Looking for Ghost Houses

Pocahontas 03-20-2018

When I was driving around the Bootheel a few years back, I kept running into what I call “ghost houses.” Those are places where you can tell by the way the trees are spaced or cleared that a house probably lived there long ago.

In the spring, there’s another clue: yellow flowers that someone planted years and years in the past.

I didn’t shoot many of them

Dutchtown 03-20-2018

I didn’t shoot the ones I encountered in the Bootheel because I was searching for things that were there, not things that were missing. I learned later, that the ghost houses would have been the perfect metaphor for counties that lost as much of 80% of their population when mechanical cotton harvesters came in.

I’ll look harder next spring

Delta flowers 03-20-2018

I’ll make a broaden my search next spring. These were spotted in one afternoon’s drive in 2018. None of them convey exactly what I wanted to show.

Who planted the flowers?

Stoddard County 03-20-2018

I have to wonder who planted these flowers so many years ago that they outlived the gardeners and the buildings they surrounded.

Dutchtown’s ‘Restin’ Rock’

When I have new folks on a road trip with me to Advance, Bloomfield or points south, when we get near Dutchtown, I ask them if they’ve heard the story of the famous (in Dutchtown, at least) Restin’ Rock?

Of course, they say “no,” because that’s the kind of story you only hear if you’ve spent time sittin’ and rocking on the front porch with the oldtimers who helped tame Swampeast Missouri. In the summer, you’d sit on the porch; in the winter, these old goats would hold court around the big pot-bellied stove in the back of my grandfather’s liquor store in Advance.

Anyway, getting back to the story that took place back before big-wheeled, air-conditioned tractors were even a dream. Silas and his wife lived in a farmhouse in the shadow of the big hill dominating the tiny burg of Dutchtown. The field he worked across the road used to be in the flood plain of the Mississippi River before it broke through the Thebes Gap to go on its present course to New Orleans.

Iced tea (sweet, of course)

At the end of a long day working his fields, Silas would put away his team, then walk into the kitchen, where his wife would have a big, cold pitcher of ice tea waiting (sweet, no lemon, of course). It was funny that I never knew what Mrs. Silas’ name was. She was always referred to as “his wife” or “Silas’ wife,” in the custom of the time.

On a hot, steamy August day, Silas came in from the fields like always and snatched up a huge tumbler of iced tea. The humidity was high because it had rained hard for a short time the night before, just enough to make the air steamy, but not for so long that the field was too muddy to work.

Silas took his glass of tea out to go sit in a swing he had hung in the shade of a huge boulder clinging to the side of the big hill behind their house. He called it his “restin’ rock.” He liked sitting there looking over his field, feeling good about what he had accomplished, then wondering, as farmers do, if a hail storm would wipe him out; or if the river would come up; or if there would be too much rain or too little rain or it would come at the wrong time; or if there would be a “too good” harvest in the area that would depress prices.

It gave one bounce

He had just taken a couple swigs of the iced tea and had wiped the sweating glass across his equally sweating brow when he felt a pebble bounce off the swing seat next to him. Then, a strange shadow engulfed him from the monstrous boulder that that had given him comfort for so many years. It gave one bounce, taking out a few saplings on the way down, then landed smack-dab on top of Silas and his swing.

There was much speculation later about what happened: some blamed the rain the night before; some thought it was a freakish gust of wind; others wrote it off as “God’s Will.”

Mrs. Silas and the neighbors felt the impact and went running to see what had happened. Mrs. Silas fainted dead away when she saw where the rock had landed, and didn’t see her husband around.


When she revived, her neighbors tried to break the news that the rock was so large there wasn’t anything in the county that could lift that much weight, and, even if they could lift it, there would most likely be nothing under it that resembled Silas.

“Well,” she said, women being just as strong and pragmatic as the men in those days, “he always called it his “restin’ rock,” so it’s there he will rest until the Good Lord calls us all home.

After I’ve told that story and driven by to show my passengers the Restin’ Rock, they invariably ask, “Really?”

That’s when I look heavenward, give a nod to Mother, and reply, “Sure. Really. Do you think I’d fib to you about something like that?”

Dutchtown: Flood of 1993

Mark Steinhoff - Dutchtown Flood of 1993Some of you have been wondering where I’ve been. I was busy in Cape getting a boat ready to pull down to Florida for Kid Adam, then it was a long slog south because of weather. When you’ve been gone from home for months, there are a number of things you have to catch up on. If you don’t accept all those excuses, I’ll have to fall back on “the dog ate my homework” and hope you don’t know that I don’t own a dog. (I’m owned by a cat, but they rarely eat homework.)

OK, to bring us back to the headline, I was in Chicago for phone switch training when the Flood of 1993 was going on. I told the boss that I’d pay any difference in ticket price to do a stopover in Missouri for a couple of days, so I could see the high water.

Dad’s construction company owned a piece of ground at the southeast corner of Highways 25 and 74 in Dutchtown. It had gone under in 1973, and was revisited by water backing up from the Mississippi River in 1993. Brother Mark and I rented a canoe to explore the property at the height of the flood. The building we’re headed toward was what we called the mechanics shed.

Big enough to hold heavy equipment

Mark Steinhoff - Dutchtown Flood of 1993The building had a super-thick slab strong enough to hold bulldozers and draglines when they needed repair and maintenance. Half of it was set aside for mechanical and welding work, and the other side had storage cabinets and a carpentry setup.

