Sometime in 2005, I handed the keys of my childhood home to the new owners. That action was very difficult for me. This was the only home I had ever known from birth to the time I went off to college. But, even in the years since 1965, when I hopped into a car and headed for my higher education experience in Louisiana, the house was always a special place for me, my children, my nieces and nephews. That sense of ‘home’ was not just in my heart but also found its way into others. We all brought our girlfriends and wives to the house to show them the nooks and hallways and hidden rooms. See my post “This Old House” on WordPress to read more of this experience.
But, on that afternoon, as the new owners sat and faced me…before I would give up the key…they had questions. The daughter was quite interested in whether or not the place was haunted. How could I give them full disclosure? How could I tell them of the little things that happened over the years that had a meaning only to me, or my brothers? No, I said. Not that I know of.
I was telling the truth. I didn’t really believe it was haunted. But this was something the new owners would have to find out for themselves.
Another reason I didn’t say anything was that I simply didn’t have the time to tell all the stories. I couldn’t go into every odd sound, every feeling, every visceral reaction I had…not to mention the experiences of my brothers and parents who were not present to tell their side of events.
So, here, for the first time, is a short list of occurrences that happened to me or my family (who related them to me). I was present for some of these events. Others, I relied on the honesty of others.
So, was 420 Front Street haunted?
–My mother always said the house was devoid of anything ghostly but…she told me more than once that when she would go into the backyard to tend to the weeds or just take a walk to the river, at a certain place, at the bottom of a slight decline in our yard (which marked the ancient riverbank before the river meandered to its present location), she felt the presence of an ‘indian” as she would say. A chief or a brave. But she felt his presence very strongly…but only when she stood at one spot in our yard.
–My older brother, Chris, once told me that he was lounging in the bathtub on the second floor. He distinctly heard the front door open and close. Then he heard footfalls on the wooden stairway leading from the front foyer. (Years later, the stairs were carpeted). He claims that the footsteps never reached the top of the stairs.
–My three brothers and I always seemed to have a cat. One particularly fertile female, Portia, gave us litter after litter. One evening, three of us were playing with her in the large front bedroom. She loved to get high on catnip and do goofy things. On this evening we were just watching her bounce about from bed to bed. Suddenly, she went stiff. We stood in front of her. She arched her back and hissed…really hissed. I was there and I recall that the cat seemed to be looking beyond us toward the wall. She ran from the room. I won’t forget her reaction…to nothing we could see.
–We had a pool table in our cellar. It was an unfinished space so there were many cobwebs and a great deal of dust. Many of my friends in Owego will recall the games we played. Once, after making a great shot off the bank, I let the cue stick hit the floor a little harder than I wanted. The concrete floor sounded hallow. I tapped around and the area seemed solid but the one spot where I had put my cue stick was hallow. What could it have been? An old well? An old furnace pit? I never knew.
–The second oldest brother, Dennis, was born in 1942. My father bought the house in 1945. So, Denny would have been 3 years old when my parents came to look at the place. Denny swore that he remembered coming into the house and entering the living room. He insists that there was an old man sitting in a wing-back chair reading a newspaper. The man put the paper down and look at Den and smiled…then went back to his paper. My brother always stood by his memory of that day in the winter of 1945. On many occasions, I asked my father about the old man in the chair. He insisted that the house was absolutely empty. Nothing and no one was in the house the day he and my mother looked at it. He never changed his story. Who was right? Both of them?
There are other stories, small memories, tiny happenings, obscure sounds, and dreams that I can attest to. But, I’ve said all I want to say.
Part of my soul, my memory, my childhood and my sensitivity was in that key that I pressed into Lauren’s hand that day. The house is now on the market.
I’d buy it…but you really can’t go home again.