The Legend of Ashley Rose

The Legend of Ashley Rose

A Story by Spectral Dust
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A story about a haunted gravestone, and a young girl's love.

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A story about a haunted gravestone, and a young girl's love

You are about to read the birth of a legend. The events recorded here occurred in a small town in Minnesota known since 1879 as Shonefield,  current population 9527.  It all started one summer day in 1966 when a teenager named Brian Peterson received a phone call from a friend.

“Brian, telephone!” Mom called out.

Brian ran to his mother and grabbed the phone. “Thanks, Mom.”

“Hello?”

“It’s me.” It was Tom.

“What’s up?”

“Come over.”

“Why?”

“Just come.”

“I’m going to Tom’s, Mom.” He grabbed an apple from the kitchen table. “And, I know--don’t be late for dinner.”

“Okay,” Mom hollered from the basement, “don’t be late for dinner!”

Brian just rolled his eyes and headed out the front door. He hopped on his bike and pedaled the half mile to the old farmhouse. Tom was standing in front of the garage with Kenny, their friend.

“Hey, what’s goin’ on?” Brian asked.

“How come you didn’t bring your dad’s car?” Tom asked, disappointed.

“He’s mad about last Saturday; can’t use it this weekend.”

“Damn! we need a car,” Kenny said.

Tom gave a detective’s look around and waved Brian into the garage, with Kenny following. He hit the garage door button. They all stood silently until the door shut tight.

“Well, what is it?” Brian asked, feeling impatient.

“Come here, check this out,” Tom said with a “come” motion of his hand.

They all walked over to the work bench on which lay a piece of canvas. Tom grabbed the canvas and pulled it away with a sudden jerk, revealing an old gravestone. It was of the type commonly known as “tablet,” with the top part--the tympanum--a rounded arch. The soft, weather-worn marble glistened under the fluorescent bulb above the workbench.

“Awesome,” Brian said, “where did you get it?”

“Me and Tom got it from the Holy Cross Cemetery last night after the party,” Kenny said.

“You stole it?” Brian asked, with an incriminating tone.

Neither Tom nor Kenny answered. Kenny’s dad had let them use the car to attend the party. Afterward, under a full moon, they snuck into the Holy Cross Cemetery with a shovel and exhumed the gravestone from the rain-soaked ground. They stashed it in Tom’s garage since his parents were gone for the weekend.


Brian ran his hand over the smooth marble. “What if your parents catch you with it?”

“They’re at the cabin 'til tomorrow,” Tom said. “That’s why we need your car, to bring it to Ray’s house today before they get home.” Ray Finkelstien was Kenny’s uncle.

“What’s he want a gravestone for?” Brian asked.

“Oh, you know Ray, he’s kinda weird; he likes stuff like this,” Kenny said with a shrug.

“He’s going to give us forty bucks. We’ll give you ten if you can get your dad’s car; but it’s got to be today, or no deal,” Tom said, with an emphatic chop of his hands.

Brian thought the proposition over for a moment. He read the epitaph aloud:

In Memory of
Ashley Rose
Born April 9. 1885
Died July 2. 1899



Beneath was inscribed a short poem, but the marble was worn rendering it illegible. On the tympanum was an engraved rose flower with stem.

“She was only fourteen years old,” Brian said.

“Yeah, whatever.  Can you get the car?” Kenny asked curtly

Brian was tracing the epitaph with his finger. “Why doesn’t Ray just come over and get it?”

“Because he was banned from ever coming over since that day he bought us that beer. He doesn’t want to risk it.”

