By Rick Hinton
Our yearly excursion to Spring Mill State Park has come and sadly gone for one more year. Three days of hiking trails, exploring caves, the Gus Grissom memorial, overeating at the Inn’s buffet and reflecting in the pioneer Hamer Cemetery does a body and mind good! This is what we do in the daylight hours. Nighttime has a different agenda…
The Spring Mill Pioneer Village is a beehive of activity during the weekend. Park folks in period clothing demonstrate pioneer skills to throngs of visiting adults and children. Cameras click away as children run along the sidewalk or play in the gurgling creek. A sawmill demonstration draws the curious while others move in almost reverent silence through former residences and the pioneer garden. When it shuts down for the day the crowds go away and the village sleeps. Darkness settles in like a comforting blanket as the surrounding hillside comes alive with nocturnal critters. Sometimes a coyote will howl just to let you know he is there and watching. Right on schedule Laura and I will trek into the village in the dead of night. We’ve been doing it for years. Looking for ghosts? Or something else?
We are totally alone as usual. The pathway to the village is dark as we make our way alongside the murmuring creek. It seems louder in the dark. We turn the corner at the Sheeks House and the valley unfolds before us. The three-story limestone Grist Mill, built in 1817, glows white in the moonlight. The water flume, sitting on original limestone piers, travels down the hill from Hamer Cave and feeds into the building. It’s so quiet you can hear the trees rustling in the wind. The smell of wood smoke lingers in the air. We walk to the main pathway, subtly illuminated by streetlights, framing a now silent row of buildings, the mill and limestone fence, once used to keep roving hogs away from the residences and garden. The windows are dark and one gets the feeling they are being watched from within. One also gets the feeling they have been transported back into time. We step into the inner compound beyond the fence and the fun begins.
Laura has taken a weird photo: below an overhanging tree branch she has captured an object which resembles a bush. There was no bush there. She takes a few more from the same angle —nothing! A “ghost” bush, I suggest. Laura stares at me. Not to be outdone we move to the garden area and I shoot a picture of Laura walking along the path. “I have a ghost standing next to you,” I inform her. She examines it. “Well, that’s creepy,” she says. The picture is blurry, yet we make out her with another figure. This same inner compound two years ago caused some excitement when we listened to two men in conversation behind the Lower Residence. We slunk around to check — no one there! We were alone in the village… or were we?
Upon closer examination, I can explain my photo. Due to the low light, and with my shutter staying open longer and not using a tripod, I created a double exposure. Both figures were Laura. Debunked! Laura’s photo, however, is still a work in progress.
Are there ghosts in Spring Mill Pioneer Village? Some would think, how could there not be? At its peak, 20 families (some 100 residents) lived, worked, played and died there. Some might just choose to never leave.