First Adult Honorable Mention - Fire Witch Story by Emily Cooper

Druscilla of Glendale

    Benjamin Givings’ wife Charlotte could have no children, so she rejoiced when she received a letter in 1842 from her sister-in-law in Massachusetts saying she regretted the imposition, but hard times and her husband’s illness were forcing her to send their adopted daughter Druscilla to live with them.

    The Givingses knew nothing of the child except she had appeared on his sister’s doorstep.

    Benjamin owned a large cotton mill along the shoals of Lawson’s Fork and he knew raising Druscilla would fulfill Charlotte’s yearning for a child and cure the loneliness of living in a mill village.

    When the eight-year-old arrived by stage in South Carolina, the couple was delighted to see a beautiful girl with long black hair and light gray eyes. They had the finest clothing made for her in Charleston and shipped to Spartanburg County. Druscilla soon had the finest toys, a tutor and a pony that was surly except when Druscilla was around.

    “Shouldn’t you write your mother?” Charlotte asked her one afternoon. I’m sure she would love to hear from you.”

    Druscilla flashed fiery eyes and then softened and clasped Charlotte’ arm. “You are ‘Mother,’ the only mother to ever love me.” Charlotte caressed her and never brought up the subject again.

    Druscilla magically seemed to know when Benjamin needed a lift and, on those days, she would take cake or pie to him at the mill. Her beauty and finery always attracted great attention as she swept across the mill’s wooden floors, and even more so as she grew into a winsome teen-ager.

    Benjamin was impressed by a young man who had grown up in the mill. Lester Elmhurst didn’t have much formal education, but he read what he could find and he had a good sense of business. Druscilla instantly found his rough good-looks appealing, but she knew he would never approach the mill-owner’s daughter without encouragement. She found reasons to show up early to walk her father home and flirted with Lester at every opportunity.

    Lester, however, understood the danger of such a relationship. More importantly, he was trying to win over young Mary Stevens who worked at the loom next to his mother. Mary was shy but she suspected Lester’s feelings and was in high hopes he might come to love her.

    One evening, Druscilla saw Lester walking Mary out the door with his arm around her. She stared at them with a cold, hard glare, but their love was already such that they were oblivious to her.

    Druscilla made a point of befriending Mary. Not long after that, Mary’s body was found a half-mile down the creek. 
    When the Givingses gave a party for Druscilla, inviting the Upcountry gentry, Druscilla flew into a rage when Charlotte said an invitation to Lester would be inappropriate. Charlotte acquiesced, but Lester didn’t come.

    In his grief, Lester threw himself into his work even more and Benjamin promoted him to superintendent. He was young, but everyone liked him and produced more goods for him.

    Although three years passed, Druscilla still was drawn to Lester, but his good heart felt chills when she entered the mill.

    The next spring, Lester asked Benjamin if he could move from his parents’ home into the former superintendent’s house; he had married a young woman from a nearby town.

    When she heard, Druscilla came home hysterical, calling Benjamin and Charlotte ugly names. They were mystified as to what had prompted her outburst. She left and didn’t return until the next morning.

    In the mid-1850s, Benjamin invested in new equipment about the time cotton prices went up and he had to declare bankruptcy. Embarrassed to turn in his keys to Lester, now the new owners’ manager, Charlotte and Benjamin decided to make a fresh start elsewhere. They were none too sad when Druscilla refused to move with them. She continued to live in the house, shed of much of its beautiful furnishings.

    When the Civil War brought contracts for Confederate clothing, the mill was running around the clock and, as mill-hands came and went at midnight, people would see Druscilla walking along the edge of the bank, staring into the water.
There were never any lamps lit in her home except as people would pass on their way to church on All Hallow’s Eve, a tradition in their little village of Glendale. The wind always seemed to pick up as they rounded the bend in the road there.

    Druscilla tried in vain to get acquainted with the village children in hopes of meeting Lester’s, but children ran from her and would pass her on the far side of the road.

    Eventually, no one saw Druscilla and residents figured she had gone off to be with her aging parents. Decades went by and the shutters began to fall off the Givings mansion. Its clapboard turned gray and the yard was overgrown.

    By 1931, Lester was long buried and the mill closed for good; those who could afford to had moved away.

    An empty, five-story brick mill with a tower was an exploration hard for young boys to resist. Youth would first hear footsteps, then a loom would knock back and forth although there had been no power to the mill for years. As they would run down the tower steps and out the door, they all declared, they had heard a screeching “Heh, heh, heh!”

    One night in 2004, five boys challenged each other to stay the night in the mill. Three left as soon as the loom started. Seeing an old woman sitting on a bench, the other two 12-year-olds dropped cigarettes from their mouths and screamed as they ran, one of them knocking over an old gasoline can. They hid in the bushes and watched the fire as the shape of a witch – the kind they had seen in picture books – appeared in the top-floor window.

    They heard a scream. Maybe it was the wind.
    Maybe not.


Emily Cooper lives in Columbia, SC.  She is the Editor of the SC Methodist Advocate.
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This web site has been started as a public service to share the story of Glendale. The web master and person to contact about putting information on the web site is Mary McKinney Teaster.  Contact her at:
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