Just outside the city limits of Thayer, Mo., lies a ghost town, unlike any other in the area, the town, that has a lot of history attached to its existence is still standing and, with a lot of attention, is being restored for the public's eventual pleasure.
Upon entering Echoe's of the Past, the name given to the ghost town by owners Larry and Diane Pugh, one feels as if they should not blink, for fear of missing something along the road. The town, which for years has been deemed a ghost town, due in part to its deserted location, was created in the early 1970s by local businessman, the late Dode Jones. It was constructed by Jones and members of his church and friends in what many say was a family retreat complete with lake, pavilions, a gym and eventually an entire western type town.
Many, who still live in the area, proclaim to have witnessed at religious meetings held on the farm, acts of faith healing performed by pastors during prayer services in which hands were laid on ill and suffering persons. Accounts of the number of attendees were recorded in newspapers as far away as Jonesboro, during this time.
The land on which the farm sits was originally part of Jones' wife Dorothy Jones' family farm dating back to the early part of the century.
The church to which the Jones family were members is non-denominational in nature and most are devout believers in the teachings of the late William Marrion Branham. Branham was a minister from Kentucky who was most famously credited with the post World War II faith healing movement and is considered by many believers to be a prophet.
Regardless of religious affiliations, followers were devout and gathered at Jones' Farm to listen to local pastors' messages during their annual June meetings during the early 1970s and early 1980s.
Testimonies by those in attendance during the meetings, said it was a fun time; the kids would gather and fish and swim in the lake near the pavilion that has a solid bedrock base and is spring fed.
Large crowds would gather and camp in the field below the lake for the week long revival type meetings held in June each year before the hot weather became a nuisance.
This is where the ghost stories begin. Many locals who knew Jones, including believers who visited his sanctuary, claimed he was a very eccentric man, one whose love for his family led him to construct a miniature town complete with a jail, post office, general store, chapel, snack bar, covered bridge and school. The Pugh's said the post office and jail were the only buildings that burned over the years, yet they are reconstructing these to be a part of the ghost town.
The largest building in the ghost town is a gym; most agree it was built for his grandson Matthew Hayes to enjoy basketball and other activities. The consensus among everyone interviewed was that Jones grandson was his pride and joy and no cost was too great to make Hayes happy.
It is unclear why Jones, who was a very wealthy man, built the town. One person who lived at the town for a short period of time after its popularity had faded, and the church services were moved to the newly constructed Christian Tabernacle at Wirth, said it was to keep the men who were there for the yearly meetings busy. Others say it was a tax shelter. Some say it was a sort of an end of the world retreat Jones had prepared for his family. Still others say he simply built it for his wife Dorothy, who loved old time western things.
Regardless of the reason for the construction, the ghost town, which, according to the Pugh's was built on a solid rock foundation, similar to Bible teachings about building on solid rock, the town is worth seeing. The peace and tranquility offered by the property can be construed as simply peaceful, or even so peaceful it evokes an eerie feeling.
Following Dorothy Jones' death and eventually the death of Dode, the town was left untouched for years, other than by the occasional vandal who was aware of the location of the abandoned town.
Many locals have witnessed strange things at the property, including members of the Pugh family and others hearing singing, some reported seeing strange orb typed figures in a common location, reports of U.F.Os. Photographed images of strange apparitions near a particular tree on the property, named by the Pugh's as simply, "The Ghost Tree" are not uncommon in the area.
To many, Jones' mysterious nature and acts of doing things as reportedly hiding large amounts of money are most likely the basis for a lot of the rural myths and mystery surrounding the property and the real reason for its rather out of the ordinary construction in such an odd location.
Many are forced to think back to the movie "The Village" when thinking about the ghost town and the reasons for the Jones to have constructed such an elaborate town for apparently no conceivable reason other than to make his family happy.
Regardless of the reasons for the construction, the town is being resurrected over three generations later and will be the topic of discussion and speculation for years to come.
Diane Pugh said she has never actually seen anything scary on the property, but recalled being very uncomfortable one evening just before dark while burning brush near a creek that runs through the property. Coincidentally, this is the same area where others have witnessed unusual or unexplainable things or feelings. She said it was just a presence that made her feel creepy and said she ran back to their home.
