Art ~ Writing ~ Life

From Handprints To Footprints

The Ridgewood Story, 9

April 19, 2012
Steve Campbell

Life at Alice Lake:

Alice Lake
Oil paint on canvas
Painted by author, 2007

Since Dave and Amy’s folks were separated, their mother chose to keep their childhood house at Alice Lake. The lake community was as large as the town north of it and once held the stature of being its own municipality, complete with a town hall and post office.

Alice Lake became a popular spot for vacationers (many from Pittsburgh) in the 1920s and was made part of Ridgewood in 1957. By 1970, both communities were approximately two and one-half miles wide from Preston Road west to Baldwin Road east. The length of the combined communities was four and one-half miles.

I made Alice Lake a spring fed glacier-made lake one-half mile wide and a little more than one mile long, 8 acres, and with an average depth of 26 feet along a kettle bottom with holes as deep as 50+ feet.

Surrounded by approximately 750 private homes and cottages, the lake was picturesque with its quaint cottages and beautiful homes. Visitors could rent a room anytime at Richard and Melissa Bay’s Bed & Breakfast—a charming and spacious Folk Victorian home. They could tour the Alice Myers Museum—a colorful Gothic Revival House—every Tuesday through Saturday and acquaint themselves with the lake’s namesake. They could browse Ellen Waverly’s art gallery and buy excellent local artwork. And they could shop nearly every day at the twenty specialty gift shops, which sold a mix of country and Victorian knickknacks not found in city chain-stores. Antiques were also a specialty, and Johnson’s Antiques and Auction was less than a mile away at downtown Ridgewood.

Michelle Evans’s House
Oil paint over acrylic paint on canvas board
Painted by author, 2007

The Pennsylvania Fish Commission maintained the lake and its two public boat launches. The lake was used recreationally for swimming and fishing and for boating (with a 10 horsepower limit). There were rentals of pontoon, paddle or canoes at Maguire’s Boating, Fishing and Hunting, which was open year-round. For the angler, Alice Lake was stocked with pan fish, bluegill, perch, sunfish, walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, and small and large mouth bass. For the hunter, the area was bordered by many public game lands.

In the winter Alice Lake was widely used for ice fishing. Although many of the roads winding around the lake were dirt or gravel, the State maintained them well. Other winter activities included snowmobiling sponsored by the lake park’s Recreation Hall. The entertainment hall had a 24-lane bowling alley and a heated indoor swimming pool.

During the summer, there were fishing contests and kayaking, sailing and canoe rowing races on the lake, and go-cart racing and miniature golf at the Recreation Hall. A fireworks show was displayed on the lake every Fourth of July.

Tourists and locals could sip wine coolers and dip lobster in drawn butter on the patio at the Mill Pond Restaurant at the south side of the lake while kids swam and slid down the fabulous water slide into the lake. Or they could have great pizza—homemade and hand stretched—and subs and calzones any day of the year at Connie’s Pizzeria.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were inexpensive pleasures at The Roundhouse. Once the lake’s roller rink, it was converted into a restaurant and dining hall after fire nearly destroyed the building in 1966. The Roundhouse hosted dances and live music every Saturday night from June until the end of September.

The south side of Alice Lake comprised an Amish community, so it was common to see Amish buggies traveling the lake roads no matter the time of year.

The Ridgewood Story, 8

October 2, 2011
Steve Campbell

Myers Ridge, 1971, Second Visit:

Myers Ridge was well-known for its caves, abandoned mines, precipitous hillside, and sightings of Norman Myers’s ghost. But long before that, the ridge received its official name in 1801 when Jonah Myers purchased the property from the state. Jonah Myers and his family were sheep and goat farmers during a time when the wool industry was strong and the farms there were stately buildings. Some of those building were still standing in 1971, though the state had sold much of the land to corporations and developers. There was talk among developers outside Ridgewood of wanting to put in a ski slope, but citizens familiar with the hill knew the area was populated with sinkholes—the kind of thing people didn’t want to be falling into while skiing.

In 1891, Jonah’s grandson Norman Myers found gold on his property. For a decade, he and his family hauled out ores and precious metals and occasionally squabbled over mining rights. Then, according to legend, Norman’s mines dried up ten years later, on the very anniversary of his discovery. Not long afterwards, Norman disappeared and was never seen or heard from again. Some suspected he was murdered by James McCoy, an angry business partner. Soon afterward, family claimed to see Norman’s ghost haunting the hill. They claimed his body lay inside one of his many abandoned mines, and would haunt the land until his body was found and given a proper burial.

On Halloween night, 1971, behind Parker’s house, Dave and his father told me people still sighted Norman’s ghost at Myers Ridge. Parker told how he first saw the ghost when he was a Boy Scout hiking the hillsides with his troop, and the times he saw it again on different days and nights from his back porch.

