I enjoy a good story most anytime, but a ghost story should only be told at night. A man named William Stone knew this. He recalls a spooky tale in his autobiography, The Tale of a Plain Man. As a child growing up in Wellsboro, John Ainsley told young William Stone the story of Death’s harbinger, and he never forgot.
There was a man named Richard Duryea who lived alone in a large white house on the Dean road. He had been a sailor and was believed to have been a pirate. He had boxes and relics of the sea, and his profanity was legendary.
You could hear him singing Three Dead Men and a Bottle of Rum on warm summer nights. He never went to church, never mingled with his neighbors, and was thought to be in league with the devil. He was a man to avoid.
One day he fell ill. The old woman that cleaned his house reported his sickness to John Ainsley and Andrew Kriner, who decided to go up to his house and see if they could do anything. They found him close to death, and insisted on a doctor, but Duryea would not have one.
The visitors held vigil as Duryea lay upon his deathbed. It was a warm June night and they sat in a room adjoining his. The door into his bedroom was open, and the door opening to the porch was open. They had dozed off, but awoke as the clock struck twelve.
They were startled when a large black beast with sharp eyes walked into the house, and straight into Duryea’s room. Duryea screamed, and the beast left. Duryea was dead, and Ainsley believed the devil had come to claim his soul…
William Alexis Stone (April 18, 1846 – March 1, 1929) became the 22 nd Governor of Pennsylvania, from 1899 to 1903. He was born right here in Tioga County, just outside Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, in Delmar Township. In The Tale of a Plain Man, this man of humble origin writes of his experiences.
His earliest memory was being hustled out of his bed early in the morning by his brothers to see Santa Claus as he galloped over the hill. Santa did not bring him much, just some candy and some doughnuts, but it was enough and he was happy.
He recounts his home life. His family was poor, but honest. His mother made all their clothes. Nothing but tea, coffee, salt and pepper was purchased. The farm furnished their living. His father even cobbled their boots before the old-fashioned fireplace.
His father was a quiet and reserved man, and William only discovered that his house was an Underground Railroad station when his mother told him to keep out of the spare room. He slipped outside and saw his first colored person when he peeked through the window.
Soon after he read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and spent many a night weeping at the wrongs. It made him anxious to answer Lincoln’s call, but he was too young until later in the war. He started his military career as soon as his father would allow him, and quickly rose in rank.
After the war, he decided to get an education, and attended what eventually became Mansfield University, then followed law practice, and public office. I enjoyed how he won over a hard-headed Scotsman on a jury by quoting Robert Burns, and how he broke up a fist fight in Pittsburgh by claiming to be John L. Sullivan, a boxing champion of the time.
The Tale of a Plain Man is a straightforward account of the inspirations and decisions of a modest Pennsylvania leader. He wrote his memoirs at the request of his children, grandchildren, and a friend. Five hundred copies were printed, but there was such a demand that a publisher in Philadelphia published a second edition of this man who strove “not so much to sustain his own prestige as to preserve the public peace, credit and prosperity.”
Plain? Or Fancy? Comment and let me know. Looking for a book about a cat from Wellsboro? You need go no farther tham “Hobo Finds A Home” about a cat born in Tioga County that went on to become Wellsboro’s most famous cat…