Why is creepy Uncle Abe hanging around the graveyard all the time? And what do catfish have to do with it?
Did I ever tell y’all about my great uncle Abe? Well, ghosts used to sit on the front porch and talk with Uncle Abe at his two story home right over there. Now people passing by actually saw white figures occupying the chair next to Uncle Abe’s rocker. But when they turned in off the hard road and come up close, the chair would be vacant. Often they would say there’d be tears on Abe’s cheek and a nostalgic, faraway look in his eye. If questioned about the reality and identity of the white figures, Uncle Abe would just shrug and say, “just one of my friends from the old days.” Or else he’d feign ear trouble and say, “heh?”
Well, one night my daddy, not believing this, snuck up onto the front porch to listen. And he said he actually did hear a voice that said:
“You remember Old Man Peddicord Brothers, don’t you, Abe? He’s up at Richmond. They rattle his bones in some classroom every day and, oh, yes, you remember Sump Bogan? Had 13 fingers – well, very popular with the ladies. Well, his old bones are rattling down in Florida at the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!”
No one much believed Daddy because he said the voice sounded like Preacher Dandy Lucas, an old friend of Abe’s who’d been dead about 30-40 years.
Now in his younger days, Abe worked for, and lived with, two pioneer doctors of the Halls Bridge area who worked together and made the headquarters in a large, two story, renovated farmhouse way out in the boonies. Now Abe’s job was to tend the horses, cultivate the garden do the cooking, household chores, since they kept no female on the premises – and distill a little whiskey now and then.
But these were the activities with which most people were aware. What they didn’t know, or even suspect, were the shadowy, bone chilling goings-on which Uncle Abe gradually began to tell about in his old age.
According to Abe, doctorin’ was only a sideline of the two doctor partners. Their main objective was wholesale grave robbin’, defleshing the corpses and shipping their processed skeletons for distribution to other doctors, medical centers and schools for purposes of study.
And though it is ghastly to contemplate, the question does arise that, since their main interest lay in dead bodies rather than live ones, if this interest did not somehow influence their dealings with their monopoly of patients.
Now many was the night old Abe said that he and one, or both, of the doctors had gone to a lonely graveyard at midnight. They’d shuffle away the loose dirt from the fresh grave. Remove the pine box containing the corpse. Fill in the space with some logs, rake the earth back. Rearrange the flowers a little bit and make ‘em pretty. No one became the wiser. The corpse, still intact, was hauled back to the house for… processing.
In a special metal vat over a stone fireplace, they boiled the body and hot liquids until the flesh shredded away from the bones and left a perfect skeleton. A little aging and preserving treatment was all they had to do.
No one questioned the boxes because they were so light. And if anyone asked, Uncle Abe would just tell the railroad clerks, “my bosses ship their herbs in these boxes ‘cause they’re bigger and they’re cheaper!”
Well, they did have a couple of close calls. A young patient recovered more quickly than the doctors had intended and started roaming around the house, and stumbled into a small room filled with skeletons dangling from the ceiling. Of course you know what happened to him – he ran down the road yellin’ “there’s haints everywhere! There’s haints everywhere!”
Now after a few more years, he said the doctors got a bit brazen. They convinced most of the grave diggers that it was unnecessary to dig so deep when a shallower grave would do just as well. They were even able to steal some of the bodies before they even reached the graveyard. They would tell the poor bereaving family that they would be happy to apply a special “preserve and powder” on the dear departed before carrying it to the grave.
Now while Abe was an obedient worker, he did have scruples. He knew it was wrong to desecrate the dead. Since the doctors let Abe do the heavy work – the lugging, the boiling, the scraping, the dumping of the residue in the river with the catfish. He had the opportunity to show his commiseration. He handled the bones tenderly, especially those of his friends. He was careful not to bump them or jar them as he undressed them and placed them into the vat.
Always he was a gentleman, and talked to them soothingly like they could hear his voice. And he comforted them even as their flesh bubbled away from their bones in the hot liquid of the vat.
He became close friends with some of the skeletons, like his favorite old preacher Dandy Lucas, that he wept openly when the time came to recommit the bones to the box and ship him out.
Y’all must be thinking I’m crazy! Incredible as it may seem, no one ever caught on to this business and the doctors retired on down to ol’ Tallahassee, I think, and they left Uncle Abe the house.
Now today, when you ride past that old house and if the kudzu ain’t too high, they say you can see a couple of figures chattin’ about the old days. And if you listen real hard, you just might learn how to find the best fed catfish in the county!
Ghosts of the Boiled Bones! – Story Credits
Written and Told by Bryan Mercer
Recorded for the Tour of Southern Ghosts, ART Station, Stone Mountain, Georgia
Recrded by Henry Howard