It turned out that Castle Danger was neither a castle nor in any immediate peril. As Vann took a deep breath and a short tug of the little remaining Thunderbird he also told me that I probably was not going to believe what he was about to tell me. Not much of a storyteller I guess…never lead with that. Anyway, I wrote his tale down the next day as soon as I got back to my truck and I think I have it right, although maybe some of the spellings in regard to names are wrong.
Vann began with, “these candles survived a fire, a shipwreck and a murder, all in the space of about one year.”
“Hmmm, well you may be right about my disbelief, they don’t look that old or experienced.” I laughed a little with myself at that clever line.
“Just listen. There’s a place up in Minnesota, way up, by the pointy part of it. It’s called Two Harbors. Not a big place now but it had its moments back in the late 1800’s when the railroad was expanding and they had just struck iron ore in the area. First of all, I gotta tell you that the beauty of this place is breathtaking. It’s right by the shore of Lake Superior and has this amazing shoreline. Cold brown and grey cliffs, stacks of boulders towering up right from the water. You can sit back at a distance, up by one of the grassy tops or hills that surround those cliffs and watch the water crashing up against those stone walls, tongues of heavy white water and misty spray falling back just out of your sight, back to the lake. Ya ever seen a postcard man, one of a lighthouse on a cliff?”
It took me a few seconds to answer as I had been absorbed both by the intensity with which Vann was telling his story and by this lingering image I had of him as a disheveled university professor, lecturing on American geography and talking just as much with his hands as with his mouth. He had pulled them back after asking me the question, taking a moment to rip a hangnail off his thumb with his teeth.
“Yeah sure, I’ve seen some.”
“I’m telling ya, it’s probably of this one in, well near, Castle Danger. Split Rock it’s called. It just sits up there, teetering on the point of a cliff.”
But he had cut me off. “Irrelevant here though, it wasn’t built at the time I’m trying to tell you about.” I made the ‘go-on’ motion with my hand but it was hardly needed. “There was a man, Tom Sexton, who owned pretty much all of the land in that area as he had lived there since about 1850. It was called Agate Bay back then, but it’s the same place as now. He had started out in a simple house, one of those frontier shacks, and pretty much just lived a simple life until the railroad started busting through up there. You know about the railroads?”
I looked behind Vann to where the modern dual-track ran alongside the water tower. Did I know about railroads? “Yes, I think I know about the railroads.”
Now it was his turn to look askance at me. “I’m not talking about the tracks, I mean the people who owned them, the companies that built them.” “Well, I guess not much. You know, the regular history stuff you learn, maybe a documentary, why?”
“They were ruthless man, really bad. Didn’t care about much except building their tracks and depots where it suited them best. They did dirty deals, lied, bullied, killed people.”
“They killed people?”
“They killed Tom Sexton.”
…to be continued