The Vanishing of Orion Williamson

The deep south is home to a passel of legends, folklore, and ghost stories. There are dozens told by my ancestors alone, some of which they purported to have witnessed. Others are passed down from family to family or neighbor to neighbor.

The following is a story I recall one of my Alabama relatives talking about years ago. This is, without a doubt, one of the strangest and most perplexing stories I’ve ever heard.

Orion Williamson was a farmer who lived in Selma, Alabama. On a July afternoon in 1854, he sat on his front porch with his wife and son. Mr. Williamson got up in order to move his horses to the shade.

At the same time, a neighbor, Armour Wren, and his son James passed by. Orion stopped to pick up a small stick, then continued to walk in ankle-deep grass. He waved to his neighbors, took another step, and vanished into thin air.

A young colt in a field, perhaps much like the one where Orion Williamson took his last step. (Image courtesy of Pixabay.)

The Williamsons and the Wrens rushed to the place where Orion disappeared to search for any sign of him. They found nothing. It’s reported most of the grass in that spot was gone as well. After searching in vain, the family called for help. A search party of approximately three hundred men combed every inch of the field. Bloodhounds joined the search, which continued into the night. Still, there was no sign of Orion Williamson.

As the news spread, more volunteers and a team of geologists came to the scene. They dug up the field to determine if the ground was unstable or if there was anything unusual. They found solid rock a few feet below the surface. There were no holes and no evidence of a cave-in.

No one could explain the strange event. Mrs. Williamson claimed she and her son could hear Orion’s voice calling for help several weeks afterward. They would rush into the field but found nothing. The voice grew fainter and fainter, faded into a whisper, and then was no more.

After all the searches proved futile, a judge declared Orion Williamson dead.

The German scientist, Maximillian Hern believed Mr. Williamson walked into a spot of “universal ether.” Hern believed these places lasted only a few seconds but could destroy all matter within them.

Another scientist theorized Orion walked into a magnetic field that disintegrated his atomic structure, sending him into another dimension.

Williamson’s story drew the attention of the writer, Ambrose Bierce. Bierce interviewed individuals who were involved in the search. He later wrote “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field,” which was first published in the San Francisco Examiner in 1888. His account varies slightly, but with the same outcome. Williamson waved to his neighbor, took a step, then vanished. Ironically, Bierce disappeared in Mexico in 1914 but he didn’t evaporate into thin air.

Today, there is still no logical explanation for Williamson’s disappearance. Needless to say, this is one of the strangest stories I’ve ever heard.

I wrote and scheduled this post several months ago. Shortly afterward, I read Marlena Smith’s post on her Lore and Curiosities blog. If you’re interested in reading it, click this link.

Sally Carter’s Grave

Hey, everyone. This month’s Legends and Lore post takes place in the state of Alabama.

Huntsville is a city in Alabama, located in the hills north of the Tennessee River. Its population is around 215,000, making it the most populous city in the state. Founded in 1805 as Twickenham, it was renamed Huntsville in 1811.

Today Huntsville is a thriving city with its main economic influence from aerospace and military technology. The Redstone Arsenal and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center are located there.

Historic rockets in Huntsville (Public Domain)

But the modern city also has its share of legends and folklore, one of them involving the ghost of Sally Carter and Cedarhurst Mansion.

Stephen Ewing built Cedarhurst as part of a larger estate in 1823. It didn’t take long before tragedy struck the home when Mary Ewing’s sister, Sally Carter, came to visit.

Sally, just three weeks shy of her sixteenth birthday, took ill and died on November 28, 1837. She was buried in the family cemetery on the estate grounds. The epitaph on her tombstone read:

My flesh shall slumber in the ground

Till the last trumpet’s joyful sound

Then burst the chains with sweet surprise

And in my savior’s image rise.

Stories say Sally loved the estate and that’s the reason some say her presence is still there today. The legend began in 1919 when a seventeen-year-old boy visiting from nearby Dothan slept outside Sally’s bedroom. There was a storm during the night (yes, a dark and stormy night). The teenager claimed to have dreamed Sally visited him and asked him to prop up her headstone.

When he awoke the next morning, he told his family about the dream and said he was going to visit Sally’s grave. Strangely enough, Sally’s tombstone had toppled over during the storm.

