Hadley Happenings, Pt. I
Kids, I think you’re old enough now to learn about the history of our town. About 150 years ago, Old Benton Hadley came here to build a dream; his dream was of a gracious, idyllic town near the university, jobs and hospitals. Back then the University was a Teacher’s College, with the farms nearby, a lake full of fish and waterfowl, miles and miles of wood to be logged, and the state’s first real hospital.
The hospital was the finest one for five states around! It had a modern, sterile surgery, a safe place for mothers to have their babies, everything was as new, and high-falutin’ as Old Man Hadley could make it. Back then, there wasn’t a name for men like Hadley, nobody called a man who could turn everything he touched an entrepreneur. He started with one wagon, and the cider mill. He began to buy up land along the river, one small parcel at a time; until he had enough for a small city.
He started the Teacher’s College, and built the Grange Hall down on Main and Washington; just like it stands today… except back then there were buggies and saddled horses, not all them noisy automobiles. He brought in a real Minister, and built that Evangelical Christian Church, the one that’s a monument to Old Benton Hadley nowadays. Then he built one of the finest schools and libraries in the state. People were beginning to move here, and telling their kin and friends about the town of Hadley.
Old Man Hadley had wanted to call this place New Eden, but when the time to name his dream came, the grateful residents voted him down… everyone but Hadley himself voted to name the town after the man that had built so much, and given so much back to the people that helped his dream grow. The town survived the War Between the States, famines, droughts, World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II without losing any of its old-fashioned charm. The farmhouses of the first families were put on The Historic Register over ten or so years, so Main Street always looked like one of those Currier and Ives woodcuts.
The first hospital was torn down and a new, modern one replaced it, attached to the University, which now had darn good medical, nursing, and law schools. The doctors that came out of that hospital were known to be some of the best doctors around. About 15 miles down the road from Hadley, they built another hospital, encased in chain-link and barbwire, with Guards and dogs, and you had to show a permit to get through those towering ironwork gates. That is the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
Things started to change here in Hadley, the ‘Founding Families’ moved on, and their big, fancy houses were turned into Nursing Homes, them fancy-schmansy Bed-and-Breakfast places for snooty tourists, Museums, Antique Shops, and even a place that told the cards and the crystal ball upstairs with all manner of things downstairs and in the basement.
Now the witch that owned it didn’t look like any movie witch, she leaned over the fence and gossiped with her neighbours. Everybody loved her specialty teas, and she made desserts that had even the most persnickety of them skinny models comin’ back for more. There was even movie stars come all the way from Hollywood to have her back up things for their fancy parties. She even had the Governor ask for her tea-cakes come Christmas!!
Anyhow, she tried to warn us about bad things comin’ our way, and we didn’t listen. Nossir, we patted her hand and called her a worrywart. Told her not to take on so, they might take her to that Big Crazy House. I dunno what made her stay; I’m glad she did though. Even after what happened to her when that fella escaped from the Big Crazy House.
First any of the people in Hadley knew of it was when there were so many State Troopers roamin’ around the county they were like leaves on a maple tree!! They asked us to voluntarily agree to a sundown curfew. Of course we disagreed, the new movies were opening at the drive-in, and one of three movies was an Elvis musical!!!
They told us there was a chance that a patient had gotten out of the State Hospital and they wanted to be sure we were safe. We pooh-poohed them and laughed as we asked, “How much damage can one crazy man do?”
If’n we had known who was on the loose, we would’ve all been locked up snug in our houses, Elvis musical be damned!! They didn’t tell us, for fear of a panic; if we had known it was ‘Hungry Harry’… well!! “Hungry Harry” had led the police, State Troopers and The Feds on a merry chase through a half-dozen states before they finally tracked him down, already sucking all the blood out of another victim.
