Revenge from beyond the grave? Natural, if gruesome, explanation? This grisly little tale comes from 1930s North Dakota. I first read it in Michael Norman and Beth Scott’s HAUNTED AMERICA (1994).
When an older sister is passed over by a man she wants for a younger sister, it can cause a ruckus. Look at the story of Jacob’s wives, Leah and Rachel, in the Bible. There’s the Scandinavian folklore motif of the older sister who kills the younger “for the sake of a man”, with a concrete example in the story of Polly and Fanny Clary Brown, from 1820s Kentucky.
Sometimes, though, the younger sister gets her own back on her perfidious elder.
Carol and Lorna Mae Eberle were the daughters of a fairly prosperous North Dakota farmer. Carol, the elder, was hot-tempered, wilful, lazy, and selfish; Lorna Mae, the younger, was a sweetheart of a girl who was anything but lazy. She could do and did her share of the farmwork right alongside her widowed father.
That willingness to do hard work, without complaint, may have played its part in Ben Berg’s proposal of marriage to Lorna Mae. Berg, a young widower with three children under the age of ten, needed a woman who could not only raise his (and perhaps later, their) children and tend his house, but work alongside him in the unending chores of maintaining a small farm.
Carol Eberle–lazy, wilful, snotty Carol–,however, had had her eye on Ben Berg ever since his wife died, and she was fit to be tied when he proposed to sweet Lorna Mae. Carol made her objections loudly known. She was prettier than Lorna Mae, and while she wasn’t a workhorse, surely her beauty should count for something—and she thought Ben should be her man, not Lorna Mae’s.
Lorna Mae and Ben, blissfully planning their wedding, ignored her.
And then, one day not long before that happy day, Lorna Mae’s appendix ruptured. Carol, sent for the doctor in town, lollygagged around so long that finally poor Lorna Mae died, without receiving medical treatment of any sort.
She was laid a corpse (as the older people in the knobs say) in the family’s front room, in the lovely, high-necked white wedding dress she would never wear as a bride. Family and friends were horrified when, standing beside the bereaved Ben Berg at the casket, Carol began nagging him to marry her in Lorna Mae’s stead.
She seemed to be fairly sure she could wear him down, for, before Lorna Mae was buried, she insisted that Lorna Mae’s wedding dress be removed from the body; Lorna Mae would have no use for it in the grave, but she would, and soon.
Ben Berg, grieving and confused, couldn’t hold off a battering ram forever. A month after Lorna Mae’s death, he gave in to Carol’s nagging and accepted her proposal.
The triumphant Carol and her reluctant groom were to be married on a scorching hot mid-July Sunday. The guests were uncomfortable, the groom was uncomfortable, and the bride was sweating like a horse but radiant as she walked down the aisle.
And then, just before she reached the altar, she began gasping for breath, grabbing at her throat, her tongue protruding as if she were choking. Ben caught her as she fell, and she died in his arms.
An autopsy failed to reveal any cause of death: heatstroke, heart disease, stroke, aneurysm, were all ruled out.
The doctor did offer one explanation, but it sounds almightily unlikely: that, during the three days that Lorna Mae had worn the dress in her coffin, the cloth had become permeated with embalming fluid—and that the sweating Carol’s open pores had absorbed the deadly stuff and her body reacted to it with fatal results.
Most people thought otherwise. They thought that, unseen, unheard, Lorna Mae had somehow reached out from her grave and got her own back on the sister who had let her die for the sake of a man.
They weren’t clear on how it happened, but they were pretty sure it did.