Also, a visiting neighbor, Verawenda Erickson, who went to school with Dave and Amy, claimed her father also saw Norman’s ghost when he was a boy. During a visit to one of the old abandoned mines, the ghost appeared to him and gave him an unpleasant start. He never went back.

Vree:

Vree

Verawenda Erickson’s nickname Vree was a result of her initials VRE. She was an attractive girl whose parents, Charles and Deborah, lived down the road from Parker. Charles was a dentist and Deborah was a nurse. Vera is Latin and means “true.” Wenda is English and means “pleasing to the eye.” I liked the combination, hence Verawenda.

Vree claimed to have seen Norman’s ghost on several occasions. The most recent sighting had happened two years before that night, on a day when she and a friend went hiking along the cliffs, one of the more dangerous parts of the hill, and a sudden rainstorm hit. They found shelter in a nearby caving of the ridge, squeezing into a shelter no bigger than a broom closet. Lightning threw erratic patches of light across the stony interior, and in between darkness and light they saw Norman Myers’s ghost standing at the entrance for a moment. The ghost pointed at her feet before it vanished. When she looked down, she found a chunk of gold the size of a softball.

Vree took the gold home and her father turned it over to the federal government. Before he did, however, Vree discovered the initials NWM carved into the gold, something miners did to mark their property. She showed me a photograph of the gold and its initials. I could only believe the initials stood for Norman Wesley Myers, the man whose ghost haunted Myers Ridge.

Before I left that night, Vree told me about another neighbor who claimed to have seen Norman Myers’s ghost and knew why it was haunting the ridge.

Vree’s Spooky Story:

Brian Johnson was with his wife Maria and photographing nature on the west side of Myers Ridge. Both were scenic photographers who enjoyed taking pictures of the ridge’s rock formations. They worked like crazy trying to get as many good contrast shots as possible before sundown.

By nightfall, they had their tent up and a fire going. They ate some beans and franks and slept under the stars. Then around two-thirty in the morning Brian’s walkie-talkie squawked to life and awoke them. It was their emergency contact reporting Maria’s father was in intensive care after having a heart attack, and her mother was alone at the hospital. So Maria took the car and left. That’s the last time Brian saw her alive.

He couldn’t sleep after she left, so he read a book by lantern. It was around four o’clock when he looked past some trees and saw a shadowy figure of a man walking near an outcropping of rock. The figure stopped and looked at Brian, then vanished into a wall of rock. Brian knew he’d just seen a ghost and he wondered if it was old man Myers. He waited until dawn before he went to the outcropping and poked around. There, he found an entrance in the mound of rock, a small canyon twice as high as it was wide, but no bigger than a crouch way. He said a quick prayer, crawled inside and hoped he wouldn’t discover he was claustrophobic. He wasn’t.

He carried along a lantern, which made crawling slow and tiring. Along the way he discovered some dead mice and voles, and a knee squished down on one of the carcasses. Soon he crawled out into a tall and cold gallery of limestone. Sudden movement caused him to turn and stare into the face of Norman Myers’s phantom. He almost screamed, but the ghost vanished and the flame in his lantern flickered and almost went out. He steadied the lantern and collected his wits while he waited for his heart rate to return to normal. That’s when the darkness became green-gray space around him, and he saw Maria step from the space in front of him.

“That was a quick trip,” Brian said, to which Maria replied:

“Daddy died. Mother had a stroke when he did. She didn’t make it.”

“I’m so sorry,” Brian said. He stepped forward to embrace her when he felt a blast of icy air come between them.

“I died, too,” Maria said. “I was struck and killed by a drunk driver when I crossed the street outside the hospital.”

Either the chill or the news caused Brian to stumble backwards.

“Norman Myers killed us,” Maria said.

Brian lost his balance and fell to the ground, sitting with his lantern in his lap and staring at his wife, all the while shaking his head and telling himself this wasn’t real.

“He’s avenging his murder. Daddy was descended from one of the men who killed him. And Mother’s great-uncle was Jim McCoy. Myers’s spirit won’t rest until all of them are dead.”

Maria’s ghost held out its hand in a farewell gesture for a moment before vanishing.

*

“Brian said the place felt coldest then, like someone had opened a large door on the wintriest night. Then his walkie-talkie squawked and his contact guy confirmed what Maria’s ghost had told him,” Vree said before she left the campfire.

Left alone, Dave and I remained silent for several minutes. I mulled over the idea of writing nothing but happy-ending stories. Finally, I broke the silence to say goodbye before I left for home.

Vree’s sad and unsettling tale about Norman Myers’s ghost being a vengeful spirit made me wonder what sort of horrible death he had suffered. I could only imagine, though I hesitated doing so. And, before I fell asleep that night, I pondered whether pursuing Myers’s ghost for my stories was something I wanted to do.

