Antioch


The cemetery around the back of the church is wrapped in rusting iron, the only way in or out is through the tall arch that reads ANTIOCH CEMETERY 1910. This plot of the land feels out of place. It is remembered and cared for. A dusting of green and yellow Bermudagrass is well manicured, the road is well graveled and forms rows, and there isn’t a weed within the fence. The headstones are clean and a few of the graves have fresh flowers to commemorate and honor the dead. The first person recorded as buried in this land is Violet Katherine Doran, daughter of Wiley and Lulu Doran. Her dates read February 2, 1910 to December 13, 1910. She was ten months old, born in a time when life in the desert was far harder than it is today. There are many children buried here, many siblings, nestled with the rest of their families. As unusual as it may be, you will find yourself at peace on the cemetery grounds.

The same cannot be said for the church.

Antioch Baptist Church, though dissolved in 1980, still stands on its consecrated grounds with hardly a sign that it has been neglected for nearly forty years. It is roughly sixty yards from the two-way Plains Highway – Highway 82 – so close and yet completely invisible to the stream of eighteen-wheelers, farmers, and various travelers plowing down the asphalt at eighty- five miles an hour. The church is firmly within the New Mexico state line and the reflective white and black speed limit signs each read 65mph, but no one traveling this road has the patience of a mile and a half to where the signs welcome you to Texas, a state with a reasonable speed limit of seventy-five that everyone ignores in favor of eighty-five.

Time is of the essence, after all.

A wrought-iron sign, much too small to see from a vehicle moving so fast unless you’re really looking for it, is the only tell that there is a building out in that wide empty field. Maybe you’d assume the building crumbled in on itself years ago, if you didn’t know the story. The sign, if seen, depicts cutouts of a church building on the left, three crosses in the middle, and a large tree on the right. At the top of the sign is painted ANTIOCH CEMETERY in white, with an arrow pointing towards the perpendicular road. From the highway the sign is small, hardly noticeable. Standing on the ground the sign is tall and wide, the iron images just cute enough to be used in a Tim Burton film. There is no date to inform you of when the sign was planted in the ground, but it is easy enough to see that it receives a fresh coat of paint yearly.

Every town has its own urban legends.

You know the stories you hear in school as your peers try to frighten you with ghosts and ghouls that are all too close to home. Maybe you believe that the decrepit house down the street or on the adjacent block, you know the one, the one you have to walk by to and from school

every day, with the overgrown dying yard, peeling paint, shattered windows, and tagged walls really does have the ghosts of the family murdered in their beds still residing in the walls. Then again, maybe you don’t. Maybe it is your school that is haunted by the ghost of a student who walks the halls at night clanging the lockers and stealing your homework. Maybe there is a serial killer. Maybe there is a witch.

The stories are different and yet almost always the same.

Whispers pass through the halls of the high school like a virus, infecting anyone who listens close enough. There is a church, the wind says with a hot breath down the back of your neck, forty miles from here, that is haunted.

Did you hear that it was the pastor? No! Yes! The pastor, the last person anyone in the congregation would have suspected. All those infant deaths happening for years and no one clued in that he was the common factor. And that isn’t the worst of it!

It wasn’t recent, though it never is with stories like this.

You will almost never hear the information from a direct source and there will hardly be a single piece of supporting evidence, but you will want to believe because it is exciting and nothing exciting ever happens here. So what if it’s a little far-fetched, it’s still creepy to think about. You can pretty much insert your town name into any urban legend and it will be fit to excite a new generation of young minds.

And isn’t that malleability part of what makes it so scary?

The eastern portion of the Land of Enchantment is blanketed year-round with yellow and tan wheat grasses, spiked mesquite bushes, dying yucca trees – the unassuming possessor of the state flower, and a variety of creeping cacti in all shades of greens and tans. To the untrained unfamiliar tourists eye it can be a flat and boring landscape. This is a deception. The hills of

Eastern New Mexico rise and fall so subtly that these eyes can miss the gentle slopes cresting camouflaged against the arid scenery, never imagining anything could be standing on the unbroken landscape, long ignored but not forgotten.

