"The Big Dig"





The First Dig

So there I was, hanging out with cousin Josh before a family get together at his parentsí house on Salem Commons in Salem, Massachusetts. I had got there a few hours early to help them get ready before the rest of the family arrived. Josh and I were picking up the back yard when Auntie Terry popped her head out of the back door and said,

"Hey, can you guys pull that stake out of the lawn?"

The stake had been there since they moved into the place five years earlier. This two by two inch steal rod that stuck out of the ground about six inches had always been an annoyance of sorts. One of those things you trip over and say, "I should remove that some day," but never do. It looked like an easy job, so we said, "Sure thing!" We assumed it was something that people used to tie a dog to. Surely we could kick it a few times and yank it out, problem solved. This was not to be the case. I kicked it a few times and then Josh had his go at it.

Josh is a real go-getter. Once he sets his mind to something he wonít stop. Josh is also accident-prone. A family joke states that itís not a family reunion until Josh gets hurt. So after a few Josh kicks, I stopped him and asked if he had a hammer. He got the hammer and gave it a few hits but it wouldnít budge. Hammer turned to big rock and then to sledgehammer, but the thing wouldnít move.

"Maybe we could dig around it," Josh suggested.

I agreed and out came the shovel. Uncle Tom came out and said,

"What are you doing lads?"

We told him of our plan and he wished us luck.

We started shoveling around the stake. Because the ground was full of rocks, we had to dig them out too. By this time we had a two-foot diameter hole around the stake and we were about four inches deep. Auntie Terry peeked out and said,

"You guys better fill that in when you are done."

We told her not to worry and continued to dig. As we lifted one of the rocks, Josh spotted a piece of ceramic which looked like half of a plate. As we dug a little deeper we found another piece, this time in the shape of an antique cup.

Let me now give you a quick little back-story of the house. Joshís house was in a historic district of Salem and it was learned earlier that year that the house had been a stop on the Underground Railroad. There were supposed to be secret hiding places and an underground tunnel that somehow connected to the basement. We had looked for the tunnel entrance once before with no luck. But as we dug deeper we could almost hear the ghost of Harriet Tubman saying, "YOU GO BOY," as they used to say in the day. The deeper we dug, the more stuff we would find. We couldnít stop. Our enthusiasm was infectious. The family that had come for a reunion was now bringing out lawn chairs and sitting around the ever-increasing hole, checking out our loot and inspecting each piece with a curious eye.

Soon night came and cousin Derek became spot light holder. Every hour or so Auntie Terry would peek out and remind us that we would have to fill the hole in before we leave. Before we finished we had a hole six feet in diameter and almost as deep. We found plates, slate shingles, pieces of bottles, and parts of a tea set, but no tunnel. It was getting late and we had to fill in the hole. Our quest had ended.

Josh later brought some of the artifacts to a woman who owns a museum in town. She told him that often times in the 1800ís people would just throw their trash in the back yard. She also said the china we found was so common that it was often used as ballast for ships. Josh took the pieces of plates, placed them in plaster, and made two really cool tabletops out of them which proves one mans trash is another mans treasureÖ

Two weeks later

My cousins Derek and Josh had come to my house, which at the time was a cabin in Northwood, New Hampshire. This cabin came with the 16 acres my parents had purchased adjoining their property. This cabin served many purposes. It was built in the early 1900ís and originally used as a Boy Scout camp, It was also a guesthouse, a place to have Thanksgiving dinner, and a place for me to live while I was working in NH. But most importantly it was a place where my cousins and I would have jam sessions and this was the reason for their visit.