Diane also said members of one group who were at Echoe's of the Past for a family reunion had a teenage boy who was obviously scared by something he had seen and an even younger child asked his mother, "Mom, who was that?" after seeing an unexplained "person" that no one else in the group visualized.
She admitted any thing they have seen or others have witnessed, including a local photographer who photographed some very odd ghostly figures while taking family portraits, has not been of an evil or even scary nature.
Walking along the trail by the creek that leads to the restored covered bridge left both my daughter and I with an uneasy feeling, but other than that, nothing seemed scary.
Also on the back part of the property, an area in which I did not visit during my interview is an old home place, a barn, an odd pile of bricks in an unlikely location in the middle of a field and a tree house that in pictures taken by Josh Rogers, a local who was instrumental in my developing this story and subsequently getting an interview with the Pughs for this article, appears to be a type of lookout or, at one time, an elaborate enclosed deer stand.
Many say Jones was very eccentric; including the Pugh's who gave the example of the pump used by Jones to bring water to the town from a spring. Diane said it was twice the size of pumps used by the water department. Even people who knew Jones said everything he did was nearly overkill, he wanted the best and the biggest in everything and it showed in many of his designs, especially the gym housed on the property. This may explain the construction of the deer stand or tree house which locals say was for his grandson Matthew.
Rogers' interest was peaked in the ghost town after hearing about it from numerous locals and also being fueled by an inquisitive search for items he had heard were hidden on the farm as well as being understandably interested in discovering things from the past, that many rumored were long gone with time. Rogers had heard about the town and was told by many that it was designed as an end of the world retreat, but didn't know just how close the town was to his Thayer home. Rogers spent hours researching the town, and admittedly did most of the legwork for this story. He spent hours with friends scouring the overgrown land of the Jones farm in search of possible hidden treasure, and more importantly, just out of pure curiosity and interest in the story.
Many locals, including persons who knew Jones, told stories of his hiding large amounts of money. It was reported by many who knew him personally and even some who had worked for and attended church with him in the 1970s during the construction of the town, that $40,000 in cash was found in the wall of Dode Jones' glass shop, which was formerly located in Thayer. Another person said the money was buried, not hidden in the wall. Despite the contradictions, all three persons told the same stories in regard to the amount and its state of decay. The money that was reportedly found was badly decayed and housed in a jar. Jones' daughter Lynna could not be reached for interview to either confirm or deny the story.
What could lure one to this town more than the prospect of finding hidden cash and hunting ghosts?
One elderly local, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he knew Jones for years and also confirmed what the others said in regard to Jones hiding currency. The man said he hid money in a lot of locations to prevent paying taxes and, as he aged, forgot where the money was hidden but had, in several instances left notes, including the one which led to the discovery of the money at the glass shop. He also said Jones was an avid gun collector and hid guns on the property. Many speculated this was for protection, others say it was for the safety of kids who might visit the property, still others say it was a part of his alleged end of the world sanctuary of safety for his family. Whatever the reason, a discovery made by Rogers at a cabin in the ghost town was very odd.
Rogers' account refers to an event that occurred in the cabin while he was visiting the Pughs for a tour of the property, during his initial investigation into the unknown at the ghost town.
Rogers said, "It seemed like all the pictures were looking at me wondering who I was and why I was there. Underneath the mantle was a huge fireplace and that is where I felt like I should check. Shining my flashlight inside the pillar revealed a small hole. Naturally, I crawled inside for a better look. What I saw next shocked me. There was a hidden compartment in the backside of the chimney that contained a pistol, a cylinder for another pistol wrapped in a sock, ammo, a needle threader and a war medal. My adrenaline rushed and I felt faint as my heart raced in my chest. I could hardly believe what just happened." Rogers also prepared a written testament of his visit to the Jones Farm and it may be viewed at his Web site by going to http://funnestplaceintheworld.com.
