A Haunting Experience – the Lady Who Wasn’t There

We moved into the old, two-story Victorian house on a sunny spring day and thoughts of ghosts and hauntings were the farthest things from my mind. We were starting our life together. I stood on the sidewalk, while my husband unloaded my belongings, and looked up at the grand old lady. Ten years before we’d met, my husband had bought this house which was in desperate need of rescue from years of neglect. He’d renovated and restored the original period features. Each house was unique and stylish on this wide, tree-lined street in our small American town. I examined the steeply pointed roof-line, sash windows, white clapboard siding and the large old-fashioned porch that embraced the front of the house. I sighed with contentment and waited until my husband returned to carry me over the threshold. “I’m home!” I thought as my feet touched the dark, shining wood of the entry hall floor. And so it began; a life of love in a lovely house. (To see the complete photo of the house, click here)

“Now, there’s one last thing you need to know,” my husband said as we wrestled my piano into a corner of the front sitting room, “Some people say this house is haunted. I’ve had my share of strange phenomena, but she’s always been nice to me.” “SHE?” I demanded. “It sounds like a lady,” he said sheepishly. “What sounds like a lady?” I asked in disbelief. “The ghost,” he replied, “Sometimes she calls my name.” “Oh. Right,” I bristled, “Well, she’d better not do it while I’m around!” “Okay,” he agreed, “I’ll tell her that,” and we both laughed. That was the end of the matter, at least for a little while.

A few weeks later, I was practicing the piano and marveling at the resonance of sound the high ceilings gave to the music. In the quiet interlude between two exercises, I heard the sound of someone walking upstairs. It surprised me because my husband had gone to the Post Office to pick up the mail. I sat silent, listening. Then I realized that he must have returned by the back door and I just hadn’t heard him come in. That seemed probable since I’d been absorbed in the music and our garage was in the back garden. I heard the sound of sliding, like drawers in the dresser and a quiet ‘whump’ as if something had been dropped on the floor. “Hey,” I yelled, “What-cha doing up there?” There was no answer. The lack of reply didn’t worry me much since my spouse has very poor hearing. I jumped up and walked from the sitting room to the living room, stepped over our sleeping Afghan dog, crossed the room and went up the stairs. The house was completely silent. I strained my ears but there was nothing. “Darling?” I called in a less certain voice, “Are you there?” I’d reached the top of the stairs and looked down the sunlit hallway that led to our bedroom. Two other bedrooms that served as an office for each of us opened on either side of the corridor. We never shut any of the doors and what I could see of the rooms appeared to be empty. I walked down the hall with a nagging sense of worry. Nothing. The room was as it had been when I’d made the bed that morning. Our huge orange tabby cat was stretched out snoozing in the middle of it. Maybe he was just pretending to sleep to avoid the blame for knocking something over.

I went back down the hall and glanced into my husband’s study. He wasn’t there either. The huge desk was stacked high with papers and books as was the rest of the room. It seemed undisturbed as far as I could tell. Next, I looked into my office. There were books on the couch just as I’d left them and a stack of clothes I meant to repair some day sitting by the sewing machine. I walked in and over to the window that looked down on our front garden. A breeze rustled in the leafy trees. I reflected how much I loved this room and the life we had in our house. I turned to leave and saw that a stack of magazines I’d set on a chair by the door had fallen to the floor. It gave me a sense of relief. That must have been what I heard! Then I noticed that the door to the attic stairway was slightly ajar.

“How strange,” I thought. I opened it and entered the dusty gloom. The air felt thick as I climbed and my eyes strained in a vain attempt to see. I was nearly at the top when an unreasonable fear gripped me. I couldn’t go any further. My head was level with the floor and in the half-light that came from the slatted air vents I saw nothing unusual in the empty storage space. But there was an oppressive atmosphere and a chill ran down my back in spite of the warmth of the day. I felt as if something was there, something I couldn’t see but could sense. I couldn’t keep from feeling panicky. I turned and fled, holding tight to the handrail as I took the stairs two at a time.

