‘It’s awful hard to scare a fearless man’Published 8:59pm Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Another ghost story often told by Scout Executive Lawrence L. Stanley during Camp Old Indian campfires happened to a member of his family in the mountains of northern Georgia.
Many mountain communities in the early part of the 20th century had a few men who had the reputation of not being afraid of men, beasts or ghosts. It was said that such men never lost their courage in the face of danger, or in the unexpected appearance of ghosts or strange sights or sounds.
One such man, Warren Smith, was a school teacher who labored to educate children of the mountains in a one-room school, which was part of an old, formerly abandoned farm house known as “the Tucker place.”
The house was turned into a church and school for part of the year, but remained empty otherwise. Through the former years of abandonment, some folks had considered the house and adjacent family cemetery to be “hainted,” even though no one knew for sure what the ghost looked like.
Since Mr. Smith was a strict disciplinarian, most of the students, and many people in the community, felt that he fitted the description of a fearless man. Six young men determined to try him out.
Mr. Smith was fond of visiting the parents of children in his school on fair weather evenings. One of his favorite homes to visit was that of the Kirby family, since he and Mr. Kirby had lively discussions, which would continue until past bedtime for most mountain families.
The six young men knew Mr. Smith’s habits well. The next time he visited the Kirby home on a moonlit night, they passed the word that the stretch of road nearest to the old house and cemetery would be the scene of an attempt to make the fearless teacher run.
To go back to his lodging place, the teacher had to pass the school house and cemetery, where giant trees produced a dense shade even on moonlit nights. People walking along the lonely road had to depend upon the feel of their feet on the hard surface to guide them through the dark shadows of the trees.
To create a ghost that would be in keeping with the stories told about the old house, the young men used a burlap bag, filled with the driest leaves that could be found in the woods. The filled bag was attached to a long rope, which was thrown over the branch of a tree that overhung the road.
The plan was to hide behind the giant trees and wait until the victim was in the right position. Then, the rope would quickly be loosened to bring the bag full of dry leaves into contact with the face of the teacher. They laughed to themselves about what would happen when the bag of leaves would suddenly surprise Mr. Smith. They envisioned his running for dear life.
It is appropriate to say at this point of the story, that Mr. Smith was a great whittler. When he walked alone he usually had a jackknife and a stick in his hands, which he whittled. He also had a habit of whistling hymns as he walked. These habits would make it easy for the ambushing young men to know when their victim was in position.
When the whistling was heard, the ambushers waited for Mr. Smith’s footsteps on the hard road surface. The leader of the gang whispered to the young man holding the rope to let it go.
To their great amazement, the whistling continued without missing a note. The hand with the knife shot up in lightning slashes at the bag of leaves, which was cut to pieces, spilling out all of them. The victim completely ignored the astonished whispers of the ambushing gang.
They told in later years that the teacher did not pause for an instant. The footsteps continued up the road at the same walking pace. The whistling never ceased until the teacher went around a curve and it faded in the distance.
The ambushers stood crestfallen beside the road, with one of them still holding the rope in his hands.
After a long, reflective pause, the leader of the gang spoke: “Grandpa was right. It’s awful hard to scare a fearless man.”