Anyone who has walked a country lane after dark knows how moonlight on the landscape can create ghostly images from fence posts, bushes, and stumps.
Yet some insist that a frightening form that seemed to emerge from a large beech tree beside a country road in the Trammel community of western Allen County years ago was more than imaginary.
The story goes that in the early to mid-1800s a man was hanged from the tree by vigilantes. Later, some passersby began seeing frightening apparitions there. Details of the lynching have dimmed with time, but tales of what older people still call “the hainted beech” live on.
Leroy Henson, longtime pastor of the Martha’s Chapel General Baptist Church in Warren County and a member of Warren Rural Electric Cooperative, says that his grandfather, Henry Howell, was among the trusted members of the community who saw the ghost.
Howell, a deeply religious man who was a deacon and school board member, died in 1944, several months before Henson was born. But Henson’s grandmother, Deimer Howell, told him the stories when he was a boy.
His grandfather, a farmer who also did carpentry work around the community, often came home by horse and buggy after dark on the Middle Fork Hollow Road, now known as Mayhew Road. The large beech stood just where the road begins its descent into a long hollow.
Henson says that on several nights when his grandfather passed the tree, he would see something—sometimes in the fog-shrouded form of an animal, and at other times in human form—that would run beside the buggy.
“It would excite him, but he wouldn’t just lose it, like I would have,” Henson says. “On a few occasions, whatever it was would get in the buggy seat beside him and ride for a ways. The first time this happened, he didn’t know what kind of an animal it was, and it was a moonlit night, and he reached over in the floor of the buggy and picked up a hatchet and threw it—and it just went through whatever this was.”
Others told of an apparition in the form of a person getting on the horse behind them as they rode past the tree.
“They said it would be just a real cold feeling, kind of like a chill in the air, even in the summertime,” Henson says.
Henson’s own father saw a mysterious white form in the road near the tree one night in the early 1900s while returning from Franklin.
During Henson’s teen years, he remembers speeding up and trying not to look while driving past the tree. One night when he was about 17 and his car broke down, he walked through fields and briar patches to avoid the haunted beech.
The old tree is now long gone, but there are several young beeches growing within a few feet of where it stood.