While perusing the issues of 1939, I came across a news story that struck a chord in my oft-faded memory.
It was an account of the discovery of a body floating in the lower end of the favorite swimming place in the whole wide world, our beloved Phlegar Hole.
One day Oley Cook and a son were crossing the bridge over the river. They were on foot and the story did not say where they were going.
Anyway, the son was scanning the water as everyone did as they crossed the bridge, when he stopped suddenly and told his dad that a mass in the water below, lodged against a pier, was a body, a human body.
Well, Oley and the son scurried down the steep bank on the town side of the river and took one of the boats that were usually tied up there.
With the help of a chain, according to the report, they managed to haul the decomposing corpse into the boat and paddled to the sandy beach where we swam.
Naturally, the usual suspects were there - me and my friends and the older boys - and, as word spread through town, many more.
Here, I will depart from the newspaper account of the goings-on, and give you my recollections of what happened then.
First, it was assumed by all that this was the body of a young fellow named Fuzzy Stewart who had been missing for more than 40 days. He was last known to have been in the company of two other fellows at his brother's home on Pinnacle Creek. A fight had ensued and, after Stewart had been missing for several days, the two men were brought in for questioning and released. Nobody knew for sure that anything bad had happened to Fuzzy.
Anyway, the proceedings there on the river bank caused lot of folks to lose their lunch. It made me sick for days when I would think about it.
It also caused me to have a few nightmares. But still, wild horses couldn't have dragged me from my vantage point, right beside the body as close as they would let me stand.
What I'm about to tell you might not be for the squeamish, but it's what I saw.
It wasn't pretty, but we kept our eyes riveted on the body, not unlike being hypnotized.
Uncle Bert Robertson was part owner and worked at the local Robertson and Foglesong Funeral Home. In that job, you had to provide ambulance service as well as perform other duties. I think Uncle Bert, as he was affectionately known, might have been the coroner at that time.
Anyway, Uncle Bert took a wooden thing which I think was a tongue depressor, and began to scrape away the dark, slimy mud from the decomposing body - for identification purposes, I suppose. There were no thin latex gloves in those days, so Uncle Bert wore a pair of thick, rubber gloves. You could pick up a dime from a flat surface wearing today's latex gloves. With those things, you couldn't pick up a silver dollar. But, that's all they had back then. The best way I can describe the color of the gloves was the color of Lifebuoy soap.
After whatever they did was done, the body was put into some kind of bag and taken to the Robertson and Foglesong morgue in Mullens, where an autopsy was performed.
The autopsy was performed with the assistance of Dr. Ward Wylie and a Dr. Taylor of the Wylie Hospital in South Mullens. A coroner's jury ruled that the death was the result of injuries by a person or persons unknown and that death occurred prior to being placed in the water.
I think that Fuzzy Stewart was finally laid to rest in a cemetery on Skin Fork. He had spent 41 days in the cold waters of the usually peaceful Guyandotte. He had finally escaped a watery grave and was returned to the earth.