“Why, Weston, I thought you were frozen:” A Ghost Story
In keeping with the temperature—winter finally seems to have developed some teeth—here is a chilling tale from Minnesota, where they know their blizzards.
A SPIRIT TELLS WHERE HIS FROZEN BODY IS.
The great storm of 1873 was the most violent known in the Northwest for 50 years, as the records kept at Fort Snelling showed. It was a violent electrical storm, extending over the whole Northwest, so that the telegraph wires west of Chicago refused to work. It struck Minnesota on the 7th of January, 1873, and raged for three days, the wind blowing a gale, the temperature being about eighteen degrees below zero, and on the prairies the air was filled with snow as fine as flour. Through every crevice, key-hole and nail-hole, the snow penetrated, puffing into houses like steam. The number of human lives lost in Minnesota was about seventy…. But the one case, among the three fatal ones in Nobles County, which has been the subject of the greatest interest, because of the ghost story connected with it, was that of John Weston, of Seward township. Mr. Weston had been to Graham Lakes, and was returning with a load of wood when the storm caught him. He drove across his own farm and missed the house; turned and went in a circle, making the same circle twice, as shown by the tracks of the sled. He then turned north to the vicinity of the place now owned by H. D. Winters, in Graham Lakes township. He abandoned his team, and the oxen, after wandering awhile, turned the yoke and choked to death. Mr. Weston, from this point, evidently concluded to walk with the storm, and made a bee line for Hersey. He walked about twelve miles, and fell forward on his face, clutching the grass as he fell, and the blood gushing from his nose. His body was found the following spring, with the hands full of grass, and the blood on his face.
The story of John Weston’s ghost was first published in the Advance [The Worthington [MN] Advance 13 January 1881: p. 2], and widely copied, so that it became known throughout the country. Weston appeared to Mr. Cosper, who is still a resident of Seward township, and was an intimate friend to Weston. A few days ago we caught Mr. Cosper in town, and had the story from his own lips. He is a practical, unimaginative man, and gives the story in a circumstantial way.
The day after the storm Mr. Cosper had been out with some neighbors searching for Weston’s body. He had returned to his home, and was at the stable feeding his stock just before sundown. He came out of the stable, and passing around to the east end saw John Weston coming up the path from the creek. Weston had on the blue soldier overcoat which he usually wore. His hands were tucked up under the cape, and he approached Cosper with his usual smile and usual salutation, saying: “How goes it?” Cosper said: “Why, Weston, I thought you were frozen to death!” Weston replied: “I am, and you will find my body a mile and a half northwest of Hersey!” Saying this he vanished. Mr. Cosper says that even after Weston was gone, it took him some time to realize that he had seen a ghost and to ‘feel queer.’
Before this, Weston had evidently announced his death to his wife. Mrs. Weston related the incident, and it was confirmed by her son. The second night of the storm she was awakened by a knock at the door. She dozed off again, and was aroused by a second rap, when she asked: “What is wanted?” A voice answered: “Did you know that John was frozen to death?” The voice sounded like that of her brother, Mr. Linderman, who lived in the vicinity. The boy heard the voice, and, raising up in bed, said: “Mother, did Uncle say pa was frozen to death?” Mrs. Weston went to the door, but there was no one there, and no tracks could be found in the snow. Mr. Linderman had not been there, and it seems that Weston, wishing to announce his death, and at the same time not to frighten his wife too much, assumed the voice of his brother-in-law.
Now for the confirmation of Cosper’s story. He told it at once, and it was published throughout the country before the winter was over. Search was made for Weston’s body, but in vain. When spring came, however, and the snow began to melt off, Weston’s body was found near a slough where the snow had been deep, a mile and a half northwest of Hersey. We believe Mr. Erickson, who now lives in Worthington, was the first to discover the body. So much for the great blizzard. There will probably not be another such in our day. It was a rough greeting for the early settlers of Nobles County, but they can all testify that Boreas has been comparatively mild ever since, except in putting the screws on the mercury and bringing it down tight occasionally.
Facts, Vol. 2-3, 1883
The winter storm that killed John Weston struck without warning after an unusually mild January day. 70 people were killed and hundreds of cattle froze or starved. Here are some observations about and first-hand stories from the 1873 blizzard and other Minnesotan snowstorms. The tragedy was uncannily echoed in Nebraska later in 1873 with the Easter Sunday Blizzard, which also hit suddenly after a mild winter and lasted for three days. Some readers may remember Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, The Long Winter describing the blizzards the Ingalls family endured in the Dakota Territory in 1880-1.
This story was printed in a number of newspapers; one of them was headed “John Weston—A Veritable Ghost Story.” That word, “veritable,” was a teensy hint that the newspaper didn’t necessarily believe it.
The ghost who wants to have its body discovered and properly buried is, of course, a tried-and-true motif of ghostlore. However, the detail of the ghost adopting his brother-in-law’s voice is a very odd one.
Recently I published a tale of ghost who brought his own snow-storm with him. Other frigid examples? Warm your hands before sending to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.