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Closure for a mother, daughter - and for Catherine

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Young Catherine Winters, who has not been seen since March 20, 1913.
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AuthorsLisa Perry, left, and her mother, Charlene Zornes Perry.

The dark and electric rumblings thundering soft and deep in my soul aren’t quite so overpowering as they were just after Mom died in 2013.

For awhile, and even sometimes now – just every once in a great while – another clap will hit me hard, smack dab in the face and knock me down, especially when I unexpectedly come across something that reminds me of Mom. Then I cry until I can’t hear the booms any more, get back up, and start again.

That’s the pattern since Mom’s death. Every woman who has lost her mother can relate to the far-off muted growl that lurks at her spirit’s edge. It’s still very much like I described it in Mom’s and my book: “It’s the sound her soul’s foundation makes as it lists off center” ... right there on page two.

My mom, Charlene Zornes Perry, authored three books of Henry County folklore, the “Haunted Henry County” series. After she died, my brother, Scott, sister-in-law Betty, and myself found notes for a fourth book in her apartment. I wrote “Looking for Catherine: Memoirs of a House That Spoke,” using Mom’s research after her death from congestive heart failure compounded by COPD.

Many Courier-Times readers know that “Looking for Catherine” was Mom’s well-documented theory on what really happened to 9-year-old Catherine Winters, a dentist’s daughter who disappeared from New Castle streets March 20, 1913.

After the book was published that fall after Mom died, something still didn’t seem complete. Was that all there was to Mom’s legacy? A couple of grown kids, patients who may remember her nursing help, and four thin mystery volumes?

Maybe it was my sense of guilt for having moved so far away from Mom and leaving her alone most of my adult years. Maybe it was simply grief from having every last maternal breath of wind knocked out of my sails after a long, hard year of dealing with dementia and nursing homes. Maybe it was the knowledge that even while she still was mortal, Mom and I had unfinished business; I do not know.

But it just wasn’t done yet. I’m not sure even what IT was, but I wasn’t ready to let go.

What came next

While going through Mom’s copious Catherine Winters notes, I found two hand-written pages describing a bus tour she had led for one of the local senior citizen centers. The notes contained facts about historical locations around the city that the bus drove to while she played tour guide.

A tiny seed was planted. It took root, and by October, 2014, that seed had grown into The Spirit Stroll, and I turned into its “Ghostess.”

Beginning that year, and every third Friday in October since, I led large groups of folks still interested in the Catherine Winters story on what became a very popular annual event. I’d dress as a gypsy in honor of the ethnic group long wrongly blamed for Catherine’s disappearance and lead the group to haunted locations in downtown New Castle.

The help I had with this event was nothing short of phenomenal. Scott and Betty served each year as my trusty tailgunners. Main Street New Castle (now renamed New Castle Downtown) Director Carrie Barrett, Henry County Cemetery Association President Donna Tauber, Knights of Pythias’ Denny Adams, Sheriff Ric McCorkle and Brent Grider, former Courier-Times Publisher Bob Hansen, Mayor Greg York, Henry County Trustee Nancy Webb, City of New Castle Clerk-Treasurer Christy York, Out of the Shadows podcast host Shane Waters, Kandice Marie, Southern Indiana Ghost Hunters – the list of people who contributed greatly to this project seems endless.

And on each Spirit Stroll, Mom was with me. It’s like we were together again, discussing like we usually did on our earthly visits, about her fascination with the Winters case. It was Mom’s story, and I believe a big part of what kept her going, to find justice for Catherine.

Ghost hunters accompanied us on every stroll. One year, ghost hunter John Davis shared during the North 7th Street stop that his equipment indicated that a spirit had been hovering just over my shoulder for quite some time. Others had wafted in and out, but this one hadn’t left my side.

Like I said, Mom was with me.

Just days before Spirit Stroll 2017, new evidence mysteriously appeared at the Henry County Historical Society file on Catherine Winters. No one knows how it got into that file; many seasoned CW researchers were perplexed. The evidence was sent to Sheriff McCorkle, and active investigation again was begun in the case.

I shared that news as the Ghostess with the strollers that October night, and the air was electric, almost triumphal. And suddenly, it didn’t feel like anything was missing any more. It felt ... complete. My listing spirit finally was uprighted.

The 2018 Spirit Stroll was my swan song. Again sold out, a cold, drizzling rain put a bit of a damper on it, but that’s not what made it feel different to me. It was that Mom didn’t need it any more. Justice had been done for Catherine. My job was over, and I could rest easy knowing that Mom was satisfied that she had done all that she could.

So for Spirit Stroll 2019, slated for October, New Castle Downtown’s Carrie Barrett, and The City of New Castle’s Brenda Grider will be heading up the program, and Ghostess Lisa will be implementing new Halloween programs for Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia and wishing them well from afar.

Carrie scheduled an events committee meeting to talk about the Spirit Stroll transition at Main Street March 20. I had to wonder if that date were simply a coincidence, or if Carrie remembers that March 20 is the 106th anniversary of Catherine’s disappearance? A fitting date to talk about it, I’m sure.

And Mom is sure, too.

Henry County native and former Courier-Times Managing Editor Lisa Perry is a regular contributor to this magazine and The Courier-Times. She now lives and works in Virginia.