Authors: Dorah L. Williams
The Incredible True Story of a Canadian Family's Experience Living in a Haunted House
Dorah L. Williams
This book is dedicated to my children, for their open minds and open hearts; and to my husband, who now believes.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE OPEN HOUSE
remember it was snowing heavily on that winter afternoon. We were all feeling restless, so Ted and I and our three young children went out for a drive in spite of the weather. The roads were slippery, and we remained on the town's ploughed streets rather than venturing onto the country roads. Eventually we found ourselves in the neighbourhood where we had lived when we first moved to town. I stared at the old Victorian houses and admired their distinctive character and charm but remembered how much work it had been to maintain one compared to the new house we had bought a couple of years ago.
An Open House real estate sign was propped up on the lawn of one of the houses. This surprised me as property in the area didn't go on the market very often. Ted pulled the car up to the sidewalk in front of the house and stopped. I looked over at him to see what he was doing.
“Why don't we go in?” he suggested.
“What? Why would we do that?” I asked, not really wanting to take three young children, bundled up in their snowsuits, on an idle tour of a house.
“I want to know what these houses are selling for now,” Ted explained. Our old home had not been professionally appraised when we had sold it.
“But we sold our place two years ago. Prices could be a lot higher now,” I asserted.
“It'll give us an idea anyway,” he said. “I just want to know if the price we accepted for our house was fair.”
Reluctantly, I unbuckled the little ones and headed towards the front porch. There were a surprising number of other cars stopping. The weather had turned so stormy that it was difficult to see across the street, but people kept arriving.
As we walked up the front stairs onto the porch, my reluctance turned to eagerness. What had at first felt like an unwanted chore began to seem like an adventure. While in the car, I would have preferred to wait with the children while Ted got a fact sheet on the house to settle his curiosity. But as I stepped onto the old wooden porch, my mood shifted.
The porch spanned the entire front of the house. While standing on its old wooden floor, I had a strong sense of the generations of people who had sat there discussing events that were now history. This feeling was so strong that I found it hard to resist going inside.
We entered the foyer. Its decoration did not reflect the age of the house but rather appeared to be right out of the psychedelic sixties. Blue and lime-green shag carpet covered the floor, and Ted and I smiled at each other in the mirrored tiles on the walls. We both knew what we thought of this style of dÃ©cor.
The house did not seem to be very large. To the right of the foyer were pocket doors leading into the living room, or parlour, as it once would have been called, and straight ahead was a hallway that led into the kitchen. The staircase leading up to the second floor, with its beautiful oak newel post, was located on the left.
We walked through the pocket doors into a large living room. It was somewhat dark and gloomy, and faced north. The roof of the expansive porch in front of its only window prevented much of the daylight from entering the room, and a large weeping willow tree that draped over most of the front yard further blocked the light. Directly opposite the pocket doors was a fireplace. Its bricks appeared to have been replaced, although the original hearth still remained.
Off the living room was the dining room. This room faced south and was therefore a bit brighter. A doorway there led into the kitchen, which boasted its original cupboards along the west wall. They must have been quite beautiful in their day, serving as builtin china cabinets. Now, however, a dull blue paint covered many other layers, and they were falling apart. Unfortunately, they were past restoring and would need to be replaced. On the north side were two matching interior doors with elaborate glass doorknobs. One door opened into a large pantry, and the other led downstairs to the basement.
The back door to the house was on the kitchen's south side. Outside was a rickety old porch with stairs leading down into the small backyard. At the edge of the lot stood a dilapidated shed that had probably served as a stable or small barn decades ago. It now appeared to be on the verge of collapsing.
After our tour of the first floor, Ted went in search of the real estate agent to obtain an information sheet while the children and I went upstairs to look around. We had a lot of stairs in our new house and none of the children had ever fallen, but this particular staircase made me feel ill at ease. I warned all of them to be careful and held tightly onto two-year-old Rosa's hand. Once at the top, my nervousness was gone, and I wondered why I had been so bothered in the first place.
The second floor was very compact. It contained four bedrooms and a bathroom, all leading off a hallway. Three of the bedrooms and the bathroom appeared to have been recently decorated, and they, more than any other area in the house, seemed to reflect the Victorian era. The fourth bedroom, though, did not appear to have been used in a very long time.
As we wandered from room to room, I could feel my enthusiasm increasing, but I could not justify it. I felt surrounded by a warmth that was strangely comforting. The atmosphere in the house was really positive, and I sensed we would be so happy living there.
I smiled as the children each chose which bedroom they would have for their own, even though we already had a house and were there only for a moment. Matt, who was almost five, was delighted with “his” room because it had a door that led to another flight of stairs up to the attic. That was the one bedroom that had not been redecorated with the others, and it was musty with disuse. It seemed to have been closed off for years and opened only now for the Open House. The door leading up to the attic appeared to have once been boarded up as there were nail holes in the trim, but now it stood open.
