Sunday, October 31, 2004


Ghost Stories

Father Jim Tucker links to an Associated Press story by Jeff Douglas on Yahoo about the ghost of Henry David Jardine, an Episcopal priest from St. Mary's in Kansas City who supposedly still haunts his church. Since Yahoo news links don't survive long in cyberspace, here are excerpts:
As the legend goes, St. Mary's Episcopal Church is haunted by the ghost of Father Henry David Jardine, a 19th century priest whose footsteps still echo throughout the Gothic-style sanctuary.

St. Mary's yesterday tried to separate fact from fiction by bringing together the ghostly tales and historical documents about Jardine's life, which has been shrouded for years in mystery and intrigue.

"He is quite a legend. And sometimes it's hard to know what to believe," said Todd Chenault, the unofficial church historian who organized the $45-a-plate dinner. The event featured fake fog and music from the church's 30-foot organ.

Chenault, 45, who has gone to St. Mary's all his life, remembers trading spooky stories about Jardine with his fellow Sunday school students in the 1960s. As an adult, however, he has worked to learn the true story about the priest.

Rumor has it that Jardine killed himself in the church's third-story living area and was buried in a basement vault. Not true, Chenault said.

Old newspaper clippings show Jardine died in 1886 in St. Louis, not Kansas City. St. Mary's does have a tomb, but the downtown parish that Jardine commissioned was not finished until months after his death. The stigma of suicide kept him from ever resting in the crypt, which instead holds boxes of cereal and canned goods for the needy.

On more than one occasion, Chenault says, he has heard footsteps shuffling from behind the organ. When he was a child, Christmas trees fell off ledges near the instrument for no reason, year after year.

"Have I heard things? Yes, plenty of times," Chenault said. "Have I seen any ghosts? No, never."


Betty Herndon, who will help lead the Saturday event billed as "The Historic Haunting," said many church members during Jardine's time praised his emphasis on old Roman Catholic ways, but others were not as accepting. Influential members spread rumors, hoping for his resignation, Herndon said.

Jardine also was accused of misusing parish funds, drug use and immoral behavior with young church girls. The scandal prompted the priest to file a libel suit against a former editor of The Kansas City Times, John Shea. Jardine lost the case.

"It was a kangaroo court; witnesses made outrageous claims with no evidence. You name it," said Chenault, who said he reviewed court documents from the lawsuit.

Jardine then traveled to St. Louis, where his priesthood was revoked. Days before he was scheduled to contest the decision, he was found dead. In his hands, according to newspaper accounts, were a crucifix and rag soaked in chloroform.

Herndon said Jardine commonly inhaled the toxic drug to ease facial muscle spasms, so his death might have been accidental. He said few believed Jardine committed suicide or the allegations that came before. Arriving by train, Jardine's casket was covered in black cloth and his congregation came to view it.

"The scene was sorrowful, even to a stranger," The Kansas City Times reported.

Church archives show St. Mary's buried the priest a day later on unconsecrated ground for $88. The funeral precession stretched for more than a mile.

Over the past 100 years Jardine's remains have been exhumed and moved three times, most recently in 2000 to return his remains to St. Mary's. His ashes rest by the organ, under the church's high altar.
I grew up attending St. Joseph's Catholic Church on Holyoke Street in Brewer, Maine. The church building has since been sold to the Episcopalians and the rectory was for a while a bed-and-breakfast inn, but there are reports that the ghost of our parish priest, Father Thomas H. Moriarty, who died in 1969, is not at rest. I was one of Father Moriarty's altar boys, and so chapter 6 of Thomas A. Verde's book Maine Ghosts and Legends (Camden: Downeast Books, 1989), entitled The Lingering Ghost of Father Moriarty (pp. 35-40), has a special interest for me. Much of the chapter is devoted to ghostly manifestations at the rectory, including "pacing back and forth, such as a priest does when saying his breviary, or daily office" (pp. 37-38), but the final incident takes place outdoors, in broad daylight (pp. 39-40):
Not long ago, a new family moved into Brewer. The wife was outside in her yard washing the windows of her new home when she noticed a priest walking across the lawn to greet her. He introduced himself and then asked whether she and her family were Catholic.

"Yes," she replied. "Yes, we are."

"Then why," thundered the priest, "haven't I seen you down at church?"

The woman apologized, saything that with all the chaos of moving in she hadn't had the time. The priest made her promise to be there with her family the following Sunday and went on his way. When the woman told her neighbor about the incident, the neighbor was a bit surprised. It didn't sound like the behavior of the current pastor at St. Joseph's.

"What was the priest's name?" asked the neighbor.

"Father Moriarty."
The verb "thundered" has the ring of verisimilitude. I was always scared of Father Moriarty.

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