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Story ID:741
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Local Legend
Location:Butte Montana USA
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by Kathe Campbell

"What can I do for you kids?" queried Mr. Diller, a local undertaker.

"Well, Uncle Dave, we were wondering if you might have a spare casket or coffin on hand."

"Is this for some Halloween party - what's the deal?" Danny's uncle suspiciously probed behind a raised eyebrow.

"Well, yes," chimed in Sue. "We are from the Coed Explorers sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church. Mr. and Mrs. Campbell are our leaders, and they're going to love our idea. They're having the party at their home."

"Yes, yes, I know Ken Campbell well, we belong to Kiwanis together," broached Diller offhandedly as he rocked back and forth on noisy patent leathers. With hands folded behind his dreary black suit, a slight grin emerged in place of his usual bleak guise. It seemed so hard to imagine this man as one of the boys out on the golf course in shorts and golf shoes.

"And just what did you intend to do with an old wooden coffin?"

"Rusty and Joan are real good artists. They want to paint the coffin black and then design the lid with a fancy cross," burst out an excited Dawn. "And my mother offered some black silky material for the lining - it'll be so cool!"

"Now just assuming, mind you, that you'll be placing a deceased replica inside the coffin, I don't see why not," offered the undertaker behind yet another half grin.

"Well . . . yeah," countered a smart-assy Tim, "that is unless you have the real thing we might use for the evening!"

Trying to contain gales of muffled snickers, the little senior class entourage followed along into the very bowels of the old mortuary stealing quick peeks into nightmarish rooms. Was old Diller going to furnish a real corpse?

"Okay kids, follow me. We keep plain wooden coffins here for the indigent, those who have no family, you understand I'm sure," explained Digger Diller, as he is affectionately known around town.

Shivers and icy fingers clutched at one another as the girls crept warily down the old narrow wooden staircase into the cold and musty tomb-like cellar. A faint whiff of formaldehyde was in the air as Diller snapped on a single hanging bulb and pointed to a pile of European style coffins. Suddenly, the spine-chilling idea conjured up in jest, had turned into almost more than the little cortege was ready to deal with.

The black silky lining was cut and hemmed in the Campbell family room while others scouted out old pillows. It seemed the least they could do to comfort the departed on his formidable tour of the city. Against a black background, thin streams of glossy red paint slid wearily off the ornate gilded cross, coagulating in small droplets atop the lid. Pure exhilaration filled the little makeshift mortuary as the area above the cross was engraved with elegant golden gothic script, R. I. P. At the expense of one father's black suit and another's workbench, eight large brass handles were screwed into the foreboding treasure. It was done.

Halloween landed on a Saturday night, ideal for what our ghoulish pranksters had conjured up. After the boys dressed the body, the girls applied ghostly greenish-white makeup over the face, ears, and hands. The shiny black hair was sprayed and flattened against the skull and makeup artists applied grisly images upon the hideous face and claw-like fingernails.

Traveling into uptown Butte was at hand. The gang of macabre hooligans settled on the long block of taverns and bars on Main Street. Barely able to contain themselves, the lady goblins parked across the street to snap pictures. Appropriately clad, six pallbearers slid the coffin from the back of the pickup and hummed the funeral dirge while marching slowly and somberly up the sidewalk to Maloney's Bar.

As the big double doors were opened, the little funeral procession entered to the laughter and drone of voices . . . and then abrupt silence. The place came alive with hoots and hollers as patrons tried their best to unnerve the group as they moved towards the bandstand. As predicted, a bristly old fellow teetering on his bar stool, asked what was in the coffin. The small dance band struck up a version of Hitchcock's theme, and the coffin was set on the stage apron and gently opened.

Out flew 6'3" Jack Lawson in all his theatrical glory, his black cape fluttering and swishing about as he bounded wildly through the rooms of guzzlers and card players. The lady patrons shrieked while the men could barely contain their hilarity. The cadaver's gruesome deep howls and hysterical wails brandished bloody jagged teeth just as the pallbearers subdued their charge.

All Hallows' Eve had gone off without a hitch at five more bars hosting bloodcurdling screams and shocking good fun. Well, maybe just one little hitch. At closer glance, the corpse was found performing in his basketball sneakers. The newspaper and TV stations arrived for the story of a bunch of 18 year olds enjoying a legend reminiscent of the old Butte. Our costume party for teens and families was a howling success while Jack took kudos for his starring role.

Danny Diller has taken up where Uncle Dave left off, running the funeral parlor in customary Diller antiquated fashion. And when old Digger Diller ambles along in front of the courthouse, now and then he stops to shake hands with Jack. Yes, District Court Judge Jack Lawson, and actor extraordinaire.