The Satanic Scare of Lyford, Indiana
“Satan! He’s everywhere! Beware, beware, beware!” So rang the words on the poster at the First Baptist Church in Clinton, Indiana. It was an odd poster, sporting an overly horny devil, and one that stuck in my mind as a young man. I saw it one time only, having attended a service there once due to being in the Cub Scouts (we used one of their buildings for our meetings). The Catholic Church and associated parochial school that I attended was less brimstone, but they certainly were stressed about Ol’ Scratch, too.
Welcome to the United States’ great Satanic scare of the 1980s. Conservative Christians were quite uptight about everyone being a Satanist to such a degree that it filtered through to even the more liberal churches and the non-religious. Everywhere you looked, there was Old Nick. I’m not sure how I made it out without being demeaned as one myself. I listened to heavy metal music, played Dungeons and Dragons, and loved Halloween. Add in my anti-authoritarian streak and a slight anti-religious outlook, not overly healthy at a school where nuns whacked your knuckles. I was nearly batting a thousand on the “oh, my god, he’s the devil” roster.
In general, the scare was little more than just that. “In general.” In specifics, there were a few things going on around my hometown of Lyford, Indiana (right across the Wabash River from Clinton) that were downright spooky. One was occurring during this time period and the other well before. Below are the facts and folklore that I’ve collected on both of these.
I was recently talking about this with a friend and had spent a little time in my hometown visiting family not long ago, and this was brought to the front of my mind. I dug out the old stories I’d written down years ago (enough that I could use the word “decades” and it would be accurate). Having been a paperboy and then mowing the local park gave a fair bit of interaction with the older, more pickled, “gentlemen” of the hamlet, as well as the local minister, from which I received these stories. I then got in touch with some other childhood friends to firm up a few things, on both pieces below.
Part One of Two: The Parke-Vermillion Satanic Cult of the 1980s (Also Known as the Very Short Section)
During the ‘80s, there was supposedly a local cult of Satanists in the Lyford-Clinton area. They were said to meet on the Parke County side (just outside of Lyford) at night and dance around a campfire and perform animal sacrifices. True, this comes from the old “friends-of-a-friend” side, but it was still quite interesting. One of my closest friends insisted that his mom worked with one of them at a local school, and this person had admitted to the dancing and hinted at the sacrifices. His mom would refuse to talk about it, though, but certainly did seem to stay clammed up due to fear and not due to her son telling tall tales – something he was not prone to do in any case. Another friend’s mother worked at the local library, and one of her colleagues was always gossiping about this.
I can say that there were two things that I personally encountered that lends truth to the tales. The first was a large pile of animal skins that I found while hiking in the woods near my house, up by the railroad tracks. This was no small pile, either. It was quite large, with more than a dozen skins. These were obviously cat skins. Why do I say obvious? Beyond growing up in a way that gave knowledge of fauna in general, there were enough pieces of the heads and tails that the bodies were most definitely feline. It was very disturbing, slightly surreal, and extremely maddening, as I found myself more angry than scared.
The second was that, after having found the animal furs, a couple of friends and I made a pact to sneak up on them if we ever saw their campfire. We had our chance at the annual Little Italy Festival, when we saw a campfire back in the woods, near the river’s bank, as we were walking across the Wabash River Bridge. We had heard the cult was going to do something big during the Festival, but nothing ever arose out of that gossip. We were hoping to catch them performing whatever ceremony they were doing.
So we walked through the woods and closed in on the campfire. There was definitely music and dancing. Seeing as how one of my friends didn’t even make it off the bridge and into the woods and the second stopped when we heard the music, I’m still slightly ashamed to say that I only went a little further on my own. To this day, my best guess is that I heard Ozzy Osbourne music playing, but seeing as he was one of my favorite artists, that could have just been in my head. There were shapes and shadows bouncing around as if they were dancing, but I just didn’t have it in me to go further.
In the end, I can’t say for sure it was the cult. I heard later, through the gossip grapevine, that it more than likely was. Seeing as how it would have just been one fourteen-year-old boy taking a chance on getting caught by who knows what, I think I made the right choice, but it does bother me that I’ll never know for sure.
Part Two of Two: The Less Than Holy Beginning of Lyford and the Haunted Lyford School (Also Known as “Section the Longer”)
It starts with the Reverend John Lyford, the first ordained Christian minister to come to American shores. Using the term “reverend” may not be overly appropriate, though. The reason he came to America in the first place was due to raping a woman in Ireland and he needed to avoid her husband. Once in the States, he was exiled from Plymouth Colony for indecent and immoral behaviors, part of which had to do with whispers of witchcraft, but definitely had to do with having affairs, one of which resulted in an out-of-wedlock bastard.
Though I could write a whole section on John Lyford, it is his bastard that leads directly to our little hamlet of Lyford. While his father passed away still on the eastern seaboard in 1649, his son rambled across the burgeoning colonies, eventually setting up his own church on the western side of either Massachusetts or the eastern side of what was soon going to become the colony of New York, the exact location being a little fuzzy.
Legend has it that the church was a front for John Lyford, the bastard son of John Lyford. Angered at being shunned for both his father’s actions and for his illegitimate birth, he started his own coven, keeping appearances up as best he could and moving west or south whenever necessary.
