The Mysterious Mary Haines
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A strange woman came to Alexander Eastwood as he lounged in the shade of the Commercial Summit railway station in Pine Knot, Kentucky on that sweltering day in 1894. Her long skirt whispered like nervous birch leaves before an approaching storm as she strode across the wooden deck of the depot. One arm held a traveling bag, the other cradled an infant. Trailing behind her, two other small children cast fearful glances at the hissing black locomotive that belched coal smoke and steam beside the station.
Eastwood had never seen the woman before she stepped off the Helenwood Special. He knew almost everyone who lived in Pine Knot and she was, definitely, not from there. Her dark linen skirt brushed the tops of patent leather shoes and the rhinestone broach on her embroidered jacket matched the stickpins that kept her hair from falling to her shoulders. A plumed hat rode jauntily over her forehead, the ostrich feather quivering in the summer breeze. She was a lady of refinement and good taste; probably, well educated, too. Of that, Eastwood would bet.
She had been referred to him by the telegraph operator and she needed help. She needed a place where she and her children could live. Did he know of any place?
Eastwood did, an unoccupied house next door to some friends of his, the Barnett’s. The house was small, he had told her, but warm, sufficient for a mother and three children. She had seemed grateful for his assistance and had, eagerly, moved in.
Eastwood had done all he could to make Mary Haines and her children, Catherine, Maude, and Mack, happy in their new home. The children had adjusted well to their new environment and the two older ones were seen frequently playing in the yard between their home and the Barnett house. Not so with their mother, however.
Mary Haines was seldom seen outside her rented house. Only when she made occasional shopping visits to town did the residents of Pine Knot know that she existed. Even then, her appearances were brief and she talked to few people. Although invited many times, she never went to church. The curtains of her windows were always closed. With the exception of Alexander Eastwood, nobody visited her.
Early in the winter, following her arrival in Pine Knot, an alcohol-fueled brawl had broken out in a field across the road from her house. Gun shots were heard and panic stricken people ran for cover as bullets flew through the air. For a few minutes, chaos reigned as tempers flared and uncontrolled emotions turned a sleepy railroad town into a place fraught with danger. Doors were locked and people took refuge behind closed doors. A man, injured in the fight, had been carried across the yard and into the Barnett house. He had bled profusely from a bullet wound in the leg and had left a trail of blood in the fallen leaves and across the yard where Mary Haines lived.
The eruption of violence in Pine Knot had had a devastating effect upon Mary. She had become a total recluse, refusing to talk to anyone but Alexander Eastwood. Although, at times, passersby would see her peeping furtively from behind closed curtains, she never went outside again. Nights had become difficult for her. Fearing that someone would attempt a break in, she propped chairs against the doors of the house and sat, awake, shielding her family from the forces of evil she believed lurked outside. Sometimes, the children could hear the sobs of their mother as she sat alone in the darkness, waiting for the dawn. As the cold of winter deepened, her appearance had undergone a dramatic change. Her once well-groomed hair had become disheveled and unwashed. Lines appeared on her face in places that had once been smooth. Dark smudges, the product of sleepless nights, encircled her eyes.
Now, Alexander Eastwood suddenly found himself in the role of caregiver for Mary Haines and her children. He ran errands for her, brought groceries to keep her and her children nourished, kept the bucket beside the stove filled with coal, and carried water from the well outside the house. For this assistance, he asked for nothing in return. It was his Christian duty, he explained to anyone who asked what he was doing.
On the morning of January 12, 1895, Eastwood mounted his horse and rode over to check on Mary and the children. Mid-January is the coldest time of the year in southern Kentucky and he wanted to make sure Mary and the kids were warm. He found her agitated and irrational. “I have to leave this place,” Mary said to him. “I cannot remain here longer. If they find me, they will kill me.”
Eastwood tried to calm her, assuring her that no harm was going to come to her or her children, but his words had no effect. She insisted that she had to leave Pine Knot. When Mary handed him a note that she had written and signed, he read it. In the note, Mary expressed her desire that her oldest child, Catherine, be bound over to Alexander Eastwood until said Catherine had attained the age of twenty-one. Mary Haines was, in effect, giving her daughter to him.
Eastwood was convinced that Mary was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, He, wisely, concluded that he needed to remove her children to a safer environment. He said he would take Catherine home with him. After filling the coal bucket and bringing in more water, he lifted the little girl onto his horse and swung into the saddle behind her. He would talk to his wife and make arrangements. Then, he would return the following day for the others.
On January 13, he went back to rescue Maude and Mack. When there was no response to his knock, he turned the knob on the door. It was unlocked. He went inside. The house was cold and the coal bucket was still half-full. The beds were neatly made and all appeared to be in order, but Mary Haines and her children were gone. He asked the neighbors, but they did not know her whereabouts. However, someone at the railroad station recalled having seen her board the Royal Palm through-service the day before. She was probably halfway to Florida by now, he had said.
Catherine Haines never saw her mother again. Alexander Eastwood and his wife, Sarah, had no children of their own and they welcomed Catherine into their home. But neither Alexander nor Sarah was in good health, and they found the challenges of child rearing more than they could bear. After a year, Eastwood went searching for someone else to take care of Catherine. He found him in the person of a Baptist minister of the Gospel and proud member of the Grand Army of the Republic. George W. Vanover and his wife, Temperance, were also childless, but were willing to take Catherine in and raise her as their own.
Catherine Haines lived with the Vanovers until she was fourteen, at which time she married and started a family of her own. She never forgot her mother, though, and the memories of the first five years of her life haunted her until she passed away in 1968. The mystery of Mary Haines has never been solved. Who was this woman who appeared like a star over the Big South Fork River, then vanished at first light? Who was this woman who was so desperate to save her children she was willing to give up one of them to a man she hardly knew? Who was this woman who was, obviously, beset by demons from an earlier time and place?
Who was Mary Haines? It’s a question that lingered in the mind of Alexander Eastwood for the remaining six years of his life. It’s a question that lingers in the minds of her descendants even today.