In the year nineteen-forty-six, when I was eight years old, my father bought what was then a lavish home in our small town of Defiance, Ohio. The house with several stained glass windows and next to the front porch a half circle front wall with a dome roof reminded me of a castle. The upstairs had four large bedrooms, one bathroom, and a gloomy hallway. While three of the bedrooms were sunny with large windows, the back bedroom was dismal with two small gabled windows and a door leading to the storage room with one small square window on the outside wall.
Just to the left of this door, a walled-in back stair curved sharply at the top which presented some danger, since any unknowing person could easily walk through the doorway, take one step to the left and tumble down a flight of about twenty steps to another sharp curve around a landing that opened to the kitchen. I didn’t like the upstairs. The ground floor was typical with the large kitchen, dining room, study and bath, family parlor and front parlor. I liked the downstairs; it felt comfortable and secure. Then there was the basement with three large rooms reeking of mildew and dusty air. I liked the basement even less than I liked the upstairs.
Mom was happy with the house.Dad was proud of his purchase since the previous owner had wanted fifteen thousand dollars and Dad had paid nine thousand five hundred dollars, a steal even in those days. It took me less than a week to learn from the neighborhood children why the house had been sold at such a low price. The house was haunted.
The story, according to my new friends, began seventy-five years earlier when John, the first owner, had murdered his wife Ester during an argument in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Since John was a respected businessman in town, he had no desire to confess to this murder and decided to secretly dispose of Ester’s body. For reasons unknown, John cut off Ester’s head and shoved it all the way to the back of a deep alcove above a closet in the bedroom where they’d argued. After doing this, John dragged Ester’s headless body through the dark upstairs hallway to the back bedroom and stuffed the gory form into the dark recesses of a closet that made a sharp left turn behind the hanging clothes and ran alongside the storage room wall.
There is a difference of opinion as to what happened next. Some people say after the cook and maid left for their homes that night, John dragged Ester’s body out of the closet, down the back stairs, through the kitchen, down the basement steps, through the laundry room, and into the furnace room where he burned Ester’s body in the furnace. Other people say the furnace was not installed until the nineteen-twenties, that John cut Ester’s body into pieces and burned various parts in each of the fireplaces situated in almost every room. A third opinion was that John had buried Ester’s body under the furnace room floor.
Since John was a respectable person and explained Ester’s sudden absence by saying she’d gone on an emergency trip to visit her father, no one gave the slightest thought to questioning him. Ester, however, was one of those people who carried a grudge even to the grave. When a house guest spent the night in the room with Ester’s head in the closet alcove (None of my friends explained why no one noticed the smell of decomposition.) and ran out screaming that he had seen Ester’s head floating around the room, neighbors began to talk.
Martha, one of Ester’s friends who never liked John, sent a letter to Ester’s father. When the reply came that Ester had never come to visit, Martha hired a detective to investigate. John would have covered his tracks quite well and probably would have gotten away with the crime if Ester hadn’t insisted on following him around the house every night, her head floating after him upstairs, her voice crying to him from the back bedroom closet, her headless body wandering the basement furnace room. The maid and cook gossiped about John, who walked daily for hours along the upstairs hallway. Neighbors heard John frequently screaming for hours at night.
Apparently, John’s mind finally snapped. One morning when the maid and cook entered the kitchen to start their day, they heard a strange sound coming from the storage room stairs. They opened the door, peered up the flight of steps, and found John’s body swinging from a rope at the top of the stairs with its drop-off curve. For many years afterward, more than a few people living near the house or passing by it often saw strange lights in the house when the occupants were gone or heard terrified screams coming from the upstairs.
Most people who moved into that house never stayed long. When I told Mom about the story, she laughed and said yes, a man had killed himself in the house, but I shouldn’t worry. Mom would never let a dumb ghost bother our family. Both of my parents, in their golden years, when practical people. When visitors to our new home commented about strange events in the house. Mom insisted there was no such thing as a ghost and all terrors existed only in mortal minds. Dad, a man who could scare even the devil, simply grunted in disgust whenever I asked him about the ghost story.