Other stories claim Sally still walks the halls and grounds of Cedarhurst Mansion. A guard claims to have heard Sally walking upstairs one night. After her shift ended, the guard realized she had lost some money while doing rounds. After searching the grounds in vain, the guard gave up on finding the money. It was then she heard footsteps following her and her flashlight began flickering. When she returned to the guardhouse, the flashlight flickered brightly and shone directly on the cash she had given up for gone.

Another person who knew both families who lived in the mansion had a friend who slept in Sally’s room. The friend said doors opened and closed by themselves, covers were snatched off the bed, and lights turned on and off.

Other women claimed they had jewelry broken in the area of Sally’s room, with beads scattered everywhere.

Mapel Hill Cemetery, Huntsville. Creative Commons photo by Lonely Pilgrim via Wikimedia

The stories drew much attention and many visitors to the area, especially to see Sally’s grave. In 1982, the family had her body exhumed and relocated to an undisclosed location in Maple Hill Cemetery.

Today, Cedarhurst Mansion is now a part of a gated community with the home serving as a clubhouse. Sources say Sally’s bedroom has been preserved, but visitors aren’t allowed. Those wishing to catch a glimpse of Sally can always purchase one of the many condominiums.

A rather expensive price just to see a ghost, don’t you think?

La Llorona #MysteryMonday

Hey, y’all. It’s time for another Mystery Monday. I hope you’re enjoying these weekly posts. I’m certainly enjoying writing them.

Sometimes the most intriguing mysteries are ones passed down within your family. As a child, I was fascinated by stories my mother told me of things that happened to her or her relatives. Such is the case with a story about an ancestor who encountered a woman in white.

My grandfather’s brother, Hez, was on his way home one night after visiting his fiancée. He traveled by horseback, and the route required him to pass by a country cemetery. As he approaced, he saw a woman standing beside a gate. When he spoke, she did not return his greeting. Feeling a bit unnerved, he started the horse in a trot.

The woman was able to keep stride, and Hez coaxed the horse to go faster. But even when in full gallop, the woman remained beside him. When he reached a second gate, she turned and went back into the cemetery. Hez died unexpectedly three weeks later.

Imagine my surprise when I first heard of the legend of La Llorona, the crying woman dressed in white. Supposedly, the legend dates back to the Aztecs when a white-adorned goddess left a cradle with the Aztec women. The cradle was empty except for an arrow which was shaped like a sacrificial knife. Supposedly, the tribe could hear her crying at night. Then she would vanish into a river or lake.

In the sixteenth century there was a story of a peasant woman named Luisa who bore three sons to an upper-class man named Don Muño Montes Claros. When he abandoned Luisa to marry a woman of his stature, she killed the children, then ran through the streets wailing and screaming. Upon hearing the news of his children’s death, Don Muño committed suicide.

Over the centuries, the legend evolved along the Texas-Mexico border into The Legend of La Llorona. As the story goes, she was once a loving mother who went crazy and drowned her seven children. Unable to rest, she wanders at night in search of her babies.

The Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park near the Texas-Mexico border. Fort Stockton is about 100 miles from Big Bend.

As expected, there are many variations to the story, each adapted to fit a specific geographic locale. La Llorona supposedly is seen in cemeteries, one of which is St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in Fort Stockton, Texas.

There are also accounts of a similar sighting in Henderson County which is deep in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

But the tale that intrigued me most was one I read in Patrick Dearen’s Portraits of the Pecos Frontier. According to local residents, the woman in white was seen as late as the 1960s. She would wait beside Highway 1053 between the towns of Imperial and Fort Stockton.[i]

A man who resided in Imperial often made the drive. On his return trip from Fort Stockton, the woman would “attach” herself to the man’s car and ride for about ten miles. His attempts to distract her, including driving at speeds up to 100 MPH, were futile. He never saw her on the trip to Fort Stockton, only when he returned to Imperial. Residents say the man died in a plane crash in the late 1960s. Apparently, this man was the only one with whom the woman would “hitch a ride.”

That account is the closest I’ve heard to the one involving my ancestor. He lived in rural Alabama, having never visited Texas. Methods of communication were scarce in the early 1900s, so it’s doubtful he knew of the Legend of La Llorona.

I found it interesting that both men died unexpectedly after having seen the woman.

Coincidence? Imagination? Something else? I’d love to hear your thoughts. (Oh, and don’t be surprised to find a variation of this mystery in an upcoming short story.)


[i] Portraits of the Pecos Frontier by Patrick Dearen