Historic Points of Interest--Ferrisville
Here in the Hogan's Gap area is possibly the least known of all ghost towns in the West. Far enough off the beaten track to escape notice from tourists, souvenir hunters and vandals. Ferrisville is protected as a State Historic Park, though you won't find any fancy recreated saloons and hotels, antique shops and general stores nor make-believe attractions worthy of Disneyland there. There are no basic services, camping, lodging, food vending or water fountains. There is not even a museum open during the summer to offer items available for sale. No team of rangers visit to maintain the site in a state of "arrested decay". It's off limits to the general public.
At the visitors' centers in Hogan's Gap, the pamphlets showing the various walking trails, picnic areas, and scenic camping spots, will not present its location. Only on maps prior to 1896, would you find any mention of its existence.
That was how I found out there was such a place as Ferrisville, through a faded old map I discovered in a Prince Albert tobacco can nailed to a fallen tree. A map from perhaps a century ago.
I was eight back then and my brother Thomas was seven. We were following a narrow deer trail above this deep river canyon. We weren't even supposed to be up there, our parents would ground us several times over if they had found out. But they were too busy hosting a barbecue party at the time to notice our sudden departure.
After clambering up a small waterfall, we soon noticed shimmering in the forest gloom, an albino redwood tree growing from the remnants of a lightning-struck tree. As I paused at a dinner-platter-sized hole in the stump,I wonder what animal may have lived there. I noticed the nailed-up tin and pried it loose.
As soon as we got back home, I cleaned it. Opening the lid, I began tapping the tin gently to empty what I thought was some tobacco. To my amazement, I found it wasn't tobacco at all but an old faded piece of paper I plucked the folded paper from the tin can and carefully unfolded it. It turned out to be a note detailing what appeared to be a mining claim in some place called Ferrisville.
I had never even heard of Ferrisville. When I started asking questions about it, locals once friendly and knowledgeable about Hogan's Gap colorful past, would suddenly turn distant and taciturn or else, they would change the subject altogether. Eventually, my grandparents told me to stop pestering people with "such foolish questions." When I asked why it was foolish exactly, my grandmother would say, "It's not something people like talking about. It's kind of like having a crazy relative you keep in the attic."
Naturally, this explanation made me even more curious, but seeing that I was a pretty obedient kid, I didn't press the matter, even when the tobacco can and its tattered contents mysteriously vanished from my room. I suspected that Thomas could have had something to do with its disappearance, for I told no one else of my find. Of course, he could of just blabbed about it to my ever-disapproving folks. Whenever it came to interesting stuff,Thomas couldn't help himself but blab.
The years passed, and although I grew older, my curiosity about Ferrisville never waned. It was always at the back of my mind: whenever I walked the hall of Hogan's Gap High, stood on the Quad, sat in the back rows of classes or talked with my friends. It was through these friends that I found out a few more things about Ferrisville. Unlike me, they were not of the tight-lipped, founding clique of Hogan's Gap life and traditions.
It was a sunny April afternoon. Lunch time had just started and the Drama Room as well as the hallway and grass just outside were flooded with the constant coming and going of two dozen Drama Geeks. Nine Inch Nails and Lady Gaga issued from the stereo system, card games were in full progress, a small Hackey Sack convention claimed the small stage, and three or four conversations were happening at once near the door.
"I had heard stories from my grandmother," said Laurie who was always ready to spill the beans on local superstitions and gossip,"who had heard it from her parents about strange happenings and human oddities of old Ferrisville."
"What sort of stories?" I asked curiously. "That they had gills and big bulgy eyes and swam out into the ocean at night?"
I was a total H. P. Lovecraft fan, by the way, and have written many Lovecraft-inspired stories to be published. They never were. I thought about using my rejection notices as wallpaper, but then I realized what stereotype it would be. So I shredded them all and fed them to my worm farm.
Laurie fingered her curly blonde hair thoughtfully.
"No, nothing Lovecraftian weird," she replied. "Just that the Ferrisville folk were strange--like over eight feet tall, and wraith -thin. They looked like those creepy elves from the second Hellboy movie."
Having never seen the second Hellboy movie...or the first, I could only imagine the elves out J. R. R. Tolkein's stories. Elvish nobles with flowing ash blonde hair and noses like eagles' beaks, and very extravagant tastes in clothes. Not very creepy at all, unless of course, you were an orc.
Lady Gaga's Born This Way suddenly came on. Someone turned the damn thing way up at full volume I got up and turned it down at notch, then returned to my seat
"And they had this insane, ritualistic stuff," Laurie went on, "stuff you wouldn't even believe unless you time traveled back to Ancient Rome or Pagan Europe."
I nodded gravely, wondering if Laurie's grandmother might have been hitting the sauce a little when she was telling her grandchildren these stories.
"Did your grandmother ever tell you what exactly happened to Ferrisville?" I asked.
"It was some kind of flu epidemic round about eighteen-ninety-six," Laurie crinkled her nose. "Not the same strain that hit in 1918. This kind moved fast, killed in just a few days."
A stray hackey sack sailed into our midst. I instantly threw it back without looking up.
"So it wiped out the whole town then?" I prompted.
"Yep," Laurie answered with a nod. "Every man, woman and child, all of a sudden--gone. Folks from the surrounding communities didn't even know the town was gone, until several weeks later when someone noticed a lot of vultures hovering over the Mulligan River valley. They didn't even try giving everyone a decent burial, just burned the entire place to the ground."
"You've got to be pulling my leg!" I said incredulously. "It sounded like something that happened out of the Middle Ages, not the Late Nineteenth Century!"
The stereo blared again--"I'm beautiful in my way
'Cause God makes no mistakes." Hurriedly, I got up and turned it down again. Who keeps doing that? I wondered. I don't see anybody turning it up at max level!
"I swear I'm not pullin' your leg about this," Laurie insisted as soon as I returned to my seat. "It really did happen."
I carefully searched her face for a hint of a mischievous smile, but she seemed really earnest.
"Well, if this lethal outbreak and town burning really did happen then how come it doesn't show up in the historical records?"
Laurie shrugged. "Well, I guess the people back then were so freaked out about a whole town up and dying like that, that it became a taboo to even talk about it " she mused, frowning. "Nobody likes to talk about it--even today. Many of the families around here are descended from people involved in the town's destruction, and there's a quite of bad feeling over it even now."
"I take it the Ferrisville folk weren't too well liked around here," I remarked.
Laurie nodded. "Yeah, no one seemed to liked them any. Even the Chinese and Indians were scared of them. Maybe because they looked and acted really weird, not like well, humans."
I raised my eyebrows a notch. "Well, they had to have been human," I muttered. "Maybe really inbred, but still human. They all died of some massive flu bug, and their bodies were all destroyed. If they were not human, they would have all risen from the dead."
Laurie shrugged again. "Well according to the stories I heard," she said quietly, "they didn't exactly stay dead very long."
"What?" I stared at her in bewilderment. Then a hackey sack sailed in, not sure if it was the same one, and landed on my head. Again I tossed it back.
"They were all up and walking around in only a month," Laurie went on. "The town eventually got rebuilt."
"So there's a town after all?" I said slowly.
"Yeah, there's a town," Laurie murmured, "but nobody knows exactly what shape its in because nobody ever goes there now...Well, a few people did in the past--mostly outsiders, but none of them ever came back."