MICKEY MOUSE WAS A JEW?
I don’t know why the above statement, not the question, interested me then, in the glow of a flashlight, or now, in the fog of forty-eight years of brain cell death due to certain excesses involving distilled or brewed spirits. At the age of seventeen, with most of my brain cells still intact, seeing it scrawled on the wall in red paint along with a crude swastika gave me pause to think…for a moment, at least. So many questions. I knew about Hitler’s Final Solution and the death camps but what was a Jew and why would Mickey Mouse be one? After forty-eight years I still have no answers to those questions but do understand their relationship to the swastika.
I also don’t have any real answers as to why we were at Historic Brattonsville, outside of Rock Hill, late on a moonlit night. It was not “a dark and stormy” night, in fact, there was a “werewolf” full moon and no moors nearby. One might assume that it had something to do with girls and alcohol. Your assumption would only be partially correct because there was no alcohol. We didn’t need alcohol to be stupid because girls were usually all it took to cause a stupid reaction in teenage boys. I don’t know what excuse the girls had. In reality, in the spring of 1968, there was little that was historic about the dump that was Brattonsville. Brattonsville was a former plantation that came into existence in the 1760’s and grew to include some thirty buildings including a store and a three-story brick and wood manor house owned by the doctor who gave the ‘ville its name. A Revolutionary War battle fought nearby was a prequel to Kings Mountain and Camden. The buildings and store had fallen into disrepair and would not undergo renovations until the early Seventies. Since this was the late Sixties, we found ourselves in a rundown place on a “dark and scary” night.
I reiterate that there is no reason for teenagers to be stupid, we just were, and the group that I ran with was typical. For no other reason than being stupid, we somehow came to the conclusion that looking for ghosts in old abandoned structures would be an interesting thing to do. It began after a play practice but, for the life of me, I have no idea who suggested it or why. I do remember that we started a search for “alien lights” which turned out to be the distant Charlotte airport searchlight bouncing off thick, low-hanging clouds. Once we had scientifically proven there was no “intelligent life out there”, we decided to prove there was no “intelligent life” in our teenage world either. We were Successful!
One of the girls in our little group had mentioned Brattonsville which would explain how John and I, along with the two young ladies, had ended up there. My date knew a lot about the history of the area, including a story about a suspected Revolutionary War spy who had been hung from the pulley suspended outside of Doctor Bratton’s third story clinic in the manor house called “Fair Forest.” According to “her story” the spirit of the spy continued to haunt the place waiting for his soul to “cross-over” to the other side. Despite our fears, we took the late night tour of the original pre-Revolutionary War home place before finding our way into “Fair Forest” and seeing the scrawled message on the dining room wall.
Because I had the flashlight, I got to see the scrawling first, along with other graffiti, and because of that same flashlight became the de facto leader of the group. My date kept a running commentary going about the house and certain legends as we wandered through the building. A kitchen was connected to the main house by a covered causeway. It was not hard to visualize kitchen slaves, dressed in Aunt Jemima garb, the original not the modern, socially acceptable one, carrying platters of food from the huge fireplace to the dining room and served by old, dark men in black waistcoats. We visited all of the rooms, floor by floor, making note of the fireplaces and centuries-old mantels. On the second floor we found another narrow staircase and, leaving no stone unturned or in this case no ghost unfound, we made our way up to what I was told was “Doctor Bratton’s laboratory.” I had seen too many “monster movies.” On a dark night, in an old abandoned mansion, how could you not have thoughts about Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory with Boris Karloff waiting to get re-animated? You couldn’t.
As I entered the “laboratory,” actually just a large room that seemed to be part of an attic, I made room for everyone else and panned the room with the flashlight. Silhouetted against the opened floor-length double doors that led to the pulley was a body hung by the neck and swinging from the rafters. I was petrified! The hackles of my neck stood up and muscles tensed all the way down to my heels. I now understood the saying “scared stiff.” My brain said run but my body would not oblige. There was nothing wrong with my hearing and from the sounds of retreating feet in rapid motion, I knew that I was now all alone. Just enough breeze blew to cause the body to spin. As it slowly turned, I found myself staring into the blank face of a…hung…dead…department store mannequin. “Boy neat trick. A real knee slapper. Ha, you got me.” Suddenly I had the urge to pee…Glad that was frozen up, too or I might have been embarrassed. Let’s make sure that you understand that I was not being brave standing my ground. I might as well have been nailed to the spot. The only thing that smacked of being brave was that there was no puddle around my feet.
Since I had the keys to the car and it was locked, I decided to do a little more exploring before leaving and informing the rest of my little group about how badly we had gotten used. I found the “dummy” to have been dressed in blue jeans, a tattered plaid shirt and a Mickey Mouse Club hat with ears. Pinned to its chest was a sheet of paper that informed me that this was “Mickey Mouse.” When I got back to the car I did get one “Thank God.” For my return or for getting the car door open? Once inside, the next question was “What are we going to do?” I assured everyone that it was okay, “It’s just a Jewish guy named Mickey.” After a pause and some nervous laughter, I came clean and, of course, they wanted to go back and see for themselves.
This would be my last attempt at ghost hunting but not for the reason you might think. As we came back down the narrow stairs and into the main hallway I suddenly smelled cigarette smoke. Remember my hackles? They went up again because no one in our group had been smoking. As I hustled us out, I glanced over my shoulder and saw the glow of a cigarette in the crack made by a slightly opened door. No more ghost hunting for me!
I find myself intrigued that a badly written bit of graffiti and a hanging mannequin has been more thought-provoking than the possibility of having escaped death from a machete-wielding psycho or by secondhand cigarette smoke, at the very least. I still don’t know what it means to be Jewish. To my knowledge, I have met only three Jews in my entire life. All three were survivors of the Holocaust and had stories that they did not want to tell but told anyway. I thank them for sharing. All three are now gone, I hope, to join the families who they lost to the ovens. I am unsure about Jewish heaven and hell, although I guess, some had already experienced hell on earth. I wonder about that swastika and the mannequin… but for the life of me, “Why was Mickey Mouse a Jew?”