the Sweely home was situated on. In fact the apple trees were growing just over their yard fence. From the road, this orchard sloped away up the hillside. On the opposite side of the road from the orchard, lay a great flat land, covered with a big growth of ensilage corn.
Elsie had secured a roll of stovepipe wire, as you know, is very fine but strong. She took the roll of wire away up in the orchard, and fastened it securely to an apple tree, picking out a tree that would allow an unobstructed passage way sighting towards the farther side of the cornfield which lay on the lower side of the road. She then took the coil of wire and uncoiling it as the went, she crossed the road and went down the side of the cornfield until she reached the pasture, then she came up opposite the tree she had fastened the wire to in the orchard. By pulling, she took at all the slack out of the wire, and fastened it securely to a fence post. The distance between the tree in the orchard and the fence post, made a stretch of about 7 or 8 hundred feet or wire. In going back up to the road Elsie was amazed to see how far above the road the wire was, possibly a hundred feet. She had placed a small pulley on the wire when she fastened it on the tree. She then fastened a "Ghost", old sheet on a cross stick and hooked it to the pulley on the wire. This was held in place by a little trip wire fastened to a long twine which led to the yard of Elsie's home and conveniently located, to be pulled so as to loose the ghost which was to float down the wire with the pulley, and across high above the road at the desired moment. She had chosen a time when the moon shown brightly at about eleven o'clock. Leonard, the oldest brother, after chores, had driven the large store wagon back to Roseville. It being a long geared wagon, there was plenty of room for the whole family to ride. A little straw, made it a fine conveyance, almost like a sleigh ride, only it was the middle of the summer.
Imagine, if you can, that load, 13 counting the hired man. They were nearing the orchard, "what a night!" "Mr. Moon doing his best." "Would Elsie have their late lunch ready and waiting?"
The sound of their voices and the noise of the wagon told Elsie it was about time to pull the string, which she did, and made a wild hasty dash into the back kitchen door, and began to pour the tea, non-plussed".
Let us return to the approaching, non-suspecting party. The first indication of something unusual was a wild scream from one of the girls who was lying down in the back of the wagon, with her head resting in her Mother's lap. The rest of the family were all sitting up. This particular girl, had been listening to the conversation of others in the party, and watching the stars and the moon. Her position, with her head in the lap of her Mother, gave her the first view of the aerial marauder, or apparition. She pointed up and said, "look! What is it?" By that time all attention was focussed on a strange thing, which came floating down out of the orchard; came directly over them, only high up. It did not move fast, but never the less kept moving and finally disappeared at the further side of the cornfield. At that first scream from one of the girls, Leonard had stopped the horses. The "ghost" or "spirit" had passed directly over the wagon and had not been sighted by the horses. If the horses had sighted its approach its hard to tell what might have happened. However, after the "ghost" had gotten over the road and was about half way over the cornfield, one horse turned his head, caught sign of it, gave a loud snort. This snort was what brought most of the party back to their senses. Most of them I say. After the scream and the command to "look"!, three of the girls had fainted dead away. The other members of the party were struck with speechless fright.
After they were all safely within their home, many and varied were the descriptions of what they saw passing through the air. The third man was ready to swear that he saw horns and a speak tail. While the Mother was sure it was the ghostly form which had been released from the old well where bones had been found. This version seemed to take deep root with the whole family. At first, not one of them was ready to admit that it might have been a joke. They did not, in fact could not, suspicion a member of their own family. If they had gone down into the cornfield the next day, they would have found the "ghost", or they might have detected a fine wire high above the roadway. But no one did and an opportunity soon came for Elsie to remove the wire and all trace of the "ghost" that disappeared at the end of the cornfield. The plot had been so successful that Elsie's ingenious brain began plots for the future. Plots with ghosts, that kept her family and various neighbors in a state of turmoil for a period of three years.
Every unusual happening about the Sweely home was laid to the ghost. One night, Leonard, the oldest Brother had been to Columbia X Roads for a "four horse team" load of store goods. He arrived home at the farm about midnight.
