Thursday, October 31, 2019

Plod Plod - Halloween 2019

Plod Plod

As told to a young boy by his grandfather in 1968.

In an area just outside of Schenectady, the work of Erie Canal mules lingers in the night-time air.  Horses and Mules were used to pull canal barges by way of a long tow rope.  They walked the towpath in “tricks” of about 15 miles before being swapped off for another team.  Early on they were kept on barges between shifts, but as the canal traffic grew, stables were built along the waterway.  It wasn’t all that uncommon for a mule to meet a terrible fate – in fact it was dangerous all along the canal for animals and humans a like.  Accidents happened, disease happened…and sometimes, well, sometimes there were evil creatures afoot.

Just after the American Civil War, the use of mules on the Canalway really increased. So many horses had been used – and lost – during the war that mules were seen as a better alternative.  They ate less, only drank clean water, were surer footed, and generally a better draft animal overall.  They had an uncanny knack for self-preservation too!

An incident that occurred along the canal proves that – as a team of three ended up in the mucky water.  One of them survived, but only by climbing up atop his two companions, thus drowning them in the process. 

Fatigue and drowning was something seen just west of Albany frequently.  As mules pulled toward the port after several tricks east, or those pulling west being on a long stretch of hill out of the Hudson Valley into the Mohawk.  An overzealous driver or captain could put these animals out. But at times something far worse would happen. 

Reports began by 1866 of unexplained fatigue and strange behavior among mules near Schenectady.  Teamsters were only noticing it happened along the canal and not among the streets, full of wagons and carriages.  An agent of the state was instructed to look into it. Asking about the canal and of lock tenders – no one seemed to want to talk about it.  Being suspicious, this agent widened the search for answers.  He sought blacksmiths and other care takers for the mules, stable hands and veterinarian doctors. A few admitted it wasn’t disease or overwork, but that dark forces were at hand.  Not a superstitious man, the agent thought something was amiss – perhaps a criminal gang looking to make money or a new disease no one recognized. 

One evening as he walked back to his hotel near the canal, this agent saw a transient lurking around a towing company stable.  Approaching he asked the man what he was doing.  With a glance back, the hobo said simply, “nuttin but for which God hadn’t intended.” The agent stepped toward the man as he disappeared into the darkness.  On the ground lay a small piece of fabric. 

Feeling overwhelmingly unnerved by this encounter and being unsure just how the man simply vanished into the dark, the canal agent hurried to his room.  Unable to sleep, tossing and turning he grew more and more uneasy.  Finally, as morning approached, he dozed off… just long enough to have a fit of a dream…more like a nightmare.

He dreamt of being chased. By what he did not know. But throughout the chase small shadows ran up the sides of buildings lining the canal.  A small, dark figure closing in behind him.  Awakening with a shout and nearly out of breath, the agent hastily gathered his things, threw them into his carpetbag and left the hotel.  Determined to return to his offices out near Syracuse, he boarded a barge headed West. 

Almost immediately the trip was interrupted.  The mules towing the barge had collapsed on the path. An oncoming barge had pulled to the side, its mules frightened by what lay in front of them.  As the agent stepped out onto the deck and attempted to get the attention of the crew who had gone to see what could be done with their team, he felt a tug at his pant leg.  Looking down there was a young boy beside him whom he had not noticed aboard the boat before.  In the child’s other hand was a raggedy old doll.  Missing an eye, straw and cotton stuffing exposed at the leg and arm, with a torn dress that was missing a piece.  The boy just looked up at the man, staring blankly into his eyes.  The creeping uneasiness swelled inside, weakening his knees and drying out his mouth.  Trying to speak, the agent softly uttered and spit, “Who… who… are you, young man?”

The boy said nothing but raised his hand palm up as if to ask for something.

The man asked with great difficulty, “What is it that you want?”

In a hoarse, gravely voice, the boy replied, “…for which God hadn’t intended.”  He raised his other hand and showed the missing piece of dress. 

It was then the man, gasping to comprehend how this could be, realized the bit of fabric he picked up outside the stable the night before matched the pattern on the dolls dress. 

Pulling the fabric from his pocket, it slipped from between his fingers and softly floated to the deck boards below. He watched it fall, so slowly like time had nearly stopped. When it landed, he looked up and the boy had vanished. So had the fabric.  Dazed, stunned, confused and bewildered… the agent staggered back into the cabin. 

As the crew returned, having given up to the fate their mules were dead, they saw his sweat covered pale face and asked what the matter was.

The agent could barely stammer, dry mouthed, “…only for which God hadn’t intended.”

All along this section of the canal, mule hooves can still be heard carried on the nighttime air, plod…plod…plodding along.  On crisp Autumn evenings, when the canal of today is closing, the old historic canal seems to come to life… well, an afterlife, and hobos along the rails still speak of the small shadows cast against the buildings.

Read Over Our Previous Posts from Halloween 2019

Winnie's Haunted DollDrowned Children of the Sixteens

CLICK HERE for Earlier Spooktacular and Eerie Tales from Halloweens Past

Winnie’s Haunted Doll - Halloween 2019

Winnie’s Haunted Doll

In the late 1850’s a family by the name of Brown plied the waters of the Erie Canal aboard the barge named Elizabeth.  The father and mother ran the boat and its crew, which consisted of two young sons and a red-haired daughter by the name of Winnie. 

