“Come on Lucy, get your bag and let’s go.” Karl said. There was a tinge of panic in his voice that the kids weren’t used to.
“Dad…” Lucy pointed to the ornate mirror that had hung over the fireplace since the house was built. The scratches started lightly, barely audible over the din of Rebecca gathering things upstairs frantically. Then with more force, the skree-skree of something etching itself into the glass got louder. “Get Out” slowly, but assuredly, appeared in the bottom corner of the mirror.
“REBECCA!!! Let’s GO!” Karl said and took hold of Lucy’s hand and made for the front door. A silver candlestick flew across the room and clanged against the wall with enough force that Karl shielded Lucy instinctively, although it was a few feet away. Karl looked down and saw the sliver candlestick was burned with a hand print.
Rebecca came down the stairs with a suitcase and Jimmy in tow. Without a word she bolted out of the door with Karl and Lucy following close behind. The sun beat down on them without mercy as they broke into the afternoon heat. They were in the car and driving down Potomac street. Karl had just turned the air conditioner on to break the oppressive atmosphere in the car as Lucy turned to wave at the sad-looking soldier who stood at the window as they left. His sadness quickly turned to rage as his form changed into something Lucy had never imagined and she screamed…
Jacob hated the summer here in this town. It was always hot and humid. The bowl of the valley that Harpers Ferry slides into keeps the heat locked into it like a sticky fog. His heavy wool uniform offered no comfort. He was only required to wear it on duty. But he was only off duty during the evening hours. He grumbled at his lot and leaned heavily on the long-barreled musket that was standard issue. The towns people all nodded politely to him as he stood guard at the gates of the Federal Armory. Sweat poured down his face as he nodded politely back to them. His canteen was empty, and had been since mid-day. He slumped miserably in the relentless July sun.
“Here…please.” A soft and flowery voice said from his left.
He turned and was surprised at the glass of lemonade, iced and sweating almost as profusely as he was. His smile spread across his face with a will of its own. “Oh my goodness….THANK YOU!” he grabbed the glass and greedily gulped down the cold, cold liquid. He could feel his throat cooling, his chest, his stomach. The sensation washed over his sweat covered body. With a sigh of heavenly relief, he closed his eyes and swallowed the last bit.
“My, I don’t think anyone’s enjoyed my lemonade that much.”
Jacob Wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his coat and looked at the instrument of this relief. For what seemed like an eternity, he was speechless. She stood there, smiling prettily at him, her blue eyes sparkling like the water of the Shenandoah. “Uh…..” he stammered, his brain searching for the right words to make her stay a while longer.
She giggled. A sound Jacob swore he would remember for the rest of his days. “Thank you are the words you’re looking for I believe?”
“Right!” He snapped back into himself. A sheepish grin worked its was into place. “Thank You, Miss.” He said and handed her the glass back.
“It’s Tess.” She said taking the glass back. “My dad owns the saloon over there.” She pointed to the Old Coin Saloon. A tavern of repute. While the rough and tumble went and got rowdy at the Salty Dog on the far banks of the C&O Canal, the merchants and more respectable folks would have their brandy and cognac at the Old Coin Saloon.
Jacob nodded. “I’ve never been there. My mates go once in a while.” He chuckled nervously. “They like the Salty Dog better.”
“And You?” she said raising an eyebrow inquisitively.
“Oh, I don’t drink Miss.” he smiled. “My Pop said its the ruination of man. And to be honest, I ain’t seen no good in it.”
Tess’ smile broadened, making her even more beautiful than she was already. “Well, that is refreshing to hear from a solider of all people.” She offered her hand. “Good Day….” she waited for him to say his name.
“Jacob….” his nervous chuckle drew an amused giggle from her, “my name is Jacob.”
As she left she looked over her shoulder at the blushing young soldier.
For the next few weeks, Jacob would look forward to his duty in the sweltering sun. Tess would daily bring him lemonade, iced tea, and occasionally she would sneak a bottle of her Father’s secret reserve of sasparilla Soda to him. The two had become close. Their talks would go on for an hour or two at a time. His fellow soldier would jibe him about it, meaning no harm. He would blush and shrug at their jokes and jabs. He liked Tess and he knew she indeed felt the same.
As the summer wore on, however, his fellow soldiers grew less and less amused by his romance. He was consistently late for duty. His lack of military discipline had caused his entire platoon to get into trouble on his account. They had covered for him in an attempt to keep the platoon out of trouble to no avail.
“If he’s late one more time…” one of the soldiers grumbled to another. “We’ll sack and stuff him to teach him a lesson, right boys?” He looked at his pocket watch. “That boy’s got 20 minutes to get back here. He knows that Captain Harbaugh does final inspection at 930. If he ain’t here that’s IT. He gets sacked tonight.” The soldiers all nodded in agreement, Jacob had gotten them into trouble just yesterday by sleeping past morning muster. Those not assigned to duty at the Armory were assigned to digging latrines.
