Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Last Stop Willoughby by Michael Ceraolo

There was an episode of The Twilight Zone
that first aired May 6, 1960
titled A Stop at Willoughby,
                                         and
the city of Willoughby has an annual festival
called Last Stop Willoughby,
                                           with a parade
and an airing of the TV episode
and several other festivities
                                          But
there was an episode of real life
that could also be called Last Stop Willoughby
much more interesting than either

Christmas Eve 1933
Sunday,
                 so
the churches would be doing double duty
Josephine Kilmczak,
                                5'4" tall,
with auburn hair and hazel eyes,
                                                known
as Sophie to her family
(parents, five sisters, three brothers)
had arrived here yesterday
(or possibly even before that;
                                           in
the aftermath of subsequent events
there would be tales of reported sightings of her
before her confirmed arrival,
                                         including
one that she had been kicked off
a streetcar in neighboring Kirtland
two days earlier)

She had found lodging
in a boardinghouse on Second Street
(or Third; accounts differ)
run by Mrs. Mary Judd
                                   (or Miss;
either way Ms. hadn't been coined yet),
                                                          and
when she awoke on this day
she asked Mrs. Judd about church services
and wished her a Merry Christmas

When she left the boardinghouse
she was carrying a suitcase
and was dressed appropriately
for the seasonable weather
                                         (for good reason
she would later be called The Girl in Blue),
                                                               wearing
a blue dress
a blue sweater
blue shoes
a blue coat
a blue scarf
She was carrying a blue purse
that had in it ninety cents
and a train ticket to Corry, Pennsylvania

She walked about a quarter-mile,
                                                 then,
when passing the Willoughby Village Cemetery,
authored two mysteries,
                                    one of which
was never (and will never) be solved

She suddenly dropped her suitcase,
                                                      then
sprinted a half-mile to the train tracks,
where she was struck by a passenger train
and sent flying onto the gravel siding
No blood
No visible wounds
But dead nonetheless

Since she had no ID on her,
who she was was Mystery Number One
The town's residents unofficially adopted here,
a local funeral home preparing the body for burial
and letting her lie in state for two weeks
in the hopes that someone would ID her
and claim the body,
                              then,
when no one did so,
                               raising
the money for her tombstone

               IN MEMORY
                  OF THE
             GIRL IN BLUE
           KILLED BY TRAIN
        DECEMBER 24, 1933

UNKNOWN BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

                                                        and
then buried her in the village cemetery

Five years later her brother Leo
showed up and ID'ed her,
                                      but
the cemetery sexton didn't write down
her last name,
                      nor could he remember
the correct spelling or pronunciation,
                                                       and
The Girl in Blue resumed her anonymity,
                                                            where
she remained for the next fifty-five years

When the local rag wrote a story
on the 60th anniversary of her death,
the story made its way
to a paper in Corry, PA,
                                    where
it was read by one Edward Sekerak,
a realtor who,
                     providentially,
was at the time involved in selling the Kilmczak farm
Mr. Sekerak remembered Leo had said in an affidavit
that his sister Josephine had died
on Christmas Eve 1933
When this information made its way to Willoughby,
the mystery of her identity was solved,
                                                         though
it took another decade for a second headstone,
this one bearing her name,
to be placed lying flat on her grave

And today,
under a mulberry tree
in the center section of the cemetery,
people of all ages visit her grave
and leave
                 flowers real and plastic
                 coins
                 toys
                 and other mementos
in order to connect with her,
                                          some
contemplating the unsolved mystery
of why

               And
I wonder if Serling,
                            who
was nine at the time of her death,
used Willoughby in the title of the episode
for the same reasons



Bio:  "Michael Ceraolo is a 59-year-old retired firefighter/paramedic and active poet. This poem is from Book Three of his encyclopedic epic, Euclid Creek:  A Journey, about the place where he lives. Book One was published by Deep Cleveland Press and Book Two is forthcoming from unbound content press."

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