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Legends of St. Joseph - The Summer Ghosts

In 1916 Mary Alicia Owen, after forming the Missouri Folklore Society and subsequently the St. Joseph Folklore Society, began an effort to collect the "legends of St. Joseph's vanishing past." Among these are some stories you still hear today. The story we will share with you today is that of the spirit that goes by many names, as you will see.

Map of French Bottoms, St. Joseph Memory Lane
Les Lavandières de la nuit - Yan' Dargent

The story alludes to the death of Charles Robidoux, son of Joseph Robidoux, in 1850. Charles, who was home from college in St. Louis, was out “skylarking” with his friends, May Edgar and Charles Summerville. Around one o’clock in the morning, Charles decided to pull up the fence post of one Duncan McDonald. McDonald heard the commotion, suspected vandalism, and fired his shotgun from the second-story window of the building. The buckshot met the back of Charles’s skull, and he died several minutes later.

The legend also tells of Gus Gingery, a young man who was quite popular with the girls in St. Joseph, taking a nap where a bean plant hung above his head. He claimed, in a waking dream, he saw "strange thin people" and heard them beckon him that he belonged to them. That same winter on his way to a ball, Gus decided to take a shortcut by skating across a pond. Gus never made it to the ball, nor was he ever seen again.

The legend of the Washer Women (or Midnight Washer Women) is not unique to St. Joseph, or even the French traders who likely brought the legend with them. The idea of a woman who beckons unsuspecting victims to their doom appears in many cultures. Throughout time the legend changed, became embellished, and woven into the local folklore. The bean-nighe in Scottish folklore (a form of banshee), bean sidhe: bean meaning woman and sidhe meaning fairy, and from the many layers of interpretation we arrive at the colloquial evolution to bean ghosts of the French Bottoms.

But should you dare venture out on a summer's night, beware the bean field that blossoms and the summer ghosts who wash the grave-clothes of "those who will wear them."

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