Red Skelton, a comedian of the mid twentieth century was once asked, “what was the best thing about growing up in a small town?” Skelton grew up in the small town of Vincennes, Indiana, and he spoke for many of us when he replied “leaving.”
For some it’s for opportunity, or to see the world. For others it’s to hide in the anonymity a city provides. And for some, it’s to escape a world which stifles your very being.
Enough that you’re willing to kill to break free.
The ghost of Newman Cemetery
I’d never heard of Ivy Crabtree when I stumbled across her story, though I’d hung out in her old neighborhood for years. It’s three or four miles from here, near a cemetery, Newman Cemetery that we used to haunt when we were younger.
The practice started in high school. Growing up in a small town, if you planned on doing anything you shouldn’t be doing you headed to the country. In the beginning it was dating. To be alone you had to have a car, and a secluded place. Newman cemetery was fairly remote, providing you weren’t going to be spending the whole night there, nor getting completely naked.
Another essential for such activities is a story. A bit of fear stirs the hormones, so ghost stories went well with cemeteries. And Newman had one. A young boy, spotted playing amongst the stones at night. When you leave, if you see a red ball sitting on a tombstone in your headlights, that’s his grave.
Or at least that was the story. I heard it a few times, the last time when we no longer used the country for sex, but for drinking and smoking dope. The story had changed a bit, but that’s typical as it changed with each person who told it.
Now we’re grounded by Covid, rather than our parents, and I’m looking around the neighborhood for ghost stories to write about, and I remember Newman Cemetery.
My favorite tools are old maps, and I have one with the cemetery from the early 1900s, complete with who owns the surrounding land. I start correlating the names on the map with tombstones in the cemetery. I come across a name, Walter Samuel Warthen, do a Google search and my jaw hit the floor.
It’s the story of his daughter, Poison Ivy. The most famous murderer to come out of White county, and at the time, one of the most famous in the country. And from her crime I get a good suspect for the Newman Cemetery ghost.
The summer of 1899
Summers in southern Illinois can be brutal. Temperatures reach into the nineties on a regular basis. The humidity hits as high as it can go without it being rain. The rain doesn’t cool things off. It turns everything into a sauna. The heat index can easily top 110.
There was no such thing as a heat index on July 25, 1899. It wouldn’t be invented for almost a century. It wasn’t needed. The people who lived near Carmi, Illinois told the temperature with their noses. Go outside and if it’s wet, it’s raining. If it burns, it’s damned hot.
It’s September as I write this, 88 degrees and about 50% humidity at four o’clock in the afternoon. I’ve got the fans on. The summer heat has broken.
There were no fans in 1899, at least not out in the country around Carmi. The heat alone could drive you mad. Living in the middle of farmland, the dust, the blazing sun conspired to push people into the darkness.
IVY CRABTREE HAD REASONS OF HER OWN to descend into madness. Fifteen years old and now a mother with a newborn baby, living with her husband George Washington Crabtree in his family’s home, she had allegedly tried to strangle the baby, and so it was taken from her and she was sent to live with her parents. It was also said she tried to poison her mother in law, without success.
But nobody said anything about those two crimes till after Ivy went off the rails.
Now she was living with her parents and her brother, Floyd, in a log house about a mile across the fields from the Crabtree house.
Ivy wasn’t a stupid girl from all accounts. There was a school a short walk away – Newman School – but there’s no evidence she ever attended it. Yet the The Chicago Daily Tribune reported that she was “above intelligence for a farmer’s daughter in southern Illinois.”
Her parents, like a lot of families in the area were likely under the sway of evangelical Christianity which lit up this area in the 19th century. It’s still blazing away to be honest. The Seven Mile Flat Church was a short distance away, the nearest neighbor to the Crabtrees. People took pride in their faith in God. It’s how Ivy was raised, but it didn’t seem to take with her.
