Honey, this story’s been passed down from mother to daughter for six generations, and it’s done right by me more than once. Now that you’re getting married, maybe it’ll do right by you, too. So put your Billy Boy out of your head for the time being and listen up.
After the Civil War in West Virginia, my grandma’s grandma, Becca Wolf, married Marsham Owens and they moved into a stone cabin back in Conley’s hollow. That’s not too far from Romney. Almost immediately, strange things began to happen. Every morning, the water bucket was full as if fetched by itself and the wood was chopped and waiting. Yet at night, Becca never heard a sound, nor was anyone ever found living in the woods nearby. As this went on, Becca got to calling her helper Good Samaritan Henry.
“Thank you for the water, Good Samaritan Henry,” she’d say or, “Mighty fine pile of wood, Henry.”
Sometimes when Marsham was off working on the Northwestern Turnpike, she confided her dreams and misgivings to Good Samaritan Henry as she did some laundry or cooked up a batch of soap. She told her daughter that she kept Henry a secret from Marsham ’cause she wanted to keep him all for herself.
Becca didn’t learn anything about who Good Samaritan Henry was until Marsham and she celebrated their first wedding anniversary at the harvest dance. Judge Asbury made a point to ask Becca if she’d had any problems with the Conley ghost.
“Ghost?” she asked. She’d been inclined to think Henry was a hermit hiding in the hills, but the notion of a ghost never crossed her mind.
“My widowed Aunt Conley lived in that cabin during the war,” Asbury said. “One night there was a skirmish up there. She barred the door and windows and hid until the sounds of the musket fire faded in the distance. She thought the worst was over when there came a pounding at the base of the front door. Then the wails of a wounded soldier shrieked for his momma under the crack. She was so terrified that she hid under her sheets all night. The next morning, she found a dead Yankee on the doorstep.”
“Who was he?” Becca asked.
“She didn’t know then because she slammed the door on the corpse and cowered beneath the bed. When she got up the gumption to peek, the body was gone, but a full bucket of water was waiting for her on the door stoop.”
“Then the Yankee weren’t dead at all?” Becca said. She was mightily relieved; that meant Good Samaritan Henry was a living, breathing person.
“Aunt Conley thought so, too, because every morning when she looked outside, she’d find some chore done. It was as though that Yank was trying to earn his way into her good graces to get inside. That notion scared her so much she wouldn’t leave the cabin.”
“Judge Asbury,” said Becca, “you’s just trying to scare me. There ain’t no Conley Ghost.”
“Oh, yes, there is. I found the body.”
“Wolves had dragged the Yankee behind the shed and had their way with it. I managed to save his cap and some letters, and sent them and his bones home to his young wife in Farr Creek, Ohio.”
Becca turned as white as a sheet.
“What was his name?”
“Henry,” said the judge. “Sam Martin Henry.”
Becca teetered and feared she’d faint.
“When I told Auntie Conley the Yankee was dead, she refused to live there anymore. You and Marsham’s the first family up there since.” Then he teased her by asking, “So have any of your chores been magically done?”
Becca laughed it off and denied any knowledge of haints or demons. She not only feared the ridicule of the community, but she worried that Reverend Kerns would exorcise Henry. “After all,” she told her daughter, “I was a child bride and Good Samaritan Henry was always helpful and listened to me better than your daddy.”
Soon after the dance, Marsham went to work on the railroad and left Becca alone with all the chores to do. Pretty quick, the drudgery of it all wore her down even with Henry’s help. That’s when she got the idea to leave the front door open at night. She reasoned, “If he feels welcome inside the house, maybe he’d start doing indoor chores, too.”
Sure enough, the next morning she woke to find the cabin spick-and-span. The morning after, even the stove was stoked and ready for cooking. However, on the third night after leaving the front door open, a strange coldness entered her bedroom. From the foot of her bed, the specter of a man in a Union cap began to crawl up under the sheet right on top of her like a lover come to call.
“Now, Good Samaritan Henry,” Becca told him in as calm a voice as she could muster. “This is going too far. I ain’t your wife. You get off me right now and go back up north to her where you belong.”
Like a naughty child, that ghost slunk away and disappeared.
“After that night,” Becca told her daughter, “I had to do all the chores myself, especially after your daddy ran off with Annie from down at the hardware store. That’s when I come to realize that there are some ghosts you need getting rid of and other ghosts you need holding on to. Life is all about learning which ghost is which.”
When Becca’s daughter became engaged 1891, she took her on a train ride to the very spot we’re standing on right now. She told her the story I just told you and then read that there inscription on the gravestone: Sam M. Henry, Company G, 42 Regiment, born June 6, 1847 and died May 10, 1864.
Seventeen years later in ’08, my grandma brought your grandma here a week before she got married and my mamma did the same for me. Each time we’ve added a few words of our own and here’s mine: Honey, your Billy Boy has a good heart, but not a lick of sense. That’s why your daddy and he get along so well. So after the honeymoon wears off, you remember that Becca Wolf’s blood flows through your veins and we Wolf women can face down any ghost, anytime, anywhere. Now give me a hug and a kiss, and let’s get you home and hitched.
Richard M. O’Donnell‘s works have appeared in many venues. His on-line publications and YouTube films can be accessed at his homepage www.wormsview.com.