The Hanging Tree

As we coast into October and my favorite time of the year, it wouldn’t be complete without a few ghost stories here or there. After all, the funnest holiday of the year (in my not-so-humble opinion…) falls on the very last day of this month–Halloween, or Samhain.

What does this have to do with homesteading?

Everything…if your homestead sits where your community’s hanging tree used to be. This little almost-acre of land is where the Windham County Hanging Tree used to be, or so I’ve been told. And it makes sense.

hanging-tree

When Dan and I first purchased this property back in 2001, I started having reoccurring dreams of walking in the door from work and seeing a pair of blue-jean clad legs hanging from the upper banister. I didn’t have a clue where these dreams were coming from or why I was having them. Being a bit superstitious at times, I also worried that maybe this might be a bit of a premonition…and I hoped I was wrong. My ex-husband, Dan–husband at the time–was an alcoholic but he didn’t strike me as being depressed or, in any other way, being a likely candidate for suicide, as that was what I perceived this potential premonition to be warning. Nope. It just didn’t fit. Dan was tied too strongly into his faith, into family. He loved life too much and, even though he drank heavily, he was always a happy-go-lucky sort of drunk. He drank more as a social thing rather than a need to get wasted…even if a 30 Pack on the weekend was “normal” for him.

The mystery of these dreams wasn’t revealed until Dan and I filed for divorce in 2004. Initially, we had placed the house on the market but, at the time, Route 6 was in the middle of some major construction and we had a trench running the full length of the property between the road and our front yard. To get into the driveway, you had to drive over some steel “planks” the construction crew had placed over the gaping hole. Needless to say, we had little to no curb appeal. After several months, the real estate company was ready to reduce our price unless one of us would consider trying to get a pre-approval for the mortgage. Dan had some major gambling debts that prohibited him from refinancing and, as he was living with his older brother–and the two were proving incompatible for co-habitation–he looked at me. At first, I balked. I really didn’t want to stay. It was too expensive for a single person. It needed a lot of work that I didn’t know how to do and couldn’t afford to have done. I saw the financial struggles I would have–all of which have proven prophetic–as well as the restrictions that living in a rapidly becoming commercial zone might bring. I wanted acreage. But, as another week went by without any interest at all, I decided to try. I had a good paying job, though I hated it, and it would mean I could stay somewhat settled. So I applied. And I won. But there was a stipulation. I would have to paint the house before the mortgage company would give me the loan. (Yes, that raised a few eyebrows here, too, but, in light of the fixer-upper state, I guess it made some sense.)

I tend to be a bit of a spiteful person. I am one of those people that if you tell me I have to do something, I automatically dig my heels in. However, digging my heels in would’ve been counterproductive to what I was trying to accomplish so, instead, I decided to get funky with it. No “normal” color palette like white or yellow, or even touching up the blue that already graced the clapboards. Instead, I got it into my head to go with black. I didn’t jump on impulse. I actually took a trip to Home Depot and, in their paint department, they had a computer that was set up so you could get an idea what your house would look like with a particular paint scheme. So I typed in the style of house and then started “painting” it. I loved it! But it was still an overly-bold color scheme. Would the town balk at it with me being on the main road? I gave them a call the next day but there were no prohibitions in their charter. So I walked across the street to the hardware store, wanting to give the business to someone local rather than a big box store. I was also hoping they could give me an idea how many gallons I might need as I this was a DIY project–with the help of some friends, of course–and I confess to being a little out of my element.

The conversation with Bob went something like this:

“What color are you going with?”

“Black.”

“No, I mean for the house itself, not the trim.”

“I know. I’m painting it black.”

“What color do you want the trim?”

“Also black.”

“Black on black?”

“Except the front door. I want to paint that orange.”

There was a moment’s pause. Then Bob shook his head and said, “Let’s hope you don’t stir anything up over there.”

I latched onto that one immediately. Not only had I had reoccurring dreams, Dan and I had also experienced some unexplainable occurrences over the years; I had never thought to ask the neighbors about the house. And nothing was revealed when we closed on it in 2001 so I just chalked everything off to some over-active imaginations. Dan and I were both writers and artists after all. And we watched “Haunted History” on The History Channel and another show on The Travel Channel that featured haunted tourist traps religiously.

However, Bob nixed that explanation.

Every criminal that passed through Windham County met their end on this property until hanging was finally outlawed as a means for punishment. The actual tree, he assured me, has long since been cut down. No, that great big grandmother in the front yard that I’ve christened “Helen” was not the actual hanging tree. However, there is a large crevice in back where even the roots were dug out. The previous owners had planted a Rose of Sharon bush in that crevice. Perhaps as a way to heal its sordid past. Over the years, I’ve envisioned this place as a thriving herb farm; a holistic retreat center; a wildlife refuge for local and native plants and animals as a means to further heal this stain on the land.

Why should it matter so much? They were criminals after all. Except one of the stories Bob told me continues to haunt me: the last person hung here was a poor African American man who got caught stealing a cow because he was hungry and had nothing to eat. Was this his first offense? Or one of many? Had he turned to crime as a sort of profession? Or had an empty belly made him desperate? Did he have children who were also hungry? And, as this was 1905-ish, had the color of his skin played a hand in the lack of mercy that took his life for his desperation? There is no way of knowing but it seems a horrible way to lose one’s life. A murderer? Rapist? Yeah, maybe I’d feel differently. Despite being a minister, I’m not opposed to the death penalty for such, especially knowing that such crimes would likely be repeated if these individuals were released into society again. But it seems a little extreme for theft. No, I would be all over anyone who stole one of my chickens or goats–even for hunger–but I wouldn’t be wanting to string them up.

Amazingly, after having this conversation with Bob, the reoccurring dreams stopped.

May God bless you & keep you!

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