There were no lights burning in the house, and no moon shining. He had no lantern so proceeded to unhitch the horses in front of the barn. He had unfastened the head team, led them into their stalls; came back out to do the same with the "pole team", He unloosed the traces and walked around in front of the team and took a hold of the bale strap which holds one end of the neck yoke. At this juncture, he discovered he had not "done up" the lines. He proceeded with that operation before unfastening the neck yoke as he had previously started to do. He coiled one line, or rein, up and passing a part of it through a ring, looped it over the top of the mane projection; He then walked around on the other side of the team and proceeded to arrange the other rein in like fashion. It being the habit to unfasten the neck yoke of the right hand horse first, due to the fact if the other's yoke was unfastened first, he would not stand good until the other horse was loosed. So, after Leonard fastened up the second rein, he came back to the right hand horse's head. In coming around in front of this horse, his feet became entangled in something. He almost fell. Reaching down, he found the uncoiled rein on the ground. This rein he had done up before. That struck him as being queer, but he thought it might be a mistake. He put up the line as before, then loosed the end of the neck yoke from the right hand horse, let the end down on the ground and walked around the head of the other horse to unfasten the other end of the yoke, when lo, his feet became entangled again! The entanglement proved to be the second rein he had done up before. This indeed, convinced him "something was wrong". He had heard nothing, seen nothing. Who was there? His flesh began to feel cold, then hot! The back of his neck and head began to prickle. I might remark here, that among the whole Sweely Family, Leonard, had been the only one to dropped a hint that there might be something "phony" about the past "spook" business, due to the fact as he said "real ghosts are not seen by animals, only humans". He had remarked this to other members of the family when the discussion of the "aerial spook" had taken place. He called their attention the remembrance of the loud snort which one horse gave upon sighting the "spook". The horse certainly had seen the ghost. This thought meant nothing to the rest of the family and only served to enhance the reality of it.
But the thought of suspicion still lingered in Leonard's mind. Elsie noted this and planned to deal with him separately, thus we have the happenings as Leonard was unhitching his team, "alone" in the dark and at midnight. He fastened up the second rein the second time. His hands by this time, were becoming a little bit shaky. He braced himself against his mounting fears. He unfastened the remaining end of the neck yoke and just before dropping it he perceived that something, or someone was lifting the other end of the yoke from the ground, and was gently pulling on it. Leaning forward, as he was still holding one end of the neck yoke, he distinguished the dim outline of something in white, which was apparently holding the other end of the yoke. "This must be the real thing, for the horses did not act as if they even saw it".
If ever there was an excited Dutchman, Leonard was one. He jerked the neck yoke away from the "spook", which he remarked "was not hard to do", and as he related the incident the next day, using the yoke for a club, took a vicious swing at the thing, and the neck yoke passed right through "it", as if it was thin air."
Needless to say at this point the "spook" vanished, and while Leonard, the "skeptical one about ghosts", with a yell, like a wild Hyena, charged across he road and made for the house on one side; While, if you had been equipped with cat's eyes, or owl's eyes, you might have detected another form, climbing through a window on the ground floor, which, well, just happened to be "Elsie's Room."
The whole household of "sleepers," were aroused by Leonard's wild yell, and his tearing into the house, banging into things and loudly calling for a light. "Elsie," was the most frightened of all. After they had become somewhat calmed, a lantern was lighted, and three of the men went out to the barn and secured the horses for the night. The other members of the household huddled in a group on the front porch, still in their nightclothes, and watched the three figures of the men in front of the barn with the lantern, caring for the team.
Among this frightened and anxious group, on the porch, who were softly crying and clinging to each other, Elsie, was one, trying "valiantly" to suppress her own "sobbing".
The ghost maneuvers kept up for a long time, until a neighbor, who had his pockets filled with fair sized stones to throw, had cornered the "ghost" in the orchard before mentioned; and had actually chased "It", and nearly overtaking "It" had directed a stone with such accuracy and skill, that a cry was heard cutting the still night air,"Oh, My-------* Mr. S.______! Don't throw any more stones, it's Elsie".
Mr. S.---, was good enough sport to keep the facts of his discovery from other members of Sweely's family; the ghost became a thing of the past. It would be unfair to this family of Sweely's to relate the ghost episode, and not tell of some very interesting things. I believe it would be a hard thing to do, to find a family, reared on a farm that could come up anywhere near them in putting on an original Wild West Show performance. They all could ride horseback. The boys were really good with the Lasso.
