THE GHOST OF SEXTON HOUSE
Southerners learn from the time they’re able to scoot across the floor in diapers that most stories they hear with a drawl and a twang are exaggerated, and none more so than a ghost story.
The Maple Grove cemetery sits on what was once the edge of town. Still small and rural, the town nevertheless grew up around the cemetery. Opposite two gas stations, and at one time, an efficient little milk bottling plant, our cemetery was always on display to those traveling in and out of town and life buzzed along just outside its black rod iron gates. On one corner of the graveyard sits Sexton House where most of the caretakers have lived since 1870.
At the turn of the century the caretaker who owned Sexton house lived there with his wife and daughter. One Saturday his daughter was looking forward to attending a dance. She planned to meet her boyfriend who had given her signals that tonight was the night he would propose. Excited beyond containment she rushed to the second floor to dress. She was in the bath, or maybe not. She was naked, or maybe not. One thing everyone agrees upon is the lightening storm. In the South when the air is pregnant with humidity, before the clouds break water, the sky suddenly grows black and lightening flashes, followed by a long pause and then a shrieking crack of thunder. On this Saturday the lightening storm was so vicious the girl’s parents felt it was too dangerous for her to leave the house and refused to let her go.
The girl was bitterly disappointed, angry to the point of madness. She stood at the window, raised her fist and cursed God. Lightening struck her and before she fell dead to the floor, a lightening portrait of her was etched into the window’s glass. Her parents, who’d heard a terrifying clap of thunder, ran upstairs to check on their daughter, only to find her lifeless body sprawled on the floor.
Soon, people reported that the girl’s etching appeared on nights of lightening storms. Others swore that what they saw was the girl herself, railing at the window.
By the 1920’s the house had become a tourist attraction. The owners at that time painted over the window, but still the number of sightings and tourists grew. In a desperate attempt to stop the congestion in front of one of the town’s few traffic lights, the window was boarded up. This did absolutely nothing to dispel the traffic or squelch the dares of young boys to walk through the cemetery at night.
I grew up playing in the cemetery and sorely wanted to ask the caretaker about the house, but my father wouldn’t let me. “Leave the poor guy alone,” he used to say. When I was older I drove past the house everyday on my way to high school. My car was full of girls, Cokes, cigarettes and Cheese Nabs, all part of a healthy breakfast. Most of the time our minds were far from ghosts, but once and a while, especially on Halloween nights, we looked up at the window and fully expected to see the etching of the girl, almost dared her to show herself. Someone always screamed, “There she is!”