Waiting For All Hallow’s Eve XVI: “Is My Childhood Home Haunted?”

420 Front St.-

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.

The Stranger at the Other End of Front Street


I can feel the soft cool breeze blowing through my room from the Susquehanna River behind me.  I am sitting at a small desk writing this post.  My wife is sleeping deeply on the bed to my right.  I am facing Front Street.  The trucks speed past the town on the Southern Tier Expressway (Future I 86, so the signs say).  I am in Owego, New York, the town where I was born and raised.

But something is wrong.  Something doesn’t feel right.  I am not in my home.  I am going to sleep tonight in a strange bed, in a house, the inside of which, I have never seen before this afternoon.  For what may be the third time in my long life, I am going to lay down in a place that does not belong to my family…right here in Owego.

How did I get here?

I remember closing the front door of my home at 420 Front Street, walking down our sidewalk and turning left, toward town.  I started that journey many years ago.  I can still recall the little details…the little fragments of recollections that most people would dismiss as inconsequential.  But I remember.  Yes, I remember.

The first house I pass is a large red brick structure where Lester and Madeline Sparks live.  I just got through playing in their backyard.  My brother just hit a softball through Lester’s window.  Lester managed the old J.C.Penney’s store on Lake Street. His wife was a nurse.  I look to my right and see John Street…the sweet street that led to Harvey’s grocery store where my lawn-mowing nickels were spent on Mars bars or a Baby Ruth.  The street where the Gavin’s lived.  The street where Craig and Ricky Phelps lived.  I played my childhood away with them.  Further up John Street was George Forsyth’s house.  At the corner of John and Main, lived “Duggie” Dugan.

I continue my walk up Front.  I pass the house where “Clyde” my childhood playmate who told whoppers lived for a few years.  There was the old Taylor house.  Victorian…tall windows…abandonded…and most definitely haunted.  Across the street is the reclusive daughter of A. Loring, the Naturalist.  John Gorman the Lawyer lived a door or two away.  I pass the house where a woman MD practiced medicine.  She had a roll-top desk stuffed with papers and samples.  I pass the black iron railings of Dr. Amouck’s house…the best lawn-mowing job to be had in town.  He paid five whole dollars!  I pass a yellow house where Candy S. lived.  Then came the “Old Ladies Home”, the Riverview Rest Home where the short-tempered man who voiced one of the dwarfs for Disney stayed.

I cross the street and continue.  I’m older by a few years.  I chase my dog King back home.  He followed me to school one day.  “Go home, King,” I would yell.  Once I decided to run to St. Patrick’s.  I was late for class and I didn’t want to get yelled at by Sister Vincent.  I closed my eyes and ran like the wind.  I ran like the wind into a large Elm tree.  I went home, bleeding copiously from my lips and nose.  I never run with my eyes closed anymore.

I pass St. Patrick’s.  I went there for eight years and was taught to be a good Catholic.  I went into the world of ‘heathens’ (Protestants) in 1961, when I entered high school.  At St. Pat’s I fell in love with a tiny third grade girl with short dark hair.  She sat near the adorable blonde, Angie.    There was Ray Stella.  There was his sister, Rita.  Toni Montgomery sat close.  Linda Dramus and Lenny Schmidt.  Jimmy Merrill often walked home with me.  Nearby was Pete Gillette.  Pete came late into our 8th grade.  His father, Dr. Gillette was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1960, so he took his family on a motor trip around the U. S.  Across from the school was a large tree with a stone bench.  It faced the river.  I sat with Mary on the stone on bright nights and watched the moonlight shimmer on the waves of the Susquehanna.  The tree and the stone are gone now.  Mary lives far away.  I’ve seen other couples on the stone bench, they didn’t realize it belonged to two other people…but I said nothing.  Near the bench was the first Owego museum that I can recall.

I’m older now and I’m going to a dance at the Elks.  First I must pass Dr. Nichols office.  He made house calls.  He took my brother’s appendix out.  He gave me my Polio vaccine.

I’m getting near Pete Gillette’s house.  The music of The Kingsmen blared from the Elks whenever someone opened the door.

I’m older and I stop into the bar that is now John Barleycorn.  I have a legal drink.  I continue up Front Street.  The buildings are changing from plastic and aluminum facades to brightly painted shops called River Row.  I look across the street and see the Dean Phillips Hardware store.  It transforms into the River Row Bookstore.  It carries copies of my first novel.

I’m older.  I cross over to the Court House Square.  I read the names of my classmates who died in Viet Nam.  I sat in front of Gary Fawcett in home room.  [Years ago I found his name on the Wall in Washington, D.C.].

I pass the Parkview Hotel.  An old brothel, I once read.  The ladies would be there for the Irish railroad workers from across the river putting down the tracks of the Lackawanna RR.  I had dinner there after the calling hours were over for my mother, at Esty & Monroe Funeral Home.

I pass the Historical Society.  I once gave two public lectures there (with slides) in a series called “The World Comes to Tioga County.”  I think I was well received.

It’s been a long journey from the other end of Front Street.  Once I passed this house [The Pumpelly House B & B] to continue to the very end and have a play date with Emerice Perry.  I wonder if she remembers my being there at her house?

I may have brought my daughter, Erin and later my son, Brian, Trick or Treating at this end of the street.  I always wanted to see what the other houses in town were like.

Now I know.

I came in tonight.  I climbed the curved staircase.  I feel the river air and see the curtains move slightly.  I hear the breeze and it seems to be telling me something…but I can’t quite hear it.

Wait, they’re not stories…they are memories.  They’re memories, aren’t they?  Or are they dreams?  I honestly can’t tell you that some memories I have of my life in Owego were real…making it a true memory, or something I dreamed one night 26 years ago?  I am troubled, sometimes, when I have a distinct recollection of an event, or a person, or a house or a kiss that it may exist only in my mind and not in reality.

I’ve spent time wondering about memory and reality and dreams.  Maybe it’s time in my life to just let it all fade?  Maybe I should pack them up and toss them into the muddy waters off the Court Street Bridge?  I could then start with a clean slate.  I could walk down Lake Street, sit at Sa Sa Na Loft’s grave on Cemetery Hill and see the village like a tourist.  Like someone who never lived, loved, danced, sang and cried here.  I could sit on steps of the Coburn Library and not be confronted by a thousand images of my youth.  [When I walk into the library, I can still smell the crayons that the nun used when she would bring us (was it 3rd grade?) for art class.]

Pretend that it really doesn’t matter…

No, I can’t really do that, because it does matter…to me.