The above mentioned "shows" were usually put on, on Sunday afternoon, down on the big flat, and with the aid of another Sweely family, who were cousins. The Father of this other Sweely family was real horseman. In fact, when I attend the movies and witness Tom Mix pull his stunts with his saddle horse, I have a feeling that "Curt" Sweely, if given the opportunity, could have done as well. You know "Tom Mix", was not a westerner, he was born in a little town near the west central part of the state of Pennsylvania. (Elmer Wilson went to school with Tom Mix).
When I was nine years old, I went with my Father to a torchlight parade in the town of Tioga, Pa., in honor of the Presidential Election of Hon. William McKinley in the year 1896.
Did those men marching through the streets with those torches make a big impression on me? They sure did. There were thousands of them. With all the thousands marching, there was but one on horseback. Imagine the thrill Dad and I received when we discovered the horseman to be no other than "Curt Sweely", our neighbor. Being the only horseback rider in the parade, he got all the attention. He deserved the attention, for many who witnessed his exhibition of riding skill, agreed there were none better, even those who traveled with BUFFALO BILL; and I pause to say, that was the time of BUFFALO BILL'S prime.
After the parade, great masses of people gathered in the street in front of the "old Tioga Hotel". There was to be a speech made from the balcony. I do not remember the speech or the speaker, but this is what I do remember. At the close of the speech, while the crowd was cheering, the people standing in the street began to make way for a horseman. It was Curt. He was heralded by a burst of enthusiasm. The speech make, the members of his party, were yet on the balcony of the Hotel. Everywhere was a blaze of light. The speechmaker recognizing a hero of the crowd in the person of the horseback rider, leaning over the balcony, he called loudly to Curt and invited him to come up. The speech maker, no doubt thought that the horseman would dismount and leave his horse in the care of someone, and walk up the inside stairs and come out on the balcony, where he would have the pleasure of further introducing him to the crowd. Instead this is what happened: When Curt was invited to come up to the balcony, he headed his big black horse toward the hotel porch; The horse went up the steps with a bound; Curt then directed that the way be cleared into the hall, from which there ascended a broad long stairway leading to the second floor. The horse was attentive to every command of the rider. With a swift movement, horse and rider glided through the hotel door into the hall. There was a breathless exciting moment as both paused at the foot of the long stairs. The horse seemed to sense what was expected of him. He seemed to gather all his strength into his powerful legs and deliberately negotiated those stairs as if they were no more than a steep cow path that he had chanced upon.
The horse and rider was lost sight of for a brief space of time by those standing in the street below. Suddenly out upon that second story balcony they appeared. There they stood, horse and rider, like a statue, with the hotel balcony serving as a pedestal. I do not believe that a mightier shout ever came from the throats of men, than the one which arose from that fast crowd assembled in the square in front of the hotel, when they saw horse and rider on the balcony. It proved to be a great day and a suitable but unexpected climax of a patriotic celebration.
This man, Curt Sweely, was Mack's Brother and Uncle to Elsie, Leonard, and all the other nine children of Mack's, boys and girls ranging in ages from five years to twenty-five years. He was also the Father of seven children, and when these two families combined forces and put on a Wild West Show, performance people gathered for miles around. The roadway and the borders of the bit meadow were always well lined with spectators.
"Uncle Curt", as all called him, would plan the performance. There were cowboys, cowgirls, plainsmen, Indians, a prairie Schooner, Stagecoach, cattle, horses, and wild outlaws, tooting "six shooters", Bandits and horse and cattle "rustlers".
You would not see a more thrilling stage coach robbery or Indian and bandit raid on rancher trekking with his family across the Plains in a prairie schooner in any Wild West professional show outfit, than those two combined Sweely families would put on. The price they asked, for the show, was the fun of putting it on before an appreciative audience. Then a cattle Lassoing exhibition would begin. Leonard excelled in this. Young steers two years old or more, were always to be found in their pastures, kept on purpose for such exhibitions. The girls would have saddle races. Altogether it would be a well-rounded out performance taking up the most of the afternoon. The crowds would always call for "Curt" to perform some fancy riding.
One year the Mansfield Fair Association did all they could to have them stage afternoon performance during Fair Week, on the Mansfield Fair grounds. They could not be induced to perform. Their only reasons were, "we're just a bunch of Pennsylvania Dutch Farmers, and are not good enough to appear before a "Fair Crowd". But all who had ever witnessed one of their shows, with Curt as master of ceremonies thought otherwise."