Thursday, August 22, 2013

The schoolhouse story

Here we go, guys!

As I mentioned yesterday, I was chatting with the door guy, and Ingraham Hill Road came up.

"Do you know the cemetery there?," he asked.

"Sure!," I said.  "I was just there a few weeks ago, checking out the headstones!"

"You know the story about the cemetery, right?  About how it's there for the schoolhouse?," he asked.

"Ermmm, no," I admitted.  "What schoolhouse?"

"That building right up the road from the cemetery," he said.  "The one that's boarded up?"

"Ohhhhhhh!," I said, the light dawning.  That was an old schoolhouse?"

"Yeah, and something awful happened there."  He lowered his voice.  "A long time ago, the schoolteacher locked the doors and set the building on fire.  He killed all of the pupils and himself.  The cemetery was created to bury the bodies."


"Whaaaat?!  How long ago was this?," I asked.  "I've never heard anything about it!"

"Oh, a long time ago," he said.  "Like ... back in the early 1900s.  That's a really spooky neck of the woods," he continued.  "My friends and I used to go up there at night and there was definitely something ... strange.  They say you can see the ghosts of the students in the cemetery.  And one time I heard the school bell ringing in the night."

Sadly, like most good ghost stories, this one did not hold up to scrutiny.

I remembered that there were headstones in the cemetery dating from the 1860s, long before the cemetery was supposedly created for the victims of the fire.  And I didn't remember seeing a large number of headstones of school-aged children, circa early-1900s, at the cemetery.  And I've lived in this town for most of my life - it seemed odd that I'd never heard of this incident before, even if it did take place a century ago.

Time to do some research.

Googling "Ingraham Hill Schoolhouse Tragedy" or "Ingraham Hill School Fire" didn't cough up any info.  I did find a couple of old photos.  This one is dated 1920, and it looks like the building was still in use.

I found some photos of newspaper clippings.  This one says the building hadn't been used for two decades, but there's no date on it:

This photo shows the same distinctive woodwork that I saw the day of my visit:

But there's no mention of a tragedy.  In a local town historical society newsletter, I did find the reminiscences of a woman named Eleanor Maxian Haines of her time at the school:

"As a small child, I lived on Town of Binghamton family farms.  At age 5, in 1930, I started Grove School on the corner of Hawleyton and Maxian Roads.  I walked (really) two miles to school.  With no kindergarten, everyone started in first grade.   One teacher taught 8 grades to 20 students in that one room schoolhouse.  When I was 8, we moved to Ingraham Hill.  There were only 13 students in Ingraham School. My mother, and both her parents, also attended this school.  Usually we went home at noon, but in winter we ate lunch at school. Sometimes a mother would make scalloped potatoes or a kettle of soup. One day a small child brought a mustard sandwich. (Remember, it was the ‘30’s...)
Helen Rockwell taught the eight grades.  There were no teacher aides.  Mornings Mr. Kelly, who lived next door, carried in a drinking water pail. When cold weather came, he built a wood fire in the big heatrola stove.  An addition at the back of the classroom held the toilets.   Rural schools did not have flush toilets, nor did farm houses where outside toilets were called outhouses."

Isn't that fascinating?  Thank you, Ms. Haines, for your recollections.

At this point, I'm fairly certain that the schoolhouse tragedy never occurred and is, instead, an urban legend.  Well, okay, a RURAL legend.  While there is some charring of the wood over the boarded-up front entrance, there is no evidence of a catastrophic fire.  And it seems like if a tragedy HAD occurred there, the town would have torn the building down at some point.  Add to that the lack of relevant headstones in the cemetery and no mention of it in any local archives, and, well, the story just doesn't hold up.  Which is a good thing, right?  Nobody wants to think of such things happening.

But I'm sure the story of the Schoolhouse Tragedy will live on in the overactive imaginations of local schoolkids.  Along with the story of the guy with hook for a hand who stalks Lover's Lane, and the ghostly hitchhiker on Dead Man's Curve, and all the others.

Now I'm ready for a campfire to tell stories around.  Got any good ones?


Anonymous said...

Shoot! It is a good story, though...

rockygrace said...

Oh my gosh, anon - and now I've got a better story - I took my brother up there today and we got run off the property for trespassing ... holy cow! My brother and me, the outlaws of the family.