Boo! Did I scare you? With only a couple days left until Halloween, it seems that everyone has been double checking over their shoulders for movements in the dark and jumping at things that go bump in the night. While we can almost always blame these spooky moments on our own imaginations playing tricks on us, here at the archives we’ve been researching real life events that have the potential for the next scary movie to hit the theaters. From spirit communications to grisly crimes, from vengeful wives to grave guardians, the MSU Archives has information on all sorts of thrilling stories, so if you’re looking for a good scare this Halloween season, be sure to stop by and do some of your own research.
On the evening of March 9, 1977, while MSU students were studying for upcoming exams and goofing off in their dorm rooms, Francine Hughes, a resident of Dansville, MI, arrived at the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department crying and rambling about setting a bed on fire. It wasn’t long until the whole story had come out – that night Hughes had put her four children in the family car, poured gasoline in a circle around the bed her husband was sleeping on, ignited the gasoline, and sped off to the jail, with her children in tow. The police department, taking action immediately, confirmed that the house had been set ablaze, and that Hughes’ husband had been found dead on the floor outside of the bedroom that the married couple had shared.
Later investigations uncovered the fact that Francine Hughes had been brutally abused by her husband, James Hughes, both physically and emotionally for years. She had divorced him, but pressure from his family to return and care for him after he had experienced a bad automobile accident was overwhelming, and she gave in. Years later, after suffering the continuing abuse, she got her revenge.
Hughes was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Her story was turned into a book and a TV movie starring Farrah Fawcett. “The Burning Bed” helped raise awareness about domestic violence.
Vengeful wives aren’t the only topic of spooky interest at the MSU Archives. In fact, the MSU Archives has the first hand account of James L. Lucas, who had been a special body guard for the corpse of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln. He recounts the body of Booth, after he had been shot on the morning of April 26, being taken onto the USS Montauk. The blankets in which the body had been wrapped were soaked in blood, and his face was coated in dust from the long journey to the Potomac. Lucas, along with three other soldiers, were to watch over the body in secrecy, to make sure no sympathizers got word of where the body was being kept. They were given instructions to fire at any boat that attempted to rescue the body. Later, he recounts, the body was then buried in the Old Penitentiary in the capitol. He refers to the job as a “distasteful duty,” as anyone having to watch over a corpse would.
Looking to read more about either of these stories? Take a visit to the MSU Archives and learn more about how Francine Hughes’ took her husband’s life or how James Lucas had to watch over the dead body of the the killer of one of the most well known presidents of America. In fact, the archives has plenty more gory, grisly stories like this, and with only a couple days left until Halloween, come get in the mood for this spooky day and read some more real-life horror stories.
Mary Jo Tormey collection (c.00600). Finding aid: http://archives.msu.edu/findaid/c600.html
James L. Lucas manuscript (c.00086). Finding aid: http://archives.msu.edu/findaid/c086.html