The Ridgewood Story, 6

September 16, 2011
Steve Campbell

Amy:

After I graduated eighth grade, I spent the summer discovering the ups and downs of playing baseball. I shared this passion in a story where I meet Dave’s twin sister, Amy.

Amy

Amy had blue eyes; brown hair worn long past her shoulders and sometimes in a ponytail; never grew taller than 5’ 5”; and loved to swim. Her complexion paled in winter and tanned deeply in summer. She wore blue jeans or shorts to school, along with T-shirts—her favorite shirt during eighth and ninth grades had ROCKER CHICKS RULE on it. (She would become the founder and lead singer of ARC, a high school garage band she put together in ninth grade. She possessed a good singing voice as well as the ability to play guitar like a virtuoso.) Her wardrobe also consisted of leggings, lacy blouses, tennis shoes, clogs, sandals and flip-flops.

Her personality among friends was warm, loving, gentle and charming most of the time. Generally an easygoing person, Amy was slow to anger, but once roused was known for a ferocious temper—she was very difficult to deal with when angry, which was usually set off by jealousy due to her possessive nature.

Growing up as the solitary daughter was sometimes unfair for Amy. Among her chores, she was expected to do housework after school and on weekends, and to even cook evening meals when her mother was late getting home. And there were times when Dave, the only son (who self-righteously acquired the title of “heir to the family” and so believed at times he was “more important” than Amy), expected his sister to obey him and take care of him.

Amy was funnier, more gregarious, and more musically talented than Dave, making her stand out and seem like “the favorite child” to both parents. Often, she was sweetness and light to everyone else, but the Devil to Dave.

Dave, who was the less musically talented child, resented the admiration Amy received, and viewed it as favoritism. And Amy viewed Dave’s feats in baseball and his published articles and stories as favoritism. Cue sibling rivalry, and lots of it.

Strangely, however, Dave seldom resented his sister beyond her musical talents. In fact, he “defended her honor” more ferociously than his own. Any potential boyfriends were in for a hard time, which he proudly stated to Lenny and me throughout our high school years, and which caused Lenny and Amy to have a secret romance together. This happened after Lenny improved his self-esteem, which began after he rescued Laurie Burnett. His identity about himself improved further when he spent the summer playing softball with his church’s youth team and lost weight. He looked stronger in his arms and shoulders, too, and that’s how I saw him one July Sunday afternoon in 1971 playing a softball game sponsored by his church’s youth league. He played first base for The New Gospel Church; they wore blue shirts and caps with NG sewn on them—white on the caps and solid blue on the shirts. The opposing team, The Nazarenes, wore red shirts and caps. And all the players wore blue jeans and tennis shoes.

There was no scoreboard anywhere, but as the story’s author I knew it was bottom of the seventh inning and New Gospel’s last chance to come from behind a five to four score.

Meeting Amy Evans:

I seated myself at the top row of the bleachers behind home plate and a few feet to the left of Amy Evans, a very pretty girl. She had light brown hair tied up in ponies on either side of her full moon face, and she clapped her hands while she cheered for Lenny’s team.

“Who’s winning?” I asked her kindly.

Dave’s twin sister stopped cheering and addressed me with a cool look.

“Bottom of the seventh,” she said. “Nazarenes are up five to four.”

I thanked her and began cheering for Lenny’s team. I knew New Gospel would win. And I knew how, since I was the omniscient author. Or so I thought.

Dave began the final half-inning by fouling a pitch from the Nazarene Church’s ace pitcher, Johnny Blake. Blake had been throwing change-ups and heated fisticuff strikes all game long. I admired his determination to win, but it was Dave’s determination I admired more. Like most of Lenny’s team that day, Dave had gone hitless against Blake’s fastball.

Dave fouled the second pitch, which cleared the backstop and practically landed in my lap. I gave the ball to Amy.

“For you, mademoiselle,” I said when I handed it to her.

She screwed up her nose, threw the ball back onto the field, and slid away from me, putting several feet of space between us.

Lenny’s team was animated inside the dugout at the first base side of the field, all calling for Dave to hit the ball. For a skinny guy, he too had developed broader shoulders and muscular forearms. He had an excellent chance to clout a four bagger and tie the game, which is what I planned to have happen.

But Johnny Blake’s next pitch dropped before it reached home plate. In his excitement to get a hit, Dave swung the kind of windmill swing that embarrasses even the professional ballplayers, and missed by the proverbial baseball mile. The ball scooted under the catcher and zipped straight toward the backstop. Dave, aware of his mistake, never hesitated. He raced to first base as the catcher caught up with the ball at the backstop and threw. The speedy Dave Evans beat the throw to first base.

I looked on surprised while at third base, Pastor Wilkins, who was coaching, yelled out a strategic plan to Lenny who headed toward home plate.

“Just make contact, Lenny,” he said.

“If you say so, coach,” Lenny called back.

“Trying for the long ball,” the third baseman yelled. “Throw him the heat.”