Hungry Harry thought he was a vampire, like in the old Bela Lugosi movies, and he would go to some kind soul’s door asking for some food in exchange for doin’ chores. He would work for them for a few days, always polite and respectful. He never cussed in front of womenfolk, told bad jokes where young’uns might hear, went to Church every Sunday, and paid a handsome tithe when he had money.
You’d have thought Harry was a good, God-fearin’ man down on his luck… If’n you didn’t know his story.
Anyways, they did catch him, prove that he had killed nigh onto forty people, and drank all their blood before they caught him and slapped him into that hospital sayin’ he was too crazy to know what he’d done. Hell!!! Beg pardon folks. He knew all right, he just spun a good yarn for the head doctors is all. Sorry if I sound bitter, I can explain that later.
Now I was tellin’ you kids about the witch that lived here, and how she was good people and nobody was afraid of her. She had this big old dog, one of them Great Danes; he was all black and worshipped his owner. When she would work in her flower and herb gardens he would sit by her and watch every move she made, tail wagging ever so slightly.
If she was on the porch, with her lemonade and a paper, he’d lie next to her; every so often she would drop her hand to his head and scratch his ears gentle-like. His tail would start thumpin’ on that porch like a big old kettle drum and he’d lick her hand before he would go back to sleep.
The dog slept by her bed at night, and went with her almost everywhere she went. We all worried about what she might do when she lost that dog, and we knew she would. Them big dogs don’t live as long as they ought, and the witch weren’t hardly 40.
Well… that Hungry Harry escaped slick as you please from the State Hospital and started lookin’ for blood again.
The witch was sleeping so peacefully in her big old bed with handmade quilts on it and them pretty curtains she had woven herself on the windows over the shutters she had painted a nice robin’s egg blue. The dog was sleeping on the floor next to her, snoring just the littlest bit.
The witch got woke up sometime in the night, by a dripping noise and a funny creak. She slipped her hand out from under the quilts and the dog licked it like he always did. Nice and reassured she went back to sleep, and dreamed whatever witches dream.
Come morning she got bright and early to cut flowers for the shut-ins and herbs for her medicines. “Eleazar?” She called her dog, who wasn’t laying on the floor on his big rag rug.
She whistled him up, and still he didn’t come. Now she was getting worried, that dog never left her side. She looked through that whole big house, calling and whistling, her face getting sadder with ever whistle.
Finally, she thought she’d take his leash and go look for him, wondering if he had nuzzled the door open and gone out to ‘do his business’. The leash wasn’t on the hook by the kitchen door like it was supposed to be. Now she was getting really frightened and ran out the back door.
There was her big dog, dead, hanging from a porch rafter by his leash that creaked ever so slightly in the breeze. That tongue hung limp from his mouth, and the blood dripped, slowly from the end of his tongue.
She commenced to screaming, she sounded just like a bean sidhe right out of Ireland. When the nieghbours started arriving the poor lady was crying and trying to get that dog down all by her self.
Everyone wondered who would do that to her dog, he was the kind that might lick you to death, but never deliberately hurt you. Some of the men got her dog untied, while her lady friends tried to comfort and calm her down. These fellers that had fought the Krauts and Nips in WWII were teary eyed as they brought that dog down and laid him carefully on the ground. They took turns diggin’ a grave for him, as they did that, the witch was taken inside and given some of her own tea to calm her down. I remember, Herm Nestor’s wife… what was her name??? Anyway, she commenced to scrubbing the porch where blood was splattered Hell, West and Crooked. I do apologise ladies.
She musta been there for nigh onto three hours scrubbing and scrubbing, with a stiff brush and lye soap before them stains were almost gone. That poor girl’s hands were raw for almost a week from doin’ that, but she said that she couldn’t let the witch have to clean that up, finding the dog was bad enough.
A few days passed by and the killing of the witch’s dog was settling down. The witch kept telling us that Eleazar (Who names a dog that anyway?) was just the beginning, that it would get worse. Everyone thought it was the shock of finding her dog like that that had her so upset.
Until them kids down on Apple Tree Lane that is…