Harry & the Lady in White

Harry O’Connor had just completed a thirteen day stretch without a day’s rest at the Chance-Vought aircraft plant in Stratford. In was mid-October of 1943 and the plant was churning out F4U Corsairs for the Navy. That aircraft was proving to be a vital weapon in turning the tide against the Japanese in the battle for supremacy in the air in the Pacific Theater. O’Connor was the foreman of a mostly female crew of assemblers who installed the six M2 Browning machine guns in the folding wings of the aircraft. He worked the second shift of the around-the-clock operation and had put in six double shifts during the past two weeks. He was exhausted and ready for three days with his wife and young children back in Easton.

It was well after 1:00 AM when he dropped off fellow worker Gary Beno at his home on North Park Ave near the intersection with Andrews Road. O’Connor would be heading to his in-laws’ home on the northern end of Sport Hill Road near the Redding town line. Edith and the kids had moved back into her parent’s home when Harry needed the family car to get back and forth to the Stratford plant. What had begun as a daily commute had turned into a bi-weekly journey as gasoline and tire rationing made the 39-mile round trip too difficult to manage. Harry O’Connor had taken a room about a mile from the plant and only saw his family on his twice a month three-day visits home.

The weather had been ominous all day that final Friday before Halloween. Light mists had alternated with heavier showers and the temperature had been dropping about as fast as the brightly colored leaves of the area’s Maple trees. By midnight, there were patches of quickly moving fog as the cold autumn winds were ushering in the heavier clouds that had been predicted to drop as much as an inch of rain on Saturday.

Harry was tired, barely able to keep his eyes open as he crossed over Stepney Road on Church and approached the northern edge of Union Cemetery. The low-lying fog was rushing across the roadway as he passed by the old, abandoned Baptist Church on the right. The road was covered with a thick coating of wet leaves as Harry upshifted his aging Plymouth coupe from second gear into third. He had just lifted his left foot off the clutch when it suddenly appeared in the windshield. A fuzzy image that looked every bit like a young woman in a long white gown standing directly the front of Harry’s car. He jammed on the brakes and swerved hard to the right. The car went into a skid and slid hard into a guard rail that kept it from departing the highway and entering the swamp behind the cemetery.

The white image that appeared in Harry O’Connor’s windshield that night

Harry was certain he heard something hit the left front of his car just before the right front smashed into the wooden railing that splintered and then showered the car with broken pieces of wood. Harry hit his head against the windshield as the car came to a sudden halt. He was dazed but otherwise okay. Had the image that had so suddenly appeared been a young woman as a sleep deprived Harry had first thought? Or had it simply been a low-lying cloud of fog floating above the swamp behind the cemetery?

He quickly exited the driver’s side and ran back to where he thought he had heard something make contact with his left front fender. Nothing. He called out several times to see if anyone was there. No response. He then stayed silent for a couple of minutes to see if he could hear someone moaning in pain should they be down and unable to move. Again, complete silence.

It must have been the fog, Harry reasoned. But why did it so resemble a young woman? Harry could barely recall seeing a face enshrouded by the darkness, but definitely not more than twenty years of age. Sunken eyes…if there had been any eyes at all. It was so surreal. But was it real at all? Who would be out there in the middle of such a nasty and cold night? Clad in only a simple white dress, wearing no coat? Harry called out once more.

Total silence. Harry must have imagined it. It had to have been the fog.

He walked back to his car to survey the damage. The right front fender was crushed. He could see that even in the murky darkness of the middle of the night. His right headlight was smashed and now facing inwards towards the ground, barely illuminating the floating mist. As he walked back towards the driver’s side, he saw it. A torn shard of white cloth caught in between the left headlight and the driver’s side front fender.

He had to have hit someone. But where was she? If she was indeed in the swamp, she might have drowned by then. Harry needed to seek help.

