In the 1890s Edward Stratemeyer wrote a series of short stories for the Newark Sunday Call for young people that were timed to coincide with the holidays around the year.
Later he wanted to publish a book of these stories to be called Holiday Stories for Boys. Although that did not work out, we published a volume of more than a dozen of these newspaper stories, including alternate versions, in an illustrated and annotated volume under Stratemeyer’s preferred title, Holiday Stories for Boys, volume 1. A similar number of stories could form volume 2 if there is sufficient interest.
This story was published in the Newark Sunday Call on Sunday Oct. 21, 1894. At that time Halloween was not the same sort of holiday that it is today with costumed children going from door to door seeking treats. Still, this kind of ghost story fits with the season.
Ghost of Flydown Hill
A Story by Edward Stratemeyer, of This City
The first time that Phil Parsons and I saw the ghost was on a clear moonlight night in early October. We had been on a long tour from Cresswell to New Brightwood, and were so fagged out that we could scarcely push our bicycles over the road, which down by Silver Creek is anything but smooth.
“I’ll be glad enough when we pass Flydown and reach home,” said Phil, who was slightly in advance. “I declare I’m that sore I can hardly wheel another yard.”
“Your present soreness won’t be a patch to what you’ll feel tomorrow,” I replied, with a somewhat sorry laugh as I thought of my own condition and wondered if I could be able to get out of bed at the usual hour.
“That’s the time we bit off a little more than we could chew, Dick. But never mind, it’s something to be able to say you rode all the way to New Brightwood and back in a single afternoon.”
“Yes; that’s so. I wonder what time it is? I promised mother that I would be home not later than 9 o’clock.”
“It’s just a quarter to nine now,” replied Phil, easing up on the pace to bring ourt his watch and turn its face to the moonlight. We can easily reach home by 9 and we needn’t push so everlastingly fast, either.” And he dropped back to my side and slackened his speed.
“If we were only up to the top of Flydown,” I murmured. “It seems to me this bill gets steeper every time we climb it.”
Flydown was not the real name of the hill, but we called it that because when once to the top we would fly down the other side as fast as our machines would carry us. Among the poeple of the district it was known as Lannigan’s Hill, because old Peter Lannigan owned a big farm on the old north side and had for nearly forty years.
Peter Lannigan was a very miserly old fellow, and therew was hardly a soul in Cresswell that liked him. He was all alone in the world, and report had it that he was extremely wealthy, although what he had done with his money no one could tell. Certainly he had never spent it on himself for the farm, for his clothing was a mass of rags and his farm bildings were in the last stages of delapidation.
On the south side of Flydown Hill was another farm which was owned by the widow of Sam Bender, who during his life had run the saw mill at Cresswell Run. The land on this farm was much better than on Peter Lannigan’s place, and both the widow and her son Jerry worked hard to keep everything up to the top notch of excellence. I heard my father say more than once that the Widow Bender got more out of her land than any farmer in the county got out of his.
“Well, here’s the top of Flydown at last!” exclaimed phil, with a long sigh of relief. “Now let her go, Dick, and we’ll be home in no time.”
“Wait till I see if that left pedal is all right,” I returned. “I dont want to lose it on the way.”
“All right; I’m in no hurry,” replied Phil.
I sprang from the machine and was just in the act of bending down to examine the pedal, when a sudden cry of alarm from my chum caused me to jump about a foot.
“My gracious, Dick! What in the world is that?”
As Phil uttered the words he pointed toward one corner of the Bender farm, and looking in that direction I saw a sight that fairly made my hair stand on end. There, parading along slowly in the moonlight, was a slim figure all of ten feet high—at least it seemed so to me. It was clad in pure white and from the top of its head and from its arms, which swayed back and forth, a cloud of white smoke, which made it look like the very old Nick himself.
“It’s—it’s—can it be a ghost?” I stammered, not knowing what to say.
“That’s just what it is!” returned Phil, with his teeth chattering. “It must be the ghost of the tramp that was murdered here two years ago. I’m going to get out!”
And Phil, who had also dismounted, sprang into the saddle again and began to push toward the downward slope of the hill.
“Oh, but, Phil, there are no ghosts,” I began, but he would not listen, and not caring to be left behind alone, I, too, mounted my machine and was soon beside him once more.
It was a lucky thing that the road did not lead closer to that portion of the Bender farm, for if it had, I am afraid we would both have turned tail and gone home by Brandock turnpike, the long way around. As it was we helped our bicycles down the slope all we could, and never looked back until a clump of trees hid the dread object from our view.
When I reached home I lost no time in telling father and mother of what I had seen. Mother merely laughed at the story and father said most likely we had been scared by one of Bender’s scarecrows floating in the wind.
“The next time you see the thing pluck up your courage and investigate,” he continued. “There are no ghosts, never were and never will be. You ought to be less of a coward, Dick.”
When I saw Phil he acknowledged that his father had said pretty much the same thing as mine, and Mr. Parsons had added that Phil had made a big mistake when he didn’t go after the so-called ghost with a club.
