Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Catacombs Of Water Valley

Growing up, the legend was that bodies were buried on the grounds of the old hospital and I would never have believed it, if my brother Paul had not bought the big old house at 110 Panola Street in Water Valley this past year. The old house is beautiful and was originally the first hospital in Water Valley before being renovated into a private home. Even renovated, the old house had a few problems and they have led to a hair raising and intriguing mystery.
The phone call came the morning Paul was trying to find the cutoff valve for the gas into the fireplace at his house and he asked me to come help him. It wasn’t long until we found ourselves in the narrow space that led down into the cellar. With our flashlights we looked around the dusty walls and Paul noticed a new crack in the old brick walls. He said “Damn, I just bought this house and it’s falling apart “ and gave a push on the wall. The bricks seemed to cave in on themselves and when the dust cleared, we were looking into what seemed a narrow tunnel. Excitedly, we tried to see inside, but there was too much dust and ancient spider webs. I found a broom and started opening up the space and we soon realized it was not a secret tunnel but a crypt. The catacombs ran back about 60 feet deep ending in a “T”, but each side had niches in the walls filled with human bones. Dust covered skulls grinned at us and in many places shed snakeskins wound through the rib cages though we saw no snakes. It felt like no one had stepped into the catacombs for a hundred years. Shining our lights and being very careful not to touch anything we played our lights over the piles of bones and moved deeper into the crypt. At the “T” we went right and it ended in a brick wall. We reversed ourselves back to the left and after a short distance found ourselves in a small chamber looking at an old oak table on which sat a dust covered green mason jar. Paul carefully picked it up and we could see the bubbles in the glass as he wiped away the dust. Inside was a rolled up piece of parchment and a large brass key.

Paul worked the wiring to remove the glass top and pulled out the paper first. Very carefully we held it and in faded ink was a brief note stating that 47 men were buried in the vault. They had been the last picket of men from the Union army that had retreated from Water Valley after the battle along the railroad at Coffeeville. Left alone after the retreat, the men had fallen upon the people of the town like beasts.  It stated that the cruelty, looting and assault upon the women of the town had called for retribution and the menfolk had met in secret to plot revenge and not one of the despicable soldiers escaped. The townspeople had killed them, not the Confederate Army and the bodies had been hidden in case the Yankees returned.A plea at the end stated that if the men who hid the bodies were unable to return that the finder should take the key and return the Courthouse deeds and records along with the contents of the safe deposit boxes from the Citizens Bank after the War. Paul and I looked at each other and he turned the jar sideways and let the brass key fall into his hand.  It looked like an old railroad key for opening locks with stamping that said VJ-238.
We took the note, key and mason jar, and then covered the hole in Paul’s  cellar.  Right now we have to think about what to do and if the things mentioned in the note can be found. Will let you know.


Anonymous said...

Interesting story loosely based on facts. There are bones in the yard - the Henrys' dogs are buried there. The old hospital was originally a Dr. Armstrong's residence and was built after 1900. It might be difficult to build on such a crypt without discovering something when digging footings, etc. Keep looking for those courthouse records. It would be interesting to know what courthouse they came from since WV didn't have one yet. I believe we called that key a skeleton key. Now that certainly fits the story.

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