Where are the Gleaners?

Tomatoes in Meigs County OH 08-31-2014When I spotted a field with a bunch of small, round, orange objects in it along the Ohio River Scenic Byway near Letart Falls, I turned to Curator Jessica and asked what she thought they were. “They’re not big enough for pumpkins,” I observed.

The question was answered about a quarter-mile down the road when we came upon field after field of tomatoes whose vines were turning brown. Wife Lila is proud (rightfully so) of the tomato plants in her backyard garden, but here were miles of them rotting on the vine.

“Pinhookers” clean fields in Florida

I’ve seen “pinhookers” around Immokalee pay farmers a small amount of money in order to harvest the leftovers in a field, so I wondered why nobody appeared to be doing that around there.

What were those people called in the Bible who did that? I asked Miz Jessica, who had been to church before our jaunt and should be up on that kind of thing.

“Gleaners. It comes from the Book of Ruth and the story of Ruth and Boaz,” she said without hesitation.

I wish I had been going straight back to Florida. I’d have brought Wife Lila enough tomatoes to keep her canning for weeks.

Rattling the Bones of the Past

Science classroom Central High SchoolWhen I posted a photo of the science classroom at Central on January 27, I wondered whatever became of the skeleton that hung in a corner of the room. There were some spirited discussions in a couple of Facebook groups about the old guy, but the best info came from an anonymous source. Well, he’s not anonymous to me, but I agreed to keep his identity hidden in case he had any other skeletons rattling around in his past. We’ll just call him The Gravedigger.

This is a REAL gravedigger

Ohio GravediggerFrom The Gravedigger: On the QT. he was in bad shape and ended up being thrown out. I rescued him from being put in a dumpster. (It was a human skeleton ) He stayed with me in the school warehouse for a couple of years until I was doing some cleaning out and tried to figure what to do with him. After several calls to other schools and no one wanting a skeleton with a few parts missing, I decided to have a little fun with him. We were having some dirt work done at a friend’s farm by a backhoe operator who was also a friend, so we decided to have some fun with him. The farm is located where the town of Eaglette used to be down near Duck Creek.

“We told the operator to be careful when he was digging because there were several unmarked graves of both townspeople and Native Americans in the area… Any way you see where this went. When we finally caught him and got him calmed down and explained what we had done, he begin to see a little humor in the whole deal. He didn’t see near the humor we did, but he did finish the job for us. He also promised that he could dig a hole deep enough that no one would find us if we ever did that to him again. Any way (Slim) hung out at the farm for a while after that and my buddy that had the farm found a home for in the high school in Zalma. I think he is still there.

[Editor’s note: the guy in the photo is a real gravedigger from Letart Falls, Ohio, not my secret identity Gravedigger.]

I hope I’m retired by then

Ezra McComas - woodcarver - Meigs County 02-12-1969That brought to mind a story an old deputy told me. I was a couple counties north of Palm Beach county working on a story about a serial killer. They were digging up a farm where the guy was thought to have dismembered his victims, stuffed them in drums and buried them. I was being held at the perimeter by an old deputy, several hundred yards away from the dig where I couldn’t shoot anything because of brush and trees, so it was a wait-and-see situation. With nothing better to do, the deputy and I had plenty of time to trade war stories.

“When I was a rookie, there was on old hermit living out in the groves back there with a pet gorilla. One day, he flagged me down and said his pet was ailing and needed to be put down, but that he didn’t have the heart to do it. I wasn’t crazy about the task, but it seemed the decent thing to do, so I led the animal out in the groves and shot him in the head. Afterward, I dug a shallow grave and figured nobody would ever find him. Well,” he continued, “those groves are gradually being turned into a housing development. I hope I’m retired before some bulldozer operator turns up something that looks like a human skeleton with a bullet hole in the skull.”

[Editor’s Note: the gentleman above isn’t my salty deputy: he’s Ezra McComas, an Ohio woodcarver. I just needed a picture of an old guy to break up all the gray type.]

Is “Slim” in Zalma

CHS Principal Fred Wilferth c 1964After scratching my head for a couple days, I decided the best way to track the story down was to call the Zalma High School. Thanks to the wonders of Google, it didn’t take but a few minutes to track down a phone number. When a man answered, I said, “This is going to be your strange question of the day.” I told him a little background of who I was and what I do, then asked, “So, my question of the day is, ‘Do you have a skeleton hanging around in one of your classrooms?”

The voice at the other end was Principal Gerard Vandeven. “Yes,” he said, “and he has a name. I think it’s Jo-Jo.”

“How is that spelled? ‘Jo-Jo’ or ‘Joe-Joe“?”

He wasn’t sure.

[Editor’s note: That’s not Principal Vandeven. It’s really long-time Central High School Principal Fred Wilferth.]

How long has it been there?

“How long has Jo-Jo been there?”

“I’ve been here 26 years and he’s been here as long as I have. He shows up all over campus. Bones hanging from a metal rod. He’s all there. Sounds like him. I’ll see if the science teacher can send you a photo.”

There may be a problem

Gravediggers - Letart Falls, OH, 10-14-1968I’m having some doubts now. The timeline doesn’t sound right. I reached out for The Gravedigger to dig up more information. I told him that if Mr. Vandeven had been at the school 26 years, that meant the skeleton had to have gotten to the school before about 1987. Did that fit with what he remembered?

Gravedigger: “Ok just talked to my friend and to the best of his knowledge he gave it to Zalma schools. Not sure if there is any other school in Zalma.

We moved from the old board office in about 1998 ( I think). We moved it when they did the cleaning out. So it has been longer than I remembered. We cleaned out a bunch of stuff. Gave away some to to teachers and staff – whatever they wanted, and the rest was auctioned off or pitched. I took the skeleton to the new office with me and got rid if him shortly after that. Probably 2000. I had to make a couple of phone calls to get the dates right. So probably 13 years ago. I think the high school got a new skeleton before they moved.”

[ Editor’s Note: this is A gravedigger, not The Gravedigger.]

We’ve hit a dead end

Athens Cemetery 02-18-1969Unless a new Gravedigger comes forward, I guess I have hit a dead end with my search for what really happened to Slim. Did he become Jo-Jo at Zalma High School, or is he rattling around somewhere else.?

One last unrelated skeleton story. I rolled on a report of bones being found in a ditch alongside a remote road. The medical examiner and I got there about the same time. He probed in the muck and ooze for some time, then came up and said, “My job gets a lot easier when you find the skeleton is wearing a dog collar around its neck.”

[Editor’s note: This Athens, Ohio, cemetery photo doesn’t have anything to do with the story, but I thought I’d throw it in here anyway.]