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Solomon's Oak


In 1898, in Jolon, California, not far from the Mission San Antonio de Padua, Pennsylvanian Michael Halloran set out to cross the Nacimiento River before spring thaw. Like everyone heading west, he thought California was the land of plenty: The Pacific Ocean full of abalone, citrus groves and artichokes growing year round, everything necessary to raise a family and prosper. 

According to Salinan Indian storytellers, his horses refused to enter the water until Halloran whipped them. On the other side of the river lay his newly purchased land. Everyone begged him to wait until spring runoff was complete. Stay in the hotel for free, the owner said. Halloran refused, believing it was a trick to steal his land. As soon as he entered the river in his horse-drawn wagon, his wife Alice and baby daughter Clara aboard, he lost control. Michael Halloran was thrown free, but Alice became caught in the reins as the panicked horses tried to free themselves. The wagon flipped over and over in the swift current. Horrified, Michael could only watch from the riverbank while the reins he had punished the horses with twisted and turned, decapitating his wife. Her body washed ashore days later. Baby Clare was never found. 

After Mrs. Halloran’s burial, the Salinan shaman predicted her ghost would never rest, because a body without all its parts has trouble finding its way to the spirit world. In the 1950’s, Alice appeared to two soldiers on watch at an ammunition bunker on the Fort Hunter-Liggett military base. One died of a heart attack; the other never recovered from the trauma. The army denied the reports, but closed the bunker. In addition to the Salinan story, “The Headless Lady of Jolon,” several Central Valley California ghost stories feature a headless horsewoman: “The Lady in Lace,” “Guardian Spirit,” and “Ghost of a Murdered Wife.” 

Story, passed down from generation to generation, can take two forks: factual history, or legend/lore. The word “history” came to English from Latin via Greek, and originally meant “finding out,” and in some dictionaries, “wise man.” In modern dictionaries, history is defined as “a continuous, typically chronological record of important events.” You can make history, and that can be a good or bad thing. Sometimes people say and the rest is history, which leaves out the most interesting parts. Or you can be history, which means you’re gone. Disappeared. “Dust in the wind,” which is the title of the rock band Kansas’s only hit song. 

The word “legend” has its roots in Middle English, French, and Latin. Legenda translates to “things to be learned.” “Lore,” from the German and Dutch “lehre,” translates to “learn.” 

You would think that between the two we’d get the whole story. 

To this day, it is said that on a moonless night in Jolon headless Alice can be seen floating above the Nacimiento River, searching for her lost daughter. She also frequents the old cemetery on the military base. Locals say if you catch sight of Alice, quickly put your ear to the earth and you will hear the baby girl crying for her mother.

Excerpted from Solomon's Oak © Copyright 2012 by Jo-Ann Mapson. Reprinted with permission by Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved.

Solomon's Oak
by by Jo-Ann Mapson

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • ISBN-10: 1608194078
  • ISBN-13: 9781608194070