“I guess I could try and get the car; but don’t forget, I get ten bucks,” Brian said.

~~~~~~~~~~~§~~~~~~~~~~



Brian returned thirty minutes later to Tom’s garage with his dad’s car. He’d managed to cajole his dad with an apology and a promise to mow the grass on Monday. They loaded the booty into the trunk and headed for Uncle Ray’s trailer house, just outside of town.


Ray was sitting on his wooden stoop smoking a joint when they pulled up.

“Hey, Ray,” Kenny said, extending his hand.

Ray shook his nephew's hand and then held out the joint for him to take.

“No thanks,” Kenny said, “my old man will kill me if he smells that s**t on me again.”

Ray motioned to Tom and Brian with the joint, but they declined too.

Brian opened the trunk. They all stood looking down at the gravestone in admiration. Ray leaned into the trunk and gave the marble a once-over with his hand.

“Yeah, this is great,” Ray said, “I like this a lot.”

Ray and Kenny grabbed the marbled epitaph and carried it to the bedroom and set it in the corner by the Voodoo altar with black candles, a skull, some clay jars, incense, and a large, painted ceramic of a goddess wrapped in snakes. Tom and Brian waited outside for Kenny and their share of the money. Ray wanted the boys to come in and drink some beers, but they had to get going, Kenny said.

Ray handed his nephew twenty bucks and said, “Here ya go, Bro, and thanks a lot!”

“This is only twenty, Ray, you said forty.”

“Oh, well, I don’t have it now.  I’ll have it next week after I get paid. Don’t worry, you know I’m good for it.”

Kenny was not at all reassured; Ray wasn’t known for his integrity. “Well, I hope so, I promised--"


“Don’t worry, you’ll get it.” Ray stuck out his untrustworthy hand for Kenny to shake.

Kenny emerged from the trailer, twenty in hand. All three boys jumped into the Chrysler station wagon and drove off.

“Your uncle is a sleazebag,”  Tom said. “You know we’re never going to get that twenty bucks!”

“Oh, he ain’t so bad. He gets us beer, don’t he? And he showed us how to forge our report cards too, remember?”  Kenny said.

They quibbled a little about the money, and then drove to the arcade for some fun. It was a good day.

 
~~~~~~~~~~~§~~~~~~~~~


It was on the following Saturday that Brian received a call from Kenny.

“Brian, it’s me, Kenny. We got to go back and get it,” special emphasis on “it.”

“What the heck for?” Brian said, nonplussed.

“Never mind,  I’ll tell ya later. Can you get the car?”

“I don’t think so, it--”

“He’s going to give us that twenty he owes us if we come and pick it up.” Kenny said. “Then I can give you the five bucks I owe you.”

What a hassle, Brian thought.  Then he said, “Oh, alright, I’ll be there in ten minutes to pick you up.”

Brian picked up Tom on the way to Kenny's, then all three drove to Uncle Ray’s. Once again, he was sitting on the stoop, with the gravestone at his feet wrapped in newspaper. He looked tired and stressed out. The boys listened as Ray explained how he'd been unable to sleep since the day  they'd carried the gravestone into his bedroom. It was during the early morning hours that he could hear faint singing, but couldn’t tell where it was coming from--it drove him crazy. Even stashing the stone outside underneath the trailer didn’t help. Every morning about 2:30 came the singing, singing, and more singing!

“Just take the damn thing outta here, will ya--it’s haunted!” Ray said, flailing his hands in disgust. “Here, take your twenty bucks and go. Throw it in the river, for all I care; just get it out of here, now!”

The boys loaded the gravestone into the trunk and drove off, amazed about getting the twenty dollars Ray owed them.

"Haunted!" Tom bellowed. "Your uncle's brain is fried, Ken. He's been smokin' too much wacky weed!"

The boys considered dumping the stone at the cemetery but were afraid someone would see them, and tossing it in the river as Ray suggested didn’t seem right to them. Brian needed to get his dad’s car back home soon, so they decided to bring it to Kenny’s house and hide it under the shed in the back yard, since his parents were away from the house, out to lunch. They quickly smuggled it to the rear of the shed, where years of water drainage had gouged a space underneath the foundation. The stone was laid before the small crevice and slowly shoved by all three boys in and out of sight. Problem solved, at least for now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~§~~~~~~~~~~~~


Five days later Kenny was awakened early Wednesday morning when the family’s German Shepard began barking wildly at something in the backyard. He looked at the clock, it was 2:29 a.m. He could hear his dad emerge from his bedroom mumbling obscenities.