The first challenge was how to open the door. The Master lock was located just beyond where you could reach it comfortably without tipping the canoe over. My key ring, 22 years later, is still bent from trying to twist the lock open.

Not a pretty sight

Mark’s first peek showed stuff bobbing around all over the place. We lost some good table and band saws because we never thought the water would come up so high and so fast.

How do we get through the door?

Mark Steinhoff - Dutchtown Flood of 1993The next challenge was how to get a wide canoe through a narrow door. It was part of family lore that Dad once built a boat in a basement on Themis street, then figured out it was too big to get out. I never knew for sure if that was true, and he’s not around to either confirm or deny the story.

I REALLY didn’t want to go swimming, and I REALLY, REALLY didn’t want to spill all my camera gear in the drink, but how can you pass up an opportunity like this?

I went first

Mark Steinhoff - Dutchtown Flood of 1993I managed get the bow of the canoe far enough into the building to rig a 2×8 or 2×10 board between the top of a cabinet and some shelving, and clambered out. Mark handed up everything that was in the boat and followed my lead.

Once the boat was empty, he was able to twist it enough to get it through the door.

Mark doesn’t look comfortable

Mark Steinhoff - Dutchtown Flood of 1993He’s giving me the look that says, “I bet you’ve rigged that board to dump me. I can’t figure out HOW you did it, but I’m pretty sure something nasty is going to happen.”


Mark Steinhoff - Dutchtown Flood of 1993He looked even more uncomfortable when I started sharing snake stories from other floods and hurricanes I had covered. “Don’t forget,” I warned him, “snakes are looking for high ground, and they might mistake you for high ground.”

Compressor was flood casualty

Mark Steinhoff - Dutchtown Flood of 1993There was a huge, industrial-size air compressor on the mechanic side of the shed that wasn’t bolted to the floor. When the water came up, the air tank on the bottom started to float, but the heavy motor and compressor on the top caused the unit to flip over. Had it been bolted down, the water wouldn’t have gotten up high enough to do any damage. Mark’s using the big ceiling hoist to get it out of the water.

We asked someone if they thought the compressor was salvageable, but we were told that the motor was probably shot. We gave it no thought for about ten years until Brother-in-Law John came down to help us with something. He said he’d take the thing off our hands.

Sure enough, when I went over to his shop a couple of weeks ago, the compressor was puttering away as good as new. I’m glad it found a good home.

On the same side as the compressor was our ski boat, The Mary Lou, floating, still attached to its trailer. (You’ll hear more about The Mary Lou later.)

Water marks

Mark Steinhoff - Dutchtown Flood of 1993When I got back to Cape several months later, the armpit-high water marks on the buildings were still evident. Mark may be my “little brother,” but he’s not that little.

I saw drone aerial photos of the property shot a couple of days ago. The water is already into the buildings, and I suspect that Mark and I could take a canoe through the big shed pretty much the same at 1993 if the water crests as high as predicted.


Horseshoe Up or Horseshoe Down?

Dutchtown building with horseshoe 10-18-2015I was in Dutchtown the other day and decided to drive down the lane that separates our property from the neighbor to the south. It contains about half a dozen pecan trees that Mother and I used to like to visit at this time of year. Most of the nuts she was cracking here in 2012 came from those trees.

In the dozens of times I’ve gotten to this old building and turned around, I had never noticed the horseshoe above the door. (Click on the picture to make it larger.)

Why is a horseshoe lucky?

Wikipedia theorizes: Horseshoes have long been considered lucky. They were originally made of iron, a material which was believed to ward off evil spirits, and traditionally were held in place with seven nails, seven being the luckiest number.

The superstition acquired a further Christian twist due to a legend surrounding the 10th century saint Dunstan, who worked as a blacksmith before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. The legend recounts that, one day, the Devil walked into Dunstan’s shop and asked him to shoe his horse. Dunstan pretended not to recognize him, and agreed to the request; but rather than nailing the shoe to the horse’s hoof, he nailed it to the Devil’s own foot, causing him great pain. Dunstan eventually agreed to remove the shoe, but only after extracting a promise that the Devil would never enter a household with a horseshoe nailed to the door.

Which way should it point?

The LuckyMojo website says it depends on where you’re from: In most of Europe, the Middle-East, and Spanish-colonial Latin America protective horseshoes are placed in a downward facing or vulval position, but in some parts of Ireland and Britain people believe that the shoes must be turned upward or “the luck will run out.” Americans of English and Irish descent prefer to display horseshoes upward; those of German, Austrian, Italian, Spanish, and Balkan descent generally hang them downward.

In regions where the horseshoe is placed facing upward, folks believe the horseshoe must point up “or the luck runs out.” In places where it is hung facing downward they say exactly the opposite — “it must point down so the luck can pour onto you.” However, in its function as an amulet for magical protection, especially over the doorways of barns and stables, the horseshoe usually points downward and it is said that “no witch will pass under it.”

What does the difference in directionality mean? I think that in most of the world it is the horseshoe ITSELF that is lucky and protective — whereas in England and Ireland the horseshoe is seen as a mere “collector” of luck from above. There are other regional and cultural differences in horseshoe beliefs, too:

In Italy, for instance, when a horseshoe is nailed by the side of the door (not above it), directionality is not considered important, but what IS important is that the horseshoe was actually used — worn and discarded by a horse — that it was found in the road or in a field, not purchased, and that the person who enters the door can touch it.