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A Coffin, A Chiva, and Five Pedro Miguel Boys ...

by Ray Crucet

Stories are often embellished over time. I suppose it's how folklore is sometimes perpetuated.  Consider that this "Once upon a time ..."  happened at a place and at a time when boredom was the enemy and the distance between a dare or a "what if ..." and a commitment to action could simply be the proximity of one or more of the key ingredients.  It was the rainy season; a kinda spooky October night ...

The coffin languishing in the rafters of an old tin-roofed railroad utility shed by the tracks was there for the taking.  One of many stories linked to it involved a man who was hanged many years ago in Colon for a crime of passion.  Certain people did not want a grave site fearing it might become a revered place visited by too many.   Anyway, the body, on its way to a Panama City internment was supposedly rolled off the train into the Chagres River as it crossed the bridge at Gamboa.  Another story had the man alive after being hanged and placed in the coffin.  Awakening, he beat open the lid and jumped from the train as it crossed the Chagres.  In both cases he was never to be seen again.  The empty coffin was then stashed in a shed at the next stop which turned out to be Pedro Miguel.

The Chiva's were busy this particular early evening picking up regulars; domestics loaded with their odd bags of requisitioned goods (a widely accepted compensation norm) and workers from the Locks.  And then there were the five Pedro Miguel boys ... Four, led by one, concocted the plan after much talk.  Creative? ... certainly with a touch of the diabolical, but probably not all that sophisticated.  I would say these young, mischievous boys were into motor scooters, not cars, at the time. And all were attired in jeans and tee shirts. All except one ...

The event (circa '49-'50) was initiated at the Pedro Miguel  bus stop on Gaillard Highway located across from the ball field grand stand ... a dark place. The coffin was liberated.  The plan was to wait for a "Chiva" and slide the coffin with its inside occupant in the back door. The four outside boys would then position themselves around the coffin on the parallel bench seats and were supposed to remain there, silent and looking sad, until the Chiva reached the bus stop down the road a piece on the edge of town (just before entering the local rate Jamaican town of Red Tank).  Of course, upon signal the inside boy was to throw open the coffin lid and screaming all five would exit in a panic thereby scaring the hell out of all the other passengers.  Leaving the coffin behind, the five would then run back into Pedro Miguel proper with great glee. That was the plan as understood by the inside boy.  Lets call him "Dick"...

But, there was a hidden agenda.  You see Dick had a mean streak and the four outside boys were getting "even" in spades.  So Dick with a borrowed white shirt from Dad's drawer, bloodied in front with what proved not to be very washable ketchup somehow got to be the "inside boy".  He plastered his face with some white cream concoction from his Mother's dresser and grinning like a minstrel player climbed into the coffin for an experience he and the outside four would not soon forget.  Per plan the Chiva arrived.  And per plan the coffin was slid into the back door.   The driver was given fifty cents to drop the box off at the Corozal bus stop.   He was told it was expected and that people would be there to receive it.  Not unusual, the Chiva was crowded and some people even put their feet on the coffin as the vehicle sped off. The outside four remained outside.

Well into Red Tank the inside boy started to get nervous having expected a signal at the first stop now long passed. Attempting a peek outside the inside boy pushed on the lid.   Feeling movement the passengers reported reaction was to kick down hard on the lid. Thinking signal ... inside Dick started to scream and raise the lid.  Further chain reactions occurred which according to reports involved the Chiva screeching to a halt, the rear door opening with a lot of people, packages, and the coffin egressing rapidly. The Chiva might even have been accelerating away as the coffin hit the road violently splitting into many pieces and tumbling a white faced, frightened, and screaming inside Dick, outside.

Realizing quickly that this was not Pedro Miguel or Kansas and that the wild eyed people scattering around him were not the outside four or munchkins, inside Dick, now outside ran, wild eyed himself, out of Red Tank very, very fast.

It was a long time before inside Dick could be convinced that the Chiva simply sped off without the outside four.

No, it wasn't the devil that made us do it. It was -- the Gamboa ghost.

October 24, 1999

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