The shortstop laughed and pounded at his glove.

Lenny had never been a good hitter. But I wanted him to get lucky, hit a homerun, and become a hero for a day.

It didn’t happen.

He hit the first pitch—wham, bam—right into the third baseman’s glove. In a matter of a second he had lined out.

The next batter grounded into a double play: 6 to 4 to 3. The the teams met at home plate in a game ending ritual of slapping hands and saying “Good game.” I looked over at Amy who had stood and prepared to leave, and quickly introduced myself.

She scowled at my outstretched hand and said, “Please go away and leave me alone.”

I wasn’t expecting her cutting dismissal, so I kept grinning at her and wanting to tell her I wasn’t hitting on her, even after she did a quick about-face and practically sprinted down the bleachers.

“Pleasure to meet you, anyway,” I said to her fleeing backside. Then, moments later, I, too, headed down the bleachers.

*

Back in my bedroom and with my notebook of story notes, my mind whirled with questions as to why I hadn’t controlled the story events. I had spent an entire school year of English classes learning to visit Ridgewood with a plan of action via a script of scribbled notes. But like the horse fly that had bit me the day Lenny rescued Laurie, I truly didn’t know what would happen during the story or if the events would occur as planned. No matter how well armed I was, the characters of Ridgewood took on lives of their own until I was a spectator watching their stories unfold. And sometimes they revealed things about themselves that I—their creator—didn’t know.

So, how could I, the author, the creator of this world, control the story’s events if the characters didn’t behave as envisioned? I couldn’t. I could only write a script and hope my characters followed it. But they never did. They were characters born in my dreams. And like my dreams, I never knew how they would turn out. Every encounter when writing about Ridgewood offered a universe of unknown premises. And therein lay the magic for me, the young writer learning the craft of storytelling.

At school, I rewrote the softball game and made Lenny a hero. And Amy and I exchanged witty dialogue as we became friends. But in my heart I knew the rewrite wasn’t true. My eighth grade English teacher, however, insisted that I continue rewriting my stories and developing my characters until I understood their motives, emotions, and all their psychological makeup.

So, I spent as much time with Dave and Amy as I could.

Ridgewood’s Weird History:

Even though Amy remained aloof when I visited, she did chip in with information one day when Dave told me about Ridgewood’s strange past of green and yellow lights appearing in 1745, back when the town was called Amity. The lights were seen often at Myers Ridge (then listed in some history books as Haute Colline, and in others as Colline de Miel, which I favor because it means “hill of honey”). Eyewitnesses claimed the lights traveled the neighboring hillsides, too, and always during the darkest nights. Many reports said those lights gathered at midnight over the center of Alice Lake (then called Lac Petit-Miroir, which means “Little Mirror Lake”), then whirled like a “dust devil” for several minutes before they vanished into the lake.

This phenomenon continued for two years until another unexplained event—this one vicious and horrifying—befell Amity on the night of July 7, 1747 when the lights swarmed over the town, hovered in the sky for an hour, then exploded into flame that vanished into thick ash that settled upon the town like tarry soot.

For five days, fever, madness and death seized most of the three-hundred-and-fifty townspeople. Many of the afflicted suffered slow, agonizing deaths. Of the few who lived outside of town and were not afflicted, one was 19-year-old Ezekiel Wood. He recorded a grisly account about a fur trader who murdered his wife and two children while they slept, and then stuffed their corpses inside the belly of a slaughtered cow. Ezekiel also wrote of madmen setting fire to the town. Nearly all the homes destroyed had both dead and living inside. Ezekiel, who was attending the sick, managed to escape the inferno by submerging himself in the local river. He was the only known survivor of the blaze, and he became great-grandfather to Ridgewood founder, Frank Wood.

The lights were never seen again.

*

Dave and Amy revealed other weird tales over time, which I recorded in my notebooks. Every town has its urban legends and Ridgewood was no exception. They who lived there knew of the fabled cries of help from school kids who were on the unfortunate bus that sank to the bottom of Three Mile Swamp, had heard the stories around campfires about the lunatic with a hook for a hand escaping from the prison at nearby New Cambridge, and knew someone who had seen Norman Myers’s ghost on Myers Ridge. Those Ridgewood legends were classic and townsfolk had told them as far back as when Dave and Amy’s great-grandfather was a boy. Even their father, Parker, had his spooky stories to tell, and he told us several of his ghost sightings while we roasted hotdogs around a campfire behind the Evans house one Halloween night in 1971.

The Ridgewood Story, 5

September 8, 2011
Steve Campbell

Dave:

David Nicholas Evans and his best friend Lenny were in the same grade at Ridgewood High, home of the Fighting Eagles. Dave began as my doppelganger before I gave him his own personality. He had blue eyes, medium brown hair, which turned dark and curly by 1973, and had a passion for drawing and writing. Unlike me, however, he didn’t elbow his way among four younger brothers at home. He had a twin sister, Amy Elizabeth Evans, whom we’ll meet later.

