[I think more people than you would expect have a supernatural story or two like this one floating around in family tradition. A recent book, The Rose Witch (2018), published by Western New York Wares, is a collection of mostly family ghost-and-supernatural stories from Western New York’s ethnic communities. You can get one from me in person, at bookstores, or at: http://wnybooks.com/
winfield.html. I’ve asked everybody else to spill their goods for that book. I may as well do the same here in a story that was not included in it.]
My dad’s father Mason C. Winfield, Sr. (1886-1966), was a serious, middle-sized gent who brushed his silver hair back in a pompadour as long as I knew him. He had a ramrod-straight backbone, which I am led to believe is a tendency among the Ohio Winfields. Even my grandmother called him “Cappy.”
My grandfather had polio as a boy and his knees never worked right after. He didn’t so much walk as heave his hips up and forward and swing his legs around like stilts. He had a collection of canes, one of which he used every day of his life. The condition got him out of World War I. That war might also account for his middle initial.
He got his first name because the last of the Mason clan married a Winfield in northeast Ohio way back when and wanted the family name to survive. Nobody thought the man with two last names would ever need a middle one, but anyone who registered for the draft in World War I had to produce a middle initial. There’s no explanation for that C-period my grandfather picked. The surname “Cherry” comes up in his side of the family. I have speculated about this among my close friends, many of whom get quite the chuckle at the thought that the name behind my mysterious middle initial could also be the word for a species of hanging fruit. I don’t spot the humor myself. The Campion clan may be a better guess for the source. The Winfields and Campions have reunions together in northeast Ohio. Nevertheless, the initial with no name behind it also comes to me. I am a third.
Cappy and his brother John Harrison “Uncle Harry” Winfield hailed from northeast Ohio. They were landowners and farmers who fiddled around with oil wells, metal shops, and the early industry of plastics in their barns and garages. They came to Buffalo in the 1930s to start the manufacturing company Protective Closures, which is still there on Elmwood Avenue across from the WIVB-TV studios. They made things that screwed or stuck on top of other things and sealed their contents in. (For a disclaimer, my family’s been out of there for more than forty years and I don’t get a nickel from them.) I remember touring it as a little boy and seeing the rows of boxes filled with the brightly colored plastic container tops, generally for bottles, that gave the place its nickname “Caplugs.”
Uncle Harry lived in Lewiston. They say he testified against the Niagara County mob at one point. Apparently somebody tried to shake him down once for “protection” and he didn’t really appreciate it. I think my grandfather was involved in that trial as well. That took a lot of guts. There’s that backbone again.
The impediment of his legs made my grandfather react like Lord Byron to his own club foot: He got good at things that didn’t involve footwork. Cappy became a wonderful pool player and a card-gamer. That and his Masonry kept him out many nights about town. (He attained the 33rd degree and was a Templar, the order nicknamed “Shriners.”) He didn’t drink much, but he loved hanging out with his buddies. He had an absolute stable of them in Buffalo.
The Cappy I knew was a gruff old guy, clench-jawed and stern. He always dressed well around the house. Coat-and-tie whenever he went out socially. He weighed his words like they were sold by the letter, and he expected good conduct. He also loved me hard, and he was able to say it. Ah, those fathers of the World Wars-generations! My grandfather’s legs kept him out of “The Great War.” My dad was born just in time to join its second act.
My grandfather died just before he turned eighty of some sort of cancer. He had smoked a pipe his whole adult life. I was kept pretty far away from him in his last months. I think they were trying to protect me from witnessing the trauma of his decline. I think even he felt that way.
My grandparents’ house was on Hamilton Boulevard in Kenmore near Delaware, which brings us to the ghostly story. The house had an intricate design, a marble fireplace, a bungalow roof, and a welcoming back porch always used as the dining room. Not huge but really cool. I slept upstairs plenty of nights there as a kid. My grandmother left a light on in the upstairs bathroom in case I got scared at night, and my grandfather always snuck up and turned it off after I fell asleep. He had that Depression-era resentment of wasting even a few cents of electricity.
My grandmother stayed in the house on Hamilton Boulevard for another few years, and I spent the occasional night there. I always left that light on in the upstairs bathroom and it was never on in the morning. I know my grandmother didn’t turn it off. The phenomenon was so remarkable that I actually started to look out for it. Always the same.
The house may still be active. Two owners since have believed that strongly enough to track me down and talk about. They found me easily based on my grandfather’s name in the deed and the type of books I write. They were actually curious about the source of the phenomena they encountered and called me to see if I could help.
I guess in the grand scheme it’s not impossible that some aspect of my grandfather’s essence, maybe a post-life instinct – some psychokinetic reflex of the living self – could still be with the house. I doubt he would show himself as a practical joker, which is what you get out of most physical manifestations. And as for that light that turns itself out overnight… If it’s still going on, I can’t even presume that Cappy’s behind the mojo, even if it is his old pattern. I doubt he’d worry much about electricity once his name was off the bill.
NOTE: The picture that goes with this is a shot of the crosspiece of my grandfather’s ceremonial Knights Templar sword. You can see his name etched onto it.