By Ken Bradbury
When you move to a new location there are loads of things you need to learn … when to put out the trash, how closely to shave your yard, how to recycle and how to find a parking space near Illinois College. I’d made a list of things I needed to learn and thought I had the items memorized, then I started hearing them … the legends … the urban legends of Jacksonville.
THE VANILLA MAILMAN: My good friend Janet, who never lies, tells me this to be true. Everyone within swatting distance of Jacksonville knows what a bane the buffalo gnats have been to everything on two legs or four. What was once thought to be a blip in the ecology of the region has now seemed to more resemble an annual plague, and although various spells and ointments have been touted, there seems to be nothing that can stop the pesky swarm that attacks you every time you step outside your door. But according to Janet, a certain Jacksonville postman drank Vanilla Coke three days in a row and from that point on, he was never bothered by the varmints. Janet does hair, and hairdressers never lie.
THE SWARM: Not to be confused with buffalo gnats, this is one I discovered myself. Most Friday nights, a swarm invades Jacksonville, but unlike the locusts that darkened the Great Plains during dust bowl days and the Biblical hordes of locusts, the Jacksonville swarm is invisible. I first heard their grating roar on one of the first weekends after moving to town. I thought it was wind since I’d never really been inside this new house during a windstorm. Then I looked out the window at my trees and not a thing was stirring. The roar persisted as I walked into my kitchen to see if the garbage disposal had kicked on, or perhaps I’d mistakenly thrown an anvil into my washing machine. Nothing. It was coming from outside, so I grabbed a flyswatter and carefully peeked out my back door. Nothing. My backyard seemed as quiet as Mayor Ezard’s countenance during a chicken coop debate. So where was it coming from? I must admit that this is one urban legend that I have not solved. And the real mystery of the night was that the roar ended around 11 p.m., just as the races were over at the fairgrounds.
THE GHOST CARS: Take a drive around the square at night and look for a place to park. You can’t. The stores are closed. Where are these people? Rumor has it that Winchester is using us for overflow parking.
THE NAKED JOGGER OF LAFAYETTE STREET: Okay, I just made this one up to see if you were paying attention.
THE SOUTH JACKSONVILLE BOBCAT: I’d heard this tale long before I moved to Jacksonville. Several residents of the southern half of our little metropolis claim to have seen a bobcat prowling their back yards. This reminds me a lot of the tales of flying saucers seen by the denizens of the South Side Tavern in ‘Dosh, but I’ll leave that to your speculation.
THE NEGLECTED HOUSES: Word has it that there are actually three old houses in Jacksonville where no one has claimed that Abraham Lincoln visited. Early Democrats, no doubt.
THE GHOST OF WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN is said to walk nightly across the quad at Illinois College, looking for … I don’t know … whatever dead presidential contenders look for … perhaps another chance at the White House. This is one that I find totally ridiculous, to think that an out-spoken politician who tried to appeal to the masses with rather radical ideas could actually walk among us. What a silly legend.
THE ETERNAL SHOPPER: According to local legend, there’s a lady who spends her entire life in Wal-Mart, a store that’s open 24-7. She constantly changes clothing and hides at night in the camping section of the store. There’s been no real proof of her existence other than a couple of opened cans of pineapple and some lightly nibbled lettuce. Late-night shelf stockers have seen just the whisper of her coat disappear around corners, and some claim that she’s been a reassuring presence when the store traffic is slow. If you’re shopping at Wally World and you hear someone singing along to the overhead music, you might want to check behind the pineapple.
It’s been interesting to find that no matter where you may choose to move, the weirdness follows you. Maybe it’s me.