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He will surely be back, if only in spirit

Some people believe the spirits of our departed loved ones can return occasionally to circulate among us, to see how we're getting along.

If that's true, the spirit of Tom Craig surely will make it back to Tarpon Springs. It would have to happen, because when he died last Thursday at age 92, he took with him too many memories, too much richness to stay away.

One July day last year, I got a full dose of those memories.

All I wanted was to dissect Mr. Craig's feelings about Craig Park: the way it had evolved and how it came to be named for him. We agreed to meet there so he could point things out.

The library in the small park was the issue. It has outgrown its space and needs to expand. Park lovers want it moved from Craig Park, while library lovers want it enlarged there.

It is a bitter clash that's only gradually settling down, since the City Commission voted to build a new library downtown.

Tom Craig stood firmly against any more development in the park. He met me on a sweltering day, wearing a suit and smiling.

I started asking about the park and quickly began learning of the old days when Spring Bayou would churn mysteriously, sometimes for a week, particularly after rainy spells. The phenomenon accounted for the "Springs" in the city's name.

Eventually, engineers realized an underground river connected the little bayou to Lake Tarpon. It was plugged to keep the brackish bayou water out of the lake.

I also heard how the old Tourist Club built a red-brick clubhouse in the park despite a money shortfall. Members narrowed Florida Avenue, a red-brick street.

The interview wasn't going as planned. But I was hooked. Mr. Craig had to visit his sister at the hospital, so we met again in the waiting room there.

That's where I heard about Tarpon Springs' town marshal, Rube Jones, one of the meanest lawmen ever born.

One evening during Tom Craig's adolescence, his sister and some friends watched from the park as Marshal Jones huddled with a rifle on the steps leading from the water up to Spring Boulevard. Soon, Jones' challenger in the upcoming election, Barney Anderson, came walking home from his job as a sponge clipper.

As Anderson passed, Jones crept up the steps and shot him in the back, dead, thereby securing re-election. Later, a witness said Anderson had threatened Jones' life and was armed. So charges were dropped on grounds of self-defense.

Listening to Tom Craig talk was like riding a time machine with a tour guide.

But now he is silent and still, and today, Tarpon Springs takes him to Cycadia Cemetery.

What of his spirit?

Maybe soon, at a Lions Club meeting, a member will sense an almost imperceptible pat on the shoulder. But nobody will be there.

Maybe at City Hall, someone will get a familiar whiff of cigar. But they will see no smoker.

And maybe at Craig Park, somebody lost in contemplation will hear the crunch of leaves or feel a friendly presence. But they will gaze around and be alone.

Or will they?

Bill Coats is chief of the Palm Harbor bureau of the Times.