JUDGE BEELER’S GHOST
A hair-raising tale of a spirit—and his horse—who reside at the bottom of the local lake
This ghostly fable has been passed down from father to son over many generations—who knows how much of it is true?
Andreas Luther Beeler and his wife, Elizabeth, were born in Germany and came to the New World from the Port of Hamburg in 1774. He was a mercenary recruit, fighting for the British in the Revolutionary War. Following defeat, as a disbanded soldier, he came to Nova Scotia in 1783 and took up land on what was called the Hessian Line. It was a rough roadway that ran between the village of Bear River and the community of Clementsvale, near the western end of the Annapolis Valley. Like many others, Andreas couldn’t make a living from the poor rocky soil, so in 1791, he sold his lot and moved to Annapolis Royal where he established a boot-and-shoe business, and then set himself up as a judge.
He later anglicized his name to Andrew Luther Beeler, a not uncommon practice in those days. The Beeler name, as we have come to spell it, had many variations including, for example, Biehler, Behler, Beuler and Behler. Genealogically, my great-great grandmother was Jeanetta Ann Beeler, the greatgranddaughter of Andreas.
My grandfather Gardner Wright and his brother Milledge had farms adjacent to a lake, known locally as Beeler’s Lake, in the village of Princedale, Annapolis County. When I was a child, I used to swim in the lake, although I wasn’t crazy about it because the waters abounded with bloodsuckers. The lake had a rocky bottom, full of sediment from years of rotting leaves and runoffs from the hills above it. It was a dark body of water that gave me the creeps. Perhaps there was a trace of Andreas in its depths, a ghost feared by the villagers, although I didn’t know about him at the time.
“Judge” Beeler was of course not a real judge as we know one today; he rode on horseback along the Hessian Line, visiting settlers and advising them on their affairs. Since his wife had passed away a number of years before, he was known to have spent quite a bit of attention on one Minna Vroom who lived nearby. She was reputed to be a very beautiful young woman, an only child from a family that was quite well-to-do. Their farms produced ham, beef, wool from sheep, milk products and vegetables canned and pickled for winter.
Although Andreas came and went with little notice, one time he didn’t appear as usual. This was the winter of 1776 and people wondered where he was and why they hadn’t seen him. Some wondered if Minna had given him the cold shoulder. Others thought he had gotten lost in the woods, or had been caught by renegade Indians, tortured and killed. At any rate, he was no longer to be seen and eventually they stopped talking about him. Out of sight, out of mind.
One day the following spring, just as the ice was breaking up on Beeler’s Lake, a gentleman by the name of Fred Crouse was ranging around, looking for a log he could use to make an ox bow. He hap-
pened to look up as he neared the lake and who should he see in the middle of the lake but Judge Beeler, seated as quiet and as natural as life on his horse. There was a slight breeze at the time and a small ripple on the water. The judge was riding with his head pointed towards home and his horse making a slow motion, like a canter, but not advancing one bit. At first Fred thought he was swimming across the lake because this would have been a short cut for him. Fred could hardly believe his eyes and after staring at the apparition he called out to him as loud as he could. “Judge!” but the judge didn’t look around. “Squire!” he shouted, but the squire didn’t speak. Judge Beeler just kept on rising and bending on every wave like the bow of a boat, yet still remaining in one spot.
The water was freezing cold at that time of year and Fred was almost chilled to death. Away he went, as fast as he could, and raised the alarm with his neighbours. Down they came with axes, ropes and other gear and quickly made a raft to extend help. The sun was just setting as they shoved off from shore and as they got about halfway to the judge, they saw that his eyes were gone, his face swollen, his flesh bleached and his body bloated. The rescuers were dreadfully frightened. Without saying a word, they just stared. When they stopped rowing, the judge and his horse gradually settled down and sank until only his head was above water. He remained for a minute or two longer, as though he didn’t want to leave his friends and then he disappeared completely and settled on the bottom of the lake.
Maybe they should have continued on and tried to fish him out, but they didn’t. The whole county became terrified—his name was never mentioned without fear. Some people said they had actually seen him again in Beeler’s Lake. Many said they heard him in wintertime, muttering under the ice in some unknown tongue (the German language had disappeared in those areas). He was once seen galloping like mad on his old black horse across the lake in a snow squall and sinking through the ice with a cannon-like boom. The local doctor said he once heard strange noises quite nearby and when he stopped to listen, he could hear the same sound coming from the other end of the lake. It was a hoarse, moaning, unnatural sound and once there was an unearthly scream, as if from the devil himself.
Too, riding along a trail near the lake one blustery day, a Mr. Richardson was jumped by Judge Beeler. His horse began to rear and plunge furiously, as though it knew it had a ghost rider alongside its master. It sent both men flying, head over heels, the judge on one side and Richardson on the other. The horse stood snorting and blowing at the judge who had no hat on. His face was all hairy and slimy. His eyes looked like those of some wild animal, they had such a fiery, wicked look. His teeth were all matted with grass and lily roots. Richardson hardly had a good look at this frightening apparition before it rolled itself up like a porcupine and shrieked like a banshee. The frightened man jumped on his horse and galloped off as fast as he could. Still shaking, he arrived home to tell his horrifying story, but he was never the same again.
As for Judge Beeler, the mystery was never solved—is he still moaning under the ice on cold, dark, winter nights? n
H. MILLARD WRIGHT was born and raised in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. Following service in the United States army, he graduated from Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. He has since had a successful business career and is a past president or officer of a number of companies and organizations. He retired from his own company in 1992 and began writing as a hobby. He has written a number of non-fiction books, of which ten have been published. Millard and his wife of 70 years, Jinny, now live in Halifax.