Dave

Dave was taller than Lenny and scrawny. (Like me, he would grow to 6’ 2” by his senior year.) His complexion was tanned year round and he almost exclusively wore T-shirts, blue jeans, and tennis shoes in summer, and flannel shirts and work boots in winter.

Friendly, enthusiastic and lively—and exceedingly talkative whenever the subjects were about baseball or art—Dave could argue vehemently for what he believed to be true. On the other hand, he preferred to be alone in his bedroom where he drew, read and wrote. He could spend hours drawing, reading or writing. The latter led to him writing articles for his school newspaper.

Unlike his creator, Dave played a better guitar, but not as well as his twin sister. With a fondness for music, he often hummed whenever he was absorbed in a task.

The Day I Met Dave Evans and Helped Lenny Become a Hero:

He was humming an unfamiliar tune at a swampy outcropping along the eastern edge of Myers Ridge when Lenny, our leader, put up his right hand for us to stop. We were following a well-traveled deer path after leaving our bikes hidden in tall grass near Ridge Road.

“If there’s gold,” Lenny said, “this will be a good place to look.”

Dave and I followed until we stood at the edge of a cliff. Twenty feet below us, water trickled from the hillside and fell and splattered and fell again to Myers Creek far below. I got busy and helped Dave with a rope Lenny had brought. I tied my end to a young hornbeam tree, a hardwood tree we call ironwood back home, and Dave harnessed his end to Lenny. Then we helped lower him to where the water exited the side of Myers Ridge. I watched him dig around at the wet ground, pull up rocks, examine them closely, and toss them away. After ten minutes, the process became boring to watch, so I returned to the hornbeam tree to make sure my knot was holding. It was.

Past the tree where the ground turned swampy and muddy, I watched a red squirrel inspect the inedible raw leaves of a small patch of skunk cabbage, likely looking for the plants’ hard, pea-sized seeds to carry back to its nest. That’s when Dave called me back.

We hoisted a grinning Lenny to us and he proudly displayed a three-inch chunk of bright yellow rock. It was cold and heavy when I held it.

“Think there’s more?” Dave asked. His eyes were wide as he looked at the gold, then down at the cliff and back at the gold.

Lenny shrugged and blew into his hands. “Should have brought gloves,” he said before taking the rock away from me.

“What are you gonna do with it?” Dave asked.

Lenny shrugged again. “Melt it, maybe, and make a bracelet for my mom. I’ve been reading up on how to make jewelry.”

“Tomorrow,” Dave said, “I’m going down there and look for more.”

“Can’t,” Lenny said, frowning. “I have a dentist appointment after school. Besides, since it’s too dangerous to go in the mines, a better place to look would be down below in Myers Creek.” The frown deepened. “But the gold’s high density will have caused it to sink, so we’ll need some way to stay at the bottom and dig.”

“Do you mean like scuba diving?” This time I asked the questions. “Why don’t we inspect some of the sinkholes up here?”

Dave’s eyes widened again. “Are you crazy? Some of those caves are infested with rattlesnakes.”

Cliffs of Myers Ridge

“I’m not saying we go in the caves. I’m saying that the ground of the hole may reveal more gold. After all,” I puffed my chest, “virtually all the gold mankind has discovered is considered to have been deposited by meteorites which contained it. And since gold was found inside Myers Ridge, don’t you think there’d be more showing where the ground has broken away?”

“I don’t know,” Lenny said. “Sinkholes are as dangerous as the mines and caves. You never know when the ground is gonna collapse.”

“We could use your rope,” I suggested.

Lenny looked at his wristwatch. “I gotta get home. What’s your phone number? I’ll call and we’ll discuss this further.”

“No phone,” I lied. “But I’ll be in town this weekend.”

We decided to meet at noon on Saturday at the driveway where we met Dave. Then Lenny left Dave the rope and we said goodbye at the farmhouse’s driveway before Lenny and I headed south along Ridge Road, toward an intersection and Russell Road that would lead us back to Ridgewood. We had gone more than a quarter mile, perhaps 600 yards, when I spotted the flash of sunlight reflecting off the chrome of a green sedan off in a field to our left.

Lenny saw it too, so we stopped.

“That’s the road to one of the mines,” he said to me.

I knew the road was an abandoned one, hidden by a field of teasels, wild grasses and ragweed, having drawn it on one of my maps a week ago. The grasses were indented where a vehicle had passed recently.

“My Spidey sense is tingling,” Lenny said; I chuckled at the comic book reference, and then stopped short when I saw the car begin to back up to turn around.

“Hit the deck,” Lenny shouted. We dove for cover among daisy fleabane and a large clump of purple and yellow New England Astor. I pressed myself close to the ground and hoped the handlebar of my borrowed bike would go unnoticed by whoever was inside that car.