Dad opened the back door and gave out a muffled yell: “Miggs, quiet down! Knock it off, damn dog!”

Miggs appeared to be looking at something behind the shed, still barking. It occurred to dad that Miggs might be barking at more than the moon, like maybe a prowler. He slipped into his shoes, tightened his robe to protect against the chilled night air, and then ventured cautiously out to the shed.

From his bedroom window Kenny could see in the light of the waning moon his dad walking to the shed.  Miggs stood poised for action, staring intently and whining loudly.

"What is it, Boy? what do you see?" Dad said, while giving Miggs a "good boy" pat on his mane.

It appeared to Kenny that his dad was mesmerized, for he stood frozen, as though he were seeing something mysterious or frightful. Dad gave his face a vigorous rub with his hands and looked again, with Miggs looking puzzled, head cocked, tail straight. After a few seconds Dad lowered his head in a pondering fashion, then he walked behind the shed and emerged at the other side as if he were looking for something--or someone. He hesitated for a moment, and then headed back to the house with the alert canine close behind. Mom greeted Dad at the back door with  a look of  puzzlement.

From his bedroom Kenny could hear them talking hushed, but couldn't make out the words. After checking the locks and windows the parents went back to bed.

It wasn't until breakfast that Kenny heard the full story of what had happened earlier that morning. Dad explained how he'd walked out to investigate the dog alarm, and when he reached the back of the shed he saw a young girl in a lovely white dress! After about five seconds the beautiful vision simply vanished into thin air! Dad was not a believer in ghosts, he simply dismissed the whole thing as a middle-of-the-night hallucination, akin to sleepwalking.

Like his dad, Kenny was a logical thinker and didn't believe in ghosts; but he couldn't fail to see in the incident a remarkable coincidence, in that, buried under the shed was the gravestone of a young girl--a gravestone he stole! Never mind that he did not have a logical explanation for the ghostly event; more importantly, he needed to rid himself of that stolen epitaph, or risk the biggest trouble of his teenage life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~§~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Brian was home watching television later that same day when the phone rang.

"Hello," Brian answered.

"It's me," the nervous voice said. It was Kenny.

"Don't tell me, you have to get rid of 'it'?" Brian said sarcastically.

After a surprised pause, Kenny said, "Yeah, that's right. I need to get rid of the thing, today! I talked to Tom, he said we can bring it back to his house; he has a place. Come now, his parents are gone. I'll pay for gas."

"Ten minutes," was all Brian said. He slammed down the receiver.

Kenny was home alone when Brian arrived with Tom; his parents were with Tom’s parents bowling, and his sister, Jenny, was out with her boyfriend.

"We gotta make this fast, bowling ends in an half an hour," Kenny said.

They pulled the stone out from under the shed, and lugged it to the trunk of Brian's car and  quietly drove off.

Brian was in a sour mood. "I'm getting sick of being a taxi for this damn piece of marble. Let's go to the field and dump it." The field was a plot of unused land owned by the railroad.

"No way," Tom said defiantly, "I want to keep it. I have the perfect place for it, but we have to hurry."

They drove to Tom's house, whence the stone’s journey began. After a quick search of the property for Tom’s pesky younger brother they hauled the tombstone down to the cellar and set it by the cubby hole under the steps. Flashlight in hand, Tom crawled into the small, spider-webbed space and out of sight while Brian and Kenny flipped quarters “heads or tails” for amusement.

After a couple of minutes of banging and cussing, Tom stuck his head out and said, “Okay, slide it to me.” The two bored boys pushed the stone slab to Tom’s waiting hands. Kenny held the flashlight while Tom hoisted the stone into the space between the two-by-fours against the wall. He then placed the plywood over the stone and nailed it in place, entombing--perhaps forever--the marbled memory of Ashley Rose.