When Ivy Crabtree was taken to the jail in Carmi, Illinois she found it empty of prisoners. Then the heat kicked in, and in short order Ivy had thirteen companions. Sheriff Ackman reported that five of those were boys and girls under the the age of 18. One was charged with killing a companion in a quarrel. and one shot a playmate, deliberately resting his gun on a fence and at close range. An 11- year-old girl was charged with the murder of an elderly black man. Another was charged. with the murder of a companion, and Ivy Crabtree completed the list.
The summer heat seems to have created a real case of Children of the Corn.
A cautionary tale about tough love gone wrong
Ivy Maude Warthen was born on February 26, 1884, which puts her at fifteen at the time of the crime, rather than sixteen as the newspapers claimed. There’s little trace of her prior to her marriage to George Washington Crabtree, which took place on May 22, 1898. Her father had hinted that it was a shotgun wedding, as the reason he gave for not letting her out of the house was to prevent her from getting in more trouble like the trouble that found her a bride at fourteen. But according to genealogists, their son was born on April 2, 1899. Which is beyond the standard nine month gestation period from the time of their wedding.
Then again, to save reputations, such things were easily fixed.
There are a lot of unanswered questions about Ivy and her crime, which is to be expected from an event that took place in the middle of nowhere more than a century ago. It’s natural to wonder if she was maligned at the time, except we have her own words as she wasn’t shy about talking to the press. You get the sense she enjoyed her newfound fame.
Something was finally happening to her, even if it was horrible. At least it broke the monotony that you found on a farm.
Farming was hard work, and it took the whole family. Even if you weren’t working in the fields, there was plenty of work to do in the house. Canning vegetables is hot work, made hotter inside in the summer heat. The pungent odor of canning pickles haunts me to this day.
Even jail was likely better than that.
Perhaps for Ivy it was torture. Standing in her back yard she could see the house where her baby was. It was a five minute run, but she was afraid to take the chance. Perhaps she wasn’t welcome at the Crabtree residence, which is to be expected when you try to poison your mother in law.
Or maybe, as her father suggested, Ivy’s real interest was in the pants of her husband George.
Ivy’s stepmother had a baby as well, which must have been hard for Ivy. Her mother had died when she was about six years old. Her father married again about seven years later, just before Ivy started running wild. There wasn’t a lot of time for Ivy to be a child. She likely saw a new baby more as added work than a new brother.
So she went straight into being an adult. Life was hard, death came quickly and often on the prairie. Children were loved, but they were a well utilized source of free labor. If your father was lucky enough to have a hired hand, you lived with the realization that you were doing the same work he was, but not getting paid.
What Ivy said about losing her child was revealing in its coldness … “They told me how I could have it now, but when it grew to be a great big boy and could make money its father could keep it again, so I would have all the trouble and he would have all the gain. So I did not want to keep it, but I wanted to see it.”
She didn’t have anything in particular against her step mother, and appeared to hold no animosity towards her father. She simply saw the situation in the same terms she saw her baby. “I wanted my own way and they hindered me,” she told one reporter.
“My father hindered me doing what I wanted to. My home was tolerably pleasant. Probably my father tried to do what was right. I guess my stepmother did. I did not have anything especially against them. They just would not let me do what I wanted to do, and my father would not let me see my baby. … My father did not want me to, and he bothered me in some other ways.”
There’s no record of what those other ways were, but in all likelihood they were minor. It was a chance meeting with a neighbor boy that gave her the idea of how to fix the situation. “My father would not let me go to see my baby when I wanted to, and I told my troubles to a companion one evening when I went to the pasture after the cows, and he told me I ought to fix his ‘wagon,’ and I thought I would ‘fix’ him. My husband and I have been parted since the birth of the baby, and I had to slip off from home when I got to see it. Pa was hard on me, and didn’t want me to go about it, even though I loved it.”
She was more explicit with another reporter, saying that “So on Tuesday night when I went to the pasture after the cows I met a boy I knew and I told him. He said if his father did that he would just poison him. I had thought of that a long time. When I got back with the cows I went into the kitchen and poured half a box of rat poison into the coffee, and some into the cabbage.”
