Timeline Tuesday:The Davey Ghost

In 1861 a Boston photographer named William H. Mumler discovered that additional images would appear if a glass photographic plate was exposed twice. Some believed that these ghostly double exposures proved the existence of spirits.

In 1861 a Boston photographer named William H. Mumler discovered that additional images would appear if a glass photographic plate was exposed twice. Some believed that these ghostly double exposures proved the existence of spirits. RG3507-11-6


Tales of the supernatural are part of the lore of many Nebraska communities and occasionally surface in local newspapers. The Omaha Daily Bee on January 21, 1890, reported recent sightings of “A Nebraska Spook Which Runs Threshing Machines at Night” near the small Lancaster County town of Davey. Local citizens on several occasions formed a posse to deal with the ghost. The Bee, quoting the Fremont Tribune, said: “The citizens of the little town of Davey are all broken up and intensely excited over the certain existence of a ghost which prowls around nightly about two miles from that place along the Elkhorn [Fremont, Elkhorn, and Missouri Valley Railroad] track . . . . The latest reports come to us direct from the [railroad station] agent at Davey, who promises to keep the world posted on the great and only Davey ghost. He writes: “‘Editor Fremont Tribune: In the vicinity of Davey, Neb., much excitement has been prevailing during the past four or five weeks about a ghost whose habitation and nightly wanderings are reported to be at a location about two or two and a half miles north of Davey.

A posse was organized two or three times to lay in wait for the ghost and kill it but it seems to avoid them, and their hunts have proven fruitless, but there is little doubt but that there is one there. “Nathaniel Berry, a farmer, whose word is considered indisputable and his integrity beyond question came to town last Friday morning and stated that his threshing machine which has been in a shed back of the house and near the barn commenced humming in the night about 11 o’clock waking he [sic] and his wife. They could not imagine the cause and were too much frightened to go out or attempt to sleep any more that night, as the machine continued to run until daylight. He further stated that his wife thought she saw Mr. Cook out in the shed early in the evening. Mr. Cook was Mr. Berry’s partner during the threshing season and owned one-half interest in the machine up to five weeks ago, when he died. “Others [including a Dr. Krickbaum] have been confronted by Mr. Cook on their way home after dark, and they knowing he had died several weeks ago, cannot account for it but believe the ghost is that of Mr. Cook. It appeared before the south-bound passenger, No. 48, last night, and with uplifted hand and pointing finger was seen standing there in the light of the approaching engine, sparks flying from the end of its finger and its eyes resembling two balls of fire. . . . [A] number of persons [who]have soon it recently say that it is undoubtedly Mr. Cook’s ghost. Mr. Berry has been compelled to move his threshing machine.” 

Apparently not all Davey residents believed the nocturnal visitor to be supernatural. The Bee said: “Another posse of well-armed men is being organized tonight and if their courage does not fail them more will be learned as to its identity.” Unfortunately for the curiosity of modern readers, the Bee did not report the results of this attempt to confront the spirit world with force.

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