When I slammed the door shut behind me I leaned on it. Back in the land of sunlight I felt silly. I both scolded and reassured myself sternly that there was no reason to be afraid of an empty attic. The sound of my husband’s car pulling into the back yard was as beautiful as a Chopin etude and, gratefully, I hurried downstairs to meet him. I told him what had happened and he didn’t laugh. “You’re not the first,” he told me, “a friend who took care of the house once for me said she woke him up in the night and that he didn’t stop running until he’d reached the railway station.” I looked into his eyes and saw that this was a true report. “Well, I probably just imagined it all,” I said and we spoke no more about it but later on I set a pile of heavy books against the doorway that led to the attic. After all, there must have been a draft or something.

Months went by without any incident beyond the occasional footsteps. Eventually I put it out of my mind as being the overactive imagination of a poetry writer. Life was good and I was making bread in the large, old-fashioned kitchen. I had just set the bowl of dough on the counter to let it rise and was washing my hands. The day was warm but suddenly I felt cold. Then it happened. I felt the softest touch of a light hand on my right shoulder. I froze. My eyes slid to the side to discover who it was. There was nothing and no one there. I felt the hand pat me gently as a mother or grandmother would have done. And that’s when I lost it. I spun around in that empty kitchen and ran right out the back door. My feet flew across the grass and through the gate that separated the lawn from our vegetable garden. I opened it and went into walk between the raised beds and think. There had been nothing there. “It didn’t happen,” I told myself firmly, “It’s just the heat playing with my imagination.”

I sat down on one of the fruit crates that served as a small planter. I took a few ragged breaths, studied the marigolds and explained it to myself. There had been NOTHING there because it hadn’t happened. It was imagination, plain and simple. The goose bumps on my arms and the hair still prickling at the nape of my neck refused to listen to this reasonable explanation. There was no way I could go back to the kitchen. Since there was always some weeding that needed to be done, I decided to stay in the garden until my husband came home from work. When he arrived an hour later I told him my story. We carried the groceries he’d bought toward the house. Our dog met us at the still-open door with a look that said, “Can you believe what a wimp your wife is?” “I’ve heard that animals react to spirits,” I said, “Why doesn’t Prima freak out?” “I don’t know, but she never has. (Here is a photo of Prima, on the back steps.)

Once, I felt a small dog run by me in the upstairs hall when there was no dog there,” he said, “So I figured the two dogs get along.” I looked at him, skeptically but saw that once again, he was simply telling me something that had happened to him. “Oh my! Look at the bread!” I exclaimed. The rising dough was bubbling as it spilled over the edge of the bowl and crawled across the counter. “You know, it wasn’t a mean kind of touch,” I said, “It was like she approved of me making bread. Maybe I was rude to run away.” I looked up at the high ceiling and spoke to the house, “Lady, I’m sorry I freaked out. This is your house as much as it is ours. You are always welcome here.” Needless to say, I threw the bread dough away.

The phenomenon of being touched never happened again. We often heard unexplained sounds and I never went into the attic. Occasionally I found drawers left open when I knew I’d shut them and I’d say, “Lady, you must shut the drawers!” then give a nervous laugh. But other than that, all was calm and nothing ever went missing. Time passed and eventually life had new plans for us so we sold the lovely Victorian house. When we told the prospective buyers that the house had a ghost, they scoffed. We felt we’d done our duty and took the money. Some time later, a close friend told us that the people who’d bought our house moved out within months of moving in. The new owner claimed that the antique glass milk bottles we had left in a decorative case above the kitchen cabinets came out of their own accord and with deliberate aim, dropped around her. Apparently the ghost that they refused to believe in chased them away with one unexplained incident after another. The family who bought it from them only lasted one night.

Not that long ago, we received a letter from our friend telling us that the latest owners were very nice and much more comfortable with the Lady. Enclosed with his letter was a photocopy of an old newspaper cutting. The new owner of the 22nd street house had written a note at the top. “Tell your friends that the Lady is very happy with us. We are one big happy family.” The clipping was an article about a lady who had lived and died in the house. The tale was sad and told us that our Lady had been a heartbroken and lonely soul. We looked at one another and my husband said, “Perhaps she won’t be lonely anymore.” “I do hope so,” I said fervently and with a fond memory of those long-ago days, I thought of the Lady Who Wasn’t There.

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