Friday, February 12, 2010

That Night At Mud Pike

They say confession is good for the soul. I hope so, because I’d like to try and purge mine of a demon that’s been hounding me for over forty years.

A lot of fine people attended the Mud Pike EUB Church from its birth in 1876 to its 1966 merger with the Elnora Methodist Church. I think of Mud Pike often, not just because it’s the church my father, Emerson Johnson, and his family attended while he was growing up, but also because so many other Elnora townsfolk knew that venerable old building as their spiritual home.

My first article in the Post was about my part in the “Great Watermelon Caper.” As bad as I felt about the smashed watermelons in the streets of Elnora, an incident at Mud Pike a few summers later has haunted me ever since.

It was a hot Saturday night, probably during 1965. I was home from Purdue, hanging around with the gang at Dick Davis’ filling station located on Highway 57, across from the Midway Café. Suddenly, a car roared into the station’s parking area and the driver, visibly shaken (or putting on a good act), said he and his girlfriend had been “parked” out at Mud Pike when the church bell started ringing for no apparent reason. Scared, they raced into town to tell their story.

I was informed that only a few weeks prior, Mud Pike had ceased having Sunday services and the members had begun attending church “in town.” So, some thought it would be fun to go ghost hunting, but others were apprehensive of checking out the phantom bell ringer. Then, one brave young man said something to the effect that, “I ain’t afraid! Someone drive me out there and I’ll be the first to go in.”

That gave us an idea. Two friends and I decided to go out to Mud Pike first and “get set up” to scare the pants off of the brave young volunteer in question. We shared our plan with a third friend who said he’d drive the boy out later after we’d had a chance to get there.

I rode in my buddy’s new, black, SS396 Chevelle, and another friend drove his T-Bird. We parked out of sight behind the church, tried the back door, and to our surprise, it was unlocked. The three of us went inside, and the church looked like it was ready for Sunday services the next day. The pews were still there and so was the piano.

I even asked if they were sure that the church had been vacated, and my two friends assured me it had been. So, we put our plan into action. I got down behind the piano, and my buddy covered himself with a white blanket that he had in the car. Friend #2 was going to shine a big 3-cell flashlight under the blanket in hopes of creating a ghostly aura as the unsuspecting young man approached the church.

We waited a few minutes, and then we couldn’t believe our eyes. Rather than one or two cars, there was a huge caravan of perhaps 15 – 20 vehicles snaking their way toward us. As the cars parked on the grass in the front of the building, the brave young man stepped out of the car in which he was riding and approached the door of the church.

Then, my buddy who was covered with the blanket raised his outstretched arms, and our other friend switched on the flashlight. At the same time, I started banging on the piano and the “brave one” outside was absolutely scared to death. When everyone realized it was a joke, they all came into the church, laughing and enjoying the moment.

About that time, the church bell began ringing. We were stunned! Some of the guys headed to the belfry and found what we now call a “homeless man” who had taken up residence in the church. He had rung the bell to have some fun of his own, so we laughed all over again, the original mystery having been solved.

Then things all went horribly wrong! In his exuberance, somebody turned over a pew, then another, and another. Someone else threw a chair at one of the big windows, and I can’t remember if the window shattered or not. My two friends and I yelled to try and get them to stop, but they wouldn’t.

About that same time, we saw the unmistakable red lights and heard the siren of a police car as it was screaming toward the church. We all scattered to our cars, me hobbling along as fast as my leg braces and crutches would allow. Because we were the first to park behind the church, we were also the last ones out.

We sped out of the lot and down the dusty, gravel road with the red lights close behind. No matter where we went, the chase wore on. We continued over near Odon and still he came. Because of the dust the Chevelle was kicking up behind, we finally lost sight of the police car in the rear view mirror. My friend then drove to Bloomfield to the “spray it yourself” car wash and after several quarters, we felt the car was clean enough to go home.

By this time, it was nearly midnight and as we arrived back to Elnora so I could pick up my 1956 Dodge and get to my house, there were only two cars parked at the gas station, mine and a state police cruiser.

As I was exiting the passenger’s side of the SS396, the policeman approached my friend and commented on his clean car. They held a brief conversation, but because the officer had apparently not gotten close enough to read the Chevelle’s license plate number, he reluctantly sent us on our way.

I never found out how much damage was done that night at Mud Pike. I’ve prayed to God countless times since, requesting His forgiveness for any part I had in that mess. Now I ask the good citizens of Elnora, past & present, to do the same. I am truly sorry.

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