The driver stopped for nearly a minute when the green sedan reached Ridge Road. We were ten yards away and a horse-fly had found the back of my sweaty neck. I clenched my jaw as it bit into my skin and sucked my blood. I waited no more than thirty seconds after the car pulled away to slap at the fly.

When I raised my head and looked around, Lenny was scrambling his way down the overgrown road, heading toward the mine. I followed, groaning and moaning about the sting the fly had left me, until I remembered I controlled the events of my story. This caused me to pause and consider rewriting the fly’s visit.

My neck stopped hurting. I caught up to Lenny at the mouth of the cave someone had boarded up. We pulled the boards away easily and entered a musty smelling cavern that changed quickly to cool dampness and became darker the farther we went. We passed an old rail cart covered with burlap.

A thought came to me that we should look inside the cart. Then, as though he had read my mind, Lenny went to it and pulled away the empty burlap sacks.

We found 16-year-old Laurie Burnett bound and gagged inside. And the police caught the bad guys after Laurie identified them as associates at her father’s bank.

*

I shared my story with my English teacher, to which he challenged me to rewrite it as a story told by a third person, omnipotent author, and to write a sad ending. So, when Lenny bungled the rescue by getting caught by a third henchman and causing Laurie’s death during a daring escape in the revised climax, I got an A grade.

The story, however, seemed contrived, so I returned to writing “the truth” as a first person participant where Lenny stayed a hero and melted his gold into a bracelet for his mom, just as he planned.

Before the school year ended I created a fictional version of my dad’s parents and moved them into a top floor apartment in downtown Ridgewood. My grandfather—in reality and fiction—was a pensioner retired from the railroad, and my grandmother, likewise, worked part-time at the thrift store. Their presence as minor characters made life easier after Lenny and Dave insisted they meet the people I claimed to stay with.

Lenny and I visited Dave often at the farmhouse during high school. The place belonged to Dave’s dad, Parker Evans, who had separated from Dave’s mom earlier that year. Parker and his wife, Michelle, would reconcile and separate several times until finally divorcing in 1974, the year Dave and Amy turned 17. Before then, and before Parker sold the house and moved to Pittsburgh, Lenny and I spent a lot of time with Dave because Parker had three arcade size pinball machines in the house. It was a teenager’s dream come true to play pinball games free whenever the mood struck.

The Ridgewood Story, 4

August 31, 2011
Steve Campbell

Myers Ridge, 1970, First Visit:

I developed Lenny’s character further and discovered after several visits that he didn’t care for “Len” as a nickname, although his dad called him it all the time. I also learned that several pretty Ridgewood girls found his full, dark brown hair and light brown eyes “dreamy looking” even though he was a tad overweight and suffered from asthma, an idea given to me by my English teacher. But even on those occasions when Lenny lost his tiny aerosol cans and his respiratory disorder became critical, he always made it through his adventures.

Not long after his visit to the police station, I met him at his favorite fishing hole after school. I was late because of my paper route and a mandatory supper with my family, so I left behind my pole and hurried to catch up to him. He had just wrapped some fish in newspaper when I spotted an interesting news article on the page wrapped around a fish he handed to me.

PARENTS OF KIDNAPPED GIRL RECEIVE RANSOM NOTE
By LEE WESTFIELD, New Cambridge Times reporter

New Cambridge Police Chief Sanford Owens has reported to this newspaper that the parents of 16-year-old Laurie Burnett received a ransom note earlier this week asking for $500,000 in exchange for the girl’s safe return.

The girl has been missing since Monday night when she was last seen at a soccer game at New Cambridge High School located on East Hickory Street. Her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Timothy Burnett, became concerned when she did not return home after the game. The New Cambridge Police Department was notified and an investigation followed. No leads have been found.

Chief Owens said he and FBI Director James McNabb have advised the family to cooperate with the kidnappers and to do everything possible for the girl’s safety, including payment of the ransom.

Miss Burnett was the 1970 winner of the Miss New Cambridge Junior Beauty Pageant.

The police and FBI are continuing the investigation into the kidnapping.

“Wow,” I said, “wouldn’t it be cool if one of us found the kidnappers’ lair and foiled their plans? We would be heroes.”

“You watch too much TV,” he said, handing me the other fish and picking up his pole and tackle box. We headed to his house and talked about our plans to ride bikes to Myers Ridge where there had been some gold mines years ago. He had researched an old history book at the local bookstore and learned geologist Albert Cuvier had discovered gold in the north part of Myers Ridge in 1901. For five years, miners hauled out ores and precious metals before the mines dried up. So off we went in search of overlooked wealth with a sworn promise to Mrs. Stevens we would stay out of the mines and return in two hours.

