Revolutionary Ghosts, Chapter 18

“Our eyewitnesses have reported much more, as well. When the Headless Horseman arrives at a location, he does not arrive alone. It appears that the Headless Horseman is a magnet for other dark spirits, all of them having their roots in the bloodshed of the American Revolution.

“One of these spirits is the malevolent Marie Trumbull. At the start of the Revolution, Marie Trumbull was a Boston socialite, who was remarked upon for her grace and physical attractiveness.

“But Marie Trumbull was also a dedicated Loyalist who would not embrace the patriot cause. After the start of the war, she enlisted herself as a spy for the British overlords.

“Marie Trumbull’s perfidy was exposed, and she was arrested by Continental military authorities. As was customary in cases of spying, she was sentenced to hang.

“But Marie Trumbull cheated the hangman, and American justice. The night before her scheduled execution, one of her confederates arranged to have a sharp-edged knife smuggled into her cell. With this she slit her own throat. Her jailers found her dead at dawn.

“But perhaps Marie Trumbull will yet have her revenge on the land she betrayed. In life, Marie was a dark-haired beauty. Now she appears in the form of a hideously decayed corpse, often bearing the knife she used to take her own life.”

A contemporary portrait of Marie Trumbull was reproduced just below this paragraph. The reproduction was small, and printed in black-and-white. Marie Trumbull was wearing a dress that exposed her long, graceful neck, and a generous portion of her shoulders.

Assuming that the portrait was accurate, she had indeed been a “dark-haired beauty”. And now, according to Harry Bailey she was some kind of undead creature.

But Harry Bailey wasn’t quite done:

“Nor has the Headless Horsemen returned from those infernal regions without the company of his wartime comrades. There have been sightings along the Horseman’s path of Hessian soldiers, risen from the grave to join their headless leader in the reconquest of America. These soldiers appear as skeletal ghouls, as might befit their undead state…”

Harry Bailey finished the article with a flourish of armchair philosophizing.

“It is reasonable to ask: Why, after two hundred years, has the Horseman chosen this moment in our history to return, to once again terrorize America?

“The answer, I would submit, is obvious, my friends. Certainly the American Bicentennial is one reason. But this would not be the only one.

“This year of 1976 finds America in a most perilous state. Our country is reeling from a disastrous conflict in Vietnam, the shame of Watergate, and continuing economic stagnation.

“When you consider those factors, is it not reasonable to conclude that this is the most logical time for America’s undead enemies to once again assault her? America, after all, is on the ropes. This is no longer the country where so many of us grew up.”

In this passage, Harry Bailey reminded me of my father. Dad was always saying more or less the same thing: That the country had seen better days, that the turmoil of the last decade had transformed America into something he no longer recognized.

Harry Bailey’s byline in Spooky American Tales did not include a photo, nor was there any biographical information. Nevertheless, I was already certain that Harry Bailey would be at least my parents’ age, and probably older.

I was about to set Spooky American Tales aside and peruse my copy of Car and Driver. Then I heard the telephone ring.

Chapter 19

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