Sitting down for dinner that night was her father and step mother, her brother and an elderly neighbor who had stopped by and stayed for supper. “No, I am not cruel. I do not like to see things to suffer. I just knew that rat poison would kill things. After they had begun to eat it I was a little sorry., I thought I would die with them, so I took some. It was not enough. It just made me sick.”
A doctor was summoned, and that got people to talking. That she had tried to poison her step mother came up, and suspicion was aroused. Her family was near death, but Ivy was on the mend, though still playing up her sickness. In the end, her parents and even the elderly neighbor pulled through. Not her brother though, and I wondered if he might be the little boy in Newman Cemetery.
An empty spot on the prairie
I still drive around the countryside, but not nearly as often. In fact I hadn’t been out there for months when I started reading about Ivy. I took a drive out to where the house had been. I could tell from Google maps that it was gone without a trace, as was the Crabtree house.
Looking out across the fields in the summer heat, I felt for Ivy, and for her brother dying in that kind of misery. Arsenic poison is painful enough, but at the height of summer it must have been hell.
There’s nothing left now, except a row of trees which stop right where the house must have been. Where the Crabtrees lived is now nothing but a small woods. In all likelihood, the lane which ran to the Warthen house went right by the Crabtrees. I verified this with overhead photos taken in the thirties. Though where the house was is simply a white square on the ground, the lane is still clearly visible.
I knew I’d write about this, and my thoughts turned to photos. It’s damned hard to make photos of empty fields interesting. But coming back to Newman Cemetery at night, which I haven’t done for decades seemed to have potential to make for some decent photos.
And since this was a story about the countryside and its legends as well, I thought I should do it as I would have back then, when these roads still brought out the fear in the night.
In short, it was time for a stoned ride through the country, looking for ghosts.
The discovery and arrest of Ivy Crabtree
Last Tuesday the family was about to sit down to dinner, their noonday meal, when Barry Carter, an old man and a neighbor, arrived at the house. Was asked to dine with them, accepted the invitation, and all ate heartily.
Before the meal was finished all at the table were seized with violent illness. Their symptoms became alarming and physicians were summoned from this village. The delay of travel gave the malady time to develop, and when the doctors arived at the house they discovered unmistakable signs of arsenical poisoning.
All night the doctors worked over the members of the family and their aged guest, who by accident had become the unintended victim of the girl’s malice. At dawn the doctors said they had hope that all would recover.
One thing the doctors observed was that the girl did not seem to be as seriously ill as the rest. She complained, however, of being in great pain and they treated her.
When the patients were in a condition to talk, they said that they had noticed at dinner on Tuesday that the boiled cabbage and the coffee did not taste as they should. Still suspicion was not directed against any individual.
It was not long, however, before the fact of the poisoning became noised about the neighborhood. Then tongues were set wagging. The girl’s history was known and hints were thrown out that she had gone from bad to worse in this attempt to commit multiple murder.
Acting on the statement made by the patients about the cabbage, the doctors found remnants of the meal and made tests for poison. They found it readily. Then a search of the house was made and in the bottom of the mantel clock were found a package was covered with dust and did not appear to have been opened for considerable time, but the box showed signs of having been opened recently.
On Wednesday the sick boy, Floyd Warthen, grew worse. The physicians had expected to save him, but that night he died. During the day Sheriff Ackman, who had heard the talk in the neighborhood, visited the house and questioned the girl. She denied having any knowledge of how the poison came to be in ther cabbage, but notwithstanding the fact he had no proof, the Sheriff was convinced from the first of her guilt.
