Georgia ghost story of a young boy who discovers the tragic secret life of his uncle, lost behind the walls of a Milledgeville mental institution.
Written by Cynthia Morrison.
The almost non-existent breeze made the Georgia summers all that much more difficult to bear at times. I didn’t actually realize how well off I was, being able to play outside under the oak covered shadows, and not have to endure the calidity that my Aunt Sarah experienced in the kitchen while providing her gracious hospitality. A true Southern belle she was. I always looked forward to our summer vacations at Uncle Jack and Aunt Sarah’s farm in Milledgeville. I could stay hidden for hours in the big barn out back. Sometimes even falling asleep with an afternoon nap until I was awakened by the voice of Uncle Jack calling out for supper time.
One year I found Uncle Jack’s old army blanket covering the front seat of an old Ford pick up truck that sat in the corner of the barn. I took the blanket and some kite string down by the river where I gathered some sticks and constructed a makeshift Army tent. I gathered a few more sticks of a flexible nature and constructed a bow along with a few blunt arrows. There, inside my counterfeit stronghold, I laid down and readily awaited any invaders.
Suddenly I heard the sound of rustling leaves. Surely it must be the approach of the enemy. I slowly and quietly repositioned myself to see who it may be outside. There it was – pushing itself along ever so carelessly with those long back legs designed to spring at lengths that only a creature for its size could attempt. So beautiful and swift is the eastern cottontail. But at that moment he was a target for dinner stew in the eyes of this soldier. I pulled the arrow back and aimed. Waiting for the opportune moment…There! He stopped to raise his head and scan the area. As a raindrop falling from the end of a leaf my fingers moved ever so gently. “Boing” went the bowstring upon its release. I did it! To my surprise I actually hit him!. Although being the bearer of the lucky rabbit’s foot, four to be exact, he was simply startled by the blunt arrow that probably bruised him and free of penetration. There as a I watched, the nourishment for a soldier’s stew did make his escape back into the secure cover of the Georgia woods.
A bit distraught over losing my trophy meal I gathered the army blanket and made my way back to the farm where Aunt Sarah had one of her incomparable peach pies on the cooling rack awaiting desert plates after the main course. I got close enough to smell its tempting aroma before Aunt Sarah wiped her hands on her apron, then took me gently by the shoulders and redirected me to go wash up at the outside well pump.
In the evenings we would all gather for some social time as we enjoyed watching the sunsets, which sometimes I compared to be the same color as the inside of those luscious peach pies. The elders did most of the talking while I enjoyed a bit of target practice throwing small stones at the mailbox as I sat on the front steps. I’d often hear conversations about Mother and Aunt Sarah’s brother – I suppose he would be my Uncle Thomas. Although I never did meet him and then in a later conversation learned that he had died in a hospital from unknown cause. I never really asked for more information than I had heard about Uncle Thomas but did feel badly that he had faced his final fate. Mother showed me a photo of him once. A quaint man with darkness underlining his eyes. She told me that he was a dedicated deacon of the Oconee River Baptist Church. He would seat the parishioners and also provided voluntary maintenance of the chapel.
He had plans of becoming the preacher one day and studied the Bible with much enthusiasm. Then one day a doctor came and took him away.
It seemed that some poor soul had concern for Thomas’s health and had brought this to the physician’s attention. No one really knew why Uncle Thomas left us. Or they simply didn’t wish to reveal his secret departure.
I continued to stop by and visit the farm later on in life during vacations with my own children. They too grew to love Aunt Sarah. Unfortunately Uncle Jack had passed on before they were old enough to meet him. Sometimes I would drive Mother there to visit and return at a later date to collect her. Then recently the dreaded news came of Aunt Sarah’s passing. My being the eldest son gave me the task of sorting out the sale of the farm and contents. I planned a week and arranged for this chore to be dealt with right after the funeral. I brought along my mother for assistance as she insisted. I gave her the less strenuous labor of boxing up the clothing for pick up by the local charity shop. Although an emotional event for her at times, she managed by taking it slowly and insisted on it being done her way. After all, these were the sacred garments that covered her sister in life.
I then decided to tackle the relics in the attic above. There I found Items that antique dealers would only dream of. Certainly the World War 2-era newspapers would sell fast. That is, after I scanned them in case any family member is mentioned in their print. Whoever placed them in the attic overlooked the chance of mold and pulp eating insects that have begun to destroy the paper’s existence. Yes, this would be first and foremost to be rid of. Then just under the newspapers I found what appeared to be a few hand-written letters addressed to my Aunt Sarah. I asked myself if these would be her keepsake love letters from my Uncle Jack, as he was briefly away as an agricultural advisor during World War Two? Unfortunately what I had found was more of a disturbing manner. The return address was from that of a “Sanitarium for Tuberculosis and the Mentally Ill.” The first letter signed by “Thomas” read as such:
The institution allows that I write only every two weeks. I write to tell you that I have on the same winter clothes I came in. I cry until there are no more tears…Think of my being here in this clothing all these weeks! Listening to shrieks and groans which will haunt me forever. I am to never go out to see these wretched creatures. I only hear them. It is a madhouse and there are many incurables and all I pray for is to die right here. Dr. Bullard and another Dr. Carson swear me to be of unsound mind and they can keep me here always and of course they will. I can never get a position again. I am thoroughly disgraced, and then to be kept in a lunatic asylum – I either am insane or I am not.
