Satan Comes to Crawley Bottom

Memories of the Phonograph


"Satan Comes to Crawley Bottom" as told to Douglas Keister


Let it be said that few events of note ever occurred in Crawley Bottom, Missouri. That is, until a dark day in the early 1960s.

The story begins in Flat River, Missouri situated smack-dab in the middle of the tortured landscape of southeastern Missouri’s lead belt. For decades companies had scraped the landscape then bored into its bowels in search of lead ore (galena). The mines began to peter out in the 1950s.

The Crawley Bottom area of Flat River was named after a low-lying tract of land once owned by old man Crawley. It was a rather bucolic place if one stretched the definition of bucolic: Crawley Bottom was situated at the dead ended terminus of tree lined Reuter Street in the shadow (and downwind from) the 300-foot high St. Joseph Lead Company chat dump. Chat is the heavy-metal-laden gravel-textured waste left over when lead is extracted from lead ore. Lead poisoning is known to cause various neurological disorders including brain damage and behavioral problems.

Crawley Bottom was also home to the multi-generational Clancy family including grandmother Lucinda Grace, Aunt Fiona, Cousin Lucy and Uncle Glenn. Other members of the extended Clancy family lived a mile down the road in nearby Esther, Missouri. Young Rose Clancy was particularly fond of the Clancy clan of Crawley Bottom and went there at every opportunity.

All the Clancy’s in Crawley Bottom lived in relative harmony with each assigned to various chores. Uncle Glenn oversaw the abundant garden, Grandmother Lucinda tended to the cooking and Aunt Fiona, who was a school teacher sat around being smart. Warm summer evenings often found Rose and her grandmother Lucinda sitting on the garden swing catching up on local news and telling family tales while shucking snap beans harvested from Uncle Glenn’s garden.

Grandmother Lucinda


Entertainment options were sparse in the Clancy household. Television channels were limited. Radio reception was scratchy. Card games were banned in deference to some of the family members who were strict Southern Baptists. While entertainment options may have been limited or even downright discouraged, there was one notable concession.

Centermost in the living room was Grandmother Lucinda’s treasured upright mahogany-clad Victrola phonograph.



The Victrola was not a mere record player. It was a phantasmagoric transporter that sent her on excursions to any anywhere; any any place other than Flat River, Missouri. No one else was allowed to touch the Victrola without first asking Grandma Lucinda’s permission. But mostly it was her who accessed the divine object. To her it was magic. A gift from the gods.

With reverential ritual, she’d turn the crank a few times, pull a treasured 10-inch 78 rpm brittle black shellac disk out of its sleeve, turn it from side to side catching the light just so to inspect it for scratches, place it on the platter and release the lock. She’d watch the record picking up speed as an ever-so-slight smile tracked across her face. With great piety she’d inhale, hold her breath, pick up the tone arm and hover it over the spinning disk. The magic was about to happen.

She’d gently place the needle on the disk.

For the first few seconds Grandmother Lucinda would hover over the spinning platter watching the needle bounce along the grooves of the record, send the impulses to the tone arm’s vibrating diaphragm and then into the horn. Even though it seemed like magic she could understand the mechanics of how the sounds could transfer from the record’s grooves to the Victrola’s horn and hence to her ears.

Then, for a handful of blissful minutes she went somewhere other than the modest Clancy home in Crawley Bottom.

It didn’t matter if it was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s booming bass-baritone serenading her with Sixteen Tons, Caruso’s Carmen or Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. It was all sublime bliss.

Everyone knew when Grandmother Lucinda sat down in her rocking chair, crossed her hands over her chest and closed her eyes she had gone to another place. Oftentimes, cousin Lucy and little Rose were allowed to twirl and dance to the music. Their rambunctious behavior never ever disturbed Grandmother Lucinda, for she had been ferried to another place that was impervious to the outside world. Indeed, the family fully expected to, one day, find her in her rocking chair with the Victrola’s needle carving a deep groove at the end of the record as Grandmother Lucinda took her final trip to the great beyond.

It would have been sweetly poetic, but, alas, it wasn’t to be.

There is probably no better real-life example of the old saw, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” than what occurred on a fateful day in 1960.

Aunt Fiona was very aware of how much Grandmother Lucinda loved music and how it carried her away. Who could blame Fiona for wanting to introduce Lucinda to phonographic records that required no cranking and provided up to a half-hour of uninterrupted music?