The road that splits the field is caliche, the same as it has been for over a hundred years now, a bright tannish-white littered with rocks and stones and divots that make for a terrible car ride, no matter how great your shocks are, and, one would assume, an even worse carriage ride. In the rare occasion that it does rain, the road will turn a honeyed-brown color and – you must remember that this is the desert – the road will become damn-near impossible to use. The caliche will become clay and clay is a hungry material, ready to suck anything with weight down into its sticky maw. It is easier, and sometimes safer, to walk and drive over ice than it is a wet caliche road that has the consistency of axle grease. Depending on the amount of rain, a road that you once stood proudly on will have you sinking up to the thigh. It is uncomfortable and cold and many a pair of jeans and boots have been ruined, sacrificed to the gods of the ground.

The road appears to stretch on into eternity but only descends a small hill so gently that it deceives perception. At the bottom stands a stark white building, vaguely built in the shape of a cross. The walls are adobe in style if not color and there are four windows down the length of the cross. A few feet from the entrance stands an old elm tree. There is nothing instantly significant about this tree. It is thirty or forty feet tall and a foot and a half wide. Its limbs stretch up and out and during the spring and summer carry vibrant green leaves that are quick to depart come the fall. It is by no means an old or ancient tree; the church is slightly older, after all, but the tree still groans when the mildest of breezes dances through its branches. The sound, wholly common where elm trees are concerned, is unnerving on this land; a solitary figure singing its lamenting sonata. Three or four steps lead up to where the door once stood though has been lost to time long enough that the molding plank flooring is hidden beneath inches of New Mexico sand. The church is one room, stretched long. To the left is where the pews once stood, the right the altar and pulpit. The arms of the cross shaped building are the entrance vestibules, one into the church and one on the opposite side that lets out onto the small cemetery. The walls of the church are wooden planks, rotting, on the inside and plaster on the outside. The air is pregnant, thick, and stale though there are no doors and the glass in the windows has been shattered for at least two decades. It smells of mold and mildew, of stagnant water, of passing time.

It is the smell of dead church.

New Mexico entered the Union on January 6, 1912. Lea County was founded on March 17, 1917 from parts of Eddy and Chavez Counties, and was named for Captain Joseph Calloway Lea, the father of Roswell, New Mexico and the New Mexico Military Institute – affectionately known as NMMI, or Nimmie, to the locals. For all the people who lived here prior to 1912 knew, this area could have been Texas. The borders existed on maps but there was nothing that marked the actual land.

Lea County is currently home to four cities, one town, three census-designated places, and four unincorporated communities. The county seat is in Lovington, a mere sixteen miles away from the Antioch Baptist Church. There were once over thirty more little communities that

dried up and blew away over the years. Communities disappearing almost overnight was common in the early part of the Twentieth-Century United States.

The town of Midway, Lea County, New Mexico was formed sometime in the Nineteenth Century. The exact date was not recorded. This community would thrive and grow, reaching a population of around five-hundred people by 1930. It was home to a single-room school, a Baptist church, a post office, and a general store. Not much else is known about Midway, Lea County. If there were any records, they were lost in the prairie fire that consumed the entire town

in 1950, leaving only the church and adjacent cemetery. It is unknown how many people perished in this sudden fire, but the community never rebuilt, never recovered. The local church was used steadily until it was decommissioned and closed in 1980.

The lackadaisical response to record keeping makes research into this community difficult and you want to give up, but something won’t let you. The only thing you’ve learned is that the town was called Midway because it was “midway” between Lovington, NM and Plains, TX. And none of your research is made any easier by the thriving community of Midway, Chavez County, New Mexico, estimated at just over a hundred miles in the opposite general direction. All urban legends have their basis in truth, right? Isn’t that what makes them so sustainable and creepy? It’s something that could happen grown out of something that did happen. The fire did happen, you know that much. And the church and cemetery are really out in the middle of nowhere with nary a town or community in sight. You’re no closer to finding out the truth behind the urban legend, but you understand now that is what makes them legends.

There isn’t enough evidence to prove or disprove the story.


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