Story of a ghostly tale

Published 1:22 pm Wednesday, April 21, 2004

By Staff
Just like many of you, I attended the book signing by Kathryn Tucker Windham. I listened very carefully to her stories because I am a big story fan.
One of her books is about 13 famous ghosts in Alabama. One of those stories struck pretty close to home for me. In fact my great, great grandfather was mentioned in the book. I thought I would share the story with you.
During the Civil War, the South was having a terrible time with its army during the last year or two of the war. You have to remember that this was a war that most ordinary men thought would not last for long. They mostly enlisted for short periods of time and then were reenlisted as time passed and they were still fighting. During 1863 things were bad enough that they changed the age limit for enlistment to include older and younger men. Later in the year, a conscript law was passed which required every man to report for examination and enlistment. Those found subject were allowed to choose what command they would be sent to. Some who were able hired substitutes to go in their place, and others eluded the conscript officers by taking to the woods.
Things got steadily worse for the South and by 1864, the Confederate Congress passed a measure whereby nearly everyone who had been exempt was now called to duty, including those who had sent substitutes. Believe it or not, before this time, a man could hire someone to take his place at the front. I guess money talked, even in those days. Those who could not afford a substitute and did not want to fight had already taken to hiding in caves and the woods and only stayed in the area so they could check on their families.
This was the climate in December 1864. William "Bill" Sketo had been away fighting when he got word that his wife was very ill. He hired someone to take his place at the front and he went home to check on her. While he was there, word went around that he had deserted his unit.
This was a time when there were many gangs of deserters roaming the countryside, plaguing the communities and even though some of the deserters (or draft dodgers) were people they knew, everyone operated on a short fuse.
The Home Guard captured Bill and proceeded to hang him on the spot. They asked him if he had anything to say and he started to pray. He prayed for his tormentors instead of himself and this angered them so much that they hanged him in the middle of his prayer. Whether he should have been hung was a debate in the area for many years, and I can remember hearing of it even when I was a child. There are still many of his descendants living in Dale County and I even found one here in Brewton several years ago at a local bank.
It has been told through the years that the spot where Bill was hung was haunted. Everyone who is my age and lived in that part of Dale County heard the story told over and over. It seems that the executioners had Bill standing on a log and kicked it out from under his feet, but his feet were still touching the ground. In order for his hanging to be completed, someone standing by took his cane and dug the hole out so that Bill could swing free.
Later on that day news got back to the people who lived in his community and a group of men went to cut him down for burial. One of those who cut him down was my great, great, grandfather, David Young.
After the hanging it was told that the hole would never stay filled up. Even if it was filled in over and over, the next morning the hole would be dug out again.
Several years ago I was in the area and I asked my brother if he remembered where the hole was. He told me that they had built a bridge in the area and one of the supports was put right where Bill died. He said that he remembered the crew talking about it and wondering what would happen if they put the support there.
I told this to Mrs. Windham and she remembered the story very well. Her comment was that it was a shame that they built the bridge where they did.
While I am telling you about people being hung, I have another one for you. So far as I know there was no ghost with this one.
The Rev. Henry Duncan was hanged at Ozark, Feb. 21, 1890, before a reported crowd of 5,000 to 10,000 people. He had been convicted of murdering his wife because of another woman. The officials asked Henry if he wanted to say anything before his execution. He said that he did and proceeded to talk at length about his crime.
In fact he said so much that the crowd began to wonder if the hanging would take place. Henry told about being lured by the young Georgia Baldree and having had her father, John Baldree, suggest that he get some morphine and kill Dolly Duncan. He got the morphine, but according to Henry, he could not do the deed. So he gave the medicine to Georgia and she gave it to Dolly on the pretense of treating her neuralgia. Georgia came back through the field where Henry was working and told him that she had given Dolly the medicine and for him not to go home for a while. She also told him when and where they would be married. (Sort of bossy, I think).
Duncan talked on and on and soon the crowd was beginning to feel sorry for him. In fact, somebody went around and took a collection for the Duncan children. Finally somebody called out for a show of hands if they thought Duncan's life should be spared. It is reported that a large number of hands went up. The sheriff decided he better hurry up or the crowd might turn on him. The trap was sprung and Duncan's neck was broken.
Since I have told you these delightful little tales, I will get to something a little bit tamer next week.