We jammed for a while and then decided to go for a walk in the woods. We walked around and Josh brought up the table he was making out of the stuff we found in his backyard. Then Derek mentioned that we should start a digging business. We all joked about it for a while, then it hit me. In the woods on my parents property there happens to be a small graveyard. The graveyard is a fairly forgotten one. One so remote that not a mini flag planting Boy Scout can be seen within two miles of the sight on Memorial day. I had visited this place a hundred times in my youth and often wondered about the people who were buried there. Not being the most studious of the Carmodys, my research consisted of thinking about looking into it, then doing nothing about it. But this day would be different...pish posh I say to conventional research...today we get hands on experience. I told Josh and Derek about my plan. Still living off of the high of our last dig they were all for it so off we went to get the shovels.

It was a beautiful sunny late fall day. The leaves had fallen, the air was crisp, and morale was high as we walked towards the grave with our shovels over our shoulders as if we were hunters out for a day of drinking and shooting. We picked our spot and started to dig. The first foot or so of digging was easy going, pretty much just dead leaves. Jokes and puns were flying as they usually do. The second foot brought us our first layer of dirt, no sweat, easy digging. Then the spookiness began. The mind has a crazy way of freaking you out when you know youíre doing something wrong, even if you wonít admit it to yourself. Derek was the first to pipe up with,

"Maybe we shouldnít be doing this".

We all knew that we shouldnít, but there is very little that can stop a Carmody from doing anything once his mind is made up. So dig we did. We all took turns digging that day and Iím not sure who was digging at the time, but as the shovel was thrust into the soil it was stopped short with a dull thud. Iím sure my heart skipped a beat. We could only imagine what we hit. Was it a coffin? Or perhaps the skull of a revolutionary soldier? Only more digging would give us the answer. Cautiously we moved the dirt, only to find that we hit our first rock. This pattern would repeat itself for the next few feet. The shovel would clink, weíd get freaked out, weíd guess what it might be, and then weíd be relieved to see it was only a root that looked like a femur, a leaf that looked like a piece of shirt, or a skull-shaped rock.

The sun was setting and it was my turn to dig. I was easily 6 feet down and way beyond the point of "I hope I find something" to the point of "Iím not stopping till I find some part of this damn bastard." I was in such a state that I didnít hear Josh the first two times he said,

"Hey Shawn, I think someone is coming."

What I did hear was my dad yelling,

"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOUíRE DOING?!!"

Needless to say that was the end of the exhumation. Although I talk tough, Iím glad he stopped us. Enough spookiness for one night I thought...or so I thought...

We filled in the hole and Josh and Derek went home. I took a shower and started to fall asleep in the cabin. Just as I closed my eyes the phone rang. I picked it up and said,

"Hello?"...No answer. "Hello?"...No answer.

I hung up. I thought it must have been a wrong number until 15 minutes later the phone rang again and once again there was no reply. This happened three more times within an hour. Then it occurred to me that maybe my dad might be trying to teach me a lesson by calling and not answering to make me think it was a ghost. Why I thought this? I donít know. Maybe it was because I was tired and couldnít think of a better explanation.

I snuck out of the cabin and walked over to my dadís house (50 feet away) and stood under his bedroom window (which he keeps open year-round) to listen. I stood there for at least 20 minutes and didnít hear a sound. Then I heard the phone ringing from the cabin. I waited under my dadís window waiting to hear a snicker while at the same time counting rings. At 15 rings I started freaking out. My dad would have, Iím sure, quit after 10 rings assuming I was asleep. I walked back to the cabin and the phone was still ringing so I picked it up and the line was dead. No dial tone, nothing. I hung up then picked up the receiver and the dial tone was back. I went to bed, but this time guilt kicked in and I said my prayers.

"God, I promise I will never dig another grave as long as I live if you will please stop the phone from"...RING RING! "AHHH!"

I picked up and once again and the line was dead.

"God, I know itís not right to try to make bargains but please"...RING RING!

I threw the phone across the room and spent the rest of the night with the TV on.

I will never dig another grave again. Later we found that in the cabin mice had chewed the phone lines in the attic. My dad said that this could cause a phone to ring if certain wires got crossed. I believe him because I want to, but letís just say that my grave digging days are over.