Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
I grew up in a small town in the Midwest. Now when I say that it’s a small town, I mean other people from my state have never even heard of it. That being said, for such a small town it actually has a pretty dark history.
In 1927, my home town was a small village with a population of just over 300 people. The largest employer in the area, the MacMillan Textile Factory, had been built in 1922. The location was ideal because of all the available land and the town’s close proximity to the state Capital. By 1927 the factory employed 314 people from the surrounding area. May 25th 1927 started early just like every other day and the workers looked forward to the start of a productive summer, but at 8:45 am the North wing of the building exploded.
Shortly after the explosion, a man named Arthur Rentschler, a disgruntled former employee, arrived on scene. He had loaded down his pickup with dynamite and scrap pieces of metal from his farm. Eyewitnesses said he stepped out of the truck holding a rifle. When the floor manager approached him, he fired into the bed of the truck which caused the dynamite to detonate. The explosion of the truck killed Rentschler, the manager and a few other bystanders.
The fire department found another 500 pounds of un-exploded dynamite rigged up in the basement of the building and discovered that Rentschler had killed his wife and burned down his home. Investigators also discovered a sign on the property that read “Criminals are made, not born.” In the following weeks of investigation, witnesses came forward making claims that Rentschler had been complaining about a recent tax spike in order to pay for the new area school, and it was further discovered that his farm was in foreclosure. Investigators speculate that the combination of him losing his job and the tax increase may have been the catalyst for the bombing.
When all was said and done 44 people lost their lives. The news covered the bombing heavily and, in the weekend following the attack some 50,000 people drove through the town just trying to catch a peak of the carnage. Unfortunately, the story rapidly fell to the wayside due to Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight that took place 2 days later. As quickly as it happened, the tragedy, and its victims were forgotten.
But they don’t want to be forgotten, they want us all to remember, and on a balmy summer night in 2008 I learned not to forget.
It was the summer before my Senior year and I had been staying at my friend Mike’s house for the better part of a week. One night after what felt like our 1000th match of Halo 3, I was video-gamed out. I took off my headset, set the controller down, and looked at Mike. He was furiously rubbing his eyes, which, if they felt anything like mine, were on fire. “Do… do you wanna go outside for a little bit?” I asked.
“Dude, I thought you’d never ask,” Mike replied with a grin. “It’s like 2 AM, though. Where are we gonna go?”
“I really don’t care, I just can’t look at the TV anymore right now.”
We decided to take a walk through town, neither of us planned on doing anything nefarious but we both agreed that we needed some fresh air. As we walked down the dirt road Mike lived on we laughed and talked about girls, cars, the rapidly approaching football season, and all the types of things you’d expect from 2 high school seniors.
We walked past the high school, the town’s only gas station, and then down main street. As we walked in front of our small town’s only bar a few girls that had graduated our freshman year stumbled out into the street. Mike and I tried our hardest to talk a big game and impress these girls, but just as you’d imagine, neither of them could have cared any less.
Sure that we’d just ruined our only chance of any entertainment for the night, we decided to head back to his house. Our return route had us walking past the site of the old MacMillan factory and then eventually would put us in front of the town’s small cemetery. As we walked in front of the old factory grounds that had since been converted to a small park, Mike spoke.
“Why do you think he did it?” Mike asked, suddenly breaking the silence.
I turned to look at him. “Why who did what?”
“Rentschler. Why do you think he blew up the factory?”
“You know the story just as well as I do. He was pissed about losing his job and his farm, pretty straightforward, dude.”
“No way. There had to be more to it than that, people lose their jobs every day. If I had to guess, it was demonic possession, or maybe he was just insane,” Mike said matter-of-factly.
I didn’t really believe that demons had a hand in the disaster, but I felt a chill run down my back anyway. I looked ahead, saw that we were quickly approaching the town’s small cemetery, and felt that chill intensify. Most of the victims had been buried in that cemetery before their families packed up and left town and with the way our conversation had turned, I wanted to be as far away from it as possible.
“Let’s cut through the cemetery,” Mike said. “It’ll cut our walk in half if we go through it.”
I turned quickly to look at Mike. “Are you insane? I’m not walking through a grave yard at 3 in the morning.”
That’s when Mike said it, the one sentence that will convince a 17-year-old boy to do just about anything. “Don’t be such a pussy, dude!”
I groaned and said “Dammit, okay, let’s do this.”
Mike grinned at me before taking a large exaggerated step off the main road and into the cemetery. I quickly followed suit and soon we found ourselves deep in the cemetery. The cemetery itself is laid out like a giant sideways H and as such is near impossible to get lost in. Or, so I thought.
As we walked, I began to notice that the area was completely devoid of sound, save for our feet scraping on concrete. Our ears should have been being assaulted by the sound of crickets and spring peepers but instead we were completely engulfed in silence. I turned back to look at the main road we had entered from. It looked impossibly far away, much further than it should have. I turned back to Mike. “Hey, shouldn’t we have hit the turn yet?”
