Bringing Life To An Unloved House
I was only ten when this happened and time has a way of solidifying details. I am not sure anymore how much of it was childhood imagination and what was real.
Children have a special way of looking at things as they transpire. I have spoken about this with my family and they all seem to agree something did happen in that house although we have different memories of it.
I have told this story over and over again, it's a favorite at my children's Halloween parties and around campfires. So the details I have repeated time and time again, but I must admit that although I remember the story word for word, my actual memory of these events is foggy. It's been so long since we lived in that house on North Road that I am now unsure just how much of it really happened.
There are only two things of which I can be totally sure of:
1) I believe whole heartily that every word of what I write is true.
2) the absolute and utter fear that sucked the very air from my lungs was very real.
It started one crisp fall day, those kind of upper New York State days where the sun is warm and the ground is cold. We were to meet the owner of an old house around the back in the circular driveway. An old house is just what my parents were looking for, an old house that needed work. The house sat on a couple of neglected acres of land surrounded by horse pastures.
There was an ancient milk house and a barn. Weeds had taken over what was left of the apple orchard and a bamboo garden had grown into a jungle on the side of the house. And then there were the lilacs that were as tall as the house, hundreds of lilacs surrounded the perimeter of the house, over grown and twisted with gnarled elbows and knuckles.
The owner was a farmer. He explained he had recently purchased the property for the horse pastures and had no need of the house, that is why it was so cheap. It was in need of work he said. The upstairs was gutted by fire not once but three times and the damage is now showing.
The property was old; as a matter of fact they did not know the exact date it was built. There is a map in a museum down town that was made when the area was first settled and this house was listed on that map. The map was dated 1620. And just before the owner left he said, "Oh and its haunted. No matter how many times I go back into the house to turn out all the lights, the next morning there will be a light burning. So I gave up and left a light on for the ghost."
We all just chuckled at that, including the owner.
The house looked like an abandoned shack, but here and there you could see evidence of its grandeur that must of shined at one time. There were huge Corinthian pillars leaning against the arch of the attached carriage house and a doorbell on the front door that was hand operated. When you twisted the knob it made a sweet bwrrring bwrrring.
The house had two kitchens, one for winter and one for summer. And there was a maze of bedrooms in the charred remains of the second story. And later after we had moved in we found hidden behind a wall a hoop skirt and shoe polish. We also found while peeling wall paper off the wall, the only room to escape the touch of the fire, that the very last layer must have been as old as the house itself. It was hand painted with grand sailing ships with billowing sails and someone's name listed below each ship. They reminded me of pirate ships.
The house was a historic treasure just waiting to be brought back to life and that is just what my parents intended.
We didn't move in right away, the house was unfit to live in. So we spent those fall days cleaning up and tearing down, rebuilding what was necessary to simply live in the house. It was in those early days that the first impression of a ghost entered our mind.
It was my older sister Leslie and myself that encountered something unearthly about the place. We were working hard, clearing out the centuries of junk that had accumulated in the abandoned house. Leslie and I were assigned to cleaning out the summer kitchen. We wore our heavy jackets as the house had yet to have a heating system installed. I followed my sister from box to box and refused to be left alone in the room for even a moment. Annoyed that her little sister was following her around she scolded me and told me to stay put. She would be right back for the next load of junk to be hauled out.
While she was gone a terrible dread came over me. It filled my chest and made it impossible to breath. In my haste to leave, for leave I must, because I just knew if I stayed a moment longer in that room alone, something horrible would have happened to me. I ran headlong into my sister rushing back into the room. She too felt afraid to be left alone and she said it was far too cold in the room, even with our jackets on.
A few nights later we drove over to the house after school. It was just beginning to get dark. My father had been there all day long working on the summer kitchen which was to be made into a family room. He worked pulling the crumbling horsehair plaster down and replacing it with drywall. He called us girls over to see what he discovered behind the wall that faced the carriage house.
It was a door.
At first he thought it simply went to the carriage house but he was mistaken. It opened up to a set of winding stairs leading to a room hidden above the carriage house. The window had long ago been boarded over with clapboard and the entrance sealed off. So it was impossible to tell the room was there from the outside. There were no electric lights up there so he handed us a couple of flashlights and sent us up to explore the treasures that were piled in the dust.
The room was completely dark except for a few stray shafts of twilight filtering in through the slats of the clapboard that covered the sole window. We could make out the remains of a threadbare oriental carpet that must have been beautiful at one time and the shadowy outline of an ancient wicker rocking chair.
In the far corner was a make-shift table made from and old door laid across the wooden frame of a very small bed. On the table were stacked hundreds and hundred of newspapers all dating from the 1860's and buried in the black dust we also found old school books with scrawling calligraphy. We were awed at our discovery and soon lost in the pages & pages of ads of hoop skirts and medicines that cured all.
We must have spent a good hour up there going through all the marvels when we heard it. Out of the dusty and black silence came a shrill sound, one that I will never forget. It broke through the thickening air as if it were fighting to be heard. It was so crisp and clear. It was the sound of a baby crying. Not just a typical infants whine but a true wail, a horrible scream as if the child were dying. We froze were we stood, all of us looking to the other to confirm what we were hearing.
