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Present At A Hanging

Scary Books: Present At A Hanging

An old man named Daniel Baker, living near Lebanon, Iowa, was

suspected by his neighbors of having murdered a peddler who had

obtained permission to pass the night at his house. This was in

1853, when peddling was more common in the Western country than it

is now, and was attended with considerable danger. The peddler with

his pack traversed the country by all manner of lonely roads, and

was compelled to rely upon th
country people for hospitality. This

brought him into relation with queer characters, some of whom were

not altogether scrupulous in their methods of making a living,

murder being an acceptable means to that end. It occasionally

occurred that a peddler with diminished pack and swollen purse would

be traced to the lonely dwelling of some rough character and never

could be traced beyond. This was so in the case of "old man Baker,"

as he was always called. (Such names are given in the western

"settlements" only to elderly persons who are not esteemed; to the

general disrepute of social unworth is affixed the special reproach

of age.) A peddler came to his house and none went away--that is

all that anybody knew.

Seven years later the Rev. Mr. Cummings, a Baptist minister well

known in that part of the country, was driving by Baker's farm one

night. It was not very dark: there was a bit of moon somewhere

above the light veil of mist that lay along the earth. Mr.

Cummings, who was at all times a cheerful person, was whistling a

tune, which he would occasionally interrupt to speak a word of

friendly encouragement to his horse. As he came to a little bridge

across a dry ravine he saw the figure of a man standing upon it,

clearly outlined against the gray background of a misty forest. The

man had something strapped on his back and carried a heavy stick--

obviously an itinerant peddler. His attitude had in it a suggestion

of abstraction, like that of a sleepwalker. Mr. Cummings reined in

his horse when he arrived in front of him, gave him a pleasant

salutation and invited him to a seat in the vehicle--"if you are

going my way," he added. The man raised his head, looked him full

in the face, but neither answered nor made any further movement.

The minister, with good-natured persistence, repeated his

invitation. At this the man threw his right hand forward from his

side and pointed downward as he stood on the extreme edge of the

bridge. Mr. Cummings looked past him, over into the ravine, saw

nothing unusual and withdrew his eyes to address the man again. He

had disappeared. The horse, which all this time had been uncommonly

restless, gave at the same moment a snort of terror and started to

run away. Before he had regained control of the animal the minister

was at the crest of the hill a hundred yards along. He looked back

and saw the figure again, at the same place and in the same attitude

as when he had first observed it. Then for the first time he was

conscious of a sense of the supernatural and drove home as rapidly

as his willing horse would go.

On arriving at home he related his adventure to his family, and

early the next morning, accompanied by two neighbors, John White

Corwell and Abner Raiser, returned to the spot. They found the body

of old man Baker hanging by the neck from one of the beams of the

bridge, immediately beneath the spot where the apparition had stood.

A thick coating of dust, slightly dampened by the mist, covered the

floor of the bridge, but the only footprints were those of Mr.

Cummings' horse.

In taking down the body the men disturbed the loose, friable earth

of the slope below it, disclosing human bones already nearly

uncovered by the action of water and frost. They were identified as

those of the lost peddler. At the double inquest the coroner's jury

found that Daniel Baker died by his own hand while suffering from

temporary insanity, and that Samuel Morritz was murdered by some

person or persons to the jury unknown.