The Chicago Daily Tribune, July 28, 1899, Page 1
Sheriff Ackman found it harder than that to believe she was guilty. “I have dealt with hardened criminals,” said Sheriff Ackman, “but I never met so hard a case as this girl. I never ‘sweated’ a criminal so hard as I did this girl. I was almost persuaded of her innocence against all reason, and then at last she confessed. She has been quiet and unconcerned ever since. On the way in when we were bringing her to the jail she talked about the watermelon crop and gossiped about people we passed on the way. I think she realizes fully what she has done, and no one dreams of considering her insane.”
When news got out the circus came to town. Newspapers all over the country wrote about the case, debating whether Ivy was simply hardened or a true degenerate, lacking in moral fiber.
“If the eminent Professor Lombroso [the founder of Criminology] were able to look at Ivy Crabtree, the girl poisoner of Carmi, Ill., he would discover at once in her features the distinguishing marks of the “degenerate.” He would point to her ears, her chin, or her forehead as evidence that it was only natural that she should follow in the footsteps of the Borgias. The Carmi doctors, do not call the girl a “degenerate” and point out the signs thereof. They say only that she is “morally and mentally lacking in something,” but “not in shrewdness or intelligence, for she is above the average in those qualities.”
The Chicago Daily Tribune Jul. 30, 1899, Page 32
Then there was this from The Chicago Daily Tribune, “Ivy Crabtree, the 16-year-old girl poisoner of Carmi, was born three centuries too late and ten stations too early. Born in the proper year and the proper station, she would have given the world another Catherine de Medici or Catherine of Russia. Cleopatra at her best could not have exhibited a more indomitable resolution to sacrifice everything and everybody to her own will than has been shown by the little prisoner of Illinois’ Egypt.”
Ivy was described in jail as having “a pretty, refined face. It is deathly pale now, and the eyes are a little swollen and red, as if from crying, though no one has seen her doing.”
It was reported that when arrested she was dressed in a “slouchy gingham blouse and skirt. She was given a summer shirt waist and duck skirt by the matron of the jail. The change in dress made a revolution in her appearance. With her slender form and clean cut features she seemed a schoolgirl, pretty, attractive, and innocent.”
Except no one was laying claim to Ivy being innocent, not even Ivy herself.
The Stoner as Shaman
It’s hard to explain to people who don’t grow up in a place like this, the role of the country to kids growing up in town. There was a mystery to it. It went on seemingly forever. You could drive for hours, seldom seeing another soul and averaging about 20 miles an hour. One of the biggest dangers was in blowing out your eardrums with the stereo. When you spend that much time in your car, a good sound system is more important than the motor even.
Spend that much time on dark country roads and you’ll see things. Parked on a deserted gravel road, windows down, looking out at the stars … you hear things. Your senses grow more acute and you get jumpy for no reason.
Telling ghost stories in real country darkness is nothing new. It’s fucking ancient. Some people catch on early to the truth, that historical accuracy doesn’t count for much in the dark. The purpose in telling the story is to scare the listener, who in turn wants to be scared. It’s doesn’t matter if it’s your grandpa telling the story, his face ringed in smoke from his pipe, or a friend from high school in the front seat of a Ford Galaxy filled with another kind of smoke.
Wherever I go I find the roads people used for these types of activity are more alive with folklore. The old stories made it through, the link wasn’t broken.
And if enough people remember a little boy in Newman Cemetery, it could be the place remembers a story that the people forgot.
Ivy’s wave of notoriety crests in a Carmi courtroom
There was a $2,000 life insurance policy and property which was supposed to come to Ivy when her parents died, but there wasn’t a lot of emphasis put on that as a motive. Ivy herself believed she wouldn’t get away with it. It sounds like a spur of the moment thought, a bad idea, which she regretted for an instant, but then resigned herself to the fact that it happened, and set about surviving it.
That’s how people handled hardship on the prairie, by surviving. Walter Warthen watched his son die and his daughter hauled off to prison, so he focused on surviving the pain. They seem to do it by forgetting, by just not thinking of the past and instead, keep pushing into the future. Because if you take a break, out here nature catches up and overtakes you. When your year’s income comes mainly from a summer crop, you don’t have time to spend your days crying in bed.
