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Ghost Story October 20, 2008 Some ghost stories are meant to entertain or frighten, while others still are told in an effort to pass along crucial information and to, at times, serve as a warning. This particular story is among the latter. You are advised to take heed. The year was 1865 and the place was Lexington, South Carolina, specifically, the cotton plantation belonging to the McTierney family. Thirty years earlier, James McTierney, the patriarch of this branch of the family tree, had ventured off from family and tradition in County Clare to seek his fortune in the Americas. His family cursed him for leaving his family and abandoning his home. He cursed them in return and from the moment he left Ireland, he never looked back. By the time James had arrived in Lexington, it was little more than a courthouse and a few residences. But with his help and determination, along with those like him, by 1861, Lexington boasted a diverse population of lawyers, physicians, tradespeople, artisans and farmers. There were then 2 churches, several schools, a carriage factory, a saw and gristmill, a tannery, livestock yard, tin and blacksmiths and a weekly newspaper. The major crops of the surrounding countryside were mainly cotton, corn sweet potatoes and lumber. His plantation grew mostly cotton. He had three sons to handle his business dealings and a two-year-old granddaughter, Shannon, to act as the apple of his eye. His slaves were well cared for, and in turn, so was his entire property. Of course, in the midst of this great economic boom, there were troubles brewing on the horizon. Spurned by Lincoln’s election to the presidency, many throughout The South felt it was time to secede from this union that was no longer benefitting their needs. James was never one to offer up false loyalties, so on December 20, 1860, when South Carolina seceded from the union, he continued to see to his business while he prepared for war. By 1865, James was simply waiting for the end. The South had lost, they were just too damn stubborn or ignorant to admit it. And while this loss meant he would no longer have slaves to work his fields, he had other business opportunities. Plus, he had no loyalties that would dissuade him from dealing with the Yankees that were sure to migrate southward. He just wanted the war to be over and the new order to begin. The stories of Sherman’s march had been spread for months. Like a juggernaut of old he was burning everything in The South. The stories were maniacal in scope and the reality wasn’t far off. On that fateful night, James had gathered his entire family, as well as all the slaves who had remained with him, into the main house. James was confident of their safety. After all, the Yanks had all but won the war, and Lexington was no great prize like Atlanta or Charleston. His thought was that they would torch the town, even the crops, but leave the homes standing. After all, what was to be gained? He was wrong. When they first gathered that night, Shannon, now six, wanting to help her very worried grandfather any way she could, asked what her job was. “Just be quiet, my little apple,” he said in the Irish brogue he never seemed to shake. Then he added, “And do what you can to keep the other little ones silent as well.” James had prepared all that he would say if conflict arose on his property. He brought no arms in the house, he kept all things of value in the front hall. He had everyone together in one place. He would give up all that he had to keep only the lives of those he was responsible for and a home in which to live. He could talk his way through anything. He was ready. Around 10 o’clock that night, they heard the first soldiers moving on his property. He told his sons to keep everyone calm and together. One scream or anxious decision could escalate the situation. Shannon stood beside her father and uncles, “What about me, granddaddy?” She asked. “Just keep the little ones quiet,” he repeated as he smiled down upon her. The little ones were comprised of five children between six months and two years of age. The anxiety of the room was starting to affect them as they began to fidget and make little noises. Shannon took her charge seriously and began to whisper to them, “Shhhhhh.” She was little more than a whisper as she sang lullabies and quieted the little ones. The soldiers started to get louder as they grew in number. Shannon quieted the little ones. The sons reassured the adults and James moved from window to window, preparing for the inevitable verbal confrontation. He started to smell the smoke from the fires in the fields and the outlying homes. He stood at the front door to welcome his “guests.” But the confrontation never happened. Instead of a knock at the front door, James heard the soldiers barricading them. He immediately looked to the windows and saw the same thing happening there. He shouted out, “We have no arms here! There are women and children inside this home! I demand to speak with your commanding officer!” There was no reply. The house was put to the torch. For the first time in his life, James panicked. By now, he was not the only one. The babies were crying. The women were screaming and the men were running about trying to find an exit. It was all for naught. Within a matter of minutes the house was engulfed in flames and all its inhabitants dead. For the soldiers, there was neither celebration nor mourning. They simply moved on to their next duty. In a few months from that night, Lee surrendered at Appomattox and the war was over, yet the story continues even today. In concerns little Shannon McTierney. You see, she loved her grandfather and always did whatever he asked. And all he asked that night was for her to keep the little ones quiet. A task which she failed to accomplish. Once the smoke began to rise, and the family was in full panic, the little ones were crying and inconsolable. She tried her best to keep them still, but nothing worked. As they men ran from the house, she stayed with them. As the fires burned hotter than she ever felt, she stayed with them. As she saw her grandfather shed a tear and wear a face she did not recognize, she did her best to quiet the children. She died that night believing it was all her fault for not doing what she was asked to do. Ever since that night, Shannon has remained on earth as a spirit wandering throughout South Carolina. When she hears a baby crying in the night, she enters the nursery to quiet the tears. If you listen closely, you can hear a lullaby on the wind. That’s the story. Here’s the warning. If she can’t console the child and no parent enters the room, she takes the away the child’s breath so the soldiers won’t hear and torch another home. Her grandfather will be so proud.
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