“There, we’re done with it!” Tom said with enthusiasm. “Let’s go get some pizza. I’m buying!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~§~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Not much happened the following week. Even the weekend was boring. They'd gone to a movie, but it was so bad the boys walked out, even though it cost them a dollar a piece. They tried to pick up some girls--kenny had dad’s Impala--at the arcade for some fun, but the girls decided they had better things to do after the boys had spent all their money--on them! It was the middle of summer vacation, but without money there wasn’t much to do. They’d already spent the forty bucks Uncle Ray had given them for the tombstone, and none of them had jobs. Monday and Tuesday of next week went by with not much to talk about or do. Life, however, was about to get a little strange for Tom and his family...

It was early Wednesday morning, about 2:30 a.m., when the entire family was awakened by loud knocking sounds coming from the cellar. Dad descended the steps to investigate, but the noise ceased once his bare feet touched the cold cement floor. In the dim light of the forty watt bulb he could see the room was empty and the window was closed and secure. He grabbed the flashlight from the shelf and knelt before the space beneath the steps and peered in, but all he could see were some Christmas ornaments and some tools. As he stood up a sudden chill came over him; it seemed to seep down to his bones. Then the lightbulb began to flicker and sizzle electrically before going out completely.  From the top of the stairs his wife called out to him.

"Honey, are you alright?"

"I'm fine, I'll be right up."  he shouted upward.

He walked to the window and checked the latch with a jiggle of his hand. Satisfied, he turned and headed for the stairs. Then something in the flashlight's beam caught his attention. He froze and watched as a smoke-like mist slowly arose from the floor, in front of the cubby hole. The swirling, growing mist became denser with every passing second. His spine tingled with fear as it developed into a radiant white opacity about five feet high. From within the efflorescent cloud there formed a young girl in a beautiful white dress. Her resplendent face was smiling ever-so-sweetly, and in her right hand was borne a beaming rose.

Dad's fear turned to astonishment. Overwhelmed, he could neither move nor speak. From her bosom, the girl extended her right hand and rose with such  peaceful solemnity that he felt a sudden urge to weep. Her face was that of an angel, and the smile upon that face the most adoring he had ever seen.

After a few seconds the vision dissipated into nothingness, leaving only the steps and the dank wall visible in the cone of light emanating from his hand. It took a long moment for him to recover from his astonishment. He decided on-the-spot to not share his experience with his wife or kids; no reason to upset their normal existence with a ghostly tale that might cause fear, or worse--mockery! It would be years before he would tell of his encounter with the beautiful girl in white.

Mom, Tom and his little brother, Danny, were standing at the top of the steps to greet Dad as he ascended the creaky steps to the kitchen light piercing the cellar doorway.

“I don’t know,” Dad said, still shaken from the experience. “The window is locked. Could be pressure in the water pipes. I’ll have to check it out tomorrow.”

Lights out, back to bed.

Tom didn’t sleep all night. He lay awake knowing full well that if his dad had a hankering to check the plumbing he might crawl underneath those steps and rip off that doggoned plywood to get to those pipes, and wouldn't dad be surprised to find a gravestone!  It was not likely, but the mere possibility made Tom sick with worry.

 

Then, later that day, at dinner time, things got a whole lot worse...

The TV could be heard in the background as they all ate their spaghetti. The local news reporter was telling the sad tale of a local woman, Samantha Rose, who was heartbroken over the theft of her sister’s gravestone from the Holy Cross Cemetery. Remarkably, the ninety-three year old woman still lived in the same house she’d grown up in. The story was especially sad because the kindly old lady had no children or surviving relatives; she was all alone in the world, so it seemed. Tom’s family sat and listened to the touching tale of how, for the last sixty-six years, on July 2nd, Samantha had always placed a dozen roses on her sister’s grave. As the reporter spoke, the camera showed the elderly woman at the gravesite in her wheelchair, and also the hole where the gravestone had once stood. The story ended with a plea for the return of the grave marker to the police, no questions asked.

Tom’s face went flush with apprehension.

“Are you alright, Tom? you don’t look well,” His mother asked, concerned.

“Oh, sure, I’m just a little tired, that’s all; didn’t sleep well.”

