It was Mrs. Sweeney's beautiful, white, vintage Studebaker - once. Now it sits flat on the ground: dented, no tires, no windows, rusting by the old oak tree near the river footbridge. No one seems to know who owned that land, some think it was Mrs. Sweeney herself.

A first grader's first lesson is learned walking to school on the first day. The path from Hillside Circle to the elementary school crosses the footbridge and goes near the Studebaker. It is a five minute walk to school or a twenty minute drive from the Circle to the main road and the big bridge in town. Some kids still walk to school.
"Stay away from the car, Mrs. Sweeney is still inside," the older kids told the first graders. The car had run off the old road, across a field and into the oak tree. The kids didn't remember exactly when, except it was way before they were born, sometime in ancient history, in the 1980's. Their parents said the body was never found. Her purse and coat had been in the car, and no one could have survived the crash. The older kids who dared to look inside saw the front seat smashed up against the bent steering wheel.

Strange noises came from the car, especially at night: squishes, rustles and an occasional thud. Something was moving around in the car, alive or a spirit? The parents all said there were little animals with nests in the various parts of the car body. Maybe, but the kids didn't think so. They believed Mrs. Sweeney was still trying to get out of the car after the accident.
The first graders walked on the other side of the path. They didn't want Mrs. Sweeney to jump out at them if she ever got free.

Some even turned away and held their hands up shading their eyes from that direction, but they always took a peek through their fingers.

In the winter when snow covered the tree and the car, it was very quiet. The older kids made creepy, snoring noises as they passed by - just to remind the first graders that Mrs. Sweeney's spirit might be asleep in the cold car.

Her reputation was one of a loose woman, although the young kids weren't quite sure what that meant. There is a picture of her and Roger Dawson hanging in Dawson's Bar and Grill. It's the only non-fast food restaurant in town and the young kids often saw the picture when their parents walked them through the bar area to the rest rooms. Both Mrs. Sweeney and Mr. Dawson were smiling - big smiles.

Mr. Dawson's son, Mike, ran the restaurant now. He never talked much about his Dad. Roger went to a food convention out of town and never came back - just disappeared. That was also some time back in the 1980's. If the parents talked about him, they whispered to each other whenever the kids were around.

That Studebaker will probably be there for many more first grade classes. The area is a protected wetland now, no more houses or strip malls near the river. Mrs. Sweeney will forever be trying to get out of the car. Older kids will still be scaring the first graders. What Mr. Dawson will be doing, we can only guess. And, the little animals will continue to enjoy their nesting spots.

Copyright 2006, Pete Smith

More information about The Studebaker Legend