“Sacking and Stuffing” was a form of group punishment, similar to the infamous Marine “Blanket Party.” Sacking and Stuffing was the practice of stuffing a man’s mouth full of feathers, putting them into a large burlap sack, and beating them with belts until those doing the sacking feel the offender has learned their lesson. (Also know as “pillowing” this practice, mercifully died out sometime during or after the civil war.)
The minutes ticked by, they all stared at the door patiently, expectantly, hoping Jacob would come through the door and all would be well.
The knob turned and through the door stepped a very tall, very dour looking man. His blue uniform rumpled and his white undershirt stained with sweat. His balding head, usually covered with a wide hat was now covered by a white handkerchief that was failing at its only job of mopping the sweat from his head. His brown beard, salted with white around the edged was wet as well.
“TEN HUT!!!” the sergeant yelled.
Every man in the small basement that they had turned into a barracks snapped to rigid attention.
Captain Harbaugh eyed them all. As uncomfortable as he was in this oppressive southern summer heat, his stare made his men more uncomfortable. “Seems to me, gentlemen, that one of your number is yet to be counted…” he walked directly to Jacob’s bunk. It hadn’t been slept in, or even bothered for what could have been days. “Where is Jacob?” He turned his gaze towards the sergeant. “Well?”
The sergeant slumped ever so slightly. “I…I don’t know sir.”
Captain Harbaugh nodded. “Well…corporal…I suggest you find him.”
“It’s….it’s sergeant, sir.”
“No, not anymore it isn’t, corporal.” The captain wiped more sweat from his face, dropped the kerchief on the floor and left the barracks. The door slamming shut with enough force to rattle the windows punctuated his exit.
Jacob was returning from his nightly visit with Tess. The young soldier had his head in the clouds and cared for little other than the girl’s company. The light Irish ballad that she had taught him sprang from his lips in the thick night air. The clock of St. Michael’s Catholic Church struck the midnight hour breaking him from his reverie. Midnight? had it gotten so late so fast? He quick stepped back to the house that was serving as one of the military garrison houses in Harpers Ferry. With any luck he could slip in and not awaken any of his fellows as he got into his bunk. He would need the few hours of sleep before morning muster. When Jacob rounded the corner to Potomac street, he could see very clearly down the lane that no light were on in any of the houses that were the garrisons. It seems everyone was asleep. His barracks were at the end of the street, the last house on the road. There were no lights glowing in the windows as he approached. Even the candle that Captain Harbaugh kept in the window had burned down to the silver candlestick that held it.
Jacob approached the house on little cat feet, as best as he could. A shadow darted past him to the rear but he thought it a figment of his sleep deprived mind. With a half uttered sigh of relief he placed his hand on the knob and went inside the barracks. “Made it…” he uttered.
Then his face exploded in pain. Something thudded into his nose with force enough to knock his head backwards into the hard oak door behind him. His vision went from the inky black of the unlit room to a blinding white light that flooded his sight and filled his head with pain. Then again! Something warm and wet ran down his face and chin as his broken nose swelled closed forcing him to breathe shakily through his mouth. He fell to his knees when something crushed into his guts, knocking the wind out of him completely. Jacob curled into a ball on the floor trying to reason what happened when he felt hand pulling him up, roughly. the white was starting to fade back into the black of the room that was now filled with shadows. Shadows that looked like the men he knew. A hand pulled his jaw down and he felt feathers being stuffed into his face. Jacob started to struggle against them. Another blast of merciless agony hit him from the right. And then again. More feathers were being shoved into his mouth. Jacob was struggling, taking rasping gulping breaths when he could. More feathers. The hands dropped him to the floor. Jacob went immediately to claw the feathers from his mouth. Before he could pull anything from his lips he felt the burlap sack go over him. and then the belts. The soldiers beat Jacob with al the frustrated fury of men caught in war. They kicked, beat, punched and slammed him around the room. Several spatters of blood now stained the burlap. The former sergeant, now corporal, kicked him a few last times. as he lay on the ground in a huddled mass.
“That’s enough now.” One man said pulling the corporal off of him. “That’s enough. He’s learned his lesson.”
The corporal nodded. “That’ll teach ya boy…” he noticed Jacob wasn’t moving. he wasn’t writhing, or moaning in pain…or anything. “Boy?” He kneeled down and shook him. “Jacob?” The corporal yanked the burlap sack off of him. Jacob’s face, covered in blood and bruises stared back at him. Flashes of lightning from an evening thunderstorm brought on by the damp, soaking heat illuminated his visage with a nightmare white pall. His mouth was still stuffed with feathers, now soaked red with blood, and his eyes stared back at the corporal, dead and lifeless. “Oh…oh no.”
