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The Legend of Liberty Langford

Submitted by Shiron Wordsworth

Rockcastle County with its rugged hills and shadow-haunted valleys is a perfect place for ghosts to walk the night. Probably every family who ever called the county home has a tall tale about ghosts that gather at twilight. The Langford family is no exception.

My grandmother, Mary Ann Langford, grew up in Rockcastle County in the Old Langford House in the care of her uncle, Tip Langford. It was Tip who first told her the tale. She never forgot the first time she heard of her great-grandfather's ghost. Tip chose the setting well with a flair for the dramatic. Outside the windows of the old house, darkness owned the streets. In the distance thunder growled, and the wind sang a mournful song as it ran its fingers through the tree limbs and curled around the eaves. It was perfect weather for a haunting, and with the sound of Tip's hushed voice, Liberty's ghost took possession of the night, walked through the doors of the Langford house, and took up residence in a young girl's memory.

"Little Mary, have I told you the tale of your great-granddaddy's ghost?"

With a delicious shiver, Little Mary nestled her back against her uncle's knee, and said that she had not. Lightning raked the sky and lit a brief fire in the auburn curls that owned her head. With thunder singing harmony, and Tip's voice now reduced to whispers, the story was given to her. It went something like this.

"Your great-grandfather was Liberty Langford. He was born here in Rockcastle in 1810. Lived here and farmed here all his life. He wasn't the first Langford in Rockcastle. His granddaddy came first, but he never lived anywhere but in these hills. Never farmed a piece of land that wasn't Rockcastle land, and he worked hard plowing and planting, making his way in the world. He made some cash money to show for it, too."

"Back in those days, a man didn't have a bank where he could store his cash. Why, Mt. Vernon didn't get its own bank until 1900. All a man could do was bury his gold and silver. And so that's what Liberty did. In the dark of the night, he buried his earnings and wrote the place down in his memory. Didn't tell a soul where that cash was. It was safer that way. From time to time, he would add to the stash, but always in the dead of darkness."

"Liberty lived to a respectable old age, seventy-some years before he passed. Then he was taken suddenly with a stroke. Never came to consciousness and never spoke a word after the stroke claimed him. He lingered a short time before dying. It was after we buried him that the trouble began."

"Your Aunt Mary lived with Liberty before he died, and she stayed on at the farm afterward. Within a day or two of the funeral, nighttime became a misery to her. Doors in the house would open and close. No human hand had touched them. She heard footsteps walking the rooms till midnight and beyond, and it seemed like there came a whispering in the fireplace that echoed up the chimney. It sounded like the voice of a man too far distant to make out his words."

"Liberty's daughter told some folks in town of the midnight whispers. They told her right off that it was her father's ghost. Said he had something to tell her. Said he wouldn't rest until she heard what was troubling him. They told her that the next time Liberty walked, she must say, 'What in the name of the Lord do you want?' If she would use the Lord's name, Liberty would speak to her."

"That same night, more than Mary waited up for darkness. Other family members joined her watch. I won't say who in particular, but I've got personal knowledge of them. Sure enough, as the darkness worked its way toward midnight, the noises began again...footsteps, a muffled voice, the sound and the sight of doors being opened and closed at will. Your aunt stood herself up tall in the middle of that ruckus, and with a loud voice she spoke to the dark. 'What in the name of the Lord do you want?'"

"When she finished speaking, a silence fell over everything. Never was a quiet like that one. And then he spoke, his voice the only thing that could be heard. It was Liberty's voice all right, still far-off sounding but clear and distinct, every word plain to the ears who waited to hear him. 'Go so many feet into the woods past the stone marker. Walk directly ahead to the tall pine tree. Dig down so many feet to the stones. Beyond the stones, a foot further down, the gold is buried. Find it!' Then silence claimed the house once more."

"In the days that came afterward, Little Mary, Langfords dug up nearly a whole hill looking for Liberty's gold. Truth is we turned over more rocks and dug enough holes to bury a city full of people. Never did find that stash... It's out there somewhere...waiting...just waiting. Liberty never disturbed the night again. Guess he figured he'd done his duty by the family, and if his children were too stupid to follow his directions...well, so be it. But it's there, Little Mary. Waiting."

And maybe it is still there. In the dark of many a stormy evening I knew as a child, I begged my grandmother to retell Tip's story. She always obliged, pausing at just the right moment to allow a shiver to claim me. I tell it to my own grandchildren on rainy, thunder-ridden nights when it's easy to believe in ghosts. Liberty's gold may be only myth, the stuff of family lore or Tip's genius as a tall tale teller. But this much is gospel. As long as this Langford legend is passed down to Liberty's children, he lives again and walks Rockcastle's hills as surely as ever he plowed them. The knowledge of his living and dying is worth far more to us than any gold he might have hidden. And you can be sure of this as well. There's never a thunderstorm that finds me that I don't listen for Liberty's voice, for Tip's voice, for the voice of my grandmother, for the voice of Rockcastle County. I listen...and wait...and I wonder.