After Lenny brought out a coil of rope from the garage, we rode bikes west and up Myers Ridge. My thoughts churned with the notion of Lenny finding a gold nugget and being in the spotlight. So far, he lived a life overshadowed by his older sister’s and brother’s achievements. Susan and Clay Stevens were born 10 and 7 years earlier, respectively, and had moved away. Susan, who had been high school class president four years and class valedictorian, was a Pittsburgh elementary school teacher. Clay had been a high school champion football quarterback, a high scoring basketball shooting guard, and an ace baseball pitcher, and was now in the Army, drafted during the Vietnam War and already decorated with a Purple Heart for wounds received in action against the enemy and for meritorious performance of duty. And he was still there, fighting.

Myers Ridge was a woodsy hill located at the western edge of Ridgewood. I lived on an esker when I was younger, so I based Myers Ridge on rolling hillsides with dairy farms, cow and horse pastures, and miles of secondary woods and brushy new-growth meadows caused by centuries of heavy tree cutting.

As I drew and made changes to my maps that year, Myers Ridge grew into an end moraine, which is a ridge of unconsolidated debris deposited at the snout or end of a glacier during an ice age. Pushed into existence by great sheets of ice more than ten thousand years ago, Myers Ridge the mountain was destroyed often over the years by erosion until it became another craggy and pitted Pennsylvania hill. By 1970, its limestone bowels of tunnels and caves were caving in, making topside areas dangerous places to live and travel on. Its farm community was decreasing swiftly I saw as we rode past abandoned farms to 30196 Ridge Road and a white and vintage two-story farmhouse (circa early 1900’s). A lanky boy our age waited for us at the foot of a long driveway.

The Ridgewood Story, 3

August 23, 2011
Steve Campbell

The Official Ridgewood Map and Town History:

Over the winter I drew several maps of my fictional place and gave it a history. After several tries of cutting and pasting from local road maps, I settled on an arrangement in 2005 that would become my official Ridgewood landscape/topography map.

At my typewriter in 1970, I wrote the town’s history after reading about my own town’s history.

In 1702, I decided, before the Pennsylvania municipality was officially named Ridgewood, the village Amity was constructed as a trading post by French fur hunters and trappers who traded with Native Americans and settlers migrating west along the Allegheny valley. Amity remained a trading post until 1747.

Myers County was then formed from parts of Allegheny County on March 12, 1800. Amity was renamed Ridge Wood in 1829 by one Frank Wood who named the town after his mother’s lineage: Ridge, and his father’s lineage: Wood.

Ridge Wood grew into a sizable railroad town when oil was discovered in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859. On May 27, 1861, tracks owned by the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad intersected with those of the Sunbury and Erie Railroad and was called the “Atlantic and Erie Junction.” Land at the junction was owned by Frank Wood, who sold a portion to the Atlantic and Great Western in October 1861. The railroad constructed a ticket office at the junction and named it for Ridge Wood, but through a misspelling it became Ridgewood.

The combination of railroad growth and the discovery of oil in northwestern Pennsylvania contributed greatly to Ridgewood’s development. The town went from a population of six hundred in 1861 to nine thousand in less than six months. Many surrounding forests were stripped of almost all of their valuable hardwood. Mills and farms sprang up on almost every conceivable spot.

This boomtown was chartered as a borough in 1863 and designated as a city in 1865.

The Ridgewood Story, 2

August 15, 2011
Steve Campbell

The day I created Leonard Campbell Stevens, I played no sports. Fishing and listening to baseball games on my transistor radio were the only things close to being sports active for me. I fished to relax and have fun; so did Lenny, which is how we “met” in the first story I wrote.

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Lenny

Lenny’s first, middle and last names were a mix of my three names (although Leonard was a stretch of my middle one). His last name would change to Armstrong (along with other details) in 1972, but he was Lenny Stevens for two years. His personality was a combination of my two best friends—the three of us buddies since fifth grade. We were a combination of outdoorsy and rugged, curious and adventurous, and observing and taking mental notes for stories. Where one liked to hunt, trap and fish, the other two liked trudging through fields and woods and collecting curious looking bones and rocks. Curious and adventurous Lenny liked collecting rocks.

The Day I Met Lenny Stevens:

It was a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon in September, sixty degrees and the blue sky mottled in places with clouds that looked like white cotton candy shreds. Church was over (for us both) and thirteen year old Lenny had just asked his parents for permission to go fishing at nearby East Myers Creek. Like me, Lenny lived in a town of creeks and bridges, so he had his favorite fishing holes. I knew which one he planned going to, so I beat him there and bobbed my fishing line beneath Cherry Street Bridge while I waited.

He gave me the once over after he slid down the embankment and entered the narrow strip of grassy underside below the steel bridge. I stood far enough away so I didn’t intrude on his spot.

“Hey,” he said, friendly but with a note of suspicion.

I said it back, then left him alone until he had casted his hook and bait to the deep middle and a few cars had rumbled by overhead.

