Ghosts of Antrim County

Posted on January 4, 2012


Spend a little time out on the Flat Road and you know what Faulkner meant when he wrote, “The past is never dead.  It isn’t even past.”  One day Shirley Johns showed me how her house enfolds the log cabin where Grace Guyer Hooper grew up.  It’s not the same cabin where her father Thomas Guyer grew up, along with his brothers Theo and Herman, but it’s on the same land.  One day I will take some good photos of that interior so you can see the original beams. They glow a deep red gold with age. Out in back, where the woodlot is trying to take over the south garden, the remnants of an old orchard  bear apples. The Pioneer Road climbs the ridge behind the house, rocking along over axle-breaking boulders just as it did a century and a half ago when horsepower came with hooves.

Grace Guyer Hooper (1888-1984) knew the Civil War veterans I haul around with me wherever I go. She grew up listening to their stories, wrote their obituaries for the Central Lake Torch, walked the back roads wrapped in a long cloak gathering the details of their lives, always hoping to write a book. Nora Metz says Grace was no kind of housekeeper at all.  Betty Beeby says she was an inspired eccentric.  The Cowboy says she reminds him of someone he knows.

Had I, Shirley asked, seen Grace in the 1904 class photo at Maple Hill? I had not. “Mike has a copy of it on the wall up at Atwood Hardware,” she said. Eventually I made my way to Antrim Hardware and inquired. Well yes, said Mike, there was a picture like that around here somewhere.  And there it was.

We will stipulate that the photo is pretty faded and blurry, printed on the shiny photo paper marketed to computer enthusiasts in the 1990s. But there are names, and you can still read the names. This is catnip to the local historian or genealogist.

“Aaron Coleman gave me that picture,” said Mike. “You should talk to him. Want me to call him?” Mike doesn’t waste time. He picked up the phone, called Aaron, exchanged pleasantries, and introduced us. Aaron and I have a date for a couple weeks from now, even though he can’t figure out why I want to hear his stories. “Nobody’s interested in all this old stuff,” he says. (I am going to have somebody make me a shirt—or perhaps a long cloak—embroidered with I’m Nobody and I’m interested.  Perhaps not.  It might be misinterpreted.)

The photo looked almighty familiar. When I got home I rummaged through my digital copies of the Wilkinson collection, and sure enough, there it was.  There were no names attached to the file, though.  In this version you can make out Teddy Roosevelt’s face in the Presidential Portrait.  You can see that Mr. Morse, the teacher, was a nice-looking young man.  You can see the flowers pinned to the Guyer sisters’ shirtwaists.  I believe it was their graduation day.

So what, you are wondering, does any of this have to do with ghosts? Although the people in that 1904 photograph must surely be dead, there is no reason to suspect them of ghostliness. On the other hand, every time I pull on one of these loose threads, I release a flood of new information about my Civil War veterans, and they do haunt me.

Look what I stumbled on while I was haring about S.B. Anway’s back forty at dusk trying to persuade the dogs that they did not want to make the acquaintance of the canines that were yipping such an interesting welcome from the woods.

You know what that is? Nuts. Me neither. I was hoping you’d know. Here’s another angle. I’m going to tag this “antique farm equipment” and sooner or later someone is going to drop by to tell me what it is.  Or maybe Aaron Coleman knows.  He knows a lot of stuff.  Stay tuned.