“I thought so. Maybe the dark is just throwing us off. Let’s keep going. We’ll either find the turn or hit the wood line.
We walked for another few minutes when I thought I saw a light moving ahead of us. I strained my eyes in the dark trying to figure out what I was seeing. “Do you see that light up there?” I asked in a hushed whisper.
Mike stopped and looked ahead. “I think so. It kinda looks like a flashlight?”
“Yea, that’s it. Is someone really out there in the woods?”
“It’s probably a ghost light,” Mike said with a shrug. “Just stay on the path and we’ll be fine.”
“What the shit? A ghost light? What are you talking about?” I asked. I stopped and waited for Mike to face me. “What the hell is a ghost light?”
Mike stopped and turned to face me, he now stood between me and the tree line and I could only make out the light if I leaned left or right.
“There’s a few different versions of the story, but the one I’ve heard the most is that the lights show up as a way to lead you off the trail or pathway in a cemetery. Once you’ve stepped off the trail, you’re in their domain,” he said as he gestured to the tombstones on either side of us. “Sometimes the lights lead you to bodies, sometimes to some kind of treasure, and other times the lights will lead you to your death.”
I shivered and swallowed hard. I leaned a little to the right and saw that the light looked closer, or at least bigger. I looked back at Mike. “Let’s get the hell out of here. It looks like that light is getting closer.”
Mike turned to look at the light. We both gasped when we realized that not only was the light closer than when we originally saw it, but it was moving straight towards us and picking up speed. I tried to run but I felt like I was cemented to the ground. The light moved in a straight line. It didn’t bounce or move like someone carrying a flashlight; it just shot straight at us. Mike grabbed my arm and snapped me out of my trance as he ran by. “Fucking run!”
I turned and started to run and soon realized that I had stepped off the path and was now sprinting parallel to the road between the tombstones. I looked to my left and saw that Mike was running in the same direction a few rows of tombstones from me.
“Mike! Run to the road!” I screamed out. Mike acknowledged me by changing direction mid-stride but suddenly he dropped. “Mike!” I yelled as I changed direction and charged towards my friend. As I approached where he had gone down, I saw him holding the right side of his face and frantically scrambling to his feet.
“Leave me dude, just go!” he panted.
“No way, come on!” I yelled as a bright light was beginning to fall all around us. I threw his arm over my shoulder and half-ran, half-carried him a few more yards before my foot caught the corner of a low headstone. Mike grunted loudly as we crashed into the damp grass. I frantically rolled over and covered my face. The light had become so blindingly bright I could no longer keep my eyes open. I felt my body tense up as the light washed over us and then… nothing. I felt nothing.
I had yet to open my eyes, but I could feel my feet planted firmly on the ground. I slowly opened my eyes and looked around. To my right Mike was doing the same. “Umm, what the fuck was that?” Mike asked.
I scanned around and realized that we were back at the front of the cemetery. I looked over at Mike who was no longer bleeding from his face, before looking down at my watch. It read 5:30 AM. Somehow two and a half hours had passed from when we had originally entered the cemetery.
“I… I don’t know, man, I think we just got chased by a ghost. I mean, I didn’t make that up… right?”
Mike shook his head. “No, that definitely just hap–”
I followed Mike’s gaze and gasped when I noticed a man in denim coveralls standing next to the closest tombstone. The man had an almost disgusted look on his face. What felt like an eternity passed as we stared at one another. Finally, the man spoke. “Why have you forgotten us? Why has everyone forgotten us?” Behind the man I saw silhouettes materializing and moving closer to us. “Please, tell our story, don’t let them forget,” the man said as he began to fade from view. One by one the silhouettes behind him faded as well, and before long Mike and I were left standing there, mouths agape.
Mike, clearly the braver of the two of us, walked back into the cemetery and looked down at the tombstone the man had been standing next too. “Robert Ames, Born September 9th, 1897. Died May 25th 19… 27,” Mike read slowly, before looking up at me. Even in the dark I could see that the color had drained from his face, and he quickly rejoined me on the road.
Neither of us spoke of the incident for months. Both of us avoided the cemetery like the plague. That is, until community day. The week before homecoming the football team “adopted” the cemetery for community day and we were expected to go as a team to clean up head stones and pick up trash. There was no real way to get out of it, so Mike and I begrudgingly went. The day went surprisingly smoothly, and I had nearly forgotten about the ghost lights and apparitions until I moved near where Mr. Ames was buried. I didn’t see anything or anyone, but I swear I heard a voice whisper, “Remember us.”
It’s been almost a decade since we saw the ghost lights, but everywhere I go I make sure to tell the story of the MacMillan Textile Factory. A tragedy like that should never be forgotten, and neither should the innocent people that lost their lives.