My Ohio Civil War Ghost Story
This is not really a ghost story so much as a story about a Civil War spirit who dropped in while my genealogist spouse and I were on a fact-finding mission in an Ohio cemetery.
My spouse is an excellent amateur genealogist, and from time to time we travel to historical sites and dig into family records and such. I am a writer, cartoonist, and amateur psychic. I never sell myself as a psychic, and I never take money or do readings for money or anything like that, but I know that there is something weird about me and so do most people who know me well.
As my spouse likes to say, "I am probably the only genealogist in the country who travels with a psychic."
(Hey fiction writers--there's a free detective series idea for you that could really be killer.)
Anyway, on this particular trip we were in south central Ohio, near the village of South Solon in Madison County, looking for the graves of Skinner Hutson and the rest of the Skinner Hutson clan, the first settlers in America on my spouse's side.
Skinner was transported to America in 1767 as punishment for running off with a London engraver's till. In short, Skinner was a thief by trade, got sent here, fought in the American Revolution after his seven year indenture was served, and then traveled west and settled what was then the Western frontier, Ohio.
The till he pinched contained six pence.
This poor guy got sentenced to transportation (at the time a dangerous punishment) and seven years indentured labor for stealing the US equivalent of about a dime. That happened all the time in the 17th & 18th centuries in Britain, and many were the prisoners who died en route.
We found the Hutson graves easily, and as I like to do when we are on these little investigative jaunts, I cleared my mind and opened up for a visit from someone departed, hopefully Skinner, whom I planned to sketch later, back at the motel.
(Obviously, there are no photographs of American Revolutionary war soldiers from the 1700's. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you find one, you can be pretty sure it's a fake.)
So I opened myself up and waited, and….
Oh well, that's how it goes some days in amateur psychic-land. No big deal.
However, as my spouse finished taking photos of the headstones of his ancestors, I gradually became aware of someone standing between two ancient cedar trees, not 30 feet away from us.
The person came into focus and I saw it was a Union Civil War soldier in dress blues. His face was obscured by shade, but when I looked at him straight on I could see that it was gaunt, young, and covered with a dark short beard.
This soldier's eyes were intense and piercing and he had dark circles around them, as though he was not quite well.
Many union soldiers died of dysentery before they saw a day's battle, so that was no surprise.
I said to my spouse, "We have to check under those two trees over there," pointing at the cedars, "and see if there's a grave under them and whose it is."
He asked me why and I told him about the Union Civil War soldier.
What We Found
My spouse thinks ESP and the paranormal and mediumship and all of that is total rot and hokum, but he respects and likes me personally, so he tolerates my interest in all this and holds back from snarky comments 90% of the time. So we walked over to the cedars on the way to the car.
There stood the clearly marked grave of a Union soldier and his wife, and not just any Union soldier, but one who came back to South Solon and became mayor, then founded and wrote for the first newspaper in the area.
I sensed that this fellow was aggravated, so I asked what he wanted, and he said he wanted me to tell his story.
It seems he was a little irked about all the attention lavished on Skinner Hutson, who was a bit of a character and a scoundrel his entire life, while he, the mayor and literary pioneer of South Solon was breezily ignored.
Writers. Isn't that always the way? Ego, ego, ego.
Back at motel, we went to Ancestry and looked for more on information on James Rankin Stroup (1844-1927) and discovered that by 1908 he had served four terms as mayor. We found this quote from a 1908 anthology:
"James Rankin Stroup, editor and proprietor of the South Solon Advance, now in its seventh year, is serving his fourth term as mayor of South Solon. Mr. Stroup is an old soldier, a crisp and characteristic writer and is always fighting for the upbuilding of his hometown." (From Madison Democrat 50th Anniversary, Published by the Madison Democrat, 1908.)
We found a photo as well, which was pretty much the fellow I saw, only much older.
James Rankin Stroup collected a military pension for time served in the GAR. He wasn't a soldier but two months when he was injured and honorably discharged, although we could not find the nature of his injury. He was only 17 at the time.
We also found this description of his life and career, from the History of Madison County, Ohio [B.F. Bowen & Co, Indianapolis, 1915]:
"James Rankin Stroup, the subject of this sketch, is now serving his fifth term as mayor of South Solon. Mr. Stroup is a familiar personage to every man, woman and child of South Solon. He is widely known for miles around as the mayor of South Solon, as the founder of the South Solon Advance, and as an all-round business man and farmer. He has been a familiar figure in both the political and social arena ofthis section, and has made himself popular among the inhabitants by kind deeds, willing hands and active support to all worthy projects for the benefit of the community and those around him. He is the one man needed in every community to fall back upon when energy and willingness are needed to promote the general welfare…
Born in Range township and educated in the common schools at Sedalia, James Rankin Stroup clerked in his father's store until 1861. When he was seventeen years old he enlisted in Company D, Fortieth Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was one of the first of the young men to respond to President Lincoln's call for volunteers. He participated in James A. Garfield's first battle at Middle Creek, Kentucky. Colonel Garfield was commanding a brigade at the time, January10, 1862…
Mr. Stroup resides with his wife and granddaughter in a fine residence in South Solon. He is as active, as quick in wit and conception, and as deft in his literary work as a young man. He is a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, of South Solon, and is quartermaster of the post. He is also a member of the Loyal Order of Moose, at Springfield, Ohio. Mrs. Stroup is a member of the Methodist Episcopal church, at South Solon. James Rankin Stroup is identified with the Democratic party."
No wonder he felt slighted--that is quite a resume.
So does all of this 'prove' I am really psychic?
No but it is passing strange.
Further investigation revealed that James Rankin Stroup and his connection with the Haskell family makes Stroup and my spouse shirt-tale relations. It is through the Stroup line that both J.R. Stroup and my spouse are also related to President Barack Obama.
How cool is that?
So that's my story and I'm sticking too it.
Not exactly a ghost story, but a reminder that the American spirit is ornery and tenacious even after death, in ways we can appreciate thoroughly, if not imagine.
We are all connected, really.
And that's a good thing.