October 02, 2011

The Haunted Question

When you live in a really old house, there are a few questions that you are guaranteed to hear with some regularity.  When we first moved into our home, the most frequent question was probably "Are you out of your freaking minds?"  Fair question.  As the house has slowly taken shape, however, that question has, thankfully, started to fade away.  These days, the favorite question is "What is it like having kids in such an old house?"  Simple answer - the house has survived 227 years and dozens of children.  It's pretty much bomb proof (bomb proof being the minimal structural rating necessary to survive the onslaught of our wild 4 and 2 year old kids).

The most consistent question that we have gotten over the past ten years, however, has concerned the supernatural.  "Is it haunted?"  "Have you seen any ghosts?"  "Is that blood running down the walls?"  OK, I made the last one up.  Still, without doubt, our house has seen a lot since 1784.  More than a few people have been born and more than a few people have died in this house.  Quite a few of them are buried just up the street from our house.  Have their spirits stayed local, too?

For the most part, Jenny is very uncomfortable with these questions.  She doesn't want people to think that our house is creepy.  I, on the other hand, love it when the topic comes up.  First of all, who doesn't love a good ghost story?  Secondly, we have had a couple of weird - but never scary - things happen in the house, and I am always curious to see what people think about them.  I've never been much of a ghost believer, but ten years in an old house is bound to make you question a few things.

So, with Halloween only a few weeks away, I thought that I would share the ghost stories of the Enos Kellogg Homestead.  No worries - there is nothing gory or really scary, no poltergeists or apparitions - just a few low-grade campfire stories of weird things that my rational brain can't fully process.

The house decorated for Halloween - 2009

Our first weird experience came shortly after we moved into the house.  Actually, it was probably almost ten years ago to the day.  We moved in to the house with major restoration work underway.  Accordingly, there was no heat, we were sleeping on a mattress in our den, and our creature comforts consisted of little more than blankets, a few lamps and a small TV (I can survive a lot or inconvenience, but it would be tough for me to choose between running water and the soul-warming glow of my precious television.  Quoth Homer Simpson - "Television!  Teacher, mother, secret lover!").  As background, it should be noted that we were not (yet) engaged in any real work on the home's electrical systems.  This is why it was strange when light bulbs began to go out repeatedly in the house.  I would replace a burned out bulb in a lamp, only to have another bulb go out shortly thereafter.  No power disruptions, no tripped circuits, just one bulb after another burning out.  This went on for a few days before Jenny couldn't stand it any longer.  She stood up in our den one evening after the bulb in a lamp burned out (again), and addressed the house (and anyone or anything therein).  "Hey, we're working to save this house, not to destroy it."  And with that announcement, the flurry of burned out bulbs ceased.  Cue Twilight Zone music.

Our next spooky story is location specific.  The second floor bedroom at the top of the stairs was, prior to kids, the guest room in our house.  For whatever reason, people love this room - always claiming that it has a good vibe and that they sleep wonderfully in it.  My brother-in-law was a frequent visitor to the room in the years after we moved in.  One morning he told us a story (corroborated by his girlfriend) about the night before.  At some point in the night, his dog, who was sleeping on the floor next to the bed, stood up and began growling at the door.  He then proceeded to act as if someone had entered the room.  Focused on whatever he saw, he swiveled his head, and watched the "guest" proceed across the room to the far side (where a now sealed door to the adjoining room was located).  He then lay back down and went back to sleep.  In writing it, this sounds very mundane (a story better told than read, I guess), but both witnesses were insistent that they had seen this exact behavior many times before, when someone new to the dog came into a room, and that the dog, without doubt, thought that he was watching someone walk across the room. 

My next ghost-ish experience took place following the birth of my now four year old daughter.  In the weeks after she was born, we spent quite a bit more time roaming the house than we were accustomed to.  Feedings and diaper changes had us (mostly Jenny) doing a lot of zombie-fied shuffling around the house in the wee small hours.  One night, trying to soothe my crying daughter, I began walking laps around our living room (the home's original kitchen), carrying her on my shoulder.  As I walked around and around, I gradually became aware of something.  I smelled smoke.  Not call-the-fire-department smoke, but pipe tobacco.  As I began to pay closer attention, I got a distinct whiff of pipe smoke every time I reached a point just before the staircase in the corner of the room.  Nothing felt scary or intimidating, but the smell was unmistakable.  It was as if someone was checking in on the new addition to the house.  As I walked the same route around the room over the coming weeks, the tobacco smell would surface again from time to time, always in the same place.  I have no idea who was enjoying their pipe in my living room, but it was actually sort of a comforting presence.

My final household Halloween stories are really just stories of coincidences that are too improbable to believe, and I have relayed both in previous blog posts, so please forgive me as I plagiarize myself. 

Most improbable was a call I received from my parents the day before Halloween in 2009.  They were calling from an auction in middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania.  As my dad was flipping through books on a table at the auction, he opened up a Victorian-era photo album.  As he looked, he was struck by how similar the house featured in family photo album was to my house.  The more closely he inspected, the more striking the similarities were.  Same house shape, similar looking barns.  A sign in one picture even seemed to read Norwalk in tiny print.  But it couldn't be, right?  Finaly, with a call to me, he was able to confirm enough details to make it clear that he had actually stumbled on a 100+ year old photo album from my house.  The photo at the top of the blog is scanned from that album, which is now back in the house.  A priceless treasure for me for the grand sum of $20.  By my calculation, that chances of this event occurring are precisely zero (mathletes - please spare me any lectures on probability and statistics, this is my story).  No way this book was not delivered to me by something supernatural.

In a similar vein, I was shocked earlier this year to see an auction advertisement for an early 19th century redware plate, manufactured in Norwalk fewer than five miles from my house, and emblazoned with the name Enos.  Around the time that the plate was made, I can find only three individuals named Enos in the various towns around Norwalk - the Enos Kellogg who built my house and who died in 1832, his nephew and namesake (also Enos Kellogg), and one unrelated Enos.  While it is by no means a certainty, this puts the odds freakishly high that the plate is memorializing either the man who built my house, or his namesake.  Weird, wild stuff.

So, there is the long answer to the ghost question.  No real ghost sightings and no skeletons in the basement (although who knows what is under that concrete floor?), but plenty to get your mind to thinking when you're sitting in an old house on a dark night. 

I'd love to hear how the rest of you old house people deal with the ghost question.  Do you revel in the chance to freak people out a little, or do you downplay anything weird?

Happy (early) Halloween!

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