Carmi, Ill., Aug. 11. – Ivy Crabtree, aged 16 years, was this morning sentenced to eighteen years in prison for causing the death of her brother with poison. She was accompanied by her father and her aunt, and all were crying as they entered the room. Judge Conger, her counsel, entered a plea of guilty and appealed to the mercy of the court on the grounds of her youth and inexperience. Least moved of all was the prisoner. She received the sentence the sentence stoically and with the same calm indifference she has manifested throughout.
The Chicago Daily Tribune Aug. 12, 1899, Page 2
Ivy was given eighteen years’ confinement in the penitentiary in Chester Southern Illinois Penitentiary, now Menard Correctional Center. While waiting to be transported there, she spoke freely of the crime and of herself. “I will be glad when they take me away from this dismal old jail,” Ivy said, “for I know that my new home will be no worse than my present one, and I will have companions there, too.”
“Of course, I have some friends whom I love, and rather dislike to leave, but, you know, it’s all in a lifetime, anyway. Besides that, I may get to see all of them again, anyway, as I shall be only 33 years old when my sentence expires.”
The only regret she expressed was that her brother died. “I am sorry that he was killed,” she said, “but I had to sacrifice him to fix the others. I did mind that right smart”
“Yes, I am sorry my brother died, but my father hindered me doing what I wanted to.”
That she was accompanied to the courtroom by her father for sentencing gave me a bit of hope. It always amazes me, the power of a parent to forgive a child. To the Crabtrees, she was already dead. Most of the genealogies you find for the family lists her as dying the date of the poisoning. On the census, the year after the crime, George Washington Crabtree listed himself as a widower. Indeed, the newspapers branded Ivy a “grass widow,” which here at the time meant a woman who was separated from her husband. Usually a failed marriage. George claimed he kicked her out because she was reckless. She claimed she left him.
But Ivy wasn’t dead. She had a long life to go, just not in the public eye. A century later, her crime which was famous across the country was forgotten completely. It’s partly due to the passing time, but also because we’ve become a much more violent people today. The moral issues of patricide, of killing your own brother are now seldom discussed, as body counts grow higher.
What kept Ivy’s story alive at all was her choice of weapon. Poison has an exotic connotation. It’s a tool of the rich, the secretive, the powerful. It’s unexpected, painful and usually not all that swift. But in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, it seemed to be a popular choice.
Newman Cemetery at night and the search for Floyd
They legalized pot in Illinois on January 1, 2020. I can’t get used to the idea of walking into a store and buying weed. I’m still filled with paranoia as the unopened package lies on the front seat of the car as I head for home. But it’s a necessary ingredient for this story, because it’s not just about Ivy. It’s about the countless people who have driven the roads through her neighborhood, all those folks that have driven through Newman Cemetery at night with their headlights off.
The purpose of this experiment wasn’t to have my wits about me, but to shake off my wits and get back to how I felt as a young person. All the way back to childhood. That’s hard to do with adult baggage.
The folklore that people pass down are beliefs that are shared by a community. Whether they’re true or not, they allow us to have a shared experience. They bring us closer, even if on paper it sounds preposterous that stoners swapping ghost stories are keeping history alive. But in a real sense, it’s true.
For my two compatriots, weed isn’t necessary. It likely isn’t for me either, but it’s as good an excuse as any. And this time, I have a designated driver.
What we’re looking for is fear. Not terror, because that requires something to happen. That’s rare. What we’re seeking is that mood that used to come over us out in the country, where it seemed like something bizarre could happen at any time.
The corn heightens the effect. It’s not just the connection with Steven King, but the way the stalks look like an army arrayed at the sides of the road, watching as you drive between them. It’s the sound of it swaying in the breeze, the crunching of dried leaves on the ground as critters move through the fields.
The moon is orange in the sky, nearly full and unbelievably huge. Clouds obscure it from time to time, completing the effect. The sound of tires on gravel is the accompanying rhythm to the conversation.
