Saturday, September 26, 2015

Singleton tells of 'phantom drums' and 'ghost dancers' near Alabama bluff

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 “A day just for reminiscing” was originally published in the Sept. 13, 1990  edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

I think that everyone should give some thought to setting aside one or two days a year to do nothing but reminisce. This time could be used in several ways. A person could do nothing more than sit at home and give his complete thoughts to the bygone days, or he could wake up early, hit the road and visit one or more places that have had an impact on their lives.

This could be anything from visiting a favorite old swimming hole to resting a while at an abandoned homeplace that stirs memories.

A few days back, I woke up with places and events flashing through my mind in such a way that I knew I had to break loose and do what my mind ordered me to do. I had no idea where I would start this journey, but memories and loved ones have a way of drawing one in their direction.

Without realizing where I was going, I found myself stopping at the gate of the cemetery where my dear mother and father are buried. For reasons I can’t explain, I knew that this day’s journey had to start here. As I stood there, I relived a thousand moments when these two beloved people had meant so much to me.

Down the road a way, I stopped in the shade of the old chinaberry tree that stood in our front yard. I remembered the many times I had climbed this tree, hiding from my sister when she sought me out to help with chores around the house. I knew I was safe as I rested in the top branches of the old tree.

Old burial ground

Looking across at what used to be a field, I remembered the area said to be an old Indian burial ground. As a child, I was careful not to stray to close to this mystery ground because of fear of being carried into the unknown by the spirits that slept there – or so my sisters told me. In later years, I was told this was just to frighten me and keep me out of the woods.

As I proceeded down the old country road, I found myself stopping at the gate of another old cemetery. Several years had passed since my last visit here. Under a giant oak tree on top of the small hill in the center of the burial place was the grave of Uncle Tony. As I looked down at the simple marker that listed only his date of death (his date of birth was never known). I remembered my mother writing to tell me of his passing.

Not too far over in the next few rows of graves, I stood beside the final resting places of Aunt Roxie and Will Street, the magician from New Orleans. The memories seemed like yesterday – the many buttermilk pies made by this wonderful lady who always had a slice ready for a small, barefoot boy, and the same boy sitting spellbound while the magician from New Orleans performed his many sleight-of-hand tricks on the front porch steps.

Before leaving the cemetery, I visited the grave of Aunt Lelia, the beautiful old lady who had delivered me into this world on a very stormy December night. I remembered how fast she could walk, although advanced in years, and how a small admiring boy had to trot to keep up with her. I remember how she always said that I was her baby, and how, when times got rough, I would always run to her for protection from the peach tree switches my mother was so handy with.

I remember Aunt Lelia telling me goodbye as I left for service in the Marines. On my first leave home, I was told that she had passed away just a few days before. I was also told about the secret arrangement between this wonderful woman and my beloved mother, and how a small photograph of a young, barefoot boy was placed in the casket beside this sleeping lady before the casket was closed for the final time.

As I rode west on Highway 69, I started to climb to the top of what is known as the mountain. I looked northward toward the high, soap-rock bluff. I thought of the night not too long ago when I lay beside a large bush, waiting for the rising moon and a view of the ghost dancers there on the mountain. Chills ran across my spine as I raced along the highway, remembering the sounds of the phantom drums that rode the cold night air while I tried to seek shelter in a soapstone crevice.

Down the road a bit, I turned into the yard of an abandoned homeplace. Looking across the yard at the old, broken chinaberry tree, I remembered standing there and repeating my wedding vows. They were administered by my dear friend, a retired minister and schoolmaster whom I had known and respected for many years. I thought of the trouble I had finding the wedding ring; I had forgotten which pocket I had placed it in. I remembered the smile on the old preacher’s face as I searched hurriedly for the ring.

Day passes quickly

The day had passed very quickly, and I was quite a ways from visiting all the places that I had in mind. Hurriedly, I headed my motorcycle westward for a quick stop at the old homeplace of my maternal grandparents. The huge hickory-nut tree still stands where I used to play when I visited this beloved old place. I could still see a tall, dark-haired woman, still handsome to look at though advanced in years; this was my grandmother as she watched her grandson play under the huge tree. The sound of bagpipes seemed to ride the air as my grandfather and his friend, old man Kilpatrick, dressed in their kilts to dance for the grandchildren on the many occasions they decided to celebrate.

I had not completed my day, but the evening shadows had begun to gather and I had a long way to go. There would be other days, and I had already begun to make a list of the places I would visit when the opportunity arose. As I raced homeward, the words of the great poet Longfellow seemed most appropriate.

“This is the place, stand still my steed. And let me review the scene, and summon from the shadowy past the forms that once had been…”

(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.)

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