JUDGE BEELER’S GHOST

A hair-rais­ing tale of a spirit—and his horse—who re­side at the bot­tom of the lo­cal lake

Our Canada - - Writer’s Block - by H. Mil­lard Wright, Hal­i­fax

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.

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