And descended through several generations from this Lyford, according to the legends of the Lyford town elders, comes W.H. Lyford, who was a vice president of the Chicago & Eastern Railroad, which ran through the area that would become the town of Lyford. Now, there is absolutely no indication that this particular member of the Lyford clan was anything other than a fine upstanding member of society and that he spent little if any time in the town of Lyford at all. The naming of the town was simply out of recognition and I have zero interest in trying to make any other connection, other than what I’ve been told and what is written above.
The Satanic and witchcraft connection occurs with the building of Lyford School, home of the Flying Trojans. This K-8 (that’s kindergarten through 8th grade, for my non-American readers) school opened its doors in 1918 as a brick, one-story schoolhouse with a basement. It then closed them in the spring of 1956, as the smaller schools consolidated into the new Rosedale school. The school was auctioned off in 193 and torn down between 1964 and 1965.
Legend has it that a group of witches used the school, one of them being a teacher and having the keys to get in and out. They would meet at night during the new moon and at special holidays, especially Halloween, to perform their Satanic rituals. More under-the-radar than the modern Satanists, they stayed low-key and probably could have kept meeting for some time, except that during the course of a ritual one night, one of them died from a knife wound. Depending on who is telling the story, it was either an accident during a ceremony or one of her coven sisters sacrificed her.
The body was never found and the coven was smart enough to either disband or meet elsewhere, at least far enough removed that they do not enter the story anymore. The outcome of the accident/murder was that the school was said to then be haunted. Footsteps would be heard and the occasional ankle would be grasped. At night, if you were walking by the outside of the school, you could hear laughter and screaming. Most of the tales involve the witch, although there are some that insist it is haunted by a deceased student instead, though none know the cause of death.
Now, these rumors and noises and such were not the reason for the school closing. Times change and schools merge. It’s not as though most people put any stock into the haunting, as is the usual case with any ghost story.
The story does not end here, though. When the school was torn down in the ‘60s, locals were allowed to take home beams for their own use. Some of the structures these beams were used in then became associated with their own spooky tales, from footsteps to ghostly presences.
One friend from Lyford, of my own age, that I knew quite well would talk about his own experiences. His father took some of the beams to build a garage, which was then converted into a bedroom as the family grew. His oldest brother, who first had the room, mentioned hearing footsteps outside the door on occasion and also woke the parents up many times with his horrible tossing and turnings, in which he got completely wrapped up in his bedsheets. When it was finally the younger brother’s turn for the room, he too, heard footsteps both outside in the hallway, as well as in the room. He would sometimes feel someone sit at the foot of the bed, but when he opened his eyes there was nothing there. He even talked about feeling a presence always vehemently staring at him.
Did the Satanic Scare of the ‘80s influence the tales the older gentleman and the pastor told me? More than likely at least somewhat in the case of the pastor. He was known to be full of fire and brimstone, but I only went to his actual services a couple of times. As far as the older gentlemen, I’m willing to call it a draw between things they’d heard and experienced being embellished a bit with the scare. Maybe sometimes older brothers play pranks, as a way of scaring his youngest brother, causing an imagination overload. Perhaps there is more to the Lyford family connection after all, even if it was unknown to the family themselves.
I do have one big caveat, and that is the view of Satanists and witches given above are from those who told the stories. I’ve met many Satanists and am friends with a couple, and they in no way reflect the cult as outlined above. The vast majority of Satanists do not kill animals. In fact, they’re usually atheistic in their outlook, and even the theistic Satanists/Luciferians would be horrified at this practice. Personally, I’m actually under the impression that this Satanic Cult that I’ve been talking about was a group of teenagers or very young adults who just wanted some attention and wanted to scare people by doing horrible, stupid things.
Modern witches, too, typically practice Earth magic or a form of Wicca and do not sign their names into any Satanic book. Most don’t dance around naked by a fire, either, although a few that I know have admitted to doing so, but as much out of feminist freedom and power than anything else.
Thank you for indulging me. Perhaps someday I’ll write this up more in the folklore style, using quotes and first name/last initial, but I wanted this first round to be more of a story and less academic. I hope it came through in an enjoyable, if somewhat creepy, manner. Maybe some time in the future I’ll regale you with my personal stories of séances and Ouija boards. That is, if I feel like risking being stalked by the Devil again . . .
- The word Lyford itself is Old English for Flax-Ford, a ford where flax grows, from “lin” = flax and “ford” = ford, and was a village in Berkshire, England. Lyford, Indiana, was platted out by William H. Bonner, on May 14th, 1892 and further extended platting performed by John B. Shaw, on August 8th, 1892. It was already called Lyford, starting in 1880, and before that was called Clinton Lock due to the river. The first recorded use of Lyford as a family name occurs with John de Lyford, in 1273, from the Oxfordshire Hundred Rolls.
- The Lyford School discussed here is not to be confused with the one-room wooden schoolhouse that was built in Lyford in 1913, and then moved to just outside Rockville, Indiana to serve as the school at the Billie Creek Village historical site.
- I was able to find a picture of the Lyford School at the county library, but it is too old and fuzzy to be of any use on this site. I will try to clean it up as best as possible and post it on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JamesSlavenWriter/
- I did meet a Satanist in ’91, during my freshman year at college. He was at a formal dance that I also attended. Everyone seemed to be scared of him. Personally, I thought he was a douche, with a want-to-be Lucifer beard. I would imagine a real Satanist would have made him piss himself, as he didn’t seem to have much to say when we bumped into each other (and yes, it was an accident).
© 2016 James Slaven