True Story, Issue #16
"A Dirge for the Doubly Dead" by Fritz Swanson
True Story, Issue #16
True Story is a new home for longform nonfiction narratives. Published monthly by the editors of Creative Nonfiction, each pocket-size issue of True Story showcases one exceptional essay by one exceptional writer. From issue to issue, this new mini-magazine features the widest possible variety of voices and styles and subjects.
Offering vivid, immersive reports from real life, every issue of True Story is a small celebration of the larger-than-life stories and experiences that make us think differently about what it means to be human.
ABOUT ISSUE #16: The birth-to-death saga of one Jacob Crouch unfolds against a remarkable period in American history. As the railway stretches ever westward and the advent of electricity resets internal clocks, a patriarch farmer and his children amass—and tragically lose—a fortune.
From "A Dirge for the Doubly Dead" by Fritz Swanson
Prologue: The Murders. The Murders. The Day.
November 22, 1883
Word of the murders races up and down the train line. The news travels faster than the horseman sent the seven miles into the city of Jackson to fetch the sheriff. The Michigan Central passenger line makes an unscheduled stop, right behind the Crouch house.
Hundreds of people pour out from the steel belly of the train, tromp down the wet hill, across a muddy field of beaten-down tall grass. The weekday travelers swarm through the Great Crouch Murder House. They drag several bodies from their beds, setting two up in the parlor.
Grin, give the corpse a reassuring hug around the shoulder, pose, a powder flash, a moment, fractured, disintegrating, the light from the sun eight minutes old, glinting off the glassy, ballooning eyes, the drawn cheek, reflecting from the dead to the living to the lens of the camera, tracing through optics onto a receiving plate. Chemically burning.
Stand aside for the next couple who want a token to remember the morning by. An unremarkable morning, with a family dead all around. The sun, elbowing through the clouds, warming the November mud, paling before the onset of winter, obscured behind the thin black smoke of the train at rest.
If there is a single day to pin down, and demand from it its truth, this would be the day. And yet, what truth would we drag from it? That there is no pinning truth, like a beetle into a box, without killing it.
To learn more about the story behind this story, read our interview with Fritz Swanson.