I, wanting parental approval, agreed and the three of us enjoyed our reputation as the people who weren’t afraid of ghosts. Teenaged trick or treaters who came to our house that Halloween, found the tables turned when Dad sneaked out the back door to hide under our front porch and moan in what our neighbors said was a good imitation of the unexplained howlings. Deciding to continue the fun on my own, I told the ghost story to my babysitters while leading them through the house to point out the places of each grizzly event. After one of the sitters ran screaming from the furnace room, leaving me home alone. Dad took a dim view of my antics, and I found more comfortable ways to tell my ghost story.
There were moments, though, which even Mom and Dad could not explain. I had a pet cat named Angel which Mom shut in the basement at night or whenever we were away from the house. Dad insisted a cat should never be confined, and he always left one of our basement tornado doors open to allow Angel a means of escape. Mom didn’t like this idea since we lived near a train track and hobos could easily sneak into the basement to sleep or steal some of our canned food. Dad grumped at those even hobos needed food and shelter and the door remained forever open.
One day. Mom as usual sent Angel to the basement and locked the door between the kitchen and basement. Dad as usual left the tornado door open. We then went to the Toledo Zoo, an all-day outing. We arrived home later that night and for some unexplainable reason, I believed something bad had happened to Angel. In spite of my parents reminding me about Angel’s easy access outside in case of danger, my worry did not go away. I ran into our kitchen and called down the basement stairs for my pet. (I never entered the basement alone.) I heard a faint, terrified meowing and called harder. Mom listened and said the sounds were not coming from the basement but from the downstairs. Dad led us through the rooms where we located the cries coming from the front parlor which remained locked except for special occasions. Mom unlocked the door, and I found Angel, trembling with his eyes wide in fear, crouched under a table at the far side of the room. When Angel recognized us, he bolted toward me, then continued running through the other rooms, down the basement steps and out of the house. That mystified Mom since there was no way Angel on his own could have entered the downstairs, let alone get into the parlor. It was Mom’s only time when she mentioned the possibility of preternatural interference. Dad insisted Angel had become bored and had climbed up from the basement through the fireplace. Even if this feat had been possible for a cat, Angel could not have done it since all the fireplaces except one in the front parlor had been sealed off Dad had no explanation why Angel didn’t leave the house via the tornado door when threatened with whatever had scared him. Mom seemed more cautious after that but she still insisted Dad was right, there was no such thing as a ghost. Angel did not return for over a week. Dad said Angel was a tom cat and toms always prowled for days on end. Mom, in her usual way to remove my fears, turned the incident into a joke with “Mr. Ghost” as the villain.
At times we had to strain to remember Mr. Ghost was our imagination, according to Dad. One Saturday morning while Mom and I changed sheets in one of the upstairs bedrooms which were rented out to the college football team, we both felt a coldness enter the room. “Winter’s coming early. Wind’s picking up,” Mom said and ignored my remark about the windows being closed. We heard what I said were footsteps and Mom walked to the door, peered up and down the hallway. Shaking her head, she returned to the stack of folded bed linen on a chair and picked up a pair of pillowcases. The footsteps came closer, and Mom, who never seemed to get upset at anything, said it was only the house settling. I sensed something in the room with us, and I saw Mom’s eye reflect what might be called fear. We stood still and watched the bed linen, piece by piece, fly from the chair and across the room. Mom grumbled and my only thought was sympathy for Mr. Ghost since Mom didn’t like to be bothered when she was cleaning house. Mom stacked the linen on the chair and again the linen flew by its own power across the room. Unable to hold my fear any longer, I began to cry. “All right,” Mom said sternly to the empty air.“That’s enough nonsense, Mr. Ghost. You are welcome to live with us, but you must behave or I will call in an exorcist.”
For reasons known only to those in the next life, the presence left. As far as I know, Mr. Ghost never bothered Mom again. But when Mom wasn’t around, Mr. Ghost acted up. There was the night when one of our football players fell over the banister to our front stairs and landed on a piano bench with enough force to break it in six pieces. Instead of waiting for his friends to come downstairs and help him, the man jumped up and ran out of the house. He refused to return even to get his possessions.
