Chim chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim cher-ee. Good luck will rub off when you shake hands with me.
I have no idea why this story pricked my interest, beyond my general fascination with the macabre. But I found myself intrigued by a recent article I saw on the discovery, in an Abbeville, Louisiana branch bank, of the skeletal remains of a fellow that had slipped down the chimney nearly thirty years early. (Source: Boston.com.)
First I want to get out of the way the goofiness of how this article was categorized on Boston.com. If you look at the URL, it’s classified under news/education/k_12.
So just how does an article on a hapless soul who dropped (quite literally) from sight in 1984 fit under K-12 education?
Cautionary tale? Don’t jump feet first down a chimney with a three inch opening at the bottom?
Anyway, here’s the story:
A construction worker turning the long-vacant second floor of a bank building “tugged some fabric out of the chimney and was showered with old clothes and human bones.”
Right off, we have a “holy shit” moment that absolutely earned that construction worker his day’s pay.
It was quickly determined that the remains were those of Joseph Schexnider, 22 at the time of his disappearance in January 1984.
If anyone can be considered a “poor soul” it would have to be this fellow. Not particularly bright. A ninth grade drop-out. Not particularly capable. He drifted around the country as a “carny bum” for a while, and told one of his brothers that he’d been in every state. Not particularly lucky. What an awful way to die. Not a particularly good planner – he was wearing gloves, so there’s some speculation that he was attempting a bank robbery when he entered the chimney, and it never occurred to him that the exit on the bottom might be a bit smaller than the entrance on the top. And not possessed of an especially curious family, I guess.
In the years after they last saw them, his family, his mother, and two brothers and a sister, had not reported him missing -- and no one searched for him.
"My mother worried about him, but I just said, 'Mom, that's just Joseph being Joseph,'" Robert Schexnider said. "He was always taking off for somewhere."
Hard for me to imagine one of my siblings disappearing and no one reporting them missing, or looking for them.
That said, I did have a great-uncle who took off, pretty much for good. This was well before my time (my grandfather Rogers and his siblings were all well before my time), but one of my grandfather Rogers’ brothers “absconded with the dairy money” (from my great-grandparents’ farm) decamping from Barre, Massachusetts, to somewhere in Indiana. Apparently, someone – perhaps my Great Aunt Lizzie - kept in touch with John, as he did know that my Great-grandmother, Margaret Joyce Rogers, died, and he blew back into town for her funeral (in the 1920’s).
Every once in a while, when I was growing up, someone would speculate on what had happened to my father’s Uncle John. Did he have a family out there in the wilds of Indiana? Was he alive or, like his brothers, doomed to die young?
And what was with Indiana, anyway? The “theme song” of my grandfather’s saloon was “Back Home Again, in Rogers’ Barroom”, which was sung to the tune of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Are we secret Hoosiers, or what?
Anyway, maybe every once in a while, when the Schexniders were sitting around, one of them would wonder where Joseph was.
While it’s hard for me to imagine not putting out an APB for a sibling who went MIA, it’s also hard to imagine working in a building with a dead body rotting on the floor above and not noticing a funny smell. Wouldn’t human decay be a bit more potent than, say, a dead mouse in the wall? No one ever took a break, or went snooping around, on the empty second floor of the bank during the time that this poor soul’s body was in there?
But maybe Abbeville, Louisiana, smells kind of funky, anyway – country, swampy, road-killy. Us city folks have to put up with urban funk – car fumes, etc. – but we’re pretty much cocooned from the smells that occur in the natural world. (Except for the occasional dead mouse or dog crap.)
One time, when my husband and I were staying at a quite nice hotel in New Orleans, I noticed something furry looking in the HVAC vent. It didn’t smell, but it did look a bit too animal-y to my liking, so we called the front desk and had them send someone up to investigate. I was thinking nutria… Turned out to be insulation. (It really did look like it could have been a dead nutria…Just saying.)
I know I’m not being particularly sympathetic here, but that’s because I’m trying not to think of the horror that Joseph Schexnider experienced during the last few hours/days of his life. Did he starve to death? Have a (merciful) heart attack or stroke?
Surely, this must be the near-equivalent of being buried alive. Which would, surely, drive any one mad?
Or did he die with hope – hope that if he hollered long enough and loud enough, someone would hear him and come to his rescue. And, as he gradually weakened, he just drifted off.
God, how awful.
When he went down the chimney, no good luck rubbed off on this poor bastard.
Those who did not have the distinct privilege, as I did, of listening to their kid sister incessantly and obsessively play the Mary Poppins album – which, I assure you, was no “jolly holiday” - may not recognize the Chim-chiminey thing. It’s the song that Bert the Chimney Sweep sings. (“Good luck will rub off if I shakes hands with you.”)
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