Are you afraid of the dark?
This is a story of such a fear; child, young girl, woman and wife, terrified of what might be in the velvet sinister night.
In 13 GEORGIA GHOSTS AND JEFFREY (1973), Kathryn Tucker Windham calls the young girl Emma. Perhaps that was her name; perhaps it was something else. In any case, she lived on her father’s plantation on St. Simon’s Island, some fifty miles or so south of Savannah, Georgia, in the Gulf of Mexico. From her very earliest days on earth, Emma was terrified of darkness. She would scream herself into hysterics if she were left alone in the dark even for the space of a heartbeat.
It seems that Emma was “taught” this fear of the dark by an old nurse, who told her stories of ghosts, vampires, zombies and the like, always for true, to “make her behave.” (It reminds me of James Whitcomb Riley’s Little Orphan Annie, telling other children “The Gobble-uns ‘ll get you Ef you don’t watch out.”) Emma’s mother, when she realized what the nurse was doing, had her demoted from house servant to field hand, but the damage to Emma was done. For a single hour, her impatient father tried once to break her of her fear by leaving her alone in her dark bedroom, but her screams broke him; he carried a candle into her room himself, and sat and rocked her until she fell asleep. From then on, every night, by his order, Emma had a candle in her room to keep the dark away.
Other than her fear of the dark, Emma lived a normal life. She was courted by many young men, but she fell in love with one whom Windham calls Philip. When he asked her to marry him, she confided to him her dreadful fear of the dark; he told her it didn’t matter to him, and once they were married learned to sleep with a light in the room.
Emma devoted much time, as she grew older, to making candles. She preferred beeswax ones to tallow, because they gave a softer light, and she learned to make longer ones to burn during the long nights of winter, and shorter ones for summer. It was her passion for candlemaking, though, that brought about her death. One day she spilled hot wax on her arm, severely burning herself. In spite of all remedies, blood poisoning set in. She was not afraid of dying; the only thing she had to say about it she said to her beloved Philip, as he sat holding her hand: “It will be so very dark. . .”
She died, and was laid to rest in the cemetery at Christ Church in the little town of Frederika.
The night Emma was buried, Philip went out to her grave with a lighted candle, which he placed in a sheltered spot so the wind wouldn’t blow it out, and with a whispered “Here’s your light, my darling” he returned home.
It’s not recorded whether Philip continued to sleep with a candle in their bedroom, but he faithfully took a candle to her grave every night. When the weather was unusually windy or rainy, he would place it inside a glass lantern. He outlived Emma by many years, but he never skipped this ritual.
The night that Philip was at last buried beside Emma, some neighbors noticed that the light was burning on Emma’s grave as it had for all the nights since her death. Investigation proved that no one living had placed it there.
The light could be seen by people passing the cemetery until, sometime after the turn of the twentieth century, a wall was built around it, blocking the view from the road.
Emma’s is not the only ghost tale still told on St. Simon’s. There’s a haunted lighthouse; there’s the ghost of Flora de Cookpot, who manifests as a delightful smell of cooking; there’s Mary de Wanda (Mary the Wanderer) who searches the shore endlessly for her young husband who died in a storm; and there are the singing slaves of Ebo Landing, who drowned themselves in Dunbar Creek rather than live in servitude.
But Emma’s story is my favorite. It’s proof love never dies.