Every summer while I was growing up in the 1970s, my family visited Eden for the anniversary of Devil’s Night. The ghost town had an eerie grandeur to it, and it was much better preserved than it is today. Most of the buildings, even the wooden ones, still stood. Each time we visited we found new artifacts of the people who’d lived there—green glass bottles, rusted cans, nails and other bits of hardware and crockery. I even took a prize or two home in my pockets before my mother stopped me.
"Show respect for the dead, Lawrence," she warned me. "The dead in Eden especially."
I would’ve been in elementary school the first time that I heard something strange—unexplainable—in Eden myself. That’s probably when my obsession began.
We lived in nearby Ashton, and our annual visits always had a serious, reverent tone to them. We brought bouquets of flowers and laid carnations on doorsteps. My mother said prayers in front of each door—her own personal versions because she wasn’t specifically religious and neither was my father. But Mom felt a particular obligation to the victims of the long-ago Devil's Night Massacre.
Mom told us that we were descended from a woman named Marian, and that years ago, Marian had caused harm in the town. It was very important to my mother that we atone for whatever sins Marian might have committed. My mother’s stories alone didn’t frighten me, but my older siblings were sure to turn up the drama. Anything to get a rise out of us younger ones. They said that Bloody Marian had been possessed by the Devil and murdered a dozen men. If you found a mirror in one of the old abandoned buildings and said her name three times, one of her victims would appear behind you and frighten you to death. Standard stuff to scare little kids. On the other hand, my mother said that the victims who haunted Eden were just lost, sad souls.
Mom had strict rules for our annual visits to Eden. The four of us kids were supposed to stay together and do as we were told. This meant laying out flowers, fetching things for our parents, repeating the prayers in front of each door. We never stayed past sundown, but between my mother’s atonement and my older siblings’ teasing, these visits caused a mixture of apprehension and excitement within me.
I was about six years old when the incident occurred. I wouldn’t have been alone at all, except for the fact that my youngest brother, Harry, went missing.
Harry was our resident troublemaker. He could make a joke out of any solemn occasion. Harry often declared that he didn’t believe in God or in ghosts. During church, he made sounds of passing gas. In Eden, he loved to slip away and jump out at us, making us scream. So at first, none of us were worried.
But then the minutes ticked by, and Harry didn’t appear.
Our mother ordered all of us to start searching. We just hoped he hadn’t been stupid enough to enter the buildings. The structures were rickety and rotting. There’d been stories of accidents: floors falling away, roofs caving in. Nobody had been hurt too badly, but there’d been enough broken bones and knocked heads for the police to warn local teenagers away. Signs all over proclaimed, Keep Out. Danger.
We went up and down Main Street, calling for Harry. I passed in between two buildings—the bank and a building that’s often called the Purple Palace because of the grape-toned wallpaper in the front room.
Then I heard a noise that sounded like whispering.
My older brother Ken was running ahead of me, still calling out for Harry. Nobody else was in sight. Yet the whispering seemed close, as if it were coming straight to me. Meant for me. Like the way you can hear someone when they’re speaking directly to you, and it catches your attention in a way it wouldn’t if they were talking to someone else.
I said, “Hey Ken, wait,” but he had already rounded the building. The voice kept whispering. I couldn’t make out any specific words.
“Harry?” I asked. “Is that you?”
I knew it wasn’t. Harry was nothing if not loud. Hiding and whispering—that wouldn’t have been like him. But it was someone. So I went closer. I put my hand against the brick wall of the old bank. There was a kind of vibration beneath my palm. Then a sound like scratching.
I looked up—there was a window high up in the wall. Shadows moved inside.
Then the whispering started again. Only this time, I could hear it clear as day.
Come here. I wish to show you.
My chest ached. My breath was stuck in my lungs. Slowly, I walked along the wall, my fingers trailing against the brick. That hum resonated beneath my skin. Nausea rose up in my throat. I didn't want to go, but my feet went anyway.
I came around to the front of the building. The double doors in front where chained and padlocked. But still I pulled at the handles, searching for a way inside. I can't explain it. Some fascination had taken hold of me. I had to know the source of that voice.
I still had my hand against the doors, entranced by those vibrations, when my father shouted. They’d found Harry—he had wandered off into some trees and fallen asleep. I ran out to meet my parents, who were furious that I’d gone off alone. My father walloped my backside. That was an uncomfortable drive home, even more so when I had to beg Dad to pull over. I vomited on the side of the road. I told my mother everything that night.
For the next several Julys, Mom went up to Eden to lay her flowers alone. She didn’t like the thought that I’d come into contact with a ghost. As I got older, I wondered: Did the ghost inside the bank mean to cause me harm? Or did the sheer strangeness of the encounter, that brush with the unknown, explain my dread?
I wanted to know more—to understand what I’d experienced and to speak to others who’d witnessed similar phenomena.
But first, I decided to learn as much about the Devil’s Night Massacre as I could. What had really happened back in 1894?
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