Mystery Man or Just Snow Job?

By Regina Villiers. Originally published January 29, 1997 in The Suburban Life, added March 16, 2014.

Mystery Man on Snow Plow

Mystery Man on Snow Plow

My friend, Rich King, who used to reign on Cincinnati radio, would weave wondrous tales about sightings of the “Abominable Snowman of Madeira.” If Rich were here now, I’m sure he’d be plugging the “Phantom Snowplowman of Madeira.”

The phantom snowplowman first surfaced last winter after the record snowfall in January. People, waking up in the morning, would see through sleepy eyelids that their sidewalks and driveways had been mysteriously cleaned off during the night.

I started getting phone calls that said, in effect: “Ms. Madeira Columnist Woman, you’re so smart and know-it-all. So, who’s cleaning off our sidewalks and driveways at night?”

I didn’t know. But knowing a good story when I hear one, I immediately set out to discover the identity of this mysterious phantom who gets his kicks by plowing snow, in the dark of night.

But it wasn’t an easy story. My usual sources turned up nothing. The phantom operates, much like the Headless Horseman in Washington Irving’s story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” He runs his show plow at midnight, after everyone is in bed. No one ever sees him, an eerie sound in the night, much like that of the specter of Sleepy Hollow, who was said to tether his horse among the graves in the Sleepy Hollow churchyard.

No one knows where Madeira’s phantom plowman tethers his John Deere, or where it stays in the daytime.

Last winter, in the beginning, I thought I had solved the mystery and almost gave the credit to an unnamed man on Miami Avenue who has received a snow plow for Christmas.

But no. I was wrong. It turned out that this man plowed only his own driveway and immediately locked his plow back in the garage. “The neighbors be darned,” he said.

So, I struggled on with the mystery, learning nothing.

By springtime, I was desperately trying to set an S.O.S through to Ellery Queen to solve the case.

With warm weather and the disappearance of snow, the phantom plowman melted from people’s thoughts. No one mentioned him anymore, or called me with questions about him.

But fall came, with winter and snow as sure to follow as bills follow Christmas. I knew the phantom plow would start up again, and I reopened my investigation.

Sure enough, a couple of weeks ago, after snow and ice returned to the area, I discovered the sidewalks along Miami Avenue neatly plowed.

I have studied the Phantom’s work, and he obviously takes great pride in it. He’s an artist. His lines are straight and artistic. There is no mistaking his work with ordinary, sloppy, snow-cleaning jobs. And while he cleans the main sidewalks on Miami Avenue, as far down as the library, a blessing for us walkers, he only cleans driveways here and there. I have been unable to figure out why he skips driveways, especially mine.

Just recently, I have uncovered a few clues about this case.

On a windy day a few weekends ago, the Phantom Snowplowman, as he turned up his plow for this season, was photographed by the Madeira Paparazzi, who used an ultra-extra long telephoto lens. The photo does not help identify him, because the Paparazzi could only get him from the rear. And he was bundled like a North Pole caterpillar in a lycra cocoon.

The Paparazzi also reported that the phantom was photographed later that same afternoon, as he sat reading a history of tractors and the man who invented the plow, obviously a book he got for Christmas. Unfortunately, these photos exploded in the photo lab, like a clap of thunder, and disappeared forever, as did the Headless Horseman, do long ago.

I’ve also heard a genuine rumor that the Phantom may have been seen by Jack Johnston. But, as they say at the big newspapers, “Mr. Johnston could not be reached for comment, at press time.”

But, I know Jack Johnston. He’s a friend of mine. And Jack Johnston is a truthful, fearless man. If he could be reached for comment, I’m certain Mr. Johnston would comment: “No comment.”

But, I have come up with a theory, I can’t prove this yet, but I believe that the Phantom Plowman is none other than the legendary Brom Bones, reincarnated from his life in the story of Sleepy Hollow, in an earlier century. Now repentant at chasing Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow in such dastardly fashion so long ago, he has come back to try to make things right by doing good deeds in this, another life. It’s now his mission in life to redeem himself by plowing snow, anonymously.

As I say, I can’t prove this, but I’ll keep looking for a smashed pumpkin head on Miami Avenue. And if you hear any eerie sounds, or claps of thunder in the night, let me know.