With time should come the healing

Frequent visitors to our opinion pages are aware of our Letters to the Editor policy. It isn’t any different than virtually any other newspaper in the entire country. An important part of that policy is a refusal to publish anonymous letters. We get our share, often during political seasons or when there is a particular inflammatory issue going on within our community like the fire district controversy in Salem some years back. Often they are written by cowards — someone wanting to give an opinion on something or someone without actually attaching their name so that all can see who has ownership of such views. Often such letters are nothing more than character attacks, directed at someone in the public sector. Many would be potentially libelous if appearing in print. Some have been directed at people working at the Salem News. All anonymous letters ultimately end up in one of the wastebaskets in our newsroom and quickly forgotten. But we are making an exception. Sort of. We know the writer, but his name will not be attached to the letter. Still, we hope our readers will accept our reasoning and intent for printing the letter.

We recently received it from a person we have known for some years now. He has been wracked with guilt over a very bad act he was involved with over two decades ago. We know the writer. We can vouch for his character. He is a Salem High graduate and a current resident. He served our country in the Marines. He is devoted father with four children.

His torment stems from acts of vandalism that he was part of years ago. He and others damaged tombstones at Hope Cemetery. Most prominent was that of Goldie Bell Taylor. Those familiar with Hope Cemetery and its lore know the story. Depending on the season, fresh or artificial flowers are almost always in the hands of the little girl statue above her grave. Actually they were there when we took a walk through the cemetery early yesterday morning. The grave is located right off a main entrance to the cemetery. The story has it that should someone take away her flowers, new ones will appear the very next day. Although nobody ever admits to replacing them. Nor does anyone see who does it. The belief is that if you take the flowers and stomp on them in front of her, the statue is supposed to cry.

Goldie was a twin daughter of Jacob and Elizabeth Cooley Taylor. She was born Aug. 28, 1884 and died Sept. 8, 1886. Her twin sister, Lena Leota, died a few days after birth. She rests near her sister’s grave site. It is believed that Goldie died of lead poisoning. Her father had been cooking elderberries in a cast-iron kettle to be used for canning. The curious Goldie skimmed the sides of the kettle for a taste. In doing so she absorbed some traces of iron. Tragically she died just a few days later of iron poisoning. Keep in mind that this was over 130 years ago when illnesses such as lead poisonings were common.

The story goes that Goldie’s mother blamed the father for their little girl’s death. Jacob blamed himself. Burdened by sorrow Jacob became intent of getting grave markers for his little girls. He sent a photo to Italy where sculptors could be found to make a likeness of Goldie in marble. The statue cost $2,000. It cost another $2,000 to have it shipped to our area. Jacob owned a large farm in the Sebring He sold most of his land and used the money to pay for the cemetery statue.

Legend has it that from the day Goldie was put to rest her father took fresh flowers to her grave, traveling by horse from his Sebring home. He did that for a decade until his death in 1896. He was buried beside his little girls. Still, the flowers kept and keep on coming, to be held by marble hands. The statue stood undisturbed for decades until vandals nearly destroyed it 22 years ago during a rampage at Hope Cemetery back. Its head was knocked off but later restored. Little Goldie’s feet were never recovered.

A terrible act of youth inflicted at a cemetery has haunted the letter writer into his adulthood. Given his sincere guilt, given the way he turned his life around by becoming good citizen and family man, the decision was to allow his letter in print. He deserves it. We hope this helps with the healing. There isn’t a need to attach his name to it. Those directly involved should know who he is.

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To whom it may concern,

This letter is to all of the family members who have loved ones buried at Hope Cemetery in Salem. Twenty-two years ago I was asked to go to what I thought was a birthday party, and to my surprise when I arrived that was not the case. There were two older men and a friend of mine, or at least someone who I thought was a friend. No birthday (party). It was actually an initiation into a gang that the two older men wanted me to start.

I was always a tiny kid and was instantly scared. I could go into full detail of all the things that happened that night. But that is not the purpose of this letter. My point is that I followed these three individuals all over Salem and we ended up at Hope Cemetery. Once at the cemetery they proceeded to knock over tombstones and a statue of a beautiful little girl. I did not want to participate but was threatened to do it or else.

I was writing this letter to ask for forgiveness. I understand that it has been 22 years since the incident occurred. But the older I get and the more I learn about Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, the more I realize that I need to at least try to reach out to as many people that this affected and to try to make amends.

This has eaten away at me for 22 long years, and each time I pass that cemetery I cringe and feel so brokenhearted.

I went on a haunted trolley ride last October and one of the stops was at Hope. As we pulled in my heart sank, hoping that they did not make reference to this event. But they definitely did. As we stood in front of that statue of the little girl and heard the tale of the vandals from 22 years ago, my heart broke even more.

I am truly sorry for the pain and hurt that I caused your families and I hope and pray that your can find it in your hearts to forgive me, even 22 years later.

Sincerely, Broken Hearted, Salem.

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There wasn’t a birthday party. The letter writer actually spent his 17th birthday in the Tobin Center. He did pay a price shortly after the crime when the culprits’ identifies were uncovered by the police. He spent eight days in that juvenile center in Lisbon. Restitution totaling $3,000 was made.

Skip to the present and the writer is celebrating recovery, not from addiction or alcohol but from a lot, as he puts it, of “hurts, habits and hang-ups.” He regularly attends services at Damascus Friends Church. “An amazing church,” he told us. “Come as your are; they don’t judge you.”

Although restitution was made and he spent time in juvenile center it has never been enough. And although those directly affected by his actions likely know who he is it has never been enough.

“It was brought to my attention that I had a lot to make amends for,” he said. “This has been eating at me for 22 years. This is my way of telling those I affected that I am truly sorry for the griefs that I caused. The people who will read the letter will know who wrote it. I don’t expect anything. I just need to make amends.”

Hopefully this will provide some soul cleansing. Some healing and mending of a heart. Some peace of mind. Forgiveness should be offered. This anonymous letter writer isn’t a coward. Far from it. He has carried this torment throughout his adult life. It has been long enough. He can let go now.

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