|George Buster Singleton|
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Old chinaberry tree kept vigil over soldier’s grave” was originally published in the July 20, 2000 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
I often wonder what the youth of today would do if they had to entertain themselves as we did when I was growing up. No one had a flashy automobile to cruise around town in. If one was lucky, their family perhaps owned a horse or a mule on which the youth could travel around on when the animal wasn’t being used in the fields plowing.
I grew up near an old farm that had been owned by an old man by the name of Roberts. A few days ago, I journeyed once again to the old grown up and abandoned house place of farm yard of old man Roberts.
Mr. Roberts had been a soldier during the dreadful fighting of the Civil War. He had worn the uniform of the Confederacy. In the bloody fighting around Lookout Mountain, he had received a serious wound in his right leg. Due to the serious nature of this wound, his leg was amputated just below the right knee.
Unable to continue as a soldier for the Southern cause, this almost disabled man was told to go home by his commander. Slowly, the wounded Rebel made his way back to Marengo County, Alabama.
Slowly, he began to try and rebuild the life that he had left that day he left to join the cause of the Confederacy. Slowly, the crippled Rebel began to construct a log house of sorts, there on the farm, which he owned.
As the log structure slowly began to take shape, the crippled Rebel in his spare time carved himself a wooden leg from a small piece of timber that had been left over from the construction of his two-story log house.
The years came and went as the old soldier struggled to dig a meager living out of the ground there on the small farm. Stories that have been passed down through the years tell how the old Rebel soldier would walk the floors of the upstairs bedrooms and hallway during the hours of late evenings and early mornings.
The stories tell of hearing the thump of his wooden leg as he struggled toward the stairway that led down to the back porch of the kitchen.
Then one day, the thump of the old man’s wooden leg was heard no more. Neighbors that lived nearby found the old Rebel soldier sitting in front of the huge stone fireplace in an upstairs bedroom. Sitting there in a huge wooden rocking chair, as though asleep, the old man had departed this life.
Prior to his death, the old Rebel had let it be known that at his death, he wanted to be buried out in the corner of the front yard under the shade of a huge chinaberry tree.
His wish was granted. He was laid to rest there under the large shade tree that he had rested under many times. His lonely grave was marked by the small granite marker of a Confederate soldier.
Those that fell heir to the old soldier’s property would let sharecroppers live in the huge log house and work the land for a portion of their earnings they made off their yearly crops. Several families moved in, only to stay for short periods of time; many leaving without staying to see their crops sprout from the soil.
The story began to circulate around the farm community that during almost all hours of the day and night, the sound of the old man with the wooden leg could be heard walking around in the upstairs bedrooms and out in the upstairs hallway that led to the stairway.
The stress was so great on the families that had moved there, they would move away immediately, leaving behind their newly planted crops.
For a number of years, the old log house stood vacant. Outside in the corner of the yard, under the large chinaberry tree, the only grave of the old Rebel soldier waited unnoticed in the tall weeds of the unkept yard. The small headstone leaned drunkenly to the side, marking the final resting place of the Rebel soldier with the wooden leg.
Nothing remains of the old log house today but a pile of rotted timbers. The two chimneys of rough stone now lay in two huge piles that seem to speak from another time.
The huge chinaberry tree that once sheltered the grave of the old Rebel has long since fallen in decay. The huge rotted stump stands as a silent sentinel, as if standing guard over the final resting place of the old man buried there.
And, across the neglected grave, the many decayed limbs from the huge chinaberry tree lay as a rough protective cover over the small granite marker.
As I stood there at the corner of the grown up yard, many memories came to mind. I remembered how as young teenagers of the farm community, we would gather together and make our way to the old Roberts house.
Always, we would sit in the lower hallway, or dogtrot, as it was called, and listen for the sound of the thump of the old man’s wooden leg in the upstairs hallway, as the ghost of the Rebel soldier slowly made its way toward the stairway that led down to the back porch.
No one in the group ever waited to see if they could see the ghost of the old Rebel coming down the stairway. Always, as the thumping sound reached the top of the stairs, youngsters, almost frightened out of their wits would race away, either on horseback or running on foot as far away as possible from the ghost of Mr. Roberts.
Always, if a youngster visited relatives of the farm community there, they were always escorted to the old Roberts house to have the living daylights frightened out of them when the ghost of the old Rebel soldier walked across the floor of the upstairs rooms and hallway.
We that lived in the farm community always saw to it that those that visited always left with the memory of a visit to the Roberts house.
In looking back at those times of a country boy, it seemed that the ghost of the old man with a wooden leg might have enjoyed the visits as much as those of us who came there.
Standing there, looking at the piles of rotted timbers and rough stones, I thought of the time when this young lady from the city came to visit relatives of the farm community. When asked if she wanted to go to the haunted Roberts house, she stated that she didn’t believe in spirits or ghosts.
On a Saturday afternoon in early October, our group made its way by horseback toward the old abandoned house.
Hitching our horses to the front porch of the old house, we sat down in the hallway of the bottom floor.
This young lady continued to try and make fun of those who said that they had heard the sounds of the wooden leg walking across the upstairs floor. She informed her country cousins that she was above believing such silly stories.
Then, a few moments of silence settled across the hallway. Then, as had happened many times before, the sound of loud thumps began to slowly make their way across the upstairs room and out into the upstairs hall.
This young lady turned a chalky white color. Jumping to her feet, she ran to the edge of the porch and jumped out onto a horse that was tied there.
Laying across the saddle and screaming as loud as she could, she and the frightened horse raced across the field nearby. Never again would this young lady agree to go near the old abandoned house again.
Perhaps somewhere around the crumbled old house or where the chinaberry tree once stood, the ghost of old man Roberts still waits.
Perhaps somewhere in time his spirit waits to return and rebuild once again the haunted house that was his.
(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)