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Springlawn Farm (Albino Farm)

Real people, real lives at root of Springfield's 'Albino Farm' legend
by Sarah Overstreet

       Wesley Wester doubted what he'd seen at first, and his first impulse was to jam his Jeep into reverse and hightail it out of the muddy driveway: 
       There in his headlights stood a figure in black, face white with black eye makeup accenting his eyes and hollows on his face. Then reason returned.
       Wester shouted at the figures--teen "Goths" (kids who dress in black and act out Gothic fantasies)--to get off private property. The kids scurried off among the remaining stone foundations of buildings on the old "Sheedy Farm," the gorgeous tract of countryside area legend named the "Albino Farm" just north of Greenlawn cemetary at the intersections of Farm Roads 165 and 100.
      For years we'd heard the rumors--the large tract was a home for an all-albino family; or, it was a farm where an albino caretaker watched over sisters who never married and stayed on to tend the large farm; and--here's the most preposterous one--hidden deep in the middle of the farm was a makeshift "hospital" where an insane physician conducted experiments on albinos.
       Wester, also an auctioneer who, with his late father George, was hired to auction off the estate in the late 1970s, contacted me after an offhand remark I made in a column March 14. I mentioned I loved to debunk "urban legends," and one I'd love to put to rest was the "albino farm," said to have been on the north side of town near Greenlawn Cemetary.
       Wester confirmed that I had the location right, but that he hadn't been to the site since he and his dad held the auction in the late 1970s for the elderly aging members of the large Sheedy farming family. Wester decided to take a drive by the property a couple of weeks ago. It was then that he had his meeting with the Goths.
       But what he saw saddened him, as he shone the Jeep's headlights down the road leading to the site of the old, two-story, 12-room frame house: The house and larger barn had burned down. All that was left was the gorgeous masonry of its foundation and other structures--a wellhouse, a crumbling smaller barn, an ornate round stone building accessible only by walking up iron rungs to enter from the top and a few other remnants of what had been a farm full of buildings.
       When Wester showed me the property under the light of day, it was apparent that many people have been using the vacant land. But local historians agree that any possibility of an "albino farm" being at the location are nil, zip, nada. John K. Hulston, longtime Springfield attorney and chronicler of Ozarks history, talked with the son of one of the seven Sheedy siblings. He learned that at best, the family may have had one albino "hand" working on the farm at one time.
       When I contacted the grandson's wife, she said that she and her husband wouldn't discuss the rumors because the contrived stories of the family they'd loved and beautiful estate they roamed in their youth had so upset them.
       Wester thinks it was a rumor fueled and perpetuated by local teens.
       "When I was in high school, I heard there were kids from Hillcrest (High School) who'd hide out there, and when other kids drove in, they'd come running up the driveway yelling that there was an albino caretaker that had been shooting at them."
       A 1997 book by Joan Gilbert titled "Missouri Ghosts" still fuels the "albino farm" fire. She quotes unsubstantiated "rumors" that an albino caretaker grew so possessive of the then-elderly remaining Sheedys that "he turned away visitors at gunpoint" and was also blamed for two "hatchet murders" done at a nearby iron bridge ..."
       Now, don't you think if anything like that had happened, local law enforcement would have documented it so well the information wouldn't have to liveon just as rumor?
       Sad. Fun is fun, and most of us like to have legends that scare us, but this was a real, hard-working farm family whose remaining descendents are heartbroken at the lies spread about their beloved ancestors. Urban legends are not just fun or scary--they're often about real people, and they can wound.
Contact columnist Sarah Overstreet at 836-1188