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Friday, October 24, 2014

The Fiends of the Forest

Betsey DeKalb, a distant cousin of mine who lived two hundred years ago, used to regale her nieces and nephews with this story about her grandfather, who was born in a German duchy around 1740 and ended up in America by the time he was around 30. Although some parts of it are improbable and others are inconsistent, it’s a great start to the Halloween season!

John and another boy started for America by the way of France. As they were traveling one night in a forest near the border of France and Germany, they saw a light ahead, and going near, found a small log house. In answer to their knock, an old woman came to the door; they asked to stay all night and she said that she would keep them. As she was preparing some supper for them, she told them that her husband had gone to a distant village but would be back soon. While the boys were eating, one of them found in a piece of mince pie a human fingernail. This naturally aroused their suspicion.

“You have a fingernail in your pie too? Do you think
it means anything?”  “No John, we’re imagining wild
things.”  “No doubt you are right. We’re surely safe
here in this lonely cabin in the forest with these two
possible cannibals.”
Soon the old man came in and began to question them as to who they were, where they were going, and how much money they had. After a while they were shown up to the loft to bed.  After the trap door was shut upon them, they examined the room and were horrified to find under the bed the corpse of a murdered man, not yet cold! The bedding was covered with blood.

Here was a dilemma. The trap door was fastened on the underside; there was only one small window in the end of the room, and they had no arms with which to defend themselves. What to do they did not know. As they lay on the bed and pretended to sleep, they heard the man and woman whispering and sharpening their knives. Soon the man came up the ladder, carefully raised the trap and looked in. The boys stirred; so, thinking that they were not sound asleep, he backed down to wait a little.

Now was their time, and throwing their packs out and squeezing themselves through the window, they dropped lightly to the ground. Running as fast as they could in the darkness, they soon came to a small village, and telling the people their story, they finally got a party to follow them to the place to arrest the old man and woman.

They found in the garden portions of bodies of other victims that had been buried there. The old people were taken back to town and tried; the boys were held as witnesses; the man and woman both confessed that they had murdered and robbed a large number of people. They were executed and the boys allowed to go on their way unmolested. Soon they arrived in France after which John came to this country.
Betsey was my great-great grandmother Julia Palmer’s first cousin once removed, and they were very close friends. Julia’s grandfather Zephaniah Platt Palmer and Betsey’s mother, Lydia Palmer DeKalb, were siblings, so I’m sorry to see that I am not related to the John Kalb who escaped the robbing, murdering, maybe cannibalistic fiends of the forests of Germany! 

Painting: “Before the Inn” by George Morland, 1792.

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