“Fish here often?” I asked when the disturbed dirt and dust had settled.

“Yeah.” He played his line. “Never seen you around before.”

I considered how to answer his question. “Just visiting my grandparents,” I said after a moment. “They moved here recently.”

He seemed to accept my fib, so I told him my name and that I was from New Cambridge (another fictional town of mine, though bigger than Ridgewood and still under development inside my notebook). After we traded introductions, we didn’t speak again for several minutes.

I reeled in my hook from the dark creek bed that must have been either occupied by sleeping fish or unoccupied by any fish at all when I heard two boys talking above us. One had a tenor voice; the other baritone. Their words were muffled until the two came to the railing at my side of the bridge. Each sounded excited.

“How much do you think we got?” tenor asked. “Think we got a hundred or more?” His reflection rippled on the slow-moving water and I saw that he was tall and thin and wore a white shirt. Baritone was short and stocky and wore a red shirt. That’s all I could make out.

“We’ll count it when we get to my place,” baritone said.

“You’ll split it fifty-fifty,” tenor said. “Right? Fifty bucks is a lot of cash.”

“Come on,” baritone said hastily and stones plunked and splashed in the water to my immediate right as he pulled tenor away from the railing. Then the water settled and the voices muffled again as they trailed off.

“Sounds like they broke in somewhere and stole some money,” Lenny said. He had approached me while I eavesdropped and now stood at my side. Like me, he had reeled in his hook and sinker.

“And who are they?” I asked, intrigued by the mystery.

“Craig Coleman and Morty Twitchel.”

“Morty Twitchel?” I said, and said the name again, trying it out. Then I screwed up my nose. “What kind of name is that?”

“Morton, the squeaky moron. That’s what we call him sometimes. He’s probably the dumbest kid in Ridgewood.”

“I take it you two don’t get along.”

“Morty’s okay, he’s just terribly dumb and gullible. It’s Craig no one gets along with. Except for Morty. He and Craig are almost inseparable, which doesn’t make sense.”

“How come?”

Lenny removed his wet, lifeless worm and tossed it into the creek. “Craig’s dad stabbed and killed Morty’s dad in a bar fight at the Edge of Town Tavern last summer.”

“I didn’t think Ridgewood was a violent place,” I said, genuinely surprised.

“It can be. And now those two and their moms are best friends.” Lenny shook his head. “Go figure.”

He went to his tackle box. I followed.

“So where is this tavern?” I asked.

“On Lake Road toward Alice Lake,” he said while snapping a plastic lid on his can of worms. “Why?”

“Just curious.” I saw he was packing up and preparing to leave, so I went to my own tackle box and closed it up. My head was full of thoughts right then.

“Where are you going?” I asked when I caught up to Lenny. We were on the bridge by then and he was definitely heading toward town, away from home.

“Police station,” he said. “I figure if anyone reports a robbery, the cops should know to question Craig and Morty.”

I followed him to downtown and the station house next to the fire station, and waited outside the red brick building while he went in and reported what we had overheard. When he came out, he shrugged.

“Officer O’Conner wrote down the info I gave him, but he didn’t seem pleased. It made me feel like I was tattling.”

“Did you give him my name?” I asked.

“I didn’t mention you. I hope that’s okay. I figured it wouldn’t be right to involve an out-of-towner without his permission.”

I agreed with his logic and followed him to his house. He invited me in, but I declined his offer. I sensed it was suppertime and I’d have to get ready for evening church soon.

His mom called from the front door. “David and Amy were here. You’re supposed to call David as soon as you come in.”

“Dave and Amy Evans; my best friends,” Lenny said to me when I inquired.

We said our goodbyes then and I watched him hurry up the walk to the front door which his mom held open. She was pretty with long, light-colored auburn hair and a pleasant face. She smiled at me and I waved obediently at her until she and Lenny were out of sight.

*

I stopped writing for the day and considered what had happened, especially the surprises. Murder at the Edge of Town Tavern hadn’t been part of the Ridgewood I had scribbled in the pages of my notebook. And Craig and Morty had been just as surprising.

But Ridgewood wasn’t supposed to be a violent place. It was designed to be a peaceful, quaint conglomeration of my hometown Union City and nearby Canadohta Lake butted together.

What were my characters telling me?

I pondered the idea of murder happening so close to Alice Lake. Its name had a halcyon atmosphere, and it was supposed to be a quiet place located at the town’s southern side, named after Alice Myers, a grandmother to a deceased old man named Benjamin Myers who once lived on Myers Ridge. I had no idea yet who these people were when I created them and their namesakes on the maps I drew of the town. All I knew so far was that Ridgewood was somewhere in western Pennsylvania, located more than a hundred miles north of Pittsburgh and at least twenty miles west of the Allegheny River.

There was so much more to discover. And many notebooks to fill.

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