Baart was described as a short man with a big head, jutting chin, grayish, long hair, an overhanging forehead, hawkish nose, and deep-set burning eyes. This infernal appearance was coupled with a “sharp tongue” that made the priest many enemies, such as local residents Mr. Herman and Mrs. Mumaw.
Despite his demeanor, Baart apparently had his congregation’s best interests at heart with the construction of Saint Michael’s. He did make a deal with a wandering woodcarver to create a visually-stunning altarpiece for new building, but after the fulfilling his end of the deal the wandering artist disappeared and was never heard from again. It was only later that rumors spread about a supposed gift Nemo had given the priest. The gift – something presumed of devilish design – was thought to have helped Baart do away with his enemies, especially after the suspicious deaths of Herman and Mumaw.
Little else is known of Baart’s time in Duston Heights although he maintained his position for some time; speculation was that Baart could only be removed by the local bishop but apparently “he didn’t feel like” doing anything about it (Curse; 17). Baart failed to appear for Mass one Sunday morning and was never seen alive again. Local folklore says his ghost still haunts the church. The only clue to his demise was a passage from the fifth chapter of Sir Thomas Browne’s 1658 book, Urne-Buriall:
- The man of God lives longer without a Tomb then any by one, invisibly interred by Angels, and adjudged to obscurity, though not without some marks directing humane discovery.
The Curse of the Blue Figurine
By 1951 – some 70 years later after the church’s construction – the priest is still callously remembered by members of the parish, including Johnny’s own grandmother. Johnny first hears of Baart from his neighbor, Professor Childermass. Later, while snooping around the church basement Johnny comes across an artifact once belonging to Baart and a handwritten warning instructing the finder that whoever removes it from the sacred perimeter of the church “does so at his own peril”. Johnny disobeys, having been startled by strange noises and the fear of getting caught. It’s not long afterward that strange figures and manifested spiders begin to appear, cumulating in Johnny’s acquaintance with fellow churchgoer, Robert Beard. To calm him of the stress caused by his mother’s death and the relocation to a new town, Childermass takes Johnny on a sightseeing trip to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. There the terrible secret is revealed: the spirit of Father Baart desired to live again and Johnny had inadvertently become his victim. There is a struggle and Johnny is saved by findng "some marks" of humane origin in the floor of a cave.
Following his encounter with the evil spirit, Childermass speculates Baart – whilst playing around with the artifact left to him by the woodcarver – erred in his conjuring abilities and mistakenly had his body burnt to ash and somehow “invisibly interred” in the mountains [Curse; 194].
The name Remigius Baart figures in an archaic saint of the Catholic Church as well as a bit of Michigan history.
Saint Remigius (437-533) was the Archbishop of Reims, France. He studied literature at Reims and soon became so renowned that he was elected Archbishop at age 22. The story of the return of the sacred vessels, which had been stolen from the Church of Soissons testifies to the friendly relations existing between him and Clovis, King of the Franks, whom he converted to Christianity. We suppose that this was as impressive as it sounds.Father Peter A. Baart, STL, (1858-1908) was once cited as the "best known Roman Catholic priest in Michigan".
Born in Coldwater, Michigan, Baart attended school in Pennsylvania and Ohio before transferring to St. Mary's University in Baltimore where he obtained his Licentiate of Sacred Theology (STL) degree in 1880. He was ordained to the priesthood June 29, 1881 and made assistant of Holy Trinity Church in Detroit; eight months later he was sent to Marshall at the request of the bishop. A noted author and scholar on church law, his works The Roman Court and Legal Formulary received special commendation from the Pope. In 1900 the board of trustees and the faculty of Notre Dame University unanimously conferred upon Baart the degree of Doctor of Laws.
During Baart’s pastorate in Marshall the present church building was constructed (1888) as was the second school (1883) and Baart Hall, a parish hall funded in part through revenue from his recently published book. A biographical sketch of Baart said he:
- ...is not an extremist but politic and a good business man. As a public speaker he is clear logical and concise. Socially he is very entertaining and there is a merry twinkle in his eyes which tells of his good nature while his face suggests the student and the leader. He is recognized as one of the most liberal and public spirited citizens of Marshall being always ready to assist in movements for the public good.
Baart served the Marshall parish from 1881 until his death in 1908. He was buried in Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Marshall. Bellairs obviously had some fun with Baart, using his name not as a model citizen or one who lives up to the expectations of a leader in the Catholic Church, but for someone practicing black magic and despised by most of the congregation. One assumes Bellairs appreciated the fact that bart is the German word for beard – Remigius’s nom-de-plume for when he takes unassuming form in Saint Michael’s.
- Fr Peter Baart at Find a Grave