I’m in charge of tunes, so it’s Blue Oyster Cult.
If there is a ghost at Newman Cemetery, I can’t believe it’s Ivy’s brother Floyd. For one thing, it’s a child people talk about. Floyd was fourteen when he died, not likely to be mistaken for a little kid, especially in the dark. And there’s no evidence he’s buried here. His father and step mother are, and there are a lot of graves in Newman Cemetery which can’t be read now. Genealogists leave no clues either.
We park in the back of the graveyard. Lisa is tired, stays behind and has a nap in the seat. The fear is certainly not on her. She’s new to the area. She never felt that fear we grew up with. Plus she’s pretty fearless.
Todd Lane and I drove these roads together countless times. He’s a link to the past, my best friend in those years and beyond. We get out and wander the stones. I set up the camera in different places. We see nothing. The fear isn’t there. Perhaps it’s too many dark graveyards, too many years. And besides, we’re looking for Floyd, and he’s not here.
What is here are mosquitoes, and it’s not long before we’re fleeing to the truck. Lisa wakes up and we move along.
As you turn left out of the graveyard, the fields open up to your right. Out there, about a half mile away was the Warthen farm. We make the next right and navigate the two loping curves. There stood the Seven Mile Flat Church, the center of evangelical life in the area. Just down from there is a darkened woods, where the Crabtree house stood. All that remains, which I missed entirely and Lisa spotted, is a bit of sidewalk and steps leading into the woods. As we pass it, past the field road which once was a lane leading to the Warthen house, I swear I can see the house out there.
Todd Lane reckons Floyd was buried there. But burying people on your own property in 1900 was surprisingly rare. You wanted a place which would be permanent, not likely to become farm ground later. And you really don’t want to step out your back door and see your loved one’s grave.
A bit further down the road, I direct Lisa to make a left. To the right lies a broken road, a bridge washed out on it that wasn’t worth the cost to fix. Nobody lives on that road now, and there isn’t enough traffic to justify keeping it open.
Lisa talks about how sad it is that people live on farms for generations, and now their descendants come back and find there’s nothing left. Not a trace that they ever existed. Even many of the graves are worn away and illegible now.
After hiding for most of the century, Ivy emerges at death
What happened to Ivy after prison is something of a mystery. There are no official records, just the work of genealogists.
Ivy M. Lawdon died in Valparaiso, Indiana on December, 13, 1973. She was preceded in death by her husband, Theodore L. Lawdon. Theodore immigrated from Germany, with Polish roots which he wore proudly. He was a retired interior designer, and Ivy was a drapery worker before marrying him. Prior to their marriage she was Ivy Aure.
Ivy Lawdon was born like Ivy Crabtree, on February 26, 1884 in Carmi, Ill, daughter of Walter Warthen. That sounds like our Ivy.
In 1930, Ivy Aure and a daughter, Helen Aure were living in Chicago, alone. Prior to that she had been married to Ivar Aure, a Norwegian immigrant in 1916. However, Helen doesn’t appear to be Ivar’s natural daughter. Her father is believed to have been Ernest Dennison, who married Ivy on March 13, 1906. Which would mean Ivy served only about six years of her sentence.
And that would mean Mr. Lawdon was Ivy’s fourth, and final husband.
Except there’s a tantalizing record, A Petition For Naturalization for Hassan Ahmad Shaheen, a Palestinian immigrant in 1920. He swears under oath to be married in Chicago to Ivy Aure, and that they’d lived together continuously since 1915, about the time Ivy and Ivar Aure is believed to have divorced.
There is no record of Ivy and Hassan’s marriage, which is unusual as marriage records are pretty well kept in that time and place. The one discrepancy is Ivy lists Kentucky as her birthplace. But Ivy Aure listed that as well on her census report.
It’s curious, though not damning that two of her husbands became American citizens through their marriage to Ivy. And that upon receiving citizenship, the marriages ended.