If I am not, I certainly shall be here. If I am, then it’s right for me to stay. It is a monstrous crime putting me here. I beg to die but I can not. Just because I was nervous and could not sleep, to inveigle me into this bedlam is an awful sin….Keep our mother away from here if you can – and never let a child of yours, should you bear any, or yourself come here. I am very nearly over the borderline that separates from reason. There is more heinous circumstance but I fear to write it as my letter may be selected to not reach you. Oh it is awful and I can not get away! Holding on with best efforts.
May God Bless you,
Finally, I had discovered insight of the happenings with regard to my Uncle Thomas. However horrid they may sound. A skeleton not in the closet, but rather in the family attic. From what I was reading I could not detect any crime or even social offense that my uncle had committed. Just under the first letter was another. It was addressed from a Miss Millie Cross and read:
Dear Mrs. Perry,
We have never met. I was a nurse attendant at the sanitarium facility where your brother “Thomas” was kept. I am writing you with information about his stay there. Perhaps you may not be interested in the horrific details but I felt it to be the right gesture and therefore I send you this message.
Your brother in my opinion was just as sane as I am. Problem being that the hospital and sanitarium is in constant need of state funding. It is my opinion that Thomas, along with many other residents of this facility, fell victim to the cause. I am sure that you probably feel that my allegations are a serious matter. I agree. Therefore I have withdrawn from my position from nursing at the institution and intend on presenting my evidence to the proper authorities. I wanted to reach out to appropriate members related to those patients who I provided service for and you are one of them.
I wish you to know some of the atrocities that assisted in bringing your brother to his final end. Institution orderlies were instructed to carry out hydrotherapy. This entailed such villainous tactics as restraining the patient in a tub filled with scalding hot water in an attempt to calm them. Do you actually think this was a successful method? The only thing it succeeded in was hyperventilation and sometimes cardiac arrest.
Then there was the “crib” where a hospital bed with railings on each side was placed upside down and on top of another similar bed to create a human cage. Patients were kept in this cramped environment and with very little nourishment as punishment for their unsociable actions. It is beyond my comprehension how educated men cannot see that the violation being driven from these poor souls is directly from a cause that warrants rehabilitation and not punishment! I shall spare you further details involving your brother unless you contact me to share them. For now, I have a hard road ahead of me as I travel in an attempt to push reform of psychiatric treatment towards the mentally afflicted. Not only here in the South but nationwide.
I wish you all the best in your endeavors, Mrs. Perry.
Miss Millie Cross
Staring down at the letters I suddenly felt an ice cold draft envelop me from behind. I found this to be a strange occurrence due to the fact that it was late in the spring and we were experiencing warm temperatures. The chill prompted me to sit up straight and adjust my shirt collar to shield my neck against any reoccurrence. I was sitting in front of a dust covered cherry wood storage chest. I began to open and close my eyes in an attempt to clear my vision as I witnessed the beginnings of writing in the dust upon the cherry wood chest. Being spellbound I sat motionless. Almost frozen with fearful curiosity. The writing stopped. I managed to wipe my eyes for reassurance that this was not an Illusion. What I was seeing was certainly not that. It came in the form of the word “Finaly” that was now written upon the cherry wood chest. The coolness in the attic room began to subside and temperatures returned to the warmth of the Georgia springtime.
What was I to do? Run and tell that I had an encounter with an unseen phantom? A spirit of times past that possessed poor spelling skills and had neglected to include one of the “L”s in the word “finally?” If I did, I was sure that certain ridicule would follow me with this tale forevermore. I decided to not mention this phenomena. At least not at that time.
I took the letters down stairs to my mother. Of course she began to cry. I asked if she had knowledge of these and she nodded her head Yes. She also told that this was the reason Aunt Sarah never had Children. For fear that they may become stricken with the Illness.
But when it all came out in the wash there actually wasn’t a hereditary illness in the family and that Aunt Sarah’s efforts were in vain. Mother went on to explain that they did not pursue any further information about Uncle Thomas as they felt he was in a better place now, spiritually anyway, and finally when the accused were finally found out, well, justice had been served alright. Thanks to the efforts of Miss Millie Cross.
I know this may appear strange, but I figure that when I soon contract the farmhouse with a real estate agent I think I will express to them our family request that priority be given towards a buyer with children. So that Uncle Jack and Aunt Sarah may look down and experience what she mistakenly sacrificed within her Milledgeville farmhouse. The sounds of life. Now that the skeletons have gone. Where the scent of peach pie shall linger for eternity.
About the author
Cynthia Morrison is a graduate of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre in Jupiter Florida. She is an Performance artist, stage combat director and writer. Her works tend to lean towards historic content. Although she also specializes in works that speak against the suppression of women.