After seeing the pale wide-eyed look on my little sister Kerrie's face, it was I who spoke first, "Did you hear that?" She only nodded once before breaking her frozen stance and rushing for the stairs with both Leslie and I close behind, pushing ahead of the others so that we would not be the last one in the room. When we got to the end of the stairs my father was there wanting to know what all the commotion was about. He of course didn't hear anything and thought we were all quite nuts.
That was only the beginning of two years of pure fright living in that house.
Soon after we moved in things began to happen. We would leave for school only to return in the afternoon and find our rooms had been ransacked as if someone were looking for something, yet we found no evidence of an intruder.
We would hear what sounded like cannon ball rolling across the attic floor and loud bangs as if something large fell in empty rooms.
At night my sister and I would hear a swooping whispering noise right in our ear. It sounded as if a million people were trying to speak at once.
The bathroom door refused to stay closed and lights would suddenly turn themselves on, not just turn on but the switch would be in the on position as well.
I began to hear footsteps around my room at night and my aunt who came to visit was kept up all night by the kitchen cabinets opening and then slamming shut.
Once while lying in bed I felt an odd sensation under the pillow beneath my head. So I sat up and looked to see what it was. The pillow was moving as if someone were laying on it and tossing and turning.
My dolls would move across the dresser at night. Once we tested the spirit and placed a doll facing the door to our room. Then all my sisters and I turned our backs and stood side-by-side well away from the dresser. We asked the spirit to prove that it was indeed the spirit that was moving the dolls and not one of us. It obliged willingly. We heard a harsh scraping noise move across the dresser and when we turned around, the doll was now facing us.
We told our mother of how the ghost did what we asked and she jokingly said out loud "Okay if this house is haunted then shut the bathroom door". The bathroom door slowly closed. "Turn on the light." The light flipped on. Amazed and not sure of what to make of it, my mother refused to talk about it.
Once while playing out the back, my sister and I saw through the window a massive red ball of light moving about in the summer kitchen and then disappear through the floor.
We had a dog who refused to come inside. Once I got home from school to find I was the only one home. Terrified to be alone in the house, I tried to coax her in but she refused and stood at the door whimpering.
Our cats disappeared one by one. My friends made excuses why they didn't want to spend the night. None of us kids would sleep alone and no one wanted to be alone in the bathroom.
One foggy winter evening, I saw something strange. I saw a young man standing in our back yard. He was only there for a split second as car headlights moved past him. He was dressed in heavy wool trousers with suspenders and an old fashioned white linen shirt. He was leaning against a fence post. He was very handsome. He had sunny blonde hair and amazing blue eyes. He looked very sad and was starring at the house. He faded before my eyes.
One day I was out back playing in the milk house. It had a small-unglazed window in the back. I was by myself and was expecting my siblings to come out and join me at any time. I heard a shuffling of leaves in the lilac trees behind the small building. I asked out loud who was there, fully expecting my little brother to jump up and scare me. But there was no answer, so I went back to playing. After a few seconds I heard it again. It was a soft shuffle right outside the back window. Again I asked who was there, still nothing. Then I heard it, a small child speaking with adult voices in the background. There was a lot of commotion and I could only make out what the child was saying. My heart raced at what I heard. Over and over again he repeated his question, getting louder and more panicked as he repeated "Is it dead yet, IS IT DEAD YET, IS IT DEAD YET?." And then the sounds faded and only the wind in the lilacs could be heard. I ventured to peer through the opening of the windows, nothing only the lilacs.
One final thing happened before we moved. It was only my mother and little sister home. Kerrie was only about 4 or 5 years old. My mother was getting ready for work and Kerrie was to be dropped off at daycare. While my mother was getting dressed my sister was in the shower. Being that all of us were afraid to be in the bathroom by ourselves my mother left the door open for her. She was putting the finishing touches on her make up when she heard my sister screaming. "A terrible scream" She said, "One a mother never should hear." She rushed to find out what the matter was but found the door not only shut but also locked. She ran to find a coat hanger to pry open the lock, but when she got back my sister had stopped screaming and the door was now unlocked. She found the light switch off and my sister huddled in the far corner of the shower sobbing. "There was man in here." She whimpered. "He turned off the light and he had an axe."
I don't know what prompted our move. I don't believe it was so much the ghost as that the house was way more work and money than my parents could handle. The house was too far gone and unloved for such a long time to come back to life.
It is a shame we never finished what we set out to do.
The house truly was a historic treasure. But before we left I wanted to say goodbye. So I walked around the outside of the house, I was too afraid to be alone in the house itself. As I rounded the corner I looked up to the now uncovered window of the hidden room above the carriage house. There in the shadows I believe I saw a girl. She was dressed in a style I associated with pilgrims. She was about the age of 15 or 16 and she was holding a baby wrapped up in blankets. She smiled at me before fading back into the shadows.
My mother went back to that town this past summer. She drove by the old house to see if anyone ever finished the work on it. She said it still looks the same like an abandoned shack, but she could tell someone was living there. She almost knocked on the door, curious to see what was done with the old place and maybe the new owners experience strange happenings as well. But she lost her nerve and drove on. I too wonder what has become of the ghosts.