I just got the alumni magazine from my alma mater, Eastern University, from which I learn a piece of trivia I’d somehow never heard during my years attending the school: In 1919, years before Eastern’s college would be founded there, the Walton estate in St. David’s, Pa., was the filming location for the silent movie Oh, Johnny! (the exclamation point there is part of the movie’s title, not this sentence).
I am now dreadfully disappointed in YouTube and the rest of the Internet for not quickly supplying me with video of this film. The best I could find were an advertisement and a still from this site on the film’s star, Louis Bennison, aka, “The Smilin’ Cowboy.” (Montco’s library apparently has a copy of this Betzwood Films production in its archives — let’s get that digitized, folks.)
Bennison’s life after Oh, Johnny! was not a happy one, and a decade later he would be found dead, a murderer and a suicide in a Manhattan penthouse.
Louis Bennison met an unhappy, violent end, while some of his happier memories took place at the site of what is now Eastern University.
Those seem to me like the raw materials for a new campus legend involving the ghost of the Smilin’ Cowboy.
New legends, of course, have to be retconned back onto the past in order to seem plausible, so let’s get started with that. Work with me here, people.
Did I ever tell you about the time in college when I was walking across campus late one moonless night and thought I heard the sound of a horses’ hooves?
I was coming down the back stairs of Walton Hall, headed back toward Doane, when suddenly, there on the porch overlooking Willow Pond, I saw …