Watoga Park Foundation
With Halloween on the horizon, I found myself grappling with a moral quandary. So, I decided to ask Delbert, my friend up in Mudwallow, Ohio, for advice. Now, I know what you are thinking, “Who in their right mind would ask Delbert’s opinion on anything, let alone a moral issue.” And you would be overwhelmingly correct in that assertion, however, there is a method to my madness.
On those occasions when I do seek advice from Delbert, it is not for his infinite wisdom. You see, I use Delbert’s opinion on darn near everything as a counterpoint to the decision that I should be making.
As an example: If I was in a position to choose between two disparate candidates for president, I would ask Delbert who he plans to vote for. I can then choose the opposite candidate with the greatest of confidence that I am making the correct choice. Given two options, Delbert rarely chooses the correct one.
Remember, Delbert believes that the Moon Landing was fake and Knott’s Landing was real.
The following are the facts behind my moral dilemma:
Records about Watoga State Park, dating back to the 1930s, were found in an old CCC building this summer. It was a treasure trove of information about the park’s history. There were architectural blueprints, photos and boxes on top of boxes containing files relating to everything that has transpired at Watoga State Park since its grand opening in 1937.
I was helping bring these fragile items out for permanent storage when I came across an odd metal box that had been secreted behind some old cabin furniture. After wresting it out, my eyes went directly to the label on the rusty box: “Visitor reports of a ghost in Jesse’s Cove.”
I knew that I was not authorized to open this box, and I knew that it was wrong to do so. But I could not help myself. I carried the box into a nearby room with feeble light coming through a row of dusty windows.
There was just enough light to see that the box contained dozens of eyewitness reports of a ghostly figure up in Jesse’s Cove. Clearly this file box was not part of the CCC caché.
The reports dated back to 1939 and continued right up until, well, quite recently.
It was becoming clear that there was an organized effort on the part of every park superintendent that ever served at Watoga, to cover up these sightings.
And that is where the moral dilemma comes in – does the public have the right to know if a trail is haunted? And, if so, should I be a whistleblower about the whole scandalous affair?
These are the questions that I recently posed to Delbert. His immediate response seemed somewhat measured, “So this makes you kind of like that Edgar Snowman guy, right?” Delbert said.
Forcing back a laugh I replied, “You mean Edward Snowden, don’t you?”
Delbert said, “Leave it up to you to point out a little flaw that nobody else would notice.”
“I think most people would notice that little flaw Delbert,” I said.
He ignored that and went on, “Well, anyway you would have to live in Russia to keep from going to jail.”
“I hope not,” I countered, “I don’t like stroganoff.”
“You won’t have to worry about that because they killed the whole family during the Russian Revolution,” Delbert remarked.
At that, I thanked Delbert for his input, hung up, and considered my options.
I must admit that I fear going public with this spectral cover-up may have some negative ramifications for me. The current park superintendent, who must surely be part of the cover-up, might ban me from the park.
If that happened where would I get the material for this bombastic weekly column?
As for my decision?
Well, if you are reading this dispatch then I decided to speak out on the existence of a Ghost in Jesse’s Cove, and I may currently reside in Moscow. Not that you should fear this particular ghost. In fact, don’t think of a malevolent ghost, think of Casper the Friendly Ghost.
The names of all of the trails at Watoga State Park have a history that is well-known, except Jesse’s Cove. I have been asked many times about how that trail got its name – who was Jesse? Even one retired park employee, with more than 50 years of service at Watoga, wasn’t really sure. He told me he thought that it was named after a favorite dog of a former park superintendent who improved the trail.
Not so it seems.
That former superintendent, now living on the beautiful shores of Crater Lake in Oregon, will not go on record as to the source of the trail’s name. He wouldn’t confirm that it has anything to do with sightings of a certain ghost, nor did he deny it. That was my cue to dig deeper.
I knew then that I had to visit one of the aging “Back to Earthers” who lives in a cabin up in the Lobelia area, at the very end of a nearly-vertical dirt road.
We’ll call him “Steep Throat” to protect his identity.
Although I showed up unannounced, Steep agreed to speak to me.
Steep is the proverbial guru sitting cross-legged on the top of a mountain awaiting seekers of knowledge.
How a man who lives without a telephone or internet knows so much about the affairs of Pocahontas County, is beyond me. But if you want to know something that is happening now, or 80 years ago, he is the man to see.
Over steaming mugs of chaga and rosehip tea, he told me what he knows about the ghost of Jesse’s Cove and why he thinks that park officials have been hiding the sightings. Among the many jobs and careers that have come Steep’s way, he served a nine-year stint at the park where he worked on the maintenance crew.
When I brought up the file box that I had found in the old CCC building, he told me that it was kept in the ice house when he worked there. He said he had read most of the reports and can verify that the ghost was always seen somewhere along the length of Jesse’s Cove Trail from the Workman cabin down to the mouth of Rock Run.
Steep said that there was one common element in all of the reports. The ghost is described as a young man wearing work fatigues, a broad-brimmed hat, and high lace-up boots. The sightings, without exception, happen just before the hiker encounters a rattlesnake, rockslide, a tree falling on the trail or other imminent hazard. The specter is always described as holding up his hand as if to warn the hiker of the impending danger.
He said that most of the employees at the park knew about the ghost. It was a common belief that the park superintendents felt that if it got out that there was a ghost in the park, the number of visitors would drop. Steep said that he thought it would probably bring more people to the park. (Guess we’ll know when this trail report gets published.)
Before I left, I asked Steep if he had any pet theories about the ghost. He said that indeed he did and that it had to do with an accident that took place at the old quarry located at the mouth of Rock Run.
It turns out that much of the flagstone you see at the entrance to the Administrative Building and other areas within the park, was quarried by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s at that very location.
He said that there was only one death that took place at Watoga during the construction of the park and that was at the quarry.
According to Steep a CCC worker arriving late to the quarry one morning, walked unaware into the blast area just after the fuse was lit. Another CCC worker ran out from behind his cover to push the late arrival out of the way, saving the man’s life but sacrificing his own. And that was about all Steep could tell me.
One week later.*
I finally received a letter from the government agency that maintains records on the Civilian Conservation Corps, stating that the only recorded fatality was that of a Jesse Cordray, of Buffalo, New York. With some skepticism, I searched for Cordrays in Buffalo, and after a dozen or so dead-end calls, I made contact with a woman who gave me the number of a cousin whose uncle had been in the CCC.
The cousin, Tami Schnel-ling, just happened to be the one member in every family who maintains the family history. She told me that Jesse died well before she was born, but that the family often discussed the fact that they were not surprised that he gave his life to save another. He had saved the life of an ice fisherman who had fallen through the ice on Lake Erie at great risk to his own life – he was only 16 years old at the time.
Evidently, the type of person that Jesse Cordray was in life, he continues to be in death.
If the current superintendent of the park is reading this, I have one thing to say in terms of park visitors, “There’s gold in them there hills.”
Happy Halloween from the mountain trails of Watoga,
*If you believe that the government will return a request for information to you in a single week, then you will have no problem believing every word in this story.