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