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History Snoopin’: Things that bump in the night

As usual, “Doc” Robinson settled into his comfortable chair. The fireplace was crackling with the kind of warmth only an 81-year-old man could understand.

Just a week before Halloween, 1932, it had been a chilly evening with temperatures headed down into the low 30s. He was glad to be back home.

He opened one of his favorite books, hoping to finish another chapter before retiring for the night.

His caretaker was still out visiting friends, as was his custom during the cooler months in Jacksonville.

Dr. James Robinson was alone. He had lost his wife, Matilda, just a year earlier, after 49 years of marriage. Their first two children, Leah and Willie, had died just days apart in October 1890. Their third child, Dorland, committed suicide when she was 25 in 1917.

Matilda never recovered from the tragedy, and to take care of her, in 1921, Dr. Robinson retired from his life as a physician, surgeon, and owner of a Jacksonville drug store.

His was now a lonely life, but he still had hope. “I have a vision of a future home,” he told a friend, “and hope to meet my dear ones when I pass on.”

As the doctor reached the last paragraph of his chapter an ear-splitting crash came from the darkened rooms upstairs. A Halloween ghost?

He leapt from his chair and rushed toward the stairs calling out for his caretaker. There was no sound except the echo of his voice reverberating down the hall.

As he began to climb the stairs he suddenly stopped. He remembered the grisly suicide that had occurred nearby just a few weeks earlier. Thinking the sound he heard could have come from a body falling on the floor, and that an intruder might still be in the house, he decided to leave and get help.

He hurried uptown through the bracing cold and found City Marshal Jim Littell. They returned to the house to investigate.

With a strong flashlight and his six-gun tightly in his grasp, Marshal Littell climbed the dark stairway with Doc Robinson close behind. Reaching the door of the room where the doctor believed the sound had come from, the marshal grabbed the knob and threw the door wide open.

As his bright flashlight swept across the room in a reassuring light, the two men were stunned to see a motionless, strange man, naked and lying face down in the middle of the floor.

This intruder must have been here for a while. The bed was mussed and it appeared that while the man had gotten up and tried to put on a pair of pants, he was stricken somehow and had fallen lifelessly to the floor.

Examining dead bodies was the least favorite part of the marshal’s job. He had seen too many over the years.

There was a strong smell of alcohol as they approached the man. Leaning down, they were shocked and somewhat relieved. The man was breathing — a strained, gasping whistle of a drunken man, but breathing.

Doc Robinson smiled and shook his head in relief. Obviously the man woke up not knowing where he was and, in a drunken stupor, had climbed out of bed and struggled to get his legs into his pants. It was the man’s heavy, headlong fall to the floor that led to the deafening crash that had scared the poor doctor out of his wits.

“Doc Robinson was initiated into the Halloween spirit this week,” said a Jacksonville reporter, “and visited with a haunt.”

Later, they learned the man was a friend of Doctor Robinson’s caretaker, who discovered the man filled to the brim with mountain dew of the alcoholic kind. He decided the best way to sober the man up was to put him to bed for a few hours, confident he would sleep it off until morning.

Not sure who got the Halloween treat, but in this story, it appears it certainly was Dr. Robinson who got the trick.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.