“Who would want to steal a Tombstone?” Younger brother Danny said, disgusted as a twelve year old could be.

“There’s a lot of nutty people in the world, Son,” Dad said, “you might as well get used to it now.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~§~~~~~~~~~~~~


It was exactly 7:30,  Saturday morning, when Brian was awakened by his mother.  He had a phone call.  It was Tom.

“You’re nuts, calling me this early!” Brian shouted into the phone.

“Sorry.  I got a little problem.”

“Yeah, you really do.  You can’t tell time!”

“You said your dad was going to let you use the wagon today, right?” Tom said in a whisper.

Total silence.

“Anyway, I need ya to come over today and help me get rid of ‘it.’”

 

There was no doubt about what “it” could be.

Total silence.

“Come at ten, everyone will be gone for a couple of hours; it’s Danny’s birthday, so they’re taking him to the zoo.

Total silence.

“Brian, you there?”

“I want gas money,” Brian retorted. Then he slammed down the receiver.

Kenny pedaled his bike to Brian’s, and from there they both drove to Tom’s house. They all agreed they had a real problem on their hands, with the whole town wondering who would steal a gravestone, especially from a nice old lady like Samantha Rose. The boys had made up their minds: they were going to rid themselves of this curse once and for all!

But how?

Once again they contemplated throwing it in the river, but Kenny offered the idea that they leave it in the church parking lot where it would be found. On the way to the church, however, Brian had an even better idea: drive it straight to the Sheriff’s office!

“Are you crazy?” Tom said, making a “loco” motion with his index finger.

“No, listen,” Brian said, “we just tell him we found it down by the river, and that…um, we saw on the news how someone stole a gravestone from the cemetery, and--”

“Hey, maybe there’s a reward for the thing!” Kenny interjected.

“Yeah, a misdemeanor charge, that’ll be our reward!” Tom said.

It took some crafty verbal persuasion before Brian could convince Tom and Kenny that driving to the Sheriff’s office was their best option. Once they’d decided that was indeed what they were going to do, they all felt a sudden sense of relief, even joy. They were finally going to rid themselves of the problem, and be doing the right thing, too.

Twenty minutes later all three boys were standing at the open trunk, giving a convincing rendition of their fanciful tale to Deputy Hanson. The Sheriff was out, he explained, but he'd be glad to relieve the boys of their burden. The boys helped carry the gravestone into the office. The Deputy took down their names and thanked them profusely for their good deed, and gave the boys a vigorous handshake in gratitude before he bid them farewell.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~§~~~~~~~~~~~~~


All was well with the world in the days following their trip to the Sheriff’s office. That is, until all the boys were summoned by their parents Saturday morning for a special rendezvous to the Holy Cross Cemetery! What the boys did not know was that the Sheriff had contacted the town paper, who contacted the TV news, who contacted the boys’ parents with the idea of a special gathering at the cemetery to honor the boys’ good deed, and grant the sad tale a happy ending, with Samantha once again able to lay roses before her sister’s gravestone as she had for so many years. Without the boys’ knowledge, the parents had participated in the secret organizing of the media event.

Tom, Kenny, and Brian rolled up to the gravesite with their parents and siblings, completely unaware of what was going on. All three boys gave each other a mixed look of fear and silent collaboration.  What was going on? they wondered. 

The TV news crew filmed Samantha as she spoke of her sister, and how sad it was, her passing so young, only fourteen years old. She held up for all to see an old black-and-white photo of Ashley in her beautiful white confirmation dress, taken shortly before she died. She went on to say how Ashley loved to sing--she had a beautiful voice--and how “Amazing Grace” was her favorite song, and how the rose  had been her favorite flower. And most sadly, she recounted how on the morning Rose died Samantha had promised her younger sister she would always protect her, because that’s what big sisters do. But Ashley, with the wisdom only a dying child can have said, “No, I will always watch over you.” She died fifteen minutes later, at 2:30 a.m., Wednesday morning.  Samantha never forgot the time.

