The story so far:
The day turned into one of those fine North Carolina fall days – warm in the sun with a chilly breeze. The kind of day where you wanted to be outside, as long as you could stay out of the wind. The smell of wet fallen leaves lingered pleasantly in the nooks and crannies of my front porch. It was almost enough to send me reeling back to my youth, when we'd pile up the leaves and jump in before Dad could burn them off. I still held resentment to the Cornelius town Fathers for banning leaf burning. Halloween just didn't seem the same without that sweet-tang burnt leaf smell all over everything.
Harold, the postman, was just coming up my walkway. I greeted him as usual and then asked him about the dark preacher. He said he hadn't seen anyone fitting that description wandering about. We chatted about this and that and he hurried on to his next stop.
Several things kept sticking in my craw about that dark preacher. First, Denver, North Carolina was all the hell the way across Lake Norman from here. It once was a little town known as “Dry Pond”. In the 1800's, it renamed itself “Denver” in hopes of attracting the railroad. At that time, the Denver in what later became the state of Colorado was a boomtown. I guess they figured on fooling the railroad into thinking they were a boomtown, too. My ancestors were, sadly, among those rather backwoods farmers. I like to think we've improved the breed.
Second, there isn't really anything “a few miles south of Denver”. The North Carolina version, anyway.
Thirdly, the phrase “high gloss boots, black shirt buttoned down” kept zinging through my head. There was a song somewhere in my past like that and the faintest shred of a tune kept bouncing around in my head. Enough to give me a headache.
My sister called around 1 pm to wish me an early happy Halloween, since she was headed out on a business trip. I mentioned the dark preacher and how much he disturbed me. I also asked her about the “high gloss boots” lyrics. She laughed and said yes, I knew those. She sang part of a song our Grandad had taught us one summer. It was supposed to be a family song – handed down the generations – about the Revolutionary War battle fought near here at Cowan's Ford.
“Angus MacSwain was a preacher man,
Fought against the British Crown.
With a scream in his throat and fire in his eyes,
To Cowan's Ford he was bound.
High gloss boots, black shirt buttoned down,
And he left his Bible home.
He killed many men to avenge his son,
But now in Hell he roams.”
This was a song that went with a family story told around this time of year. It was about this Preacher who races to the site where his son was killed in the Battle Of Cowan's Ford on February 1st of 1781. All he has is a sword. It is near sun-down and he surprises the Redcoats by running his horse full-speed into their camp, sword swinging. Supposedly, the battle had five thousand British against nine hundred Patriots. By the time old Angus arrived, there were still over 4,500 British there. He ran through the pickets and into the thick of the camp, slicing off heads of unprepared Redcoats. Legend says he got about 25 of them before he was shot off his horse. Before dying, he cursed the British General, Cornwallis, and said that Cornwallis would “suffer in defeat and shame, surrendering without honor”. The fact is that the curse worked – Cornwallis did surrender shamefully at Yorktown on October 19th, 1781.
Supposedly, the ghost of Angus MacSwain still roams around the Lake Norman area, looking for British Redcoats, slicing off random heads and moaning and scaring folks. At Cowan's Ford, they even have a costume contest to see who can look most like Angus MacSwain.
The more I thought about it, the more confused I got. Was this dark Preacher some wacko who thought it'd be funny to dress up as MacSwain and casually visit complete strangers? Worse, I got the heebie-jeebies thinking about his eyes – how he'd be looking one place and, without sliding his eyes, suddenly looking somewhere else. I was creeped out enough to miss my afternoon nap. I had a book somewhere in my library with a woodcut portrait of Angus MacSwain.
I decided to go looking for a ghost.