A Halloween Tale: Harriette’s Haunting Story of a Dead Body

My mother recorded many of her memories when she was in her eighties and nineties, and one of them tells of a very scary night with a dead body in the house. This reminds me of a Mark Twain story–something that Tom Sawyer might have experienced.

As background, in the early twentieth century, Killbuck Creek, running slowly through Killbuck, Ohio, froze in the wintertime from bank to bank, and Harriette Anderson (Kaser) (1906-2003) remembered “we had one gorgeous skating party after another. ” So skating was second nature to all the children.

One skating night with her brothers was very unusual, however.

The three children about seven years before this story.

The three children about seven years before this story.

Bill and Herb and I had been allowed to go skating that night.   We never were allowed to go skating alone at night, but we went out with a gang that went skating over on a pond, not in the creek. I wasn’t very old–probably ten or eleven and Bill was a year older and Herb a year younger. When we came home, we were aware of why we had been allowed to go skating.

Some time before, a very elderly aunt of my father’s was brought home from Florida quite ill. [‘Aunt Am’ Amy E. Anderson Roof was born in 1843, so would have been 73 when Harriette was 10 years old.] My mother and dad were taking care of her. [Vera and Guy Anderson].

Aunt Am passed away while we children were out skating and I’m sure this was the reason Mother and Dad sent us out to skate, so that we would be out from under foot at this particular time.

Of course, we were very curious about this sort of thing, but as soon as we got in the house, we noticed–well, actually before we got in the house, we noticed–that the undertaker was there and they had shut off the room in which Aunt Am had died and they were working on the dead body.  At that time nearly everyone who had a death in the family, they were buried from the home and the undertaker came and prepared them for burial at the house, which they did with our Aunt Am Roof.

Dad and Mother were tired because they had been up so many,many nights caring for her.  Before they went to bed, they had put us upstairs, tucked us in good and tight  because it was quite chilly.  The boys were in the first room upstairs in a double bed, and I had a three-quarter bed in my own little room in the back of the upstairs. I’m sure that night [my parents] went to sleep so soundly because it was the first night that they had been able to sleep straight through for a long time.

In the middle of the night, I wakened and realized that my bed was directly over where Aunt Am’s dead body lay on the floor below our rooms.  I was so sure that she was coming up through that floor after me.  I don’t know why.  We had never been frightened by bodies before, but I was quite frightened.

I couldn’t stay in my bed any longer.  I got up to the foot of my bed and called “Bill! Bill!”  He answered immediately because he wasn’t asleep either because evidently he had death on his mind, too.  We were thinking  Aunt Em was down there and she was dead. We hadn’t had any experience with a dead body before this.

I asked, “Bill will you come in here and get me?” and he said, “No, Harriette, I won’t put my feet on the floor of your room, but if you get to the foot of your bed and jump off as far as you can, I’ll reach in and get you. ”

So I got to the foot of my bed and I jumped as far as I could jump to my door, and Bill reached in and grabbed a hold of me and jerked me into the boys’ room.

I felt much better because I was no longer directly over that dead body of Aunt Am that lay straight under my bed. I got in bed with Herb and Bill, and we lay there and we talked until we heard a rooster crow.

We were so delighted. Bill said, “Well, it’ll soon be daylight.  Then we won’t be afraid.  The rooster’s crowing; it’s getting to be morning.”

It turned out that our parents were sleeping so soundly they didn’t hear us, even when I jumped.  They were sorry when they heard our story that they had not told us, but it never once entered their minds that we would have any fears at all because they had no fears and didn’t expect us to.

So that was our first experience with death, which was rather frightening for three little kids. It was a winter experience that we had related to skating, but thank goodness not a regular winter experience.


Bill and Harriette Anderson in 8th Grade, a couple of years after the event.

Bill and Harriette Anderson in 8th Grade, a couple of years after the event.

What was your first experience with a dead body?  Were you ever in a house where a body laid in state in the living room?


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8 thoughts on “A Halloween Tale: Harriette’s Haunting Story of a Dead Body

  1. Paula Price

    I remember Mom telling this story as we sat in Grandma Vera’s house and wondering if there were still ghost there. Love It!

    1. Vera Marie BadertscherVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      When you think about how many people were born in that house, you realize that there must have been a large number who also were laid to rest there. Surely there were spirits floating around. Come to think of it, when I was six, I was in the room right above the living room when Daddy Guy was lying there on a bier below me. I don’t recall being scared. Just sad.

  2. Tracy Meyers

    What a wonderful story. I can’t imagine have a dead body in the house and yet it was common place for our ancestors. It is stories like these that really give us insight to our ancestor’s lives. Thank you for sharing your mother’s story.
    Tracy Meyers would like you to read..LEARN Family ReunionMy Profile

  3. Vera Marie BadertscherVera Marie Badertscher Post author

    Thanks, Tracy. Like so many differences between our lives and our ancestors, we have removed ourselves from the reality of death. Not just the death of people, but the killing of animals for food, etc. It IS hard to imagine those days, but thank goodness mother left us the stories.

  4. Jane Boursaw

    What a story! Yes, it does seem that our ancestors were more comfortable around dead bodies in general, because as you noted, so much of the death and body prep happened in the house – wakes and whatnot. I can’t recall my first experience with a dead body – maybe my Grandma Johnson – my dad’s mom.

    Even now, though, I don’t like to go look at the body in a casket for funerals. To me, the person isn’t really there anymore.
    Jane Boursaw would like you to read..Ashley Bell and Her Dog Suzette Support Cruelty Free InternationalMy Profile


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