Just in time for Halloween, I’ve whipped up something of a haunting story. But the basis for this story is fact.
Have you ever heard of Morganza before?
Known as the Pennsylvania Reform School in Canonsburg, Pa., it was an old school version of juvie. My Grandpa said his mother would say she would ship him and his brothers to Morganza if they didn’t behave. It was everything awful it sounds to be. The details about Morganza in the story are true. And the cemetery still exists, surrounded by a white picket fence with flat-faced grave markers.
“You better behave, or I’ll send you to Morganza.”
The day care helper held the kid by the shoulders and held him still. The kid froze at the name. He had no idea what it meant, but it sounded horrifying. Morganza.
“I will. I’ll send you there in a heartbeat,” the helper said again, giving the boy a slanted look of warning. The helper curled the corner of his mouth in one of those I-can-scare-you-because-I’m-bigger-than-you smiles. He shook the boy’s shoulders for emphasis before he let go, but the boy just stood there. He and his blue Sharpie had been in the middle of a game of connect the dots with a classmate’s polka dotted skirt when the helper wrangled him.
“How do I find these people,” Adrian thought to herself, shaking her head. The third day care in less than a month and this was the best she could find.
She helped Lorie take off her bookbag and set it in her cubbyhole, #36. She helped her hang her coat up on the peg above. She checked to make sure Lonie had her name tag pinned to her sweater and her milk token in her pocket.
“Mommy will pick you up after work.”
Lonie was already eyeing the toy kitchen set in the corner of the room.
“Bye, Mommy!” she called as she ran to join the bubbling mass of kids.
The day care helper gave an unconvincing at Adrian as she left and then turned his slanted gaze to two kids taking off across the room.
At work, Adrian started filing through her emails, mostly deleting, replying to a few before she forgot. One was from her husband, David. He had emailed about picking up dinner on his way home, but he didn’t know if Lonie would eat General Tso’s chicken.
“She won’t,” Adrian thought to herself. She pictured Lonie playing at the kitchen set at the daycare.
“What kind of food does Lonie make when she plays?,” Adrian thought. “That might help us through this picky food phase.”
“Hey, Adrian, got a minute?”
It was Shirley, one of her cubicle buddies.
“Can you sign this card, for Ray? He’s retiring and his last day is Friday.”
“Sure,” Adrian said. She signed the card and looked at everyone else’s signatures, then she handed it back to Shirley.
“Hey, Shirley, have you heard of Morganza?”
“The old reform school in Canonsburg?”
“Yeah, is it still opened?”
Shirley laughed, “Nooo, it’s probably been closed for, what, close to 40 years now? Why?”
“No reason, I just heard it mentioned this morning.”
“I haven’t heard that name in ages,” Shirley said putting her hands on her hips. ” My Grandpa used to say his mom would threaten to send him and his brothers there if they weren’t good.”
“Whatcha girls talking about?” It was Jim, the conversation jumper. He probably just came from interrupting a watercolor talk about 401Ks.
“Morganza, ever heard of it?” Shirley asked, doubting he had.
“OH MY GOD YES,” Jim said, loudly, still bouncing his head on his neck like it might fall off. “Did you know 35 kids died there? They have graves at the place, but there aren’t any dates. That’s why the county can’t tear it down and rezone, they have to preserve the cemetery.”
“How the hell do you know all this?” Adrian asked.
“It was on the Discover Channel. Ghost Hunters or something.” His attention shifted as his eyes followed a cake being carried into the office kitchen. “You guys want some?” he asked walking to the kitchen.
In the afternoon, David replied saying he would get side orders of noodles and those minature corn for Lonie for dinner. And just in case she needed some more coaxing, a few extra fortune cookies.
“Lonie’s new appetite is a lot of trouble. But this phase doesn’t last long, though, right? *wink wink*,” he wrote in the email.
“Lonie is a handful,” Adrian thought. “I’m sure she does worse or the equivalent of drawing on someone’s skirt at day care. Does that helper tell her that he’ll send her to Morganza too? Does she know what that means?”
Adrian wondered if Lonie froze the way the little boy with the Sharpie did when the helper threatens her with Morganza. It’s just the way it sounds. Morganza.
“I can’t believe they didn’t put dates on the children’s graves,” Adrian thought aloud.
Adrian walked into the day care center and heard the dull bells on the door knob clang at her entrance.
She went over to the cubbyholes where the kids wait for their parents. At Lonie’s cubbyhole, her coat and bookbag were gone. The shiny #36 gleamed from inside the cubbyhole. Adrian’s heart fluttered.
“Excuse me,” Adrian said rushing over to a day care helper, a woman with long blonde hair, “I’m here to pick up my daughter, Lonie, but she’s not at her cubby like she should be.”
“What was the name?” the blonde-haired woman asked not looking up from her chart.
“Lonie,” Adrian said, her face starting to flush. “Lonie Grant. She’s small and has brown hair, it’s in a short bob, and she had on a green sweater today…”
“Oh, green sweater girl?” the helper asked still nonchalant. “She is a handful. She decided to plug up the sink in the bathroom today to see if rolls of toilet paper sink or float and when it sank, she threw the classroom iPod in to see what it would do.”
“She did that?” Adrian asked.
“Yeah and then she threw up on Gregory. You know what that means…”
“Oh my god,” Adrian said. “What? What did you do to her? WHERE IS SHE?”
“Mommy!” Lonie came bounding around the corner wearing a dingy oversized white T-shirt with sweat stains under the arms. She could hardly walk in it.
“You gotta get out the back-up sick clothes…” the blonde-haired helper trailed off, watching Lonie run to her mom.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” Adrian felt like she was coming off a roller-coaster. “Where were you, Lonie?”
“The potty room, Mommy!” Lonie squealed.
“She was in the bathroom getting cleaned up. She had to wear her coat for a bit until we found the back-up back-up sick clothes and we put her dirty clothes in a garbage bag in her bookbag.”
The helper smirked at Adrian and checked her clipboard again.
“What did you think we did with her? Sent her to Morganza?” the helper laughed.
“I, I…”. Adrian couldn’t even speak.
“Oh, and you should probably have her checked out for food allergies,” the helper said. “She got sick after eating peanut butter.”