Thursday, October 29, 2020

Ghosts of the South

    In keeping with the season, I am going to tell you a ghost story. A ghost story I originally found in a book by Colin Dickey called Ghostland, an amazing book from a well-rounded historian, and to him I give this credit. One of the best parts of this ghost story is that it is 100% true, and deeply disturbing.

   Attakapas Parish, Louisiana. The war had not long been ended and the South still licked their wounds of defeat. A freedman was awakened one night by the sound of a traveler who asked for some water. The man filled a bucket full of water and gave it to the stranger, who drank the entire bucket down and asked for another. After he drank the second bucket dry, and then a third, he thanked the man, telling him how thirsty he’d been, that he traveled more than a thousand miles in the last twenty-four hours, and that was the best drink of water he’d had since he was killed at Shiloh.  There were other stories, of ghosts that guarded over dilapidated plantations or speaking in guttural voices, telling all who asked where they met their demise. Many tell of these spectral soldiers even today, but some took advantage of the unquiet dead…

   One former slave would remember ghosts that approached him one night and told him, “they have come from Manassas Gap to see that the poor widows are not imposed upon. They also said that the rebels were not going to let the taxes be paid.” A man in South Carolina was awakened one night by the hammering at his door and voices demanding that he come outside. Shadowy figures came forth, wanting to know how he voted in the recent elections- whether for the radical Republicans or the Democrats- and when they told him he voted Republican, one ghost stuck a barrel under his chin and dragged him into the woods. There they demanded that he remove his shirt. “What do you want to whip me for,” he pleaded; “what have I done?” The figure replied, “Off with your shirt; if you don’t you shall go dead. We come from Manassas graveyard; and by Christ we want to get back to our graveyard and cover up before day, by Christ”. These ghosts then whipped him ten to fifteen times, by his recollection, before releasing him, telling him, “You must promise to vote the democratic ticket, or you will go dead before we leave you.” Then the specters shambled into the night, their victim must have thought back to their graves. But these men were not ghosts, they were something infinitely worse.

   What began as a prank in Pulaski, Tennessee, as a series of pranks- born when a few bored Confederate veterans formed a club whose only mandate was that its members “have fun, make mischief, play pranks on the public”- grew quickly into the nation’s first terrorist organization, focused chiefly on harassing recently freed slaves and the Northerners who empowered them. The six founders took their name from a gibberish distortion of the Greek word for “circle”, kuklos, adding the word “Klan” at the end to add emphasis to their Scottish heritage: the Ku Klux Klan, a name instantly mysterious, terrifying, what one founder described as the sounds of “bones rattling together”. 

   Sleep tight everyone.