CHAPTER EIGHT. THE MORGAN MYSTERY
THE OLD STONE BLACKSMITH SHOP AT STAFFORD
It was Wednesday, August 22, that we left Buffalo. In some stray notes made by my companion, I find this enthusiastic description of the start.
"Toof! toof! on it comes like a gigantic bird, its red breast throbbing, its black wings quivering; it swerves to the right, to the left, and with a quick sweep circles about and stands panting at the curb impatient to be off.
"I hastily mount and make ready for the long flight. The chauffeur grasps the iron reins, something is pulled, and something is pressed, - 'Chic - chic - whirr - whirr - r - r,' we are off. Through the rich foliage of noble trees we catch last glimpses of beautiful homes gay with flags, with masses of flowers and broad, green lawns.
"In a moment we are in the crowded streets where cars, omnibuses, cabs, carriages, trucks, and wagons of every description are hurrying pell-mell in every direction. The automobile glides like a thing of life in and out, snorting with vexation if blocked for an instant.
"Soon we are out of the hurly-burly; the homes melt away into the country; the road lengthens; we pass the old toll-gate and are fairly on our way; farewell city of jewelled towers and gay festivities.
"The day is bright, the air is sweet, and myriads of yellow butterflies flutter about us, so thickly covering the ground in places as to look like beds of yellow flowers.
"Corn-fields and pastures stretch along the roadsides; big red barns and cosey white houses seem to go skurrying by, calling, 'I spy,' then vanishing in a sort of cinematographic fashion as the automobile rushes on."
As we sped onward I pointed out the places - only too well remembered - where the Professor had worked so hard exactly two weeks before to the day.
After luncheon, while riding about some of the less frequented streets of Batavia, we came quite unexpectedly to an old cemetery. In the corner close to the tracks of the New York Central, so placed as to be in plain view of all persons passing on trains, is a tall, gray, weather-beaten monument, with the life-size figure of a man on the top of the square shaft. It is the monument to the memory of William Morgan who was kidnapped near that spot in the month of September, 1826, and whose fate is one of the mysteries of the last century.
To read the inscriptions I climbed the rickety fence; the grass was high, the weeds thick; the entire place showed signs of neglect and decay.
The south side of the shaft, facing the railroad, was inscribed as follows:
Sacred To The Memory Of
A NATIVE OF VIRGINIA,
A CAPT. IN THE WAR OF 1812,
A RESPECTABLE CITIZEN OF
BATAVIA, AND A MARTYR
TO THE FREEDOM OF WRITING,
PRINTING, AND SPEAKING THE
TRUTH. HE WAS ABDUCTED
FROM NEAR THIS SPOT IN THE
YEAR 1826 BY FREEMASONS,
AND MURDERED FOR REVEALING
THE SECRETS OF THE ORDER.
The disappearance of Morgan is still a mystery, - a myth to most people nowadays; a very stirring reality in central and western New York seventy-five years ago; even now in the localities concerned the old embers of bitter feeling show signs of life if fanned by so much as a breath.
Six miles beyond Batavia, on the road to Le Roy, is the little village of Stafford; some twenty or thirty houses bordering the highway; a church, a schoolhouse, the old stage tavern, and several buildings that are to-day very much as they were nearly one hundred years ago. This is the one place which remains very much as it was seventy-five years ago when Morgan was kidnapped and taken through to Canandaigua. As one approaches the little village, on the left hand side of the highway set far back in an open field is an old stone church long since abandoned and disused, but so substantially built that it has defied time and weather. It is a monument to the liberality of the people of that locality in those early days, for it was erected for the accommodation of worshippers regardless of sect; it was at the disposal of any denomination that might wish to hold services therein. Apparently the foundation of the weather-beaten structure was too liberal, for it has been many years since it has been used for any purpose whatsoever.
As one approaches the bridge crossing the little stream which cuts the village in two, there is at the left on the bank of the stream a large three-story stone dwelling. Eighty years ago the first story of this dwelling was occupied as a store; the third story was the Masonic lodge-room, and no doubt the events leading up to the disappearance of Morgan were warmly discussed within the four walls of this old building. Across from the three-story stone building is a brick house set well back from the highway, surrounded by shrubbery, and approached by a gravel walk bordered by old-fashioned boxwood hedges. This house was built in 1812, and is still well preserved. For many years it was a quite famous private school for young ladies, kept by a Mr. Radcliffe.