Is the ghost of Joshua Jones still haunting the area where he lived? Or where he died? Or, possibly, anyplace he went after that?
Nobody knows, but it makes a fascinating and gruesome story. This one comes from Potter County, an interesting place with plenty of local stories.
It began on Dec. 28, 1838. A Genessee Township man named Joshua Jones woke up and, for no adequately explained reason, shot his wife in the head with a rifle. He was arrested, escaped, recaptured and put on trial.
He initially tried to claim that his wife’s death was a suicide, because plenty of suicides happen with rifles while the victim is asleep. Finally he confessed and was convicted.
His hanging was the first one ever in Potter County, on May 31, 1839. All of that would be notable enough, but it’s what happened next that really makes the story fascinating. Robert Lyman recorded all of this in his excellent book,“Forbidden Land.”
Jones sold his own body.
Two days before his execution, he met with Dr. Amos French, who promised to restore him to life. Or, failing that, put him to good use.
There is an actual deed in the Potter County courthouse for this. It’s in Deed Book C, page 105. Go ahead, look it up. It reads, “Know by all men these presents that Joshua Jones, for an in consideration the sum of $10.00, good and lawful money of the United States to men in hand paid, for which I hereby acknowledge the receipt thereof, do assign and grant Dr. Amos French the right to dispose of my body as he may think proper, after I have suffered the penalty of the law which is now brought against me. In witness thereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal, this 29th day of May 1839, Joshua Jones.”
I suppose it goes without saying that French never did manage to bring Jones back to life. I doubt the doctor even had much hope of it. He did, however, acquire a pretty fine medical specimen for only $10.
Dr. French took Jones’s body to Whitesville, N. Y., where he and three other doctors removed the skin and left Jones a skeleton. And that was the start of Joshua Jones’s successful second career as a display skeleton. He was passed from doctor to doctor for over 100 years, set up in their offices.
Not all of the people in the county were pleased by this; many of them publicly declared it a disgrace. But it was a long-lasting indignity; what was left of Joshua Jones remained in various offices for over a century.
Jones’s illustrious second career came to an end during a flood in 1942. His skeleton was in an office in Austin, and was destroyed by the floodwaters, over 100 years after he died.
His skull, however, was recovered, and according to the records, is now on display at the Potter County Historical Society.
Joshua Jones may or may not be haunting any of these locations. It’s hard to say. What with being executed, becoming a skeleton, and being shipped from place to place for over a century, though, it’d be surprising if he wasn’t.