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Scary tales, can come true, it can happen to you

When I was an urchin, Jacksonville was a haunted hamlet where ghosts fluttered freely about like leaves in a brisk October wind.

I never saw one but I knew they were there. Proof positive was the skull on display in the Jacksonville museum. A bullet hole in its forehead succinctly told the deadly tale.

This was in the late 1950s before common decency prevailed when it came to the public display of human bones. Indeed, the skull was removed long ago.

I like to think it was reunited with the skeletal remains to which it was once attached. RIP.

All I know was that the whole place scared the bejabbers out of me.

The Jacksonville visit I have in mind came during Oregon's statehood centennial in 1959. Our parents had brought all five of us siblings — all older than me except for my twin — from our extremely humble abode in Kerby to Jacksonville that year.

I was a wide-eyed child of 8 terrified of anything that went bump in the night. Not that I was all that brave during the day.

The two communities loomed large in my childhood imagination of ghostly haunts.

In truth, Jacksonville and Kerby have much in common. Both grew out of gold discoveries in the early 1850s.

Both were their respective county seats back in the day.

And both have tales of murder and mayhem, some of which may even be true.

Of course, Jacksonville withstood the past 160 years much better than the town once called Kerbyville. The former is now a popular place to visit in Oregon while the latter is but a skeleton of its colorful past.

But ghosts and their assorted flesh-eating cousins — largely werewolves and vampires with an odd zombie or two — inhabited both communities in my young mind.

In Jacksonville, in addition to the grisly, grinning skull, there was the frightening cemetery where my great-uncle Jacob Fattig has been moldering in his grave since March 16, 1921. My grandfather's brother took up permanent residency at the cemetery when he was 69.

You're right. He is probably long since past the moldering state. Ditto for John Brown's body, for that matter.

However, this being Halloween weekend, we'll let Uncle Jacob molder a bit more in the interest of creepiness.

As a child, I found the old cemetery scary even on a sunny day. Never mind that sun drove any self-respecting phantom or specter into the dark shadows like a bat fleeing the morning light.

The cemetery gave me the heebie jeebies. There were the weathered tombstones, the slightly sunken graves and gnarly limbs waiting to reach out from the oak trees to nab little kids when their parents looked away for a second.

And you knew that ghastly creatures materialized in the darkness the moment the lights went out in those old buildings. God knows what kind of fiend lurked in the old courthouse containing the museum come nightfall.

Over in Kerby, fewer haunted houses withstood the wrath of time but they shared the same common denominator. Each was the site of a murder most foul.

The museum skull notwithstanding, guns were seldom the choice of weapons. These murderers preferred hands-on work. Most were done by professional ax murderers, although in a pinch they would sometimes contract a job out to an ice pick devotee or perhaps an out-of-work strangler.

You knew this was all true because another kid, usually a little older, solemnly told you all about it. Strangely enough, he never knew the names of the murderer or his victim.

Or victims, as was usually the case.

"It happened a long time ago," he assured you.

Each Halloween weekend a carnival was held at the old Kerby Elementary School. The highlight was invariably the Haunted House in the boy's locker room, where you were made to stick your hand in a bowl of cold, wet noodles. I can still hear my screams.

But it wasn't half as scary as the nearly mile-long walk home afterwards to our little house north of Kerby.

Actually, it was a run-walk. You ran past the haunted houses whose numbers increased exponentially each Halloween.

However, to maintain what passed as decorum in Kerby, you did not run when car lights approached. You walked nonchalantly, demonstrating your bravery in the face of death.

But as soon as the car passed, you beat feet down the center of the road.

Every little kid knew instinctively you only had to outrun the slowest member in your party. It's a known fact that ghoulish monsters always feed on the slowest kid, probably because they aren't as stringy as the faster runners.

Fortunately, I was fleet of foot and therefore very, very stringy.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.