Living in a small town, it’s tough for a teenager to keep secrets from his mother. This is especially true if your mother doesn’t need eyes to see what you’re doing.
Michael Fox grew up in Indiana in the 1960s the youngest (or second youngest – he has a twin sister) of four children. When his mother was home recovering from surgery in 1965, he and his twin were 11 years old, his others sisters 15 and 17.
“My mother had just undergone what at that time was a major surgery,” he said. “She had been home for two days from the hospital and was in and out of delirium. She was on pain meds and they kept her rather loopy.”
Michael’s parents were strict about dating and didn’t want the teenage girls out too late. It was fall, about a week before Halloween, when Michael’s 17-year-old sister Janet asked their father if she could go with her boyfriend and another couple to a local drive-in restaurant. She promised to be home by 11 p.m.
“I remember dad sitting there reading the newspaper,” Michael said. “He lowered the paper and looked at her. ‘Eleven p.m.? That’s a little late, make sure you’re on time,’ he told her.”
Janet agreed and, before she left, stopped into her mother’s room to give her a kiss. Janet’s mother was sleeping so she kissed her and left. What Janet didn’t know is that she wasn’t going to the restaurant.
“She had no idea she wasn’t really going for a Coke,” Michael said. “Her boyfriend and his buddy had already decided to take the girls to an old graveyard that was out in the sticks.”
The weather that October day had turned cold and, although Janet was dressed for a restaurant, she wasn’t dressed to walk around a graveyard.
“She told me later the weather was really unseasonably cold for Indiana at that time of the year,” Michael said. “She was wearing flats with no socks and blue jeans. Her jacket was not thick and she said she had a lightweight top on under her flimsy jacket.”
The boys took the girls about 15 miles from their hometown to a spot called New Palestine.
“In those days, New Palestine was nothing but old farms, corn fields, fence rows, barns and the occasional small family graveyard surrounded by an old iron fence with an iron gate,” Michael said.
Janet’s boyfriend, Dennis, pulled his car off the old country road and the four got out and headed to the graveyard. Dennis’ flashlight did little to light up the night that sat under a canopy of dark clouds.
“Janet was freezing and the wind was whipping pretty good; she estimated the temp had dropped into the low 40s,” Michael said. “She remembered that it started to drizzle but later turned into a steady sleet.”
As the teens wandered through the graveyard, they noticed age had all but erased the names and dates from the ancient gravestones. Most of the stones they could read dated to the mid-to-late 1800s; many were headstones for children.
Then they realized they were not alone.
“All of a sudden Janet heard the approach of someone on horseback,” Michael said. “All the kids stood motionless as a man on a horse came over the hill on the road and passed by them. He wore a long black rain slicker and a cowboy hat. Janet said the hat was tilted down and you could not see his face.”
Dennis said to the man, “Don’t mind us, we’re visiting my Aunt Alma.” The rider did not acknowledge them and rode off until he was out of sight.
“Janet said the rider creeped her girlfriend and her out to the point they both wanted to leave,” Michael said. “She said her feet were freezing and the sleet had turned to a wet snow and her shoes were now soaked.”
Because of the black rider, the dripping cold night, and the fact that it was after 11 p.m., the girls convinced their boyfriends to take them home.
“Janet knew she would be in trouble,” Michael said. “I remember when she walked in the door, she looked at Dad like she was really sorry but he was much more concerned with my mom than to notice she was late.”
Michael’s mother had spiked a fever and was incoherent. Janet went into the room to tell her mother goodnight, and came out with her face drawn from fear.
“She (was) white as a sheet,” Michael said. “She asked Dad, ‘who told you? Who called and told you where we were?’”
Michael’s father was confused.
“My dad said, ‘what are you talking about? Nobody told me anything,’” Michael said. “As it turns out when Janet went to say goodnight to Mom my mom was barely awake. There was a dimly lit table lamp next to mom’s bed. Janet kissed Mom and Mom sat up and grabbed her arm. She said, ‘Janet, what in the world were you doing in that graveyard and why didn’t you wear your boots?’”
The kids treaded lightly after that.
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