Harry O’Connor got back behind the wheel and restarted his car. He backed it onto the road before putting it into first gear and moving forward. He headed north on Sport Hill Road. In his muddled state of mind, he passed the first two houses simply because they were completely darkened. He then suddenly realized that they would all be dark…it was nearing 2:00 AM. Just before he reached the third house, his right front tire blew, and the car slid into the ditch alongside of the road. Harry quickly exited and made straight for a small side-hall colonial that sat about 100 feet to the right in front of his wounded Plymouth.

He began beating on the front door to rouse the occupants. Surprisingly, the door swung open into the darkness.

“I need help! I need to use your telephone,” yelled Harry.

There was nothing but silence. Harry yelled again, but there was still no response.

Harry entered the hallway, feeling for a light switch, but he found none. As he was about to yell again, a dim silhouette of a man appeared.

“Thank God someone is here,” Harry exclaimed. “I’ve just been in an accident down by the cemetery and I think I hit someone… A young woman. I need to call the police.”

“Ruby? Was it Ruby? My wife?” the man replied.

“I don’t know who it was. I just need to call the police and perhaps someone at the firehouse. We need to find her if she’s hurt…If she’s even still alive.”

“It must be Ruby,” the man insisted. “I’ve got to find her. I’ve got to tell her I’m sorry…”

“Sorry for what?” an exasperated Harry O’Connor asked.

“For killing her,” was the simple response as the man rushed by Harry and out into the darkness. He was out of sight before Harry could say another word.

Harry fumbled through the darkness for another minute or two looking for a light switch before pulling his cigarette lighter from his pocket and rolling the striker over the flint with his thumb. Much to his surprise, in the flickering light, the house appeared mostly empty, devoid of all but a few sticks of old furniture. He could then feel a slight trickle of warm blood as it ran from his forehead and across his right eyelid. That bump on his head when he hit the windscreen of his car had evidently caused more damage than he had originally realized. He slowly began to feel lightheaded before his legs simply folded and he fell to the floor.

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“Are you oaky, Fella?”

Harry slowly regained consciousness as the man asking the question came into focus.

“You drink a little too much last night, did you?” the man asked.

“No. I had an accident. I hit my head on the inside of the windshield of my car. At least I think I did…Who are you?” asked Harry as early light of dawn provided just enough illumination for him to see the man he was talking with.

“Ed Knight, the Chief of Police. Actually, I’m the entire police force. You sure you weren’t drinking?”

“That much I’m positive of,” replied Harry before he relayed as much as he could remember about the previous evening to Easton’s ‘entire police force.’

Easton Police Chief Ed Knight

When Harry was finished, Chief Knight asked him again, “You sure you haven’t been drinking? You really expect me to believe you hit a young woman with your car at nearly two in the morning in the middle of nowhere, and then just happen to land here, walk through the front door, and run into a guy who claims to be her husband, and then he runs out find her to apologize for killing her?”

“Well, you’re the Chief of Police, you must know who that man is. He lives here. And why aren’t we going back to that swamp and looking for that girl?”

“Nobody lives here, son. This house belonged to Vaughn De Leath the singer. Twice divorced, no kids. Like you, she was a drinker. Drank herself to death last May in Buffalo, New York. Nobody has lived here in nearly two years. Since you claim to have come in here to call me, you may have noticed that there is no electricity and no telephone. Utility companies are funny that way. Don’t pay the bills they send you and they shut you off.

“And the reason we ain’t going back to look for that young woman is because I think she’s just a figment of your imagination. You’ve either been drinking or that bump on your forehead has you thinking funny. Or maybe it’s both.”

“But what if Ruby is real? And she’s still alive and badly hurt?”

“Ruby? Did you just say that girl’s name is Ruby?” a suddenly interested Knight asked.

“Yeah, the man asked if I had hit Ruby. His wife.”

“The woman he killed?” asked Knight as he was then making some sense of what Harry had been talking about.

“That’s what I told you five minutes ago! He asked if it was Ruby!”

