|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 “No one knows destination of mysterious vagabond” was originally published in the Sept. 21, 1995 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
As someone who grew up in the Great Depression, I know all one has to do is to look around a bit to see that our times have changed. Once in a great while we might see a loner, or a wayward traveler hitching a ride on our interstate highways, seeking out the distant places that call from the far away horizons.
But there was a time when these people with wanderlust fever traveled everywhere on foot.
Many communities, especially in the South, would be visited by a wayward vagabond on a regular basis. These travelers would most always show up in a given area around a certain time of year. Early fall seemed to be the typical time. Some of these wayward travelers would try and make friends with the local folk, seeking out a square meal here and there, and sometimes doing a little work for the favor of being fed.
But once in a great while, there would be one who passed through the area in total mystery. No one ever knew from where they came or where they might be going.
The are in which I grew up had one of these mystery travelers. As a small boy, I would stand beside the country road that ran near our home and watch this mystery man appear as if from nowhere and then vanish away into the evening shadows. I was to witness his travels by our house for a period of four or five years; that, I remember.
Roughly a mile from our house was a large creek. Here, the vagabond stranger would always camp for the night. The area along the creek was thick and secluded, where almost no one except an occasional hunter or fisherman went. But always after a visit of the mystery stranger, one could stand atop the tall wooden bridge that spanned the creek and the smell of burning wood from his evening fire would float up.
Always during the closing days of September, this mysterious stranger, always dressed in black and carrying a small satchel, would appear in the evening on the dirt road. His appearance was at almost the same hour each time over a period of eight or 10 years, according to the older members of this community.
The very few that saw the mysterious traveler’s campsite said he would be seen sitting with his back against a tall oak tree, facing a small, open fire that burned directly in front of him. He would sit with his legs crossed; his tall, dark hat would be pulled down over his eyes. Then, in the early hours of the morning, he would be seen coming out of the deep woods and onto the dirt road, heading in a northwest direction toward Mississippi.
This vagabond stranger was never seen on a return journey from the direction in which he had gone. Many speculated that he must have traveled in a giant circle, one that covered many miles and took a whole year of walking for him to complete. But, no one knew for sure; they could only guess.
Then, that late September came when the vagabond failed to appear. Word traveled through the community, asking if anyone had seen the mysterious stranger. He had not been seen. There were those who speculated he had settled down and discontinued his roaming. There were also rumors that he had been killed somewhere in Mississippi. The facts of his whereabouts were never known.
On Sept. 12, I returned to the area along the old road where the stranger had walked. The road is now covered with asphalt; the ancient wooden bridge has been replaced with a modern concrete one.
Up the creek, the large oak tree still stands where the wanderer used to build his fire and camp for the night. Many of the local folks have since moved from the area or have departed this life. Only a family or two remain.
A childhood friend has returned to the area to spend his retirement years on the old family farm. As we talked about good times past, he suggested we visit the area by the creek where the vagabond camped. He said he had something very unusual to show me.
As we parked our vehicle beside the road near where the old wooden bridge had stood, the smell of burning wood filled the morning air. We made our way through the heavy timber to the creek bank, to the old oak tree. To my amazement, there were ashes from a small, open fire. And, there at the base of the tree, was the tell-tale sign of someone having sat in the white sand of the creek bank with legs crossed, back to the tree.
My friend said these signs have been commonplace in the latter days of September for the past few years. He said a tall stranger, dressed in black, had been seen walking out of the thick woods, onto the asphalt road during hours of early sunrise. As he turned to the northwest, after entering the road, he would walk a short distance and then vanish from view.
What had caused the ghost of the wayward vagabond to return to his campsite here on the creek bank after all these years? Is the spirit of the wandering stranger seeking from the past something that remains at the base of the large, old oak?
Or, perhaps, it is seeking again the peace and solitude that continue to linger there on the sandy bank of the flowing creek. Perhaps we will never know why the spirit of the mysterious wanderer has returned to rest again there by the rippling waters.
But, there again, life is full of mysterious happenings that we never bother to research or to investigate. The answers lie beyond the distant sunsets. Someday, we too, may travel the paths and know the secrets of the spirit of the wandering stranger. Only time will tell.
(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 to Vincent William Singleton and Frances Cornelia Faile Singleton, during a late-night thunderstorm, on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School in 1946, served as a U.S. Marine paratrooper in the Korean War, worked as a riverboat deckhand, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County on June 28, 1964 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from June 28, 1964 to Dec. 14, 1987. He was promoted from the enlisted ranks to warrant officer in May 1972. For years, Singleton’s columns, titled “Monroe County history – Did you know?” and “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. It’s believed that his first column appeared in the March 25, 1971 edition of The Monroe Journal. 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.)