Dogs are loving. Dogs are playful. Dogs are funny. And above all, dogs are loyal. And that loyalty can, and often does, extend beyond the grave, as in this story, collected by Randy Russell and Janet Barnett in their 2001 book GHOST DOGS OF THE SOUTH.
Back before the Civil War, a widow called Mrs. Legare (pronounced Legree—it’s a southern thang) lived with her only son, John, on South Carolina’s Edisto Island. Her husband had died when John was quite young, leaving their island rice plantation to his wife and son. John was being taught to run the plantation by his uncles, and life was good.
It got even better when someone gave the boy, still in his early teens, a puppy. Given his loyalty, he was probably a mutt; mutts are, if such a thing is possible, even more loyal than a purebred. John Legare fell in love with the pup, and the pup with him. He named the pup Moses, and you never saw one without the other—
until the war came.
In the South, there are not many places the Civil War didn’t touch: none too remote, none too resolutely peaceful, to remain unaffected. So it was on Edisto Island. John Legare by then was of an age to be looking for a wife to settle down with, but when the war came, he went to the mainland and enlisted in the Confederate army. He left behind his widowed mother, burdened with a worry that she would never see her son again, and a mutt who couldn’t understand why, this time, he couldn’t go wherever his master led.
For awhile, Moses moped and wouldn’t eat. Then, out of nowhere, he seemed to develop an uncanny psychic awareness; he knew, somehow, when letters from his soldier master were coming. On those days, he would run to the end of the driveway and sit until a messenger came, bringing letters to Mrs. Legare. She always shared the letters with Moses, and ended by adding things John didn’t actually write: telling Moses to be a good boy, to mind his mother, and giving her instructions to make sure Moses got lots of petting and attention and, above all, that he got his favorite foods (buttermilk biscuits and gravy) every morning.
Moses seemed to perk up a bit after that first letter. He began eating again, and on days when letters came he’d wait at the end of the driveway.
Then one day in August of 1862, his routine varied, and Mrs. Legare knew something was wrong, for Moses went down the driveway, out into the road, and down the road a piece to the wooden bridge that connected the island to the mainland. He lay down there, whining, and would have stayed there, but Mrs. Legare, mindful of the August heat, managed to coax him home.
Moses didn’t come all the way to the house, though. He lay in the driveway, waiting for whatever would come.
And, on the first day of September, a messenger came to tell the Widow Legare—and Moses—that John Legare was dead of wounds he’d gotten in battle.
For Moses, nothing would ever be right again.
John Legare’s body was brought home and laid to rest in the family mausoleum. Moses walked with the mourners to the cemetery, went into the mausoleum, and lay down beside his master. He growled and showed his teeth at anyone who tried to persuade him to leave. Mrs. Legare pleaded with the church sexton to leave the door of the mausoleum open so Moses could leave if he wished, and for the next several days brought food and water to him.
Moses refused to eat. Within days, he was dead.
Mrs. Legare had his body brought back to the house for burial in the front yard, and the mausoleum’s marble door was chained shut. It didn’t stay that way. Within days of Moses’s death, church officials noticed that the chains that had unaccountably fallen off and the door stood open. Mrs. Legare, now regretting that she hadn’t opened John’s coffin and placed Moses’s body inside, again requested that the door be left open. And, as long as she lived, it was left open, to give Moses’s spirit a way in and out.
Once Mrs. Legare was gone, though, the church tried, again and again, to seal the mausoleum, since the Legare family died out with her. And again and again, the chains were broken and the door opened. In the 1960s, it was somehow sealed so that the only way in was to use heavy equipment to pull it open. Within days, the door was found broken into three pieces, lying flat on the ground.
After that, the door was finally cemented flat to the floor and the mausoleum left open.
And islanders will tell you that it was done because a little dog couldn’t bear, even in death, to be separated from his master.
Is that love? Is that loyalty?
I reckon so.
There is another story to account for why the Legare mausoleum stands open to this day, an altogether lurid, Gothic one, that dates back some fifteen years before the deaths of John Legare and his dog Moses, and involves the premature burial of John Legare’s little sister, thought to have died of a fever. She was placed in the mausoleum, and the door closed. Although people reported sounds of crying and screaming from the mausoleum, no one investigated. It was only when the mausoleum was opened again, for his burial, that she was found–out of her coffin, her skeleton lying by the door.
After that, so goes this version of the legend of the open door, no matter how it was locked, chained, jammed, concreted–the door would not stay closed, and was, as in the story of the mutt named Moses, eventually left open for eternity.
Needless to say, I much prefer the story of Moses.