New Book Tells Story of How a Local Legend Impacted an Ozarks Family
A piece of land north of Springfield is the setting for author Steve Yates’ latest novel, “The Legend of the Albino Farm.” KSMU’s Michele Skalicky sat down with Yates, who now lives in Mississippi but who grew up in Springfield, to talk about his book.
"People began telling the story of albino caretakers at a piece of land bordering north Springfield all the way from 1946 onward," said Steve Yates, author of the Legend of the Albino Farm.
Those who grew up in and around Springfield have probably heard of the legend surrounding that large piece of property--the legend of the albino farm. The land, which was called Springlawn Farm, was first owned by the Headley Family and then the Sheedys. It was a recreational destination for locals in the 1800's, and postcards were even made depicting the farm.
But, according to local legend, the farm had a dark side. It’s long been rumored that a caretaker at the farm had albinism and scared people off with a shotgun. Other tales tell of experiments done on people with albinism in a rock mansion that used to be on the property. Those stories were sometimes combined with the legend of the Hatchet Man’s Bridge, a narrow bridge near Springlawn Farm, on which it was said a car disappeared, and the driver’s body was later found beheaded with a bloody hatchet nearby.
None of those stories is true. And that’s why author Steve Yates decided to write a book. He describes it as a novel created out of the legend that would seemingly never go away, and he hopes it will help dispel the untruths told about Springlawn Farm.
"I very much wanted to tell, as best I could, the story of a real family, because that's what was there--a real family, who were beleaguered, astonished, terrified by the constant trespassing that Springfield did out there," Yates said.
Yates’ book, the Legend of the Albino Farm, tells the story of the Sheehy Family and, in particular, Hettienne, the property’s heiress whose life has been cursed by the legend. According to Yates, he invented the heir so he had a witness to span the telling of the legend from 1946 to when the property passed out of the family’s hands.
The book has been described as “a horror story turned inside out.”
"Most horror stories happen from people from the outside coming to a haunted mansion or a haunted place and beginning an exploration as outsiders moving in. This story is told from those who live within a house that is considered haunted, and they are constantly beset by the people coming onto their land, raging around on their land, setting bonfires on their land, spray painting, making graffiti happen, tearing things down, snipe hunting, just generally making giant mischief, and that's the inside out--it's the insider who lives there experiencing a kind of horror from us, the outsiders, the townspeople coming in," Yates said.
While the story is fiction, it’s based on fact. Yates spend a lot of time researching the Sheedy Family history before beginning his novel. And he found a lot of information. He said the Sheedys were a prominent, wealthy family. Mike and Mary had nine children, including four girls and five boys. Most remained on the farm (only two married). And Yates said they did researchers a big favor.
"And that was to create the most extraordinary wills that covered so much division of property between each of those siblings," he said.
All Yates had to do was walk into the Greene County Archives and tell them he’d like every will with the Sheedy name on it, and he had a wealth of information at his fingertips.
While he learned a lot about the family’s possessions, he knew he wanted to invent their story—something the wills couldn’t reveal.
"The ways in which they might have anguish, the ways in which they might show love to each other, the ways in which they were normal, the ways in which they had fun, the ways in which they spent their leisure time," he said.
One thing he learned from the wills, and which he includes in his book, is shocking and reveals something of the legend’s impact on the family that lived at Springlawn.
"There were charges to the estate that were just heartbreaking," Yates said. "For example, on Halloween the estate would be charged for 24/7 security for a whole week. For a 330 acre farm? That's a lot of money."
All because of the Albino Farm legend, according to Yates.
"People dropping acid and showing up out there and raging around, and, at that time on the farm, especially with the last three wills, these were three spinster women who had never married. They'd lived almost their entire lives on this beautiful farm that they thought was paradise and which now had become hell," he said.
Yates hopes people come away from reading The Legend of the Albino Farm with a realization of how the legend made a hell out of a heaven, not only for the Sheehys in the book but also the Sheedys in real life. The then-vacant mansion burned down in 1980, after a fire in the barn spread, and arson hasn’t been ruled out as the cause.
Yates will return to the Ozarks to talk about his book and sign copies this spring.
· April 23, 2 p.m.: Book signing at the Library Station, 2535 N. Kansas Expressway, Springfield
· April 24, 6 p.m.: Book signing at the Library Center, Meeting Room B, 4653 S. Campbell, Springfield
· April 25 noon-1:30 p.m.: Book signing BookMarx, 325 E. Walnut, Springfield
· April 25 5:30-7:30 p.m.: Book signing Barnes & Noble, 3055 S. Glenstone, Springfield
· April 26 6 p.m.: Yates will be the featured speaker at Drury University’s English Symposium, Olin Library Harwood Reading Room, 900 N. Benton
· April 27 7:30-9 p.m.: Book signing at Nightbird Books, 304 W. Dickson, Fayetteville, Arkansas