Face to Face With a Legend
A former camper tells the tale of meeting the subject one of camp Lylewoods’ favorite spooky story.
by: George Shelton
It was all I could do not to scream!!! SONNY had a hold of my hand.
Now let me back up and explain who I am, and why at that moment I was terrified. I’m George Shelton, I was at the time in my late twenties and if you know me then you know I’m a big guy and not really given to being really scared of much, BUT this was Sonny!! To those of us that grew up at Lylewood Sonny was the personification of all things scary. He was the shadowy figure peering in the window, the ghostly apparition lurking in the bushes; he was every bump, thump, or thud in the dark. In other words Sonny was the boogeyman incarnate.
My first week of camp I heard all kinds of stories about Sonny, how he would follow behind us on hikes, sneak around the cabins after lights out and pound on the walls. I heard that he always wore a white t-shirt and of course the most legendary thing about him were all the accounts of his amazing speed. There were all kinds of stories about how he could run lightning fast sometimes even running through fields that were overgrown with crops or weeds and how he could hurdle over fences and other obstacles like they weren’t even there. It was said that Sonny loved to stand under the pavilion at the top of the hill in the dark while we were on the roof for our nightly devotionals, people would say if you looked closely you could see the glow of his cigarette in the darkness.
Lylewood camp of course had lots of other tales. We were told stories about Baby Jim and Mad Myrtle but Sonny was the scariest for one very simple reason; he was REAL!! We all knew he lived just down the road from camp on the way to the ferry in a very spooky old farm house. He was often seen standing in the backyard always staring straight ahead. He would throw his hand up and wave, without ever actually looking in the direction of the passing vehicle. He had a horse (rumored to be blind) and a yard full of dogs. He had no car or truck apparently walking or running everywhere he went. He did often have a fully functional backhoe parked behind his house, something I personally always found particularly disturbing seeing as how he wasn’t in the backhoe business.
I had literally grown up hearing about Sonny and the legend grew with each passing year, so it’s not terribly hard to understand why those fears were hard to let go of. On the Fall day that I met Sonny face to face I was at camp to weed eat around the cabins in preparation for the upcoming retreats. I was there completely alone or so I thought. I was leaning over the side of my truck bed fiddling with the string on the weed eater right in front of the old boys restrooms. I didn’t hear him approaching even though he was walking on the loose gravel. I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye and raised my head from my tinkering to see a tall, older man walking toward me, we both said hello and he came over and leaned against the end of my truck. We stood there for several minutes talking about weed eaters, the weather, farming, and about someone who was buying up tracts of land all around the area. Somehow it didn’t occur to me that I was talking to Sonny even though I had seen him many times it had always been at a distance. So finally I said to him “you know, I don’t guess we have ever met, I’m George Shelton” and I held out my hand, as his big calloused hand closed around mine he said “I’m Sonny, Sonny so and so”, he told me his last name but I have no idea what he said it was, at the mere mention of his name my mind had gone to instant red alert. I had almost snatched my hand back away from him but somehow I managed t smile and say “nice to meet you”. He and I continued to talk for a few more minute. Well actually he talked while I stood there swallowing air and saying uh-huh a lot. My mind was racing thinking about all the times singing at the bridge or cooking out over a bonfire had I peered into the woods wondering if he was lurking there. Thinking about all the hikes bringing up the rear and turning to see if he was behind us. Now he was leaning against my truck talking away. Finally I said “well I guess I had better get busy it will be dark soon.” I didn’t say what was running through my head that there was NO WAY I was going to be here after dark with him lurking around!! So he said goodbye and turned to leave. I reached into the truck bed, pulled out the weed eater turned around and set it on the sidewalk. I bent down cranked it once then again, on the second pull it started. I stood back up with the now running machine in hand, turned around and SONNY WAS GONE. He was completely out of sight in a matter of seconds. I dropped the weed eater and ran around the building expecting to see him walking between the main building and directors’ cabin but he was nowhere to be seen. I ran down the hill toward the lake but Sonny was not to be seen. I turned quickly, walked back to my truck and threw everything into the bed. I got in and drove away as fast as I could having decided that the weeds didn’t need cutting after all.