Gather around boys and girls. Dave has got a yarn to spin ya. Tis a mostly true story. With a few omissions, to protect the innocent and not so innocent alike.
First, we set the stage. It’s a few years after my old man died. I’ve kicked around and bit and landed in northwest Indiana. For the majority of the time this story takes place, I’m working at a warehouse doing Monday through Thursday, 10 hour shifts. Leaving me a 3 day weekend every weekend. If you ever have a chance to work that schedule…. But I digress.
So, stranger in a strange land. No friends. No meaningful connection to anybody. The closest person I knew to my age that I had any access to was one of the drivers that worked for my stepdad. We’ll call him Pete.
Pete and I got along pretty good. I was sitting at the shop one Thursday after I got off work. Pete knew I had the next day off and offered to let me ride along for the day. The company didn’t usually allow passengers. But you can get away with shit when you’re the owner’s kid. So, the next morning, I was sitting at the shop ready to go when Pete got there to pull out for the day.
That became a regular thing. I’d work my normal job, then on Fridays I would ride along with Pete. Then I started hanging out with Pete on Friday and Saturday nights. And he introduced me to another guy who features ever so slightly. We’ll call him Joe.
One last bit of context before we get to the “meat” of the story. We couldn’t go to bars. I wasn’t 21 yet. We’re an hour away from the closest pool hall, movie theater, or any other form of entertainment. Shit, none of us could even get cable TV. It simply wasn’t available. And at the time, satellite TV was stupid expensive. All of this is to say we had to make our own “fun”.
One of our favorite activities was to just drive around the country roads. Really fucking exciting right? We spent hours driving around at night. We had no idea what we were looking for. But one night, we found it.
I asked Pete to pull over for a minute so I could dip into the corn field to take a quick leak. He pulls over under this creepy fucking tree. Now, I’m not skittish or easily frightened. But this tree gave me the fucking willies. And it set something off in my storyteller brain.
When I get back in the car, I tell Pete about the story in my head. And Pete fucking loved it. By the time we got back to his place, we had most of the story already hammered out. It went a little something like this:
Back in the 1890s, there was a widower farmer (of course). His daughter was the prettiest girl in the county (of course) and had men tripping over each other for a chance to ask her out. Much to her father’s chagrin, she didn’t want any of the well off men who came to court her. She was infatuated with the neighbor’s farmhand.
One night, she’d snuck across the road for a tryst with said farmhand. Her father had been in town at the tavern and came home very late. Being intoxicated, he wasn’t paying close attention to the road. His daughter was sneaking back across the road to get home before he did. He ended up running her over with the buggy. The impact was so vicious it beheaded her.
The farmer stops, grabs his lantern, and climbs down to see what he’s hit with his buggy. He finds his daughter’s mangled corpse. But he can’t find her head. He walks up and down the road, back and forth. Searching and searching for his beautiful daughter’s head. Finally, overcome with grief and whiskey, he hangs himself from the tree he’d stopped the buggy near.
Legend has it, that to this day if you park your car by that tree and flash your headlights, you can see the light of the farmer’s lantern as he continues his eternal search for the severed head of his beloved child.
Is it cheesy and cliche? Fuck yes it is. But the seed was planted. Of course, Pete insisted we tell Joe about what we’d come up with. We’re all sitting around talking about it. I can’t remember who’s idea it was to “make it happen”. It doesn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is that the foundation was set.
The plan went a little something like this: We’d tell people our story as if it were real. We’d take them out to the spot. Somebody would make weird shit happen. And that is exactly what we did. Being the smallest and stealthiest, I was usually in charge of making weird shit happen. I got pretty adept at navigating cornfields in pitch blackness. Pete or Joe would drop me off a mile or so away. Dressed head to toe in dark clothing with any exposed skin covered in dark face paint. I’d navigate my way through the fields. At a predetermined time, they would flash their lights. That was my cue. After the shenanigans were over, somebody would pick me up at a predetermined spot. And we only did it on moonless nights.
I tried several things before we landed on the “perfect” one. Joe had an old stake bed pick up. One night, he had his girlfriend in the truck with him. I played a fox call on a tape player and buried a rusty old hatchet into the passenger side rail. She screamed. Then she peed.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to be stealthy while your trying not to lose your shit laughing your ass off?
Terrifying, yes. But risky. I didn’t like being that close. It didn’t give me enough time to melt back into the corn. The further away I could be, the better. I tried setting the road on fire with rubbing alcohol about a hundred yards from the tree. It worked OK. The blue flame in the pitch black was a nice touch. But I didn’t like the risk of accidentally setting something on fire and causing damage. And there were only so many places to buy big bottles of it. Somebody was going to catch on eventually.
We finally landed on it. And it is a testament to the concept of “keep it simple”. We bought a battery powered spotlight and some amber colored tail light repair tape. I’d start about 200 yards down the road and when I saw the flashes, I’d kick the light on and start jogging. After about 50-75 yards, I’d kill the light and vanish into the fields. Perfection. Easy, harmless, inexpensive and terrifying.
Now, I feel I should make it perfectly clear: We did not intend for the story to spread. We didn’t even consider the possibility that the people we “pranked” would tell others. Or that those others would want to see it for themselves. But that is exactly what happened. One night there were no fewer than 6 cars parked near the tree.
Things came pretty close to getting out of hand a few times. There were a few close calls with rednecks trying to get to the bottom of things. But when it started to grow, we came up with abort signals and stuff like that. If we had been smart, we would have just stopped and let it die. But… we were bored.
Now this is where it gets weird. I moved away from the area almost 20 years ago. I don’t know what happened to Pete and Joe. But, I did some googling. And it would appear that the story we came up with is still being told. Maybe someone is still pulling the stunts. I don’t know.
But that is how 3 bored assholes successfully created a modern day legend.