SUNNY CAL JOURNAL -The Girl In The Cave, Deficients Viewed As "Free Spirits"


The Barnes Run cave must of have been a special place to the
disturbed girl, with no annoying human beings to disrupt the peacefulness

By Bob Weaver

Traveling down Barnes Run, I was reminded about the girl who lived in the cave.

The treatment of mental illness was unavailable to rural Calhouners during the first half of the 20th century, and even today, many services are difficult to obtain.

For the most part, it was a "make do" situation when family or community members displayed schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, anxiety disorders, depression or addiction to alcohol or other drugs.

When a person's behavior got too bizarre or bothersome, the afflicted were taken to the state hospital at Spencer or Weston and kept, sometimes permanently.

Out of site, out of mind.

But for the most part, the tolerance or acceptance of those afflicted allowed them to remain at home or to wander as "free spirits" in Grantsville, Arnoldsburg or other county villages.

There was something gracious about that, in a world that spins with tight control on just about everything.

The mentally ill got defined as "characters," although politically incorrect, amusing healthier folk with their strange bent or mental deficiency.

At least a dozen such afflicted come to mind from my lifetime, well-known to the Calhoun community at one time.

Upon returning to Calhoun in 1995, I ventured to the Grantsville Hotel to have lunch during a break after a great blizzard to find Mary Wells, the only other customer.

Mary, during my school years in the 1950s, would be thumbing up and down Phillips Run, going to Grantsville to sell Grit newspapers. She later was the janitor at the post office.

Tales about her behavior abounded back then, but here she was 40 years later having lunch.

During the meal, Mary started having outbursts, interrupted by short periods of silence, mostly cussing and swearing at nameless people about nameless subjects.

One person of her discontent was Grantsville's mayor at the time, who had been pressing her over dozens and dozens of house cats she kept around her abode in south Grantsville.

Naming him, she said "That #*!# b-----d wants my cats!"

It's not likely she had been diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome, but it seemed like one of her many afflictions.

Later, she was taken to a mental health facility and her cats were placed in the custody of the Calhoun Commission, which ended up with a sizable bill for their keep.

After Mary had two or three outbursts, the waitress came over to ask if I would like to move to another room, concerned I was being annoyed.

I told her I had known Mary for many years, and I was able to handle her quite well.

Growing up at Hur, there were several folks who had problems, including a teacher whose troubled wife would leave his house to wander aimlessly along our country roads.

This Calhoun girl, photographed during her early childhood,
would later run away from her home to live in a cave

Another well-known story was about a local girl who matured into adolescence.

She didn't want to live in a house, preferring the cave down on Barnes Run.

She would take some food and possessions to spend her nights and days in her cave, a place of comfort overlooking a meadow and meandering Barnes Run.

Today, we still have a few "free spirits" wandering around the landscape, most of them are treated with tolerance, but most have been medicated and are sitting in front of a TV screen, out of sight, out of mind.