On that fateful day, when Grandmother Lucinda opened the door to the Clancy household on Crawley Bottom, she knew something was wrong. Something was out of place. Casting her gaze over the living room, she quickly knew what it was: her treasured Victrola had been shunted off to a corner and something else now occupied the space where the Victrola had been. The space was now occupied by a long sleek blond-colored wooden box.

“Surprise.” Shouted Fiona as she gestured toward the blond box. “It’s a hi-fi; a console hi-fi.”

“Hi-fi?” Lucinda questioned as she squinted at it. “What’s a hi-fi?”

“It’s high fidelity. It plays records.” Fiona smiled. “Long playing records. It has a radio too.” She reached out and took Lucinda’s hand. “C’mon take a look.”

Lucinda gingerly stepped forward, but not before glancing at her Victrola sitting forlornly idle in the corner. “I don’t like radios. You can’t control what music comes out of them or what kind of people are in them.” She took another look back at her Victrola. “ Billy Turner over at the hardware store has one of them radios. He says all kinds of crazy people say things inside them, especially on Sundays. He says he even heard some Catholics saying things like you’re going to hell if you don’t believe the Pope is infallible.” She waved her hand dismissively. Grandmother Lucinda did not have a cordial relationship with Catholics. In fact, although she was a god-fearing woman, she was wary of organized religion, especially ones that declared their way was the only way.

“That’s okay.” Said Fiona. “You don’t have to listen to the radio. I really got this so you can listen to these things called long playing records. This one’s 23-minutes.” She pulled a 12-inch vinyl record she was holding out of its sleeve. “You won’t have to get up all the time to change the record.”

Lucinda inched a bit forward with her hands behind her back, leaned over and scanned the blond beast. “Where’s the crank?” Then she leaned forward and pointed her nose at an array of knobs. “And what are those things.”

“Those knobs control the volume, and tone, and treble, and bass.” Fiona said proudly. “Isn’t it wonderful?”

“Why would you want to change the sound?” Grandmother Lucinda started backing away. “The sound from the Victrola is perfect.” She cast a loving eye toward her Victrola. “I’ll stick with the Victrola.”

Fiona turned at the now retreating Grandmother Lucinda. “But this is so…”

Grandmother Lucinda interrupted. “If it doesn’t have a crank, how does it work? And where’s the horn?”

Aunt Fiona gulped. She knew she was in trouble. Everyone in the Clancy clan was well aware of Grandmother Lucinda’s fear of anything remotely new-fangled, especially things that ran on electricity. Decades before, when told that electricity was invisible, she became firmly convinced that it leaked out of unused outlets and refused to have one installed in her bedroom. A kerosene lamp was fine with her. She understood how it worked.

Indeed, her fear of all things new extended to indoor plumbing. She still used the old outhouse at the far corner of the property. She got the water for her personal use from a cistern in the middle of Uncle Glenn’s garden. Grandmother Lucinda wanted to know where things come from and how they worked. Turning on a faucet and watching water come out was unacceptable to her. Where was the source? Was the force pushing it out kind or malevolent?

Grandmother Lucinda repeated her question. “I asked how does that beast work?” She put her clenched fists on her hips and glared at Aunt Fiona. Her voice started to rise, this time with more emphasis.“I asked how does it work?”

Aunt Fiona avoided eye contact and looked up, perhaps seeking a divine answer. Finding none, she looked at the ground, then cocked her head to the wall outlet where the console was plugged in and half-whispered. “Electricity.”

Grandmother Lucinda’s eyes widened, then she turned pale and began sweating profusely. Putting her hand to her chest she gasped. “ELECTRICITY? IT’S THE WORK OF SATAN!” She ran over to the wall outlet, put her now sweat-drenched hand on the plug to pull it out and, POW!, was immediately thrown back by a high-powered jolt of electricity.

Aunt Fiona looked on in horror as Grandmother Lucinda picked herself up off the floor, shook her fist and yelled at her. “IT’S SATAN’S PLAYTHING.” She cast a tearful glance over to her beloved Victrola, now nothing but a silent sentinel to what once was. Sobbing, she turned her back and left the room… forever.

Grandmother Lucinda never again entered what became known as Satan’s Playground, not even to retrieve her beloved Victrola, no doubt now tainted and well within the domain of Satan. She never again went in the front door of the house. She rarely even left the house.

All that most people in Crawley Botton ever saw of her was when they spied a hunched over figure with long white hair streaming down her back making her way toward the plumbing and electricity free outhouse.



"Satan Comes to Crawley Bottom" as told to Douglas Keister




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