A Ghost Story

The following is a German legend which I found in a collection of folk-tales "Das Grosse Buch der Volkssagen" by Edmund Mudrak, upon which I chanced at a used book sale.

The German title of the legend is "Der versetzte Grenzpfahl" (the displaced boundary post), and the area in which it takes place are the coastal marshes of North Friesland just to the south of the Danish border:

In the low lying marshes between the villages of Lindholm and Maasbuell in the district of Tondern, which in winter are mostly covered with water, there blustered nightly a ghost. It was a man carrying a big wooden post across his neck, raging and constantly shouting: "Where shall I drive this post? Where shall I drive this post?" Even the oldest inhabitants had already heard of him from their parents, and still he haunted the place. Because the ghost did no one any harm, everybody who saw him continued quietly on his way without paying him much attention.

Once there came walking two neighbors who had been at a fair, and one of them was a little drunk. As they passed the haunted place and heard the cries of the ghost, the drunken man asked: "What is this fellow saying?"

"For heaven’s sake be quiet!" cautioned his companion, "he doesn’t bother you".

"But I want to know what he says" replied the other in bad temper and shouted to the ghost: "What do you want?"

At once the ghost stood in front of him and cried: "Where shall I drive this post?"

Instantly sobered by fear, the man folded his hands and replied: "In the name of God put it where it originally stood!"

For more than a hundred years the ghost had hoped to hear these words. He profusely thanked the man, ran to a certain place in the marsh, and with water splashing all around he drove the post into the ground. Then suddenly he vanished.

Because when he was still alive this man had moved a boundary post, he had been condemned after his death to walk around with it, and to carry it until such day when someone would turn to him with the right words and thereby deliver him from the spell.

In olden times superstition was often a better enforcer of the rules than was civil authority. Also, if only all people would respect boundary markers, surveyors couldn’t care less as to what makes them do it. Unfortunately, those Old World powers that drive people out of their graves have rarely plied their trade in North America. This writer would love to run into ghosts stalking the nights with boundary posts around their necks, and implore them to put them where they originally stood. Many a missing corner cannot accurately be restored any other way.

About the Author

Fred Roeder, LS

Fred Roeder lives in Tularosa, New Mexico. He emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1957 and spent most of his surveying career in the Southwest, working for the U.S. Forest Service. Now retired, he started writing a regular column for the New Mexico Professional Surveyors Newsletter in 1988. In 1994, NMPS produced Antepasados, a book of his columns. Many surveyors are good writers, especially about technical or legal matters. However, it's not often that we find a surveyor/story-teller who can present historical facts in a manner that makes them fun to read. Fred Roeder is such a writer and we are pleased to present more than 80 of his stories here. Bibliography is a list of the books Fred used in his writings, and includes a numbered index of the articles. Index is a list of all the articles Fred has written and when. Editor's pick: The King Who Had No Title
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