Which could also explain why what she claims about her past varies … Ivy didn’t want her roots traced. But by the end of her life, she seems to have been more open about it, not surprising as her father and step mother were now dead without her help.
A ray of hope can be found in her obituary, where her step brother was listed. Perhaps through him she reestablished some connection to her family? Or maybe since he accompanied her to her sentencing, there was still some connection with her father all along? We’ll never know.
In the end, except for poor Floyd, it all seemed to turn out alright. Walter and his wife both lived into their seventies. And from the newspaper accounts, Ivy seemed to live out her life in a somewhat respectable manner. And most important, she got out of her father’s house, and finally got her way.
Another cemetery yields a clue and perhaps a body
We made a hard right off the gravel, and the dirt road swung quickly up the steep hill into Johnson Cemetery. It’s a small space, enclosed on two sides by corn, one by the woods and the other open to a panorama of fields and nothingness as far as you could see into the darkness.
We stood by the truck, looking at a tall white monument near the back, which seemed to be growing lighter, then darker in the night. We couldn’t tell if we were seeing it, or it was an illusion so we stepped among the stones and made our way for it.
I didn’t like Johnson Cemetery. I’d been there earlier in the day, looking for Amanda Tarrant, Ivy’s real mother. Find a Grave had a photo of her headstone, clearly legible. After looking over a few stones, I saw a legible tombstone here actually was quite rare. Perhaps it was the location on top of a hill, and maybe the wind had rubbed the tombstones bare.
As soon as we stepped foot in the cemetery a cool breeze rushed forward to meet us. Todd Lane brought up people reporting cold spots in haunted houses. To be honest, I was feeling a bit shaky already, and glad Todd Lane was feeling it too.
We started towards the tombstone that kept changing in brightness, and I looked back over my shoulder towards the truck where Lisa had resumed her nap. I was worried about her, parked next to the cornfield like that. I had visions of Malachai coming out from the rows, sickle in hand.
As I looked back I saw the moon come out again from behind the clouds, and realized the source of the illusion. But we walked on all the same, as there was a tombstone next to that one I wanted Todd Lane to see. George Crabtree’s parents were buried there, a shared tombstone. George and Ivy’s child had died shortly after she was sent to prison, and I wondered if his son was buried with them, for it was a common practice to bury a baby in a grandparent’s grave. And George’s father was long dead when the baby died.
George himself remarried and moved to Arkansas after his mother’s death. He too seemed to move on after the event.
Earlier that day Lisa and I had scoured every tombstone looking for Ivy’s mother. When we were finished, it was apparent the clear photo of a legible inscription must have been taken about fifteen years ago. It was Lisa who finally found it, covered in moss and lichen.
As we were leaving, I had a thought and looked to the foot of her grave.
It didn’t seem plausible that they would have buried a fourteen year old in the same grave as his mother. But there at the foot of her grave is a small stone, broken and illegible. And that’s where I guess you’d likely find Floyd Warthen.
Not that it’s important I suppose. But I felt the need to find him, to remember him. His story, tragically short story is the one we’ll never hear. The least we can do is remember his name.
And what of the ghost of Newman Cemetery?
As we were driving back home, I realized the experiment was a success. There was enough darkness, enough fear to rekindle the mood which I seldom feel any more. I didn’t expect to see Floyd or his mother wandering the tombstones in Johnson Cemetery any more than I expected to find a little red ball sitting on a tombstone in Newman Cemetery.
And what of the ghost in Newman Cemetery? Perhaps it’s just a story, made up to scare little kids, and bigger kids too. Earlier that night, standing in front of Walter Warthen’s tombstone, Todd Lane asked “if it wasn’t Floyd, who could it be?”
I directed him to two tombstones just behind Walter’s, a mother and a daughter both dead on the same day, March 18, 1925.
“But neither one of those are a little boy,” he said.
“Nope,” I replied, “but they’re not the only two in this graveyard who died that day.”