I again held Rosa's hand and cautioned the children to be careful as we ascended the narrow flight of stairs up to the attic. It was half finished, but rough. Although the space was not at all attractive, it was at least useable. It was lit only by two small north windows, and its walls were covered in navy blue paint. Properly refinished, it would have made a wonderful office, den or perhaps even a play room for the children.
Meanwhile, Ted was downstairs taking note of the old windows that needed to be replaced and the plumbing and wiring that had not been updated since the house's construction at the turn of the century. When the children and I finally tracked him down, he was in the basement examining the floor joists to see if they were sound. The asking price listed on the fact sheet was quite a bit lower than what we had sold our neighbouring house for two years before. Although it was not decorated as nicely as ours had been, it was a larger discrepancy than we had expected. It was quite a low asking price for a place in such a desirable neighbourhood.
I looked at my husband for a moment. and was about to say something, but stopped myself and headed up the stairs to the first floor. I put on my boots and the children followed my lead, but I did not yet feel ready to go. I told Ted I wanted to take one more look around, and he nodded in agreement and went with me up to the second floor.
“What's on your mind?” he asked.
I smiled at him, thinking he would laugh at me for even considering buying this house.
“I don't know why, but I just love this house. And it's such a good deal,” I began.
“It's a bit small for us. Besides, what would we do with another house?” Ted said.
“We could always build an addition,” I answered his first objection, and the real estate agent, overhearing our conversation, quickly agreed that that would be no problem whatsoever.
“I get such a good feeling from this house,” I whispered to my husband as I admired the original claw-footed tub in the nearby bathroom, “but those stairs make me kind of nervous.”
“Why? What's wrong with the stairs?” Ted asked.
“I don't know. I'm just afraid someone is going to fall there,” I tried to explain, but I did not really understand the feeling myself.
“These stairs aren't as steep as the ones in our house,” Ted reasoned. “And look at that oak railing. They look pretty safe to me.”
He put his arm around me, and we walked back downstairs.
“We'll do some thinking about it,” Ted told the hopeful real estate agent as I took one last look around before we left.
The children talked about the house all the way home. The girls were thrilled with the bedrooms they had chosen, and Matt marvelled over the stairway that led from “his” bedroom up to the attic. Except for Ted's initial reservations, it seemed that the house had had the same effect on all of us.
After much discussion and debate, we decided that we really did want to move to the old house, although we could not rationalize its great attraction. It would need a lot of redecorating. Every room would have to be redone eventually to suit our taste, and we knew we would have to cope with the expense of building an additional family room for extra living space. The lot on which the house stood was only a quarter of the size of our own property. There was a mortgage on our current home, and Ted had only been in his position with a new firm a few months. The timing could not have been much worse for making such a move.
We contacted the real estate agent and asked for another showing of the house. If we went through it again, we thought, we might realize that purchasing it was a ridiculous idea. One afternoon the following week, while seven-year-old Kammie was in school, Ted, Rosa, Matt and I went to see the property. It seemed quite a bit larger now that it was empty of all the people who had been milling about during the Open House. I noticed things that I had overlooked, such as the beautiful antique light fixtures and the original iron radiators with their ornate Victorian design. I realized it would not be impossible to restore the house back to its turn-of-the-century splendour. It would just take a lot of hard work. Rosa, meanwhile, had raced to the bedroom she had claimed and excitedly cried, “My room! My room!”
During the second showing, Ted saw that the house was very solidly built, and he noted the extra beams that had been placed in the ceiling of the basement to give additional support to the main floor. Even more so than during my first visit, that house just felt like “home.” We had had to move a few times since we got married due to Ted's career and had owned two other Victorian houses in the past. We had been fond of them, but I had never had the same sort of feeling in either of them that I had there. I could appreciate its history despite its dÃ©cor and felt a very odd, strong sense of belonging.
We met the owner, Mr. Ryan. He was in his mid-seventies and in poor health. I assumed that was the reason he was selling it. He seemed delighted that a “nice young family” such as ours was considering buying his home. He had lived in the house for over twenty years, and it was important, he told us, that the new owners felt right to him. Although we had once lived only a block away, we had only shared a friendly smile and a polite “hello” with Mr. Ryan on our occasional walks past his house. He did not seem to remember us, but the children had grown and we now had Rosa, so our family would have looked a lot different to him.
Before we could purchase the old house, it was necessary to sell our new home. We were not usually impulsive, yet we began advertising our new home so our family could move out of it and into a very old house that needed repairs, remodelling, and redecorating. Ted, especially, had been proud of the new house. But he wanted to move into that old home as much as the children and I did.
It would later seem incredible to us that we even considered such a move at that point in our lives. Everyone we knew thought we had lost our minds and did not hesitate to tell us so. Why would we want to move into an old “money pit”? But we had made up our minds, and it was a great relief when we found a young couple who wanted to purchase our house. The transaction did not net us all the money we had put into it, but it was close enough. With that, the financial obstacles we had thought might be insurmountable were actually easily overcome, and Mr. Ryan happily accepted our offer.