The soldiers all gathered around and stared in disbelief at their shared crime. Jacob’s accusing dead eyes seemed to gaze at them all in return. The thunder that began to roll in the distance seemed to be narrating the events to come with impending dread.
“We gotta get him outta here…now!” one of them said and threw the burlap sack back over Jacob. The soldiers scrambled and moved his now lifeless body to the outside of the house.
“There!’ One of them grabbed a barrel that was nearby and knocked it over to drain it of the rainwater gathered there. The soldiers stuffed Jacob’s body into it.
“Now listen lads,” the corporal said. “We haul Jacob up those stairs…” he pointed to the wooden stairs that led from Potomac street to the high incline of Washington street that led to the upper town of Harpers Ferry. “Once up there we can take him and leave him on Virginius Island. They will think he got into a fight with a couple of those Mill toughs and that will be the end of it, yeah?” The soldiers all nodded, it was a sound plan. And in truth, it wouldn’t be the first time a solider ran afoul of the roughnecks and toughs who worked the mills and industrial works of Virginius Island. Just three weeks prior, two roughnecks had been arrested for the murder of another soldier over a gambling debt.
The group of soldier struggled with their illicit burden up the sturdy but narrow stairs. Occasionally one would lose grip causing Jacob to tilt wildly inside the barrel throwing the whole party off-balance. It was if Jacob was trying to escape the barrel. The rain had started now, it was cold and refreshing after the oppressive heat, but these soldiers took no notice of it, the sweat on them now wasn’t from the heat but rather from the nervous energy they exuded. One soldier’s eye went wide and he sneezed violently. he let go of his portion of the barrel and it tumbled down the stairs they had so ardently climbed up. The noise was calamitous and poor Jacob’s body spilled out from the barrel at the end of the stairs, his wide, dead eyes staring up at them in horrified disbelief. The soldiers clambered down the stairs to gather their murderous parcel. Only to be met by the burning stare of their Captain as he opened the door to the scene.
The soldiers were arrested, tried for the murder of their comrade, and executed by hanging. Jacob was buried with a soldier’s funeral in Harper’s cemetery at the top of the hill overlooking the point where two rivers meet. The war raged on, but it ended as all wars do, and the soldiers left. Harpers Ferry sank bank into the mundane normality of everyday life. and the house where Jacob met his end remained unoccupied for many years.
Now the house is alive again. Several businesses, and private families have occupied the house at the end of Potomac Street over the years.
When the summers grow hot, the activity increases. It grows violent in August, when the southern heat stews in the valley like gumbo. Jacob has let his presence be known, The letter “J” has been etched into almost every mirror that anyone has had in the house. The smell of cigars and “body odor” permeate the basement (once the platoon’s barracks) that has been renovated into a one bedroom apartment. On one of the windows in the back of the house there is a thumbprint in one of the window panes. (i have tried to contact the owner to get permission to photograph and perhaps investigate the building, but as of this writing have not been able to do so.) Local legend has it that this is Jacob’s thumbprint. And a silver candlestick that has been in the home for decades does indeed have what appears to be a hand print burned into the surface. The night air hangs thick on the back-end of Potomac Street, and when the wind is just right you can hear Jacob singing an Irish ballad on his way back to his barracks. But when the late August heat brings the thunderstorms, and the lightning cracks the night sky, the house grows angry. Personal belonging get tossed, violently, across the rooms. Doors, slam close and lock of their own volition, and most disturbingly, Jacob’s very angry face is seen in the window of the basement apartment where his murder happened.
Summer is a time for vacations, family, sun and fun, the great out doors, lemonade and swimming pools. The days get longer and the night get cooler.
But at the end Potomac Street, when the heat get higher, things get dark. and Jacob lets anyone who is in that house know he’s there.
As a paranormal investigator with over 20 years of experience in the field, there are few local legends/ghost stories that can be substantiated.
This story is one I have heard in Harpers Ferry since I was a child. I never gave it much credence growing up, after all, It was one of a mired of ghost stories I knew by heart.
But as I got older, and more interested in the paranormal, this story is one of the few I went back and researched. It turns out the story, for the most part, is true.
A young soldier named Jacob was murdered, accidentally, by his platoon in their garrison house at the end of Potomac Street. The hauntings did and DO happen. And they do happen in the summer. I have for years contacted owner after owner of the property, and each one (whose names are omitted for obvious legal reasons) have declined, some politely some not so politely, to let me investigate the house. Through various phone and email conversations over the years, owners and tenants both have confirmed violent activity in the house, mostly, during the summer months. More than one tenant has left the house, unexpectedly breaking the lease during those summer months.
I have to believe that this house, although I have never personally been witness to any activity, is truly haunted.