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JOURNAL LE HAUT-SAINT-FRANÇOIS / Actualité
Mercredi, 29 janvier 2014

Mystery Man



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Imagine you're sitting in the shadowy hall of the Sawyerville Hotel, after hours. You're listening to stories from the Hotel's co-owner France d'Amours. Her voice lowers as she tells you what she found behind the oil tank in the furnace room eight years ago.

"It was so dirty, covered with a thick coat of dust, that I couldn't see what it was. Then I felt glass. So I got a rag and wiped it off, and there it was - a really old photo of a really tall man, with a beard. He looked like he was about seven feet tall! Later I found a cane, a really long one. We think it must have belonged to him."

But who is that really tall man? The more I searched, the more the mystery thickened. The photo itself bore no identifying marks.

Eventually, perhaps, along with Socrates, I will arrive at the certainty that "all I know is that I know nothing." But I'm putting this mystery before you in the hopes that someone knows a bit more than I do about the Sawyerville Hotel and a tall gentleman who frequented it long ago.

The man in the photo sported a bushy white beard around the time of 1910. He probably had some connection with the Sawyerville Hotel. Or why would his photo have ended up in the Hotel? A 16-by-20-inch sepia cardboard-backed photo in a handsome wood frame with a curved top.

Then there's the matter of the 39-inch plain wooden cane with a curved handle. It's a long cane. It must have been carried by a tall man. But perhaps not the same man as in the photo - that man has two long legs that seem to firmly reach the ground. Whose cane was it?

And then there's the reason d'Amours voice dropped to a whisper as she spoke of the artefacts. A ghostly presence has been felt at night in the hotel. Not just felt. Seen. By more than one person. He's a tall gentleman, and he seems to have a friendly interest in the goings-on at the hotel. Who could it be?

So far, the talk has turned around three well-known citizens of the early 1900s. First, there's Joseph "Sheepskin Joe" Taylor Jr. I've seen photos of him. He carried a cane and he had a bushy beard. But he was only 5 ft. 7 in. tall. And he was dead set against alcohol. At least twice, he took an oath not to touch the stuff. We know that from his fascinating diary which spanned 30 years. His great-grandson Campbell McBurney said Sheepskin Joe would "roll over in his grave" if he knew there was a photo of him at the Sawyerville Hotel, famed as it was for its bar.

Sheepskin Joe was an upstanding citizen and a keen observer of his times. He had a farm in East Clifton, just below Sawyerville. He earned his nickname by wearing a homemade cape "made of tanned sheep skins sewn together and worn with the wool outside," wrote Mildred E. Waldrun in her little book about him. But no, the photo wasn't of him.

Another candidate was Bill "The Glass Man" McCallum. He had a mysterious ability to drive nails, spikes or tacks through glass without shattering it. After a Saturday night at the Sawyerville Hotel, he'd go on a rampage down the street, nailing bottles or light bulbs to telephone poles on his way. So they say, people who knew him. For example, Mayotta Taylor née Winslow. She's the niece of Bill McCallum's brother, who lived in Randboro.

But Bill never wore a beard, she said. And he was born in 1875 - too young to have a white beard in 1910. The photo of him in the book The Imps and Bill McCallum by Freeman Clowery shows him holding a cane, and wearing a platform shoe. He'd been injured as a child in the Magdalen Islands. His right leg was about seven inches too short. So no, the photo is surely not of him. But could the cane be his? Could the friendly but ghostly presence in the hotel be his?

And finally there was Frank Greenlay, the ox driver. A small and shadowy photo of him shows some similarities with the mystery photo. In fact, when Jan Graham saw it, she said "That's Uncle Frank!" Or actually, that would be her great-uncle Frank, in-law - her husband's mother's father's brother.

Frank Greenlay owned the Greenlay Block, in downtown Sawyerville where the post office now stands. He was known for driving an ox and wagon around town. He was tall. But was it really him in the Sawyerville Hotel photo? I compared it to another photo of him, offered by Lorraine Thayer, Jan Graham's niece. I see a resemblance, but also some discrepancies. His beard, his build and his clothes seem quite different.

It's a funny thing about research. It thickens the possibilities. Stand by for more news, or maybe a final laying down of arms as I admit I know nothing. But my question is: Do you have a photo of Frank Greenlay, or any other member of his family? Or do you have any ideas about the identity of the mystery man? If so, please contact me at Ra.writes@gmail.com or 819-300-2374.

William Stone's Leg

Eaton Corner Museum's event of the year is a new play by Maureen Lowry about the man whose leg was amputated in 1847 in Eaton Corner. The performances are on Saturday, February 15, at the Sawyerville Community Centre at 2 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. They will be in English. Admission is $8, and proceeds help support the Eaton Corner Museum. Space is limited, so reserve tickets now. Contact 819-875-3182, or pboychuck@eatoncorner.ca.

Parenting 101

What do children need in order to become independent, self-reliant and resilient? And what parenting styles and how-to's can help in today's hurried world? The Eaton Valley Community Learning Centre (CLC) at the Pope Memorial School in Bury presents a videoconference workshop about this pressing topic on Tuesday, February 4, at 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Hurry on over to 523 Stokes St., Bury. They grow up fast. Info: 819-872-3771 or fessendenk@etsb.qc.ca.

Churck services

United: Sunday services and Sunday school are at 9:30 a.m. in Cookshire, and at 11 a.m. in Sawyerville (for details, listen to message at 819-889-2838, and for more info, leave a message and phone number).

Anglican: Sunday services are at 9:30 a.m. at the St. Paul's Church in Bury (with Sunday school for children) and 11 a.m. in Cookshire. Until April 13, the St. Peter's Anglican Sunday services in Cookshire will be in the Trinity United Church, 190 Principale St. West (819-239-6902).

Baptist: In Sawyerville, the worship service is at 9 a.m. in French, and 11 a.m. in English. Sunday school is at 10 a.m. in English and French (819-239-8818).

Do you have news to share? Call 819-300-2374 or email ra.writes@gmail.com by February 3 for publication February 12 and by February 17 for February 26.


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