OXFORD — The Oxford Community Center was eerily empty Sunday afternoon for the ghost story competition. Only a table of snacks, flickering table-top candles and a Halloween CDs rattling chains and groans hinted something was amiss in the dark theater.
Suddenly, a man entered, took the stage and creeped out the small crowd with his scary tales.
David Foster, local actor and story-teller, sportingly shared his stories, one original and one legendary. He told the audience, “There are no new ghost stories.”
His first story, “Uncle Billy’s Wife,” came from Smith Island.
“All the women down Smith Island know how to keep witches out of their houses,” he began.
He wove a tale of Uncle Billy. Although some men in the audience might think they’ve married witches, said Foster, Uncle Billy really did.
The women of Smith Island knew that sticking a pin cushion with a silver needle would keep a witch out of the bedroom, he said. Uncle Billy’s sisters were convinced Uncle Billy’s wife was a witch — her food was so good, she must have had the devil’s recipes! — so his sisters hosted a sewing circle to trick Uncle Billy’s wife. As the women were gathered, one sister stuck a pin cushion with a silver needle and waved it under Uncle Billy’s wife’s chin. She ran from the room.
The sisters told Uncle Billy what happened, and he was very angry with his beautiful wife for lying to him. That night, Uncle Billy pretended to sleep. He watched his beautiful young wife sneak from the bed, throw a white cloth over her figure, transform into an old crone and fly out the window.
Furious, he snatched the cloth and washed it with as much lye as he could to scrub all the magic out of it. When the old crone returned, Uncle Billy watched as she threw the white cloth over her figure, only to find it no longer transformed her.
She asked what he had done, and he told her. But hadn’t she been a good wife to him, she asked?
Indeed she had, and Uncle Billy had seen the error of his ways. He rushed to get the highman, or witch doctor, to repair the magic cloth. The highman tried everything, fearing the rays of the morning sun would kill the hag.
Finally, on his last try, the highman threw the white cloth into the air. It settled over the crone’s body, and as it passed through her, she was transformed into Uncle Billy’s beautiful wife.
But it was too late, the highman said. Only in death did she return to her beautiful state.
Uncle Billy never spoke to his sisters again. His wife is buried on Smith Island, still visible. Her epitaph warns to be careful opening Pandora’s Box. One never knows what he might get.
Foster’s second story was from his own experience on Jack’s Point in Oxford. Early one quiet August morning, he heard splashing and maniacal laughter, but could not find the source.
After a little research, he learned the land there once belonged to Col. Tilghman. It was part of his plantation. Tilghman’s daughters were debutantes who never lifted a finger to help themselves.
In August 1864, the year after the Emancipation Proclamation, bulletins from Baltimore promised any able-bodied African American man could join the Union army. As the men who had been slaves on Tilghman’s plantation left on the ferry, they told the women to hide in the woods until they could send a boat for them.
Tilghman woke to find all his slaves had gone, even the women who had worked in the house, and the debutante daughters would have to learn to take care of themselves.
Early that August morning, the women hiding in the woods laughed as they watched the Tilghman girls empty their own chamber pots into the water for the very first time. They can be heard laughing each year on the same quiet August morning.