After the football players graduated and my older sister Pauline, who had been in a mental hospital, returned to live with us. Mom stopped renting the upstairs. My parents continued using the downstairs study for their bedroom, which I had shared with them, but I chose to take over one of the upstairs bedrooms to be close to Pauline who preferred the “head room” since it was the smallest and the most easy to clean. Mom warned me not to scare Pauline with my ghost stories and even though I obeyed, Pauline still woke up screaming one night about a woman’s head floating around the room. In the early fifties, people had no tolerance for released mental patients, and Dad cautioned Pauline not to say anything for fear she might be called crazy again and returned to Toledo State Hospital. Pauline never again mentioned anything about her room but more than a few nights I heard her screaming from behind the locked door. I do not know why she stayed in that room. I moved into every room up there and liked none of them. The back bedroom terrified me, and I stayed there less than a week. Eventually, I returned downstairs and slept in the front parlor.
When I entered my teens, I seemed to become more receptive to the strangeness of our house, such as the sounds of someone dragging a heavy object along the upstairs hallway or the icy coldness of the closet in our back bedroom. Every time I walked around the top curve of the back stairs, my hair stood on end and I felt as if someone were there with me. I began to question some of Dad’s explanations about the unexplainable. For example, the stain from our furnace to the drain in the floor. If it was rust from hard water like Dad had said, why was it the only rust stain in the house and why did it run from the furnace to the drain instead of appearing in spots around the floor? Why didn’t the stain grow from repeated floor scrubbing? And most of all, why couldn’t Mom who was an immaculate housekeeper ever remove the stain? Dad never answered my questions. He just grumped at my notion about the stain being blood instead of rust.
During my seventeenth year. Dad sold the house and we moved to a ranch style home located of all places next to a cemetery. The people who had bought our old home lived there for a short time and sold it for almost nothing. I left Defiance when I turned eighteen and forgot about my haunted house. Seven or eight years later, I began to have nightmares about this house.
The dreams were always the same: My husband Bob and I and our five children moved back into my haunted house and only I knew we should not go upstairs. But at night we had to go upstairs to go to bed.
Bob decided all of us should sleep in the back bedroom. I refused to enter that room and while Bob and our children slept there I remained in the hallway. Within a short time, a man began screaming horrible shrieks of agony, sending Bob racing with our I remained in the hallway. Within a short time, a man began screaming horrible shrieks of agony, sending Bob racing with our children out of the room toward me. I hesitated only long enough to see what could have been a handsome man if his face were not so distorted in pain lumber from the storage room into the back bedroom and then down the hallway. He wore rotted clothing and kept his arms stretched out with his hands trying to grab me. We always escaped the house in my dream and the house always crashed to the ground, swallowing the phantom with it.
These nightmares happened every month for several years, then suddenly they stopped as mysteriously as they had begun. Living away from home and with little communication with my family, I did not now at that time the final chapter in the history of our house.
The last people to live there, a man and his wife I shall call Frank and Edna, had moved into our home around the same time my nightmares began. Feeling uncomfortable about sleeping upstairs, Frank and Edna also converted the study into a bedroom. On the first night of the next month, the husband and wife were awakened by the tortured screams of a man apparently in the storage room. They guessed the man was a hobo who had come into the basement from the cold and somehow had wandered upstairs where he’d lost his way.
Frank ran to the kitchen and yanked open the door leading to the back stairs. Warning Edna to stay in the kitchen in case of trouble, Frank dashed up the steps toward the voice now shrieking and laughing like a madman. Edna waited, then came silence, she heard Frank scream, “God, oh God! No! No! ”Frank ran back downstairs (Some people said his hair had turned white then.) and told Edna to help him barricade the door. When Edna asked him what he’d seen, Frank only said, “Don’t ask me. Don’t ever ask me. ”The next day Frank sealed off the back bedroom and walled over the kitchen door leading to the back stairs. For the rest of the time that they lived there, this unwelcome intruder cried his hellish wails on the first of every month, the same night I had my repetitious nightmare.
At last, Frank sold the property to a church nearby. The house was torn down, the basement filled in, and the ground paved over for a parking lot. Rumors circulated about workmen having found a skull in the cubby over the “head room” closet. I don’t know if that happened but I do know my nightmares ended then, even though I would not know about the fate of our house for another two years. I can’t explain the circumstances concerning this house. I won’t even try. But I like to think that somehow the destruction of my old home at last brought peace to John and Ester.