“You left out the name part, son. You mentioning Ruby is the first time I heard you say her name,” Knight told him. “Son of a … Maybe she does exist after all.”

“Ruby? So, then we need to go see if she is still there,” Harry pleaded.

“If it’s the Ruby I’m thinking of no need to go looking. She’s dead, alright. Been dead for a little over twenty years. Her husband is dead too.”

“But I saw them both last night,” bemoaned O’Connor.

Ruby Wells on her Wedding Day

“If you saw anything, you saw their ghosts. A girl by the name of Ruby Wells Edwards was shot to death by her jealous husband, an older fellow by the name of Robert Edwards. It happened May 30, 1923, when Ruby was only 19 years old. He put two rounds in her, both from a shot gun. One from about thirty feet away and the other one while he stood right over her quivering, dying body…wanted to be certain she was good and dead, I reckon. Happened over on North Street. Made all the national papers after it hit the wire services.

June 1, 1923, Bridgeport Telegram headline before the posse found Robert Edward’s body on Wintergreen Mountain

“Robert just walked away and into the woods after he shot her. Two of her neighbors were with her, saw the whole thing. About two hours later, folks heard four more shots from up on Wintergreen Mountain; the first three were likely meant to make it easier for someone to find him. Posse found Robert’s body two days later, his head about blown off from a self-inflicted shot gun wound from shell number four. He was buried two days later in the Stepney Cemetery over in Monroe.

“Ruby was supposedly buried in the very same cemetery. But there isn’t a headstone there with her name on it. There are some who think she might be buried in an unmarked grave at Union. Being placed in the same cemetery as her killer might have been too much for her family to stomach. Neither of her parents ever talk about it and nobody I know of wants to ask. Having your daughter murdered by her own husband has to be more than anyone should have to bear.”

“But why would Robert Wells – or his ghost – have been in this house when I stumbled in here last night?” asked Harry.

“I take it you never made it into the cellar before you passed out. This house was originally built in 1831 by the pastor of that old Baptist Church that sits across from Union Cemetery, and it was used as the parsonage for many years. After the church closed and Vaughn De Leath bought the place, she built herself a tiny chapel in the cellar. She was divorced and the Catholic Church excommunicated her. Being expelled from the church didn’t alter her faith in her religion. If she wasn’t allowed to worship in the church, she could certainly worship and pray in her own home. It’s a spooky little chapel being in its own little space underneath the kitchen, but it’s all decked out with the proper religious icons, and it even has its own little stained-glass window and a couple of nicely finished wooden pews. Perhaps Robert’s spirit was seeking redemption and forgiveness. Maybe that’s why it was here last night. I don’t know…

“People been talking about the ghost of a young woman being seen near the cemeteries at both Union and Stepney for a few years now. If you heard the name ‘Ruby” for the very first time last night from someone who claims to have killed her… Yeah, maybe you saw both ghosts.

“Or maybe you just had too much to drink.”

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The above story is largely based on real events and real people. Ruby Wells Edwards was indeed murdered by her husband in 1923 just as described. And Robert took his own life up on Wintergreen Mountain a few hours later. Vaughn De Leath actually owned the house where the fictional Harry O’Connor ended up, and she did worship in her own little chapel underneath the kitchen wing. Edward Knight was Easton’s Chief of Police from 1937 until his death in 1945. He was also the town’s only paid police officer during those years.

Ruby and Robert were both reported to have been buried at the Stepney Cemetery in June of 1923, yet neither had a headstone that was listed by Charles Hale in his 1937 survey and there seems to be no evidence of either individual being interred there today. Have their gravesites been overlooked or forgotten? Or are they buried elsewhere?

Does Easton’s famed White Lady really exist? Could she possibly be the spirit of Ruby Wells Edwards? We’ll leave it up to the reader to decide what may or may not be the truth. As for this writer, he’ll continue to imagine all those possibilities and more while he thinks of another spooky tale for next October.

Happy Halloween!!!!

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