Well, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, as they say, and even the boys were a little choked up. The owner of Beckman’s Hardware Store was there too, and he had decided it would be good for business if he gave the boys a reward for their good deed. He handed each of them a check for twenty dollars. Then everyone clapped: The boys’ families, neighbors, the reporters, and Samantha too, who handed each of the boys a box of fine candy.

The final shot on the six o’clock news was of the dozen roses Samantha had placed before the restored gravestone. The boys were the "toast of the town"  with their pictures on the front page of the town newspaper.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~§~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The remaining days of summer went by like an afternoon breeze. Then winter played its dark and somber tune, and then came summer once again. Samantha Rose passed away the following year and her cremated remains were buried next to her sister, Ashley. The little town of Shonefield grew as the years unraveled, as did the Holy Cross Cemetery, with each new resident finding their resting place for eternity. Tom and Kenny moved away from Shonefield and raised families of their own, never to return.

Amid the hustle and bustle of life nobody seemed to notice who it was that every year placed a dozen roses on Ashley Rose’s grave; they were always there, however, without fail. As the years went by there evolved many stories of Ashley Rose and her haunted gravestone.

In 1995 the town’s paper, The Shonefield Daily, was so intrigued by the mystery they actually staked out the cemetery hoping to catch the benefactor in action. As it turned out, it was the first year the roses didn’t appear, or any year thereafter. The paper did a front page story that same week about the gravestone, and how it had been stolen in 1966, and then miraculously found by three boys. The Daily also revealed their failed attempt to discover the identity of the secret admirer of Ashley rose, and the mysterious dozen roses at her grave. The only possible clue to the mystery was the death earlier that same year of long time resident, Ray Finkelstien, pastor of the Shonefield Episcopal Church since 1969. People who attended his funeral could never forget the beautiful singing by the church choir of “Amazing Grace," the song Pastor Finkelstien had requested be sung at his funeral service. Nobody could establish, however, a cogent explanation as to why the uncle of one the boys who found the stone would leave roses at a grave of someone he didn’t know, and who’d died forty years before he was even born. So the mystery remained unsolved.

Now fifteen years after Pastor Finkelstien's death kids play at the new Ashley Rose Park, in the heart of town. Main street sees every year the Ashley Rose Parade, as part of the summer festivities. The town’s one flower shop has for the entire month of July an “Ashley Rose Special” on the sale of all rose flowers. Shonefield Episcopal Church maintains the Ashley Rose Memorial Fund, created to help those who cannot afford the burial of a loved one. Every year, on Ashley Rose Remembrance Day, the Church Choir sings--most beautifully--“Amazing Grace,” in memory of those who passed away the preceding year. And every year Mrs. Ackerman walks her 5th grade class from the newly built Ashley Rose Grade School to the nearby Holy Cross Cemetery and lays upon the grave of Ashley Rose a dozen roses. She does this as a small lesson in local history, and to teach the importance of remembering ones ancestors. And invariably there are always a few fifth graders who must read aloud the poem upon that restored marble slab:

This beautiful flower
This eternal rose
A life so short
It forever grows
In the hearts of many
And any of those
Who knew
This Ashley Rose


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~§~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

So there ends my story. You might wonder how I know all this. Well, if you haven't guessed already, I am Brian Peterson,  and since 1975  was the Sheriff of these parts, now retired.  You can be assured that everything related herein is true to the best of my recollection. I provide this story for  anyone  who desires to know the  facts of the case which has become a legend in this small midwestern town, commonly referred to as the legend of Ashley Rose.

 

© 2012 Spectral Dust


Author's Note

Spectral Dust
I know, it's a long one, but I think it's worth it. If you see anything stupid, please let me know.

THE CEMETERY PHOTO: Public domain. Photo by A. E. Crane


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I love haunting stories, I must just say WOW to this one.

Posted 9 Years Ago


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Added on February 24, 2012
Last Updated on July 25, 2012
Tags: Ghost, graveyard, tombstone, paranormal, fiction