That Missionary Spirit

That Missionary Spirit

That Missionary Spirit

In my misspent youth, those in authority frequently impressed on me the Christian duty of “witnessing.” Annoying strangers with my religious beliefs struck me as impertinent in the extreme, which is why those memes about “do you have a moment to talk about your lord and savior [fill in the tentacled, trident-carrying, or horned deity of your choice]” continue to amuse me today.

Of course, the Great Commission is expressly spelled out in Matthew 28: 19 and many people take it extremely seriously. In the early 1890s, one Illinois gentleman felt called to witness to the dissolute young men of his acquaintance. In fact, he felt so strongly about it that he reached out to call them to repent from beyond the grave.


Carthage, Ill., Jan. 27. Special Telegram.

The community east of this city is shocked beyond measure over an occurrence that exceeds any thing of the kind in the history of the oldest inhabitant.

On Thanksgiving Day, Louis C. Boston, an exemplary young man died and on his death-bed made a most startling profession of faith, and declared that he yet hoped to see a number of young men of the neighborhood turn into better paths. Last Wednesday night as August Wright was feeding his horses at the barn an apparition stood before him which looked like a man. Wright hallooed at the object and it disappeared.

Sunday night young Wright was returning from church and while passing a lonely strip of road a form dressed in long white robes stepped out of the hedge fence in front of the horses. The animals reared and plunged with fright but the spook caught each one by the bridle rein saying “whoa, Charlie, whoa, Frank.” The animals seemed to recognize their names for they sank down on their haunches and trembled with fear. The ghost then climbed up on the buggy tongue and walked along it until the dashboard was reached; then it said: “Why, Aug, don’t you know Louis Boston? shake hands with me.” Wright, though terribly frightened, took the proffered hand and said it was as cold and clammy as that of a corpse. Wright then attempted to drive his team along but the spook said: “Wait, I want to talk to you, and if you will only listen to me a moment I will never bother you again.”

Young Wright says he sat alongside of the horrible apparition which he swears was the wraith body of Louis Boston, while the spook delivered messages to loved ones and friends mostly of a religious nature. Wright has so far refused to repeat what Boston’s spook told him.

Finally the spook said: “But I must go back; I am called; oh, I must go back; don’t you hear the angels calling, good-by,” and the spirit vanished.

Last night while young Wright was doing chores around the barn the same apparition appeared. “Go away,” cried Wright, “I don’t want to see you; go away I tell you.”

“I want to say just one more word,” said Boston.

“I don’t want to see you,” cried Wright, and in desperation threw a singletree at the object, which passed through it as though the body were mist. The long, white-robed thing moved away weeping bitterly, and saying, “I want to say one more word.”

It is now revealed that Mrs. Andrew Wright, mother of Aug. Wright, who has been quite ill for some weeks, was the first victim of the apparition. She was in the barnyard one evening about three weeks ago, when she was heard to utter piercing screams. She was found prostrate in an insensible condition and removed to the house. Delirium followed, in which she muttered the name of “Louis, Louis Boston” repeatedly. The lady is still quite sick.

The appearance of the specter has caused intense excitement through all the eastern portion of the country.

Reuben Boston, father of the dead boy, was seen by a reporter this evening. . He is a well-to-do and intelligent farmer. “Do you believe this to be your boy, Mr. Boston?”

“I believe it is Louis; he was a good boy and had the welfare of his young friends at heart. I wish Aug. Wright would tell you what Louis told him, so you can print it. I believe he has wonderful things to tell.”

“Have you ever seen the apparition?”

“No; but I believe it must be Louis.”

To-day the strange affair is the topic of conversation in Carthage, and future visitations from the spook are awaited with great interest.

The Inter Ocean [Chicago IL] 28 January 1891: p. 9

This surely must stand as one of the most astonishing examples of recognized full-body materialization on record! It also bears some resemblance to stories from the medieval period through the 18th century about ghosts returning to warn their friends about their impending deaths or of what lies in store for them in the afterlife. Wright (his name seems to have been Arthur, rather than August) felt so strongly about what he had seen that he wrote out an affidavit before a notary. (The story is not specific that it was sworn before the notary, but that is the implication.)


After the article printed above was put in type the following dispatch appeared in the Inner Ocean and is here reproduced since it will make more complete the account of the alleged apparition at Carthage, which is declared to be “the reigning sensation” there:


Carthage, Ill, Jan. 28.—The excitement concerning Lewis Boston’s ghost is on the increase and the story has spread far and wide. Newspaper men have been making life a burden to young Wright, who is a quiet country farmer, and in his wildest dreams never hoped to gain the notoriety he has attained. The Inter Ocean correspondent has succeeded in obtaining from Wright an explicit statement concerning his experiences with the spook. They were made in the presence of A. N. Cherrill, a notary public, and C. W. Boston, a relative of the dead boy [Charles Walker, Louis’s brother]. The statement, which is full and which Wright will swear to at any time, is as follows:

My name is Arthur Wright; age 19. I have seen ghosts twelve or thirteen times within the past two months. On Wednesday night last I was going home from a meeting at Bowen, driving a pair of ponies to a buggy, when, within nearly half a mile of home, a ghost came out from a hedge fence. It was clothed in white. It caught both my horses by the bridle reins. The horses were frightened and tried to get away. The ghost spoke to the horses, calling them by name. He caught the smaller one, Frank, by the rein, and walked around by the side of him, and then came to the side of the buggy and climbed on the wheel, and put his knee on the side of the bed as if to get in. He said to me: “Halloo, Art.” It was the ghost of Lewis Boston, who died lately. I worked for him about two years ago. He said: “Poor old L. L. has come back to see you.” He said he had come back to tell me something. He told me some things which I will not repeat. It was good advice to me and other friends. He said to me not to tell what he said now, but he told me when I might tell them. He sent a message to his father, his son Willie, and his wife, and others not remembered now. He asked me to shake hands with him. I did so. His hand was as cold as ice. He said: “I must go, for the angels of heaven are waiting for me,” or words to that effect. He then disappeared. The tone of voice of this ghost was precisely that of Lewis Boston. During the time of this talk my horses had run into the hedge and were standing there, but wanting to get away. Arriving at home I said nothing about this apparition to any member of my family, but told it next morning to all my folks at home. The ghost said to me before it disappeared that I would never see him again, and I never have. Once before this, when I saw the ghost about the same place where the ghost of Lewis Boston came out of the hedge, it stepped out in front of the horses. They turned around. He went back toward the hedge. The horses ran past him, and he came running out and climbed on behind the buggy top. He rode that way about a quarter of a mile when I hallooed and he got off. Before this I met him coming out of the barn. That was the first time I ever saw him. My horses had been driving, were frightened, and I held them until the ghost went out of the gate. I saw the same ghost at the barn a number of times afterward, and once threw at it with a neck-yoke. The ghost started at me as if it would eat me up. It then disappeared. Once when the ghost came out of the barn one night I asked it what it wanted. It spoke and said: “It’s none of your business.” Then pretty soon I said: “What the devil do you want?” It said the time would come when I would know what it wanted. I said: “D___ you, if you don’t get out of here I’ll blow you up.” It then commenced crying like a man and disappeared. All these and other, appearances of the ghost, which I believe to be the late Louis Boston, appeared to me at night.

Arthur H. Wright.

Witness, C. W. Boston.

The Inter Ocean [Chicago IL] 29 January 1891: p. 5

This is rather snappy dialog from a soul bent on his friend’s salvation.

Let’s break down a few points in the story. First, this statement:

Louis C. Boston, an exemplary young man died and on his death-bed made a most startling profession of faith, and declared that he yet hoped to see a number of young men of the neighborhood turn into better paths.

Louis or Lewis Lunsford Boston, died 27 November 1890, age 38. His tombstone, at Harmony Cemetery, near Carthage, Illinois, seems to show a birth year of 1852. His father’s name was Reuben. He was married twice, first to Finetta, with whom he had a son, William and after her death, to Mary Etta, who gave him a son, Marion, in 1880 and a daughter. Josie, in 1886, who died aged seven months. He was scarcely a “young man” or a “boy,” despite his father’s statement and the sole notice of his death “Louis Boston died yesterday at Carthage, Ill., aged 30,” published Saturday, 29 November 1890 in the Daily Inter Ocean, also misstated his age.

Why a “most startling” profession of faith? Deathbed repentance was scarcely a rare phenomenon. I have not found any articles about Boston reporting wanton or scandalously irreligious conduct that would have justified a “startling” conversion in extremis. In addition, there would have been much rejoicing, both in Heaven and in the Sunday School literature, over the returning of such a sinner to the fold. Surely someone would have written up his story for the edification of Youth?  Yet it was the Inter Ocean and the Spiritualist press [Religio-Philosophical Journal, Progressive Thinker, Carrier Dove] that carried the gripping tale to the public.

The ghost simply could not let Wright alone.


Young Wright Declares that Louis Boston’s Ghost Has Appeared Again to Him.

Carthage, Ill., Feb. 6 Young Arthur Wright, of East Carthage, declares that Louis Boston’s ghost appeared to him once more last night at Wright’s farm. Young Wright procured a revolver and was on the point of shooting at the apparition when it began to cry and beg Wright not to shoot. Wright says the spook was clothed in white. He is thoroughly alarmed. People are mystified over the affair. Wright swears he has seen the ghost of Louis Boston repeatedly, while many people think he is the victim of some delusion. The young man seems sound mentally, and his character for veracity is good. The Bostons think that young Wright imagines he sees spooks. Letters come from all directions asking about the truth of the story.

The Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 7 February 1891: p. 1

Once again the ghost acted like a real human being, cried, and begged Wright not to shoot. WTH? Surely something disembodied would not have cared about bullets? Was this a ghost impersonator of the type so often found in the newspapers of the past? It seems as though the threat of the revolver put a stop to the ghost for good; this is the final article I located about Louis Boston’s apparition. There seems to have been no real resolution to the case. Was Wright imagining the whole thing? And why did the ghost only begin to walk a month or so after Boston’s death; why not immediately?

It seems possible that a clue might have been found in the report that Wright’s mother fell “victim” to the ghost: “Delirium followed, in which she muttered the name of “Louis, Louis Boston” repeatedly. The lady is still quite sick.” Surely an over-reaction to a pious apparition. But, again, I can find no explanation, no confession of the man in the sheet. Just what did he say to Wright? There are other cases of messages being given by a ghost to the living who were too terrified to ever repeat the spirit’s message. Did Wright have a guilty conscience or some hideous private secret that Boston’s ghost revealed?

Any further revelations? chriswoodyard8 AT

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 Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.


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