After a tragic accident that occurred in '58, the family was never quite the same.  To cope with it, Winnie had developed a close bond with her doll, whom she called Becky, and which seemed to have its own personality.  Winnie would spend hours when not doing chores playing with and talking with her doll.  After growing concerned about this, her parents set out to get ride of the doll and force Winnie to “grow up!”

Early one morning Mrs. Brown quietly removed Becky from under Winnie’s arm as she slept and tossed the doll overboard into the murky canal water.  Upon awaking a short time later, the daughter was inconsolable at the loss of her beloved companion.  Not even an awaiting hearty breakfast of sausage, griddlecakes, and eggs could calm the child beyond hysterics.  Her brothers event tried to distract and comfort Winnie by trying to get her to play one of their favorite games, Pirates of the High Seas!  As they pulled her out on the barge deck, and at the moment Alfred said, “Arr, ye has treasures hidden in th…” the barge rocked violently in the water.  The horses had been walking and towing the barge all morning, but at this moment they stopped and refused to move any further no matter what Mr. Brown did to prod them along. 

Mrs. Brown then shrieked from within the cabin.  As the children and father rushed to her, Mr. Brown entered the door and saw sitting in a chair at the small table, the soaking wet doll Becky.  Mrs. Brown had turned her attention away from the stove when the boat rocked, and witnessed the doll had returned, at least an hour and several miles from where it was left for a watery grave.

Before he could think it over much, Mr. Brown grabbed the doll and tossed it into the stove…just as Winnie and her brothers entered the tiny room.  Mortified, his daughter watched as Becky had been tossed into cremation.  The brothers stood pale faced.  It was then that the darkness came.
Clouds seemed to block out the sun and the cabin was as dark as night. The fire in the stove whistled and hissed… no one spoke or made a sound.  In moments the sun shown again, and the fire crackled away. The family was quiet, quiet all of the day and into the evening…doing their chores in silence, eating in silence, plying the canal between Utica and Fultonville in silence. 

To bed they went, in silence, moored to a snubbing post until morning.  Mrs. Brown was the first to awaken, to stoke the woodstove and prepare breakfast as the sun was not quiet above the edge of the valley walls.  Mr. Brown joined her for a cup of coffee, still in silence.  They looked in on their darling Winnie, pulling back the curtain that separated sleeping quarters from the kitchen.  Horrified, they saw in her arms…Becky. Winnie’s face had seemed to harden, her young round features now more angular and sullen.  How could this doll be there under her arm!?

Mrs. Brown fell to her knees, awaking the boys as Mr. Brown ripped the doll from its place.  He tore the head from the body, and once again tossed it into the woodstove while stomping his feet and crying out in the name of the Lord.  Poof, like that they thought it would be over for good. Winnie would muster up herself and go on…

Within a few short hours Mr. and Mrs. Brown had taken ill, their boys had grown pale and bruises shown on their faces and arms.  Winnie had aged well beyond her years, become frail and unable to speak. The entire family drifted away onto a slow death there aboard their barge.  It wasn’t until the next evening that another barge pulled up alongside and stopped, though many had passed by during those two days.  A tall slender man with a high hat stepped aboard and called out for anyone to reply.  When he received none, he entered the cabin.  Confronted with the horrific sight of the corpses and the overwhelming stench of their decay, he quickly turned and ran out the door…tripping over a doll that lay on the floor.

Standing up, dusting himself off, he looked at the doll now in his hand. Nodding slightly to himself, he grinned and stepped back on his barge, calling out, “Amelia, come here, I have a new dolly for you!”


If you liked this Eerie Halloween Tale, check out some of our past series of spooktacular stories: Click Here!

Drowned Children of The Sixteens - Halloween 2019

Drowned Children of The Sixteens

The Erie Canal often proved a dangerous place.  Workers and boatmen, horses, mules, and transients could be injured, killed or disappear all together along the waterway.  Some of the most unfortunate souls were children.  One of the deadliest sections of canal was known as The Sixteens, for the 16 locks that brought the canal around the might Cohoes Falls.  This stretch of water was lined with industry, commerce, and some of the seediest parts of society. 

In the bustling era of the late 19th century, as textile miles and smokestacks rose into the sky around the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers – children fell victim to drowning in the putrid waters of the canal.  Hardly a week went by along those 16 locks that the body of some poor young child wasn’t pulled from the depths. Only a few harrowing escapes, as a crewman or passerby jumped in to rescue the flailing small bodies. 

It has been in the years since that these mostly forgotten children have acted out their last screams.  As industry has given way to residential housing along the old canal route, those last gasps of air and cries for help are heard in the wind on cool nights.  Their spirits walk the roads, trying to find their way home. 

Just east of the falls, there is a particular concentration of ghastly apparitions.  Some households have awoken to unearthly sobbing, or had their doors swing open just to slam shut.  Children report playing games along the backyards and parks in town with other kids who disappear before their eyes in broad daylight.  They almost all recall hearing a faint laughter ringing in their ears after.

Those businesses that intersperse with empty buildings nearby have their share of unexplainable surveillance camera captures. Inventory moving on its own, shadows and figures drifting in and out of frame.  One owner, who doesn’t want to be identified, has encountered several young boys standing in his basement stairway.  When they notice him they fade into the walls… 

These lost and forgotten children of The Sixteens should be remembered lest they torment longer