The pistol Rogers found in the cabin appeared to very aged, and the Pughs were even amazed at his discovery. It is unclear whether Rogers had prior knowledge of the location through the local rumor mill or if the discovery was simply luck from his inquisitiveness. Either way, the Pughs said they had possession of the cabin since 1999 and had never found the pistol through all of their work in the restoration process.
The quiet nature of Echoe's of the Past is nearly eerie, as the water slowly bubbles from the blue spring and the elaborate rock work done by Jones son-in-law at the top of the lake where baptisms were reported to have taken place, stands as a sole testament to the history of the property.
The Pughs are currently restoring the ghost town and gym to eventually open to the public as a type of picturesque retreat for weddings, reunions and parties. They have taken great pride in the restoration of the buildings, which, complete with original shake shingles, stands as a weathered and distinguished tribute to days gone by. The mirrored lake that is home to Koi fish and water plants is the backdrop for the historic lakeside retreat that once was visited by thousands.
The murals housed within the gym make the building appear to stand still in time, giving the viewer a glance into things that might have been important to the owner at the time.
On the stage a huge mural that spans the entire distance of the stage is still in great shape. The image is of an outdoor nature scene and was painted in 1973 by Anita Jones Caldwell, a relative of the Joneses.
At the top of the upstairs is a portrait of either Jones or Branham, it is unclear which. The image of the man on the mural seemed to pale in comparison to the huge empty gymnasium that was once, by one woman who attended the services account, most obviously filled with laughing children and women scurrying about preparing a huge meal for the crowd attending the religious services on the grounds.
Both Diane and Larry are employed by the Thayer School District, Diane as a teacher's aid and Larry as a custodian. They have lived in the area since 1981 and love the chance to restore the old town and improve upon its historic base. They live in a cabin on the farm, and Diane said she has always liked living a simpler and laid back lifestyle, one they obviously have on the peaceful and still 40 acres.
She said she has always like antiques and has worked hard since purchasing the property in 1999 to bring new life to the ghost town. Many of the furnishings are from Larry's family, some were on the property and the Pugh's daughter is, "Always bringing us things from auctions and yard sales," Diane said.
In addition to the buildings that were part of the town when the Pughs purchased it, they have also brought a hand hewn log barn to the property from Myrtle. Diane said she and her husband painstakingly disassembled the barn and logs and hauled it to the present location on a trailer. They then reconstructed the barn just as it was in its prior home, saving it from it's ultimate demise. A picture of the barn at its prior location is displayed within the structure. The Pughs even utilized the metal that was on the building and simply turned it over and used the other side. It is obvious that history is important to the couple as they try to help with the inevitable, making time stand still.
The cabin in which Rogers found the pistol appears as authentic as any cabin one would view in history books, complete with antique furnishings and quilts as well as pictures, supplied by Jones' daughter Lynna and furnishings like an old rag doll. The images that sit above the bed are of the sanctuary during early construction and through the years of its existence. The chinking between the logs and the feeling once the door is closed inside the cabin forces one to feel as if they have been transported back in time, even further than the early 1970s when the buildings were initially constructed.
The school building boasts numerous antique desks and slate boards, and old timey games such as Chinese checkers. The only thing missing seems to be students eager to learn "readin, ritin and rithmatic,"
Pugh said they hosted a Halloween party Oct. 23, in which parents of Thayer seventh graders served as teachers while the kids were able to tour the entire town. Larry said many of the kids loved the jail, and enjoyed playing in the makeshift cell. She said the hayride and Halloween party was very fun and the kids loved it. No one reported seeing ghosts; the only Halloween spook was her husband Larry, who posed as a scarecrow who came to life when the kids took a card from his pocket.
Whether or not the ghost town is actually haunted or if there is hidden treasure is debatable, but one thing is for sure, a true ghost town is being resurrected in Thayer, Mo.
I would like to offer many thanks to Josh Rogers of Thayer, who is a wonderful writer and is responsible for leading me to this story. I would also like to thank him for all the time and research he has put into the article on his Web site, which peaked my interest in the town from a historical standpoint. Also, for his paving the way to the Pugh's house for me to make this story a reality. Again, I appreciate you.