That Creepy House in Your Neighborhood

It’s October and even though 2020 has been a nightmare, it’s my annual month to blog about the creepy in genealogy.  Last week, I wrote about my new neighbors and this week, I got another new set as a family moved into the rental next door. 

When you were a kid, I bet there was a house in your neighborhood that the older kids told you was haunted or where a witch or a monster lived.  In my memory, there were two homes that I was warned to stay away from late at night.  (In reflection, I was never let outside late at night so why in the world I would be afraid is beyond me today.)  

The first house supposedly had been used during the Civil War as part of the underground railroad.  Late at night, anguished crying was heard coming from the basement.  

The second house, though, was only two homes east of my grandparent’s house.  It was on the main road, route 6, and set far back from the street.  The small front yard was overgrown with vegetation and even midday from the sidewalk, you couldn’t really see a house.  My one year older than me neighbor, Carol, insisted that monsters lived there and would eat children.  She heard this from her older wiser brother, Tony.  She dare another neighbor, Raymond, and I with walking up the front door and knocking on it.  We must have been about 8 or 9 years old.  I took the challenge but only got a few steps toward the house when I turned and ran back to the safety of my friends.  Raymond got about as far as me and also turned back.  When we challenged Carol to do it, she shrugged and said she wasn’t stupid and wouldn’t take the risk.  

Just like holding our breaths when we passed a cemetery (ironic, isn’t it, as genealogists we certainly don’t do that now!), we’d stop breathing when we rode our bikes or roller skated past the house.  Later that summer, on the wooden telephone pole on the south side of the sidewalk, a nail had been driven into the pole and lots of leaflets hung down.  I ripped one off to read it with my friends but we didn’t understand most of what we were reading.  We decided it was dangerous so we ripped all of the papers down and debated what we would do with them.  Should we leave them on the ground?  That was littering and not good.  Should we take them and throw them in a garbage can?  But if they had a spell on them we would be transferring it to our home.  Guess it never occurred to us to walk around the block, down the alley and place it in the spooky home’s own garbage cans.  We opted to leave the papers on the ground.  

Shortly after, my mother somehow got wind of what we had done.  Perhaps our next door neighbor, Mr. Bauer, had spotted us or our loud arguing over what to do had alerted her that something was up, since no one had air conditioning in those days and everyone knew everyone else’s business.  I was so proud of myself for fighting “evil” I told my mother I had ripped down a pamphlet and it was from the monster and we were stopping others from getting eaten.  I remember the pained look on my mom’s face.  She told me I must go back, pick every pamphlet up and put them back where I found them because there was this law that said there was free speech and I was breaking it.  Huh?!

I didn’t like disappointing my mom and now I was afraid as my friends weren’t with me for back up on my newest quest.  I tried to get out of it by saying I would do it after lunch.  Mom said no lunch until I did the right thing.  I told my mother if I never came back for lunch it was because the monster ate me.  She told me, as she had many times before, no monster was going to do that.  She said she would accompany me and I immediately felt better.

I picked up all the papers though some had blown into the street.  She retrieved those.  We tidied them up and I couldn’t reach the nail nor did I have the strength to punch the paper through the head.  She ended up doing that for me; one pamphlet at a time.  We then went home for lunch.

Over lunch, mom asked me why I thought monsters lived there.  I related Carol’s story.  She told me that two people lived there, an elderly widow and her invalid son.  We should respect their delicate condition.  After lunch, she told my friends the same thing. 

Carol must have told her parents as the next day she told me that her parents said my mom was liar and that the family were monsters.  Calling someone else’s mom a liar was fighting words and things got heated.  We didn’t come to blows but we did huff off mad at each other.  

At home, I told my mom what happened and she laughed.  I saw no humor in the situation.  I wanted her to tell Carol’s parents they were liars.  My mom sat me down to explain that people have different views of life and that Carol’s parents had fled Spain’s dictator, Franco, just a few years earlier and that they would consider a Socialist sympathizer a monster which evidently, was what was on the pamphlets.   That afternoon my mother explained political systems.  Prior to then, my understanding was democracy was best and per the the nuns in school, we should always thank God for not being raised in communist Russia because there, the government made children tell on their parents who prayed at home and the parents would be killed.  

So before I start getting hate mail, my mother was a staunch Republican.  Those long dead nuns probably wouldn’t be happy with me for thanking God that my mom didn’t live to see the current state of the world but that’s really what I’m most glad for this week.

Today, I live between two families who are strongly supporting opposing candidates.  My neighborhood is up in arms over one of the signs that has a word I would not publish in my blog and is visible to children who play in the park across the street.  Others are saying it’s free speech. The neighborhood association rules prohibit political signs but the board refuses to act.  

When the world gets to be too much, I find solace in genealogy.  I always get insight from those dusty records and the lives of the deceased.

I decided to do some genealogical sleuthing to discover info about the occupant “monster” from my childhood neighborhood.  It was a good way to take a break from my own brick walls (had a major disappointment that I’ll share in the future, sigh) and learn a little bit more about the people I knew as a kid.  

I approached the task the same way I would with a client; writing down everything I did know.  Using Google maps I got the address.  Looked at the property tax records which wasn’t very helpful since the family I was searching was long gone.  From previous experience, I know that most of the city records are missing; when the city went into foreclosure the county requested the property records but not all were delivered according to county officials.  The city officials dispute that (of course). I would also have tried to check the vertical file at the library but unfortunately, the city has shuttered all of their libraries due to financial difficulties.  

Using online sources only, I began to investigate the family residing in the home.  Census, death certificate info, immigration records and family tree information gave me additional information to ponder.  I never met the family that lived in that house in the 11 years I lived two houses away.  I now have a greater insight on them; they really did have a difficult life.  

Maybe the answer is praying that more people take the time to learn from the past so we can all have a harmonious future.

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