On Wednesday I'll be meeting my friend Eldon in New Castle to drink coffee and go to the cemetery. It's our regular routine, and a weird thing to do, but how else to mark such a strange anniversary as the disappearance of a little girl we never knew?
And yet who knows her better? Like me, Eldon is a former reporter who's spent years of his life at library microfilm machines, peering into the dim past. Catherine's sordid story drew us first—the thing that draws everybody, the murder and mayhem— but something else kept us coming back, some whisper of a real, half-formed little person underneath all those screaming headlines.
It's a sad fact of Catherine's story that if she hadn't disappeared in 1913, she would never be thought of in 2013. Her tragedy made her famous in her time, and the failure of her family and town to find her keep her remembered in ours, to the poor extent she is remembered. For Catherine, happier outcomes would have meant oblivion in an entirely different way.
There is no body buried at the gravesite we'll be visiting. If there were, we would not be leaving flowers there. We'll do so knowing what small recompense that is.