Life in our Foothills October 2023 – Echos of the Past – Spirits of Abandoned Houses
Published 2:28 pm Monday, October 30, 2023
“Whenever I walk to Suffern along the Erie Track
I go by a poor old farmhouse with its shingles broken and black.
I suppose I’ve passed it a hundred times, but I always stop for a minute
To look at the house, the tragic house, the house with nobody in it.
I never have seen a haunted house, but I hear there are such things;
That they hold the talk of spirits, their mirth and sorrowing.
I know this house isn’t haunted, and I wish it were, I do;
For it wouldn’t be so lonely if it had a ghost or two.”
…….“The House With Nobody In It” by Joyce Kilmer
It’s the time of year we talk about haunted houses, the scary kind that are rumored to be haunted, or the commercial haunted houses, set up just before Halloween for people who enjoy screaming when a man-made ghost or goblin jumps out at them. I must admit I’ve never been one for that type of thrill. I scare too easily and never forget. I remember the first scary movie that I watched on a neighbor’s TV. I was about six. It was called “The House Of The Thirteenth Guest,” and it still gives me nightmares.
But the house in Joyce Kilmer’s poem isn’t inhabited by floating ghosts that “ go bump in the night.” It’s a sad, forlorn house once filled with laughter and love. It’s a house that sheltered a family; a safe, warm place that someone once called “Home Sweet Home.”
I often pass these houses driving down back country roads. They exude a certain character that calls out, saying, “I was loved once.”
I like to imagine the spirits still embedded in the walls and floors. Did a mother sing her swaddled baby to sleep? Did a father help build the house to secure his growing family? Did children gather around the stove and kitchen sharing meals and chatter? What sadness happened in the house? Is furniture still inside that witnessed the lives and loves of the family? What about pots and pans and dishes? Was there a child’s bed where a fever moved in and took a child away?
And why is it abandoned? What happened to the last person living there? Did they just desert one day, packing up a battered suitcase, catching a bus? Or maybe greener pastures were down the road and it was time to move on. Did the last owner die in old age, leaving no one to take ownership?
I’m often reminded of our old family house in the hills of Pennsylvania. My great-grandmother lived there raising children. Her husband died young and she made a living selling eggs from her chickens and farming some of the land. The old house was empty most of the year, sitting on the hillside, overlooking fields and trees. Each summer for several years, we would find ourselves driving up a bumpy, dirt road, past the family cemetery, to spend a week or two in the old house. We didn’t know the spirits but we felt them.
The house had no electricity or running water. We pumped the water in the yard, using the same handle the many generations before us did. We searched out the square-headed nails in the boards that held the house together, hammered by long-ago ancestors. An old cushioned rocker displayed the worn seat cover, accompanied by an oak side table with a green candy dish that was quickly filled with the same style of pink peppermint candies enjoyed by the old-timers.
For more than a hundred years, oil lamps lit the night’s darkness and a wood stove provided warmth in the cool mountain air. When we played old hymns on the piano in the parlor and sorted through the stereoscopes with scenes like Niagara Falls and the unexplored wild west, we would be experiencing the same joys as the children of an earlier time growing up in these rooms. We would imagine weddings and funerals happening in the old parlor and wonder about the clothes and styles they wore.
Eventually, the house burned down, taking the antiques, and memories with it. Today the pump still flows with cold water, the outhouse still stands and a stone outline shows through the mossy grass outlining the base of the old house. Maybe this is why Joyce Kilmer’s poem has always spoken to me. Maybe I feel the spirits resting in these abandoned houses.
There are locations that are famous for being haunted. If you are searching nearby for renowned ghosts, plan your Halloween with a trip to the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia, S.C. Before becoming the museum, it was occupied by Columbia Mills Co., which was notably the first textile mill ever to be powered by only electricity.
It’s known for a ghost called Bubba. According to the retelling, watch out for him when the elevator doors open on the 4th floor.
Perhaps a Halloween visit to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville will bring forward George Vanderbilt’s image. Many believe that the founders of the Estate haunt the home and have reported seeing a “shadowy figure,” believed to be George, in the Estate’s library, and others have reported his wife, Edith, whispering “George” through the halls. Workers and visitors to Biltmore have heard sounds of clinking glasses, laughter, music and splashes from a swimming pool that is now empty. I will admit to experiencing chills whenever I walk past the swimming pool in the basement of the estate.
Maybe an afternoon Halloween picnic at The New Salem Church Cemetery in Taylors, South Carolina, would provide a paranormal experience. Visitors have reported unexplained moving lights, voices, temperature anomalies, eerie feelings, touches from something unseen, and other strange phenomena.
On a cool October Day, when trees and bushes are sporting their fall clothes, I might go on a haunted house hunt. But not to a scary house filled with skeletons, witches and eerie sounds. I’ll drive some old roads, searching for those abandoned houses that Kilmer describes in his poem.
“Now a new house standing empty, with staring window and door,
Looks idle, perhaps, and foolish, like a hat on its block in the store.
But there’s nothing mournful about it; it cannot be sad and lone
For the lack of something within that it has never known.
But a house that has done what a house should do,
A house that has sheltered life
That has put its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby’s laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight when it’s left alone, that ever your eyes could meet.”
……Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918) was an American writer and poet mainly remembered for a short poem titled “Trees”, which was published in the collection “Trees and Other Poems” in 1914. He was killed in 1918 in France while serving in the Great War.