Haunted Barstool (the) – part 1



Taken as a whole, there was nothing unusual about the stool.  Fastened by semispherical brass rivets to the worn and water-shrunk maple floorboards of Woodall’s Fine Drinks and Food in Old Monongahela town (just upriver from Pittsburgh), it stood without note alongside its dozen-or-so brothers, which ran the length of the old bar.  It had no proper designation at all, in fact, being just a rather common type of stool- utilitarian in its design from its dented and tarnished metal base to the aged cracked leather seat which had been re-stuffed at least once in the last seventy-odd years since Woodall’s had opened. 

The bar’s regulars had a name for it, however: a sinister nomenclature they used only when they referenced it in thick whispers amidst the din of a typical rowdy night of hard drinking.  In their gin-tinted accents, they called the stool NUMBER 6.

Monongahela was a hard town.  It had sprung up perhaps a little too-quickly in the early years of the area’s steel boom as a barge town. Its situation on the banks of the river which lent it its name made it an ideal waypoint for the shuttling of coal downstream to fuel the furnaces currently feeding the Nation’s need for the strong but lightweight metal.  There were no easy jobs between the tearing of the black rock from the Earth’s bosom and the vomiting forth of the red-hot ore. Digging underground, feeding the coke refineries, piloting the barges or tending the white-hot foundries- it was all hard and dirty work and only the tough could do it.

That’s who drank at Woodall’s.  The Hard.  The Tough. 

And yet it wasn’t uncommon for an inanimate object (even one as innocuous as the stool) to acquire a sinister reputation with the working men of a town like Monongahela.  Some were only a few years removed from their arrival from the Old World. Many were at most a generation distant, and they had brought much of their folklore and superstition with them in their journey across the Atlantic from Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, and other towns with names far too obscure and difficult to pronounce to be included in this manuscript.  But even accounting for the superstitious nature of the local culture, the stool standing at Woodall’s embodied an unreasonable amount of terror, given its humble presence.

Perhaps this was due in large part to the sad story of Micah Kosciusko.  Old Micah had come over in ’63, when the furnaces were working overtime to churn out the cannonballs to help defeat the Rebels.  He’d been a young man then, so slender folk would comment that if he ever wanted to avoid trouble, all he’d have to do would be to stand sideways.  By the Turn of the Century, however, Micah’s girth had grown significantly more prodigious, and soon it wasn’t uncommon for the proprietor of any one of the many drinking establishments Micah frequented to eye the voluminous man worriedly, all the while casting nervous glances at the venue’s furniture.

But the barstools at Woodall’s were sturdy affairs.  They’d been made by the Mercury Company in the 1880’s, when things were still made well- which was fortunate considering the vast array of indignities (and various fluids) a barstool in Monongahela or any working town for that matter was likely to be subjected to on a regular basis.

As the regulars told it, on a bitter cold February night in 1909 Old Micah had been spending a quiet evening of soul searching astride Number 6. The bar was busy that evening, and old Saul Woodall was near run off his feet trying to keep up with his patrons’ thirst for strong drink.  The story went that eventually, as is normal, the boilermakers Micah had been downing made their way through and he had to visit the toilet in back.  As was custom, Micah took out his handkerchief and, unfolding it, laid it out on the seat of his stool to save it while he acquiesced to nature’s calling.  This was a time-honored custom with the drinking men of any civilized tavern, and callous and craven was any man who disregarded it.

Such a man was young Tobias Snodgrass. 

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