Looking for the ghost of a slave named Hardy
(Photo by Bald Punk – Turner Street in Sandy Ground – Click twice to fully enlarge)
Me, my lady friend(LF), Scrappy D, the pizza and Chinese delivery guys(aka num and nuts), along with Benny “the cigar store Indian,” have arrived at Sandy Ground, Staten Island. We are searching for the ghost of a slave named Hardy. He’s the only one who knows the whereabouts of the demon called Old Seven . . .
Sandy Ground is an old community founded by freed black slaves on Staten Island. The Rossville Fire of 1963 destroyed many of the original homes and from what I saw it’s an area stifled by the vinyl siding of new housing developments. Very little that remains holds an old world charm or significance. There’s the white-vinyl Historical Society building, a humble church, a cemetery that dates back to the early 1800’s, and a couple of desolate back roads that are relatively rare in NYC. On those roads are some pretty nice old homes, too. But that’s it, I think?
Sandy Ground Historical Society was closed, even though we arrived during business hours. We drove a block over and parked our car on Crabtree Avenue, across from the old cemetery.
We got out and explored the area, which was fed by serene, tree-lined roads. Benny walked ahead of us, gesticulating, while talking to the birds, trees, and shrubs; seeming every bit the homeless person he “portrays” in real life.
We left him alone until he said we should go back to the church.
We pulled into the building’s empty parking lot. A chubby black kid was mowing the lawn. He wore grapefruit-sized headphones.
We made our way around the building’s entrance and found the doors were locked. The kid pushed the mower in our direction without lifting his head.
In the parking lot, I saw Benny was still in the front seat. He was muttering to himself.
I thought if Hardy’s ghost was in Sandy Ground, we sure as heck weren’t going to find him, especially in the middle of a bright sunny day. I said it was time to go and my LF protested. I’m sure it was only out of respect for Benny.
On the way to the car, I nearly knocked over the pizza and Chinese delivery guys who were tangled up in Scrappy D’s leash. If you’re new to this blog, all you need to know about them is that if Scrappy D jumped off the side off the Grand Canyon, they would follow. Not to save him mind you, but just because they’re whacked. They would probably catch the squirmy-little-bastard mid-flight, and play with him like nothing was wrong. You think I’m kidding, don’t you . . .
(Photo by “The Mel” – Scrappy D)
In order to curtail an argument, I decided to make a last ditch effort to find Hardy. I waited for the kid with the mower to come our way. I raised a hand to him. He didn’t seem all too happy to shut the mower or lift his headphones to hear me.
“You know a man named Hardy from around these parts?” I asked. He shook his head without seeming to give it much thought. He started to slide the headphones back down over his ears. I caught his eyes do a-little-nervous dance and immediately raised my voice, “How ‘bout any ‘ghost slaves’ that haunt Sandy Ground? You know of any?”
His eyes flashed over my shoulder. Benny sprung out of the car and made a beeline to us. The kid stepped back. “He don’t want to talk to you!” the kid said to Benny, his voice a tad deep and surly.
“It’s important.” Benny replied. “It’s about the demon, Old Seven.”
“Red man, you can’t tell him anything he don’t know.”
“Where is he?” Benny asked. The old homeless man looked over at the church. His eyes lingered while he said, “I know you won’t lie to me.”
Just then I had a horrible revelation about Hardy. I felt guilty “for thinking up.” It didn’t help that Benny met my gaze. He shook his head, as if he knew what I was thinking and wanted me to keep quiet.
The kid stared off for close to ten seconds, seeming to have a communion with the wind. It reminded me of the conversation Benny had had with “nature” a short while ago.
I listened closely. I tried to hear if there were any voices in the wind I too could pick up. My head shot up. Somehow the revelation gained veracity. I was certain that not only did Hardy have a run-in with the Old Seven, but it had resulted in the slave’s death. More details came to me . . .
“Ignore Old Seven,” the kid said. “It’s what Hardy said he shudda done.”
“Please,” Benny appealed.
“What do you think you can do?” the kid said with a hint of anger. “You can’t kill a demon. No one knows that better than Hardy.”
“Do I have to fear Old Seven?” Benny asked and gave an appealing smile. “If I leave here without knowing, I will be forced to track the demon, and take my chances.”
“You’ll never find him.”
“At night, sometimes I envision him huddled on a moonlit beach,” Benny retorted.
“He’s crazy,” the kid said to me, and then unfortunately looked at num and nuts, who were both holding Scrappy D. He probably thought we were all nuts.
Benny straightened. Something seemed to catch his eye. “Does Hardy have him here, down by the beach?”
“You’re a crazy ol’ fool!” the kid said.
Benny smiled and said, “We have room for you in the car.”
(Photo by Bald Punk – Mt Loretto as seen walking to the shore)
I drove south on Bloomingdale Road, and the kid sat in the front passenger seat. The four others were squished in the back with Scrappy D.
The kid must have doused himself with a whole bottle of cologne. He smelled like a mix of flowers and wood-smoke. It was actually pretty nice. I found myself picturing a bucolic landscape, thick with pine trees and green pastures.
After a couple of turns, we were on a large, open road called Hylan Boulevard. Brush and shrubbery lined the street. A block later we parked in a gravel lot. On the other side of Hylan was a small brick building that housed an activity center. Set back from it on sprawling acreage was a large church with a high steeple. Years ago the entire area was the site of Mt. Loretto Orphanage.
We headed off on foot down a long blacktop road. It was closed to cars by a bright yellow gate. It led straight to the shore.
(Photos by Bald Punk – Mount Loretto Unique Area – pics below, too)
Benny and the kid trailed behind us. We were led by an excited Scrappy D, who was sniffing the foliage like a maniac.
After about a quarter mile we came to another empty road that ran parallel with a small bluff. The bluff was partially hidden by trees and tight growth.
To our left, we could see the water glinting through the trees and headed that way. Arriving a minute or two after us, Benny and the kid went to the right. We turned and followed them. We passed a small brick shrine, and then went through a slim break in the trees, and down a steep path. It led to the beach that was no more than a couple dozen feet wide.
In the sand, someone had arranged a long line of stacked rocks and tree limbs. They were arranged in a ceremonial or symbolic manner. The placement was repeated for farther than the eye could see. Midway along there was a rectangle formed by branches and odd pieces of wood, embellished with a few haphazard placements of stones and bricks atop stumps.
An image took shape in my mind’s eyes. Under the moon and stars, I pictured someone huddled on the shore. I remarked to Benny, “It must get lonely here at night.”
He gave a wistful smile. We both looked out into the bay where there were many small sailboats. Many birds circled above them.
“What happened to the kid?” I asked, seeing he was nowhere on the beach. “Where did he go?”
“What’s his name?” my LF said apologetically. “I’m embarrassed that we didn’t ask.”
“Hardy,” Benny whispered and gently kicked up some sand. He raised his voice. “That was Hardy.”
I didn’t even question Benny. I just knew that the kid was Hardy. I felt sick to my stomach. I wished I would have been more thoughtful. I wished I could have asked about his life.
Benny winced. “Hardy is Old Seven’s caretaker,” he said. “I had to check on him. That’s all. We can go now.”
I thought of the revelation I had back at the church, and choked up. I took Benny by the shoulder, steered him away from the others and revealed it to him.
“Hardy was barely a teen when he made the journey from Maryland to Sandy Ground,” I said.
Tears welled in the old man’s eyes. He wiped them and nodded.
I continued, “On the night Hardy arrived here, he slept on the beach. By chance Old Seven came upon his prostrate body, and for the fun of it, whipped him to death.”
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Nineteen – October 2009