“But you couldn’t hire me to go after it for a thousand dollars,” said Phil. “Ghosts or no ghosts, the thing made my flesh creep and my backbone feel as if some one was pouring icewater down it.”
On the following evening the story of what we had seen having circulated, half a dozen men and boys went out to Flydown hill to “lay” for the ghost. They put in three hours behind the clump of trees and back of Bender’s barn, and then returned in disgust, stating that we had made up the yarn just for excitement.
But our story was corroborated by the Widow Bender, who had seen the apparition from her bedroom window and who had been nearly frightened to death by it. Her son had been away from home at the time, and she had locked every door and window and sat trembling in the light of two lamps until his return.
“It was a ghost, jest as sure as my name is Malinda Bender,” she told a neighbor. “An’ it ain’t the first time I’ve a’seen of it, although I never told on it before, thinkin’ folks might laugh at me. It’s simply too dreadful fer anything, and unless somethin’ is done to drive it away I’m a goin’ to sell the place, much as I hate to part with the land an’ move into the town.”
For nearly a week matters remained quiet and the ghost was almost forgotten. In the meantime the moon had become full and the weather remained perfect and as Phil and I both loved our machines better than anything else we possessed, we were out every moment of our spare time.
On Saturday we decided to ride to Brightwood Glen to gather a bag of chestnuts which we knew were now ripe. We started directly after our morning’s work was done and took our luncheswith us.
The ride to the Glen took us nearly three hours. When we arrived we spent half an hour in resting and in comsuming the dainties we had brought and then when it was nearly 3 o’clock turned our attention to the cause that had brought us to the place.
The Glen had been full of chestnuts but several parties had been there just ahead of us and they had almost stripped the trees. Our bag was a large one, and, consequently it took us much longer to fill it than we had anticipated.
“Phew, it’s after 6 o’clock!” exclaimed Phil as I put the last handful of nuts in the bag and began to tie it up. “Did you have any idea it was so late?”
“No, indeed,” I replied. “Six o’clock! Why, we wont’ get home till 10 and after. Come on, we musn’t waste any more time here,” and off I started without a second’s delay to where we left our machines. But, as we all know, it is first when one is in a hurry that something is bound to happen. I had hardly ridden two yards when that loose left pedal of mine came off. I had to stop and tinker at it, and Phil also lent a hand, and before I was ready to go on again another half hour had flown and it was growing quite dark.
“We’ll be lucky if we strike Cresswell by 11 o’clock,” remarked Phil. “Climbing those threes has stiffened me and I can’t ride as fast as usual.”
“The worst of it, is we’ve got to pass over Flydown yet,” I replied, and just the least bit of a shiver ran over my back. “Supposing the ghost is out again?”
“Oh, don’t speak of that,” cried Phil, in dismay. “If I thought that thing would appear I would ride home by Brandock’s turnpike, even if I didn’t reach Cresswell before 12 o’clock.”
“Nonsense!” I returned. “I’m going over Flydown no matter what happens. If that thing appears I’ve a good mind to tackle it, just as your father said we ought.”
“Not much, Dick! You won’t catch me tackling any ghost! I’d rather go a thousand miles out of his ghostship’s way!”
“Well, we haven’t seen the ghost yet and it’s more than likely we won’t see it. It hasn’t showed up for over a week now,” I replied.
Yet, I will admit that I was decidedly uneasy in mind when we lfet New Brightwood behind and began to pedal along the road which led to Flydown hill. It was hardly showing yet over the top of Dren’s woods. Somehow I felt it “in my bones” that something was about to happen.
At length, just as the faraway bell of the Cresswell church was striking out the hour of 11, we came to Silver creek, and here, dry and dusty, we dismounted and obtained a drink.
“How awfully quiet it is,” observed Phil, as he paused at the water’s edge to listen. “Not a soul but the church bell.”
“We ought to be home this minute,” I replied. “What will our folks say? Mother, I know, will be scared to death.”
“Well, come on, Dick. I must confess I would rather be in bed than in such an uncanny spot as this at this hour of the night.”
We left the creek and trundled our bicycles over the little rustic bridge. We were just about to depart when a sound reached our ears which nearly struck us dumb.
To describe the sound would be impossible. It was a bit like a shriek, something like a loud moan, and had that peculiar characteristic about it that sends a shock clear out the marrow of a fellow’s bones.
“My gracious!” cried Phil. “Did you hear that?”
“Did I hear it?” I returned. “Of course I did! What in the world was it?”
“I am sure I don’t know.”
“It sounded like something like a man crying for help.”
“More like the cry of some wild animal,” said Phil. “I wonder if there are any—any bears around here.”
“No, it wasn’t that. Perhaps—”
I broke off short as the sound once more penetrated the air. This time it was more prolonged and ended in a wail that was unquestionably human. We both stood stick still and Phil grabbed my arm tightly.
