Mt. Auburn Townhouse Haunting

Nancy, OK, USA
November 2019

Like most people in their 20s, my friends and I juggled entry-level jobs with learning how to be grownups. One activity we practiced was entertaining. The birthday of one of us fell on a weeknight, and a male friend invited our group over for an early evening of cake and coffee. His name is Ed.

Ed had earned a degree in Architecture a couple of years prior to that evening, and not long before, he had moved into an old townhouse in Cincinnati's Mt. Auburn neighborhood. The house was run-down but it had good bones. The two men who owned it offered to let Ed live there rent-free in exchange for some much-needed renovations. This arrangement was in the early stages when we all showed up for the birthday celebration, and none of us had yet been inside.

The gathering was pleasant: the cake was made from scratch and good; the coffee and conversation were enjoyable. After an hour or so, I asked Ed for directions to the bathroom, and went upstairs to find it.

The house had two stories, plus a full basement and an attic. It was split in half by a wide central hallway, where the stairs formed a series of stacked Zs: You mounted a flight, turned and reversed direction on the landing to the foot of the next flight, then ascended that. The well of the staircase was bounded by bannisters that were several feet apart. In total, the hallway was ten-to-twelve feet wide. Hanging into the stairwell was a stout cord, suspended from a single, high-watt naked light bulb mounted on the attic ceiling, two stories up. The hallway was flanked by rooms on both sides. On the first floor, the hallway ended at the kitchen, which was large and took up the entire width of the house at the back.

After I visited the bathroom, I took myself on a quick tour. I walked the hall on the second floor, peeking into any open doors. Then, I ascended to the attic.

The light from the bulb didn't penetrate far into that top floor. It had deep dormer windows and impenetrable shadows in the corners and gable ends. Suddenly, I felt very uncomfortable, as if I was intruding in someone's private space, but I could see no one. My discomfort grew so intense that I couldn't force myself to venture more than a couple of yards away from the head of the stairs. As I turned to descend them, I had a powerful feeling that someone was close behind me and wanted to push me down the stairs! I took a firm grip on the banister and walked down slowly and cautiously. By the time I reached the second story, the feeling of menace had faded, and by the time I rejoined my friends in the front room--or parlor, I suppose it would have been called when the house was built--the feeling was almost unnoticeable. The party broke up soon after that.

The following day, I called Ed to thank him for inviting me, and to talk about the house. I mentioned the stairwell and the clever way they were lighting it: that bright light bulb could be turned on from any landing in the house by pulling the cord. I expressed admiration for the hardwood flooring and the banisters and told him that I was curious about what his house-mates wanted him to change. Then, I told him about my tour, and about the feeling of some menacing force watching me when I went up to the attic.

"Oh, you got off lightly," he responded. "We've invited some people here who felt that so strongly they couldn't bring themselves to enter the front door!"

"Wow! What do you think it is?"

He told me that he thought it was the ghost of the former owner: a woman who had lived there for years and passed away alone, at an advanced age. He said that when he first moved in, he, too, had felt that sensation of strong dislike and repulsion, but after he had lived there for a couple of weeks and spent some time in the kitchen, preparing meals and baking bread, he had felt the rejection soften, as if she had decided that he was doing things that were proper to do in her house, and that she had decided to grudgingly accept his presence.

All three of the men who lived in that house were homosexuals. One was a well-known local musician and was known for his flamboyant ways. The house was known for its wild parties, and it was so big and rambling that you can imagine the sorts of shenanigans the guests could get up to if they found a secluded nook.

The evening of the birthday party was the only time I ever set foot in that house, and I didn't regret that much. I would have enjoyed seeing Ed's renovations, but I never asked.

Nancy, OK, USA
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