We are now officially in the month of August! In my part of Appalachia, the summer heat has started to lessen significantly. Cooler nights and the quickly approaching school year instantly put me into fall mode—and with fall comes the best time of the year—HALLOWEEN! This time of the year naturally lends itself to the sharing of spooky stories. So, let’s take a moment to talk about a good old-fashioned ghost story, shall we?
If you have been keeping up with earlier posts, you know that I tend to favor stories that have the potential to be verified, at least in some part. (Recall the ghost of Elizabeth Leyda who still haunts my mother’s childhood home?) It adds to the creepiness. When a ghostly visitor is given an identity, they seem a bit less otherworldly and therefore relatable. Also, by having a name, we can better remember the story behind a haunting. Sometimes ghosts are memorable for their appearance, like headless apparitions, for example. However, when stories align that give me, the reader, a headless ghost with a name…and that name can be verified…I am sold!
This was the case with a ghost (sans head and arms) that haunted the area near the old Vulcan Iron Works in St. Louis, Missouri. The apparition caused quite a ruckus with its antics, and, due to the timing of its appearance, was speculated to be the spirit of the recently deceased Samuel Barlow. Barlow was an elderly man who had committed suicide in the neighborhood just a couple of weeks prior. A well-known man in the area, Mr. Barlow was no stranger to misfortune, according to reports, and had long suffered with a painful illness. He had been in such a dire state both physically and emotionally that this was his second attempt on his life. News of his death was certainly upsetting, but it was not surprising.
Due to the recent tragedy, when a headless, armless specter appeared shortly after Barlow’s death, locals saw fit to attribute its manifestation to him. The spirit attracted much attention with stories of taunting a local fireman and night watchman, allowing the men to come no closer than 10-12 feet no matter how far they pursued it. Barlow’s ghost appeared before a local widow as well, and she was so frightened that she considered moving out of the area. Many others saw the spirit, verifying that it was more than just a couple of people witnessing the activity. Some even attempted to shoot at the ghost, only to see their bullets pass through it as if it were a cloud. Others still saw a mass of vibrant spook lights emanating from an abandoned house. The light display was so impressive that reports likened it to a midnight revelry.
According to newspaper records, this particular neighborhood had an exciting few weeks leading up to the ghost making its appearance. A few days prior to Samuel Barlow committing suicide, a large storing facility burned in the early morning hours. Due to the hundreds of thousands of bushels of grain inside that were lost, in addition to the cost of the building itself, it was estimated the financial loss was somewhere between $500,000-$800,000. The morning before Barlow took his own life, he
spent hours at the river looking over the ruins from the fire.
All of the excitement during this time and the news coverage of the fire, suicide, and subsequent hauntings did not sit well with some people, however. The day after the story was published asserting that the ghost at the Iron Works was that of Samuel Barlow, his son-in-law made sure to write to the paper in order to share his ‘indignation.’ The newspaper responded by printing a single line to acknowledge that they were aware of his frustration, but they did not retract anything.
Perhaps this goes a bit into the territory of “once a story sounds good, the facts don’t matter so much.” (Or, for my fellow D&D nerds out there: once the DM says it, it’s canon.) However, one thing is for certain, unless you were a diving down a genealogy rabbit hole and happened to run into Mr. Samuel Barlow, his name would most likely be lost to time if it weren’t for a handful of spooky nights that stirred up enough excitement to be recorded well over 100 years ago (and, now, shared with all of you!).
So, here’s to spooky stories being passed down whenever possible!
Until next time,
“Nearly a Million.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 22 Jan. 1893, p. 2.
“Samuel Barlow’s Suicide.” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 24 Jan. 1893, p. 11.
“It Visits the Vulcan.” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 10 Feb. 1893, p. 11.
“Carondelet Jottings.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11 Feb. 1893, p. 3.