“I—I believe it’s that ghost,” he chattered. “It couldn’t be anything else.”
“But I don’t see anything, Phil.” I said. “Do you think it came from the Bender farm?”
“It came from the other side of the hill,” he replied.
“Then let us go to the top of the hill and see what it is,” I urged.
“What?” and Phil’s teeth fairly chattered in his head.
“Yes, come on. If it is a wild animal we can easily get away from it on our machines.”
“Yes, but if it’s a ghost—”
“Then I’m going to investigate,” I said, trying to put on a bold front, although I was almost as badly scared as my chum. “I’m not going to let folks in the village call me a coward or say I made up the story about the ghost.”
“Oh, but Dick, supposing it comes after us!”
“Then let it come. We are two to one, and I’ve got this bag of nuts and you can get a stick. Come on, the moon is pretty well up and it ought to be as bright as day on the other side of the hill.
At first Phil declined to budge, but finally, after waiting in vain for the unearthly sound to be repeated, he consented to move on first, however, supplying himself with a stout club cut from the bushes which lined the road.
It was slow work climbing Flydown hill but to us just then it was as if we were flying to the top. Phil lagged behind and it was only by continual urging that I managed to keep him anywhere near me.
At last we reached the brow of the hill and eagerly we looked toward the spot where we had seen the ghost before. It was not in sight.
“Must have been something else,” observed phil, with a long sigh of relief. “But what could it have been?”
“Taht may remain another mystery,” I replied. “Come on, we have already wasted too much time.”
“We won’t dare speak of this at home,” went on my chum. “If we do they will laugh at us and call it another fake.”
“That’s so. And yet we did hear something, there is not the slightest doubt of that.”
We began to move down the slope of the hill at top speed and had almost reached the bottom when a sutten crash in the bushes ahead caused us to press on our brakes and slacken up. A second later a figure emerged upon the road and came running toward us. It was the ghost!
My heart seemed to stop beating, and losing control of my bicycle I tumbled off on the ground in a heap. Phil let out a yell like a wild Indian, and turning from the course went into the tall fence with a bang that threw him over the top into the growth beyond.
When I managed to scrmble upon my feet the ghost was almost upon me. It was gliding over the ground with scarcely a sound, leaving a trail of white smoke behind it. It stopped short when just in front of me, and uttering an unmistakable grunt, attempted to pass me by.
This movement gave me a sudden courage. Over my shoulder was slung the bag of chestnuts, and catching this by the top I swung it over my head and lte it drive with all force at the side of his ghostship.
The heavy object caught the ghost about midway between the top and bottom. A cry and a groan followed and then the apparition fell to the ground, while something that was on his head—a saucepan tied to a garden rake covered with a pillow—rolled several yards away.
“Oh, you young villain, you have killed me!” came in smothered tones from under several thicknesses of bed sheeting. You have nearly knocked my head off!”
The voice was that of a man and the revision of my feelings was so great that for the moment I could not move.
Then I caught up the bag of chestnuts again and stood ready to defend myself, meanwhile calling upon Phil to come to my aid, that the ghost was no ghost at all, but only somebody who had been making believe.
“But who is it?” cried Phil, as he scrambled over the fence again, and advanced with his club, ready to strike.
This was not easy to determine. The man under the sheeting continued to groan, but refused to move, and it was not until I pulled the white stuff from him that we learned his identity. It was old Peter Lannigan!
“Please, boys, don’t tell anybody of this,” he whined, as he sat up and nuresd the side of his head which I had given a fearful blow with the bat. “Please don’t tell anybody of this, and I’ll give each of you a dollar.”
“But what have you been playing ghost for?” I asked, for I thought old Peter Lannigan the last person in the world to attempt anything in the sense of a joke.
Before the old man could reply there came the clatter of horsee hoofes on the road below us and then up galloped Jerry Bender, a shotgun in his hands.
“Have you got that air ghost?” he called out quickly.
“Yes, we have,” I returned, quickly. “And who do you suppose it is?”
“I have no idea.”
“Old Peter Lannigan.”
At this Jerry Bender was angry as ever I saw a young fellow get. “He threatened to shoot old Peter Lannigan on the spot and it was only after the hardest kind of begging that he allowed the old miser to pick up his sheeting, saucepan and chemicals, he had used for the white smoke, and sneak away to his home.
Jerry then explained to us the probably reason why Peter Lannigan had acted in such a strange fashion. It seemed the old miser had wanted to buy the Bender homestead for a long while, knowing the land was better than his own. By playing ghost he had hoped to scare Mrs. Bender into selling off at a nominal figure, he being alltogether too stingy to pay what it was worth.
The truth concerning the Flydown hill ghost soon spread throughout the community, and a week later a band of indignant villagers gave old Peter Lannigan notice to quit the neighborhood. He received a fair offer for his land from Squire Norton, and knowing that if he remained he would be forever pointed at in scorn, he accepted and left the county and that was the last we ever heard of him.
—Newark Sunday Call, Oct. 21, 1894.