Friday, March 1, 2013

The Tale

Boxes? Boxes? I had nothing for the Sepia Saturday prompt about boxes. But then I began listing boxes in my head and ended up at boxcars…boxcars, ah, trains! There it was – the tale of the Paulding Lights as shared by my dad, William Hart.

Here, my dad (kneeling) holds his dog, Trixie, while his parents stand near-by. 
Who told the tale? 
            “There it is, down through those trees,” my dad’s outstretched pointer finger poked at the car window to indicate what appeared to be a desolate spot in a forgotten part of the world.  It was the place of the famed Paulding Lights, mysterious glowing orbs that confound locals and adventurers. But true to form, my dad knew their history and told it that day in the car.
His tale is one fraught with fragments, now stitched together by his listeners for he is no longer here to retell his version.  The yarn that lives on is one I have struggled to authenticate.  I interviewed those in the car, talked with cousins, and researched the factual parts of the story. But memories are different or nonexistent. The incidents relayed in the anecdote don’t match with documented facts. As a researcher, this created an ethical dilemma for me: Do I share the story as I’ve pieced it together? It may not be true.
But in the quiet of my night, the answer was clear. This was not meant to be objective history; it was family (his)story. It didn’t matter if the facts were accurate. Its value was in the sharing. Even in the telling of it, my dad was communicating a slice of life, of his beliefs, and of his days growing up on Bluff Street. I can imagine his mother, standing at her gate or pinning her wet laundry to the clothesline, spinning the yarn, and fascinating her son with the mystery of it all. Yes, true or not, this fable is a part of my family lore.  

The bare bones of the tale are shared below. Believe it or not!

            It was a Saturday. Louis Hart, Jr. was preparing to leave his home on Bluff Street to work his shift as a fireman on the steam locomotive that ran out of Marquette. Thankfully, for the generations that followed, he never made it to his post that night. That fateful failure led to his survival and another’s demise, for the train crashed, just outside of Paulding, MI.  Legend claims the souls that perished never rest. They walk the tracks, swinging their ghostly lanterns, in a never-ending quest to stop the inevitable. Years later Louis was one of those startled by these spectral lights, reminding him of the fragility of choices.

            Today the Paulding Lights are a mecca of sorts for ghost hunters, thrill seekers, and those with a fascination for disproving the paranormal. The spot is marked with a U.S. Forest Service plaque, has been featured on the Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files television show, and was the subject of a Michigan Tech University study. Questions about this place remain. But to me, it will always be the subject of Essie and Louis Hart’s tale as told by my dad and now shared by family members who have memories of differing details.  Ah, families!

My grandfather, Louis Hart, Jr., in train garb.  He clearly notes on the 1920, 1930, and 1940 Census Reports that he is a locomotive fireman, squeezing in the word, fireman, on both the 1930 and 1940 forms.

My dad always scoffed at family history, yet in his aged handwriting, he captioned this photo for eternity: Dad Louis, and Jody Kaufman.


  1. That's the sort of thing that keeps people alive in memory. Does it matter if the tale doesn't quite match reality. As long as its told Louis, and your Dad, are remembered. It strikes me as a great pity if 5 minutes after you pop your clogs you are forgotten.

    I'm hoping it doesn't happen to me even if it means that I have to be out of step with the rest of the world and act a little strange.

    1. 'Pop your clogs' is that an expression everyone is familiar with Mike? :)

  2. What a great story to be told and more importantly, be remembered in.

  3. I was reading another blog just recently in which the blogger was grappling with how to handle "family lore" and conflicting reports and memories relayed by family members. The conclusion was to do as you have done: insert phrases like "as told by ...." I think in recording family history, reporting everyone's side of the story is perfectly acceptable because multiple truths are possible.

  4. I'm intrigued - what part of the story didn't quite add up?

  5. Fact or faked, I like paranormal stuff. There is always this element of charm and mystery that quantitative science could not quite analyze.

  6. What a fascinating tale - all started off by the box and the boxcar. Old family tales and old family photographs - perfect companions.

  7. I think you've taken the honest approach and we're all the richer for it. We wouldn't want to be deprived of a tale like that.

  8. Those are great photos. I am also wondering which part of the story doesn't match the facts and what parts the family members remembered differently.

  9. Its a great story which deserves to be remembered, I can never resist a locomotive photo so that is the icing on the cake.

  10. Yes - I think we tell family lore as we heard it and state it as such. It's a true part of our story as family. Wonderful photos too!

  11. Kathy! I Believe! Families Attract & Preserve Local Lore.Whatever "The Truth" The Importance Is In The Telling!