An Unexpected Discovery

Along the muddy banks of a suburban Tennessee pond, a young boy and his father are about to make a discovery. It’s mid-summer and the pair are prowling the banks with rod and reel in hand. The terrain is familiar. There appears to be nothing out of the ordinary at all. The pond rests in a modern subdivision only yards from their home, but as they plod toward a favorite point, the father spots something unusual on the shore: an arrowhead.

He hadn’t seen one here in years, though as a boy he made sport of collecting them in these very woods. Back then, they were plentiful. Back then, there was no subdivision. He picks the relic up and hands it to the boy.

Sometimes, when you’re fishing, you see things that are unexpected. Sometimes, you find things that have not been seen in a very, very long time. I should know. The boy was me.

[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]n the summer of 1902, Melbourne, Australia, was a bustling place. The territory had exploded fifty years earlier when gold was discovered nearby, sending Melbourne’s population soaring to over a million souls, enough to make her one of the largest—and wealthiest—cities in the British Empire. At the beginning of the 20th century, Melbourne was flush with people and flush with cash.

In the midst of this boom stood the Flinders Railway station. Flinders terminus was the beginning of the line for Australia’s railroads. It was the first city railroad station to be opened on the continent, and it was from the platforms at Flinders that the nation’s first steam train departed in 1854.

Today, the depot is a spectacular, two-block monument to the British Empire. You can still visit the opulent terminal that ferried Melbourne’s finest to and fro in 1902, and you can still see the water that, until modern times, was one of Melbourne’s most popular fishing holes—the Yarra River.

To this day, the Yarra snakes its way for 150 miles from its headwaters high in the mountains that bear its name, through downtown Melbourne and into Port Phillip Bay on the Indian Ocean. At the turn of the last century, it was not uncommon for fishermen to hop a train to the Yarra, depart at Flinders Station and cast a line. If an angler was lucky he might sell his catch to the fish market next door, which is to say that at this particular railway station, spotting a man carrying fishing tackle was nothing extraordinary.

Often, George Mansfield was one of those anglers.

On the 21st of October, 1902, Mansfield was fishing on the Yarra. A resident of the nearby suburb of Richmond, George Mansfield had presumably taken the train down to Flinders, tackle in hand, in search of some sport. But a strange thing happened to Mansfield as he was plying the Yarra’s lazy waters. He looked down and he spotted something unusual: a dead body.

The body, it’s said, was that of Ernest Leahy. Leahy had been missing for eight days. A boating accident—apparently a mishap while clearing snags from the river—sent him overboard about 200 yards upstream from where George Mansfield decided to cast a line.

Leahy’s official cause of death, listed by the National Library of Australia, was accidental. So, too, was George Mansfield’s discovery of the grisly scene.

The sight of a human corpse is, in any scenario, traumatic. But forensics tells us that bodies decompose differently in the water. In the water, the typically unnerving specter of human decomposition becomes even more macabre. Bodies decay quickly. Within a few days, they become bloated and pale. Sometimes, they break apart below the neck, leaving the head behind as the last hold out of a once human life.

This is likely the scene George Mansfield came across that fateful October day. It’s the kind of scene that might leave quite an impression. Records, though, of Mansfield’s account have been lost to time. However, records of another account—possibly involving Mansfield—have not.

Flinders Station is haunted, some say, by the ghost of a man carrying, of all things, a fishing pole. Some see him from the passing window of an express train. Others have watched a mysterious figure holding a rod, reel and two paddles staring longingly at the river from a fence near Platform 10. Wait long enough, they say, and he will take his gear, wander down a nearby stairwell and disappear.

The shadowy figure has been spotted multiple times by multiple passengers across multiple decades. Always, he appears lost and confused. Almost, you might say, in a state of shock. Throughout the years, the mystery man at Platform 10 has earned himself a nickname—George.

You see, sometimes, when you’re fishing, you see things that are unexpected. Sometimes, you find things that have not been seen in a very, very long time.