|This family did not live in my house. But|
they lived SOMEWHERE, in 1939...
was it YOUR house?
So what is my new special interest?
My parents' house, the house I grew up in beginning when I was seven years old, was built in 1931. It is a Sears Modern Home. For those of you who don't know what that is, back in the 1900's through the 1940's, and maybe beyond, you could actually order a house from Sears. They had a special catalog just for houses. I'm not exactly sure how it worked, except that the house came in a "kit," with all of the pieces numbered. People who had a little experience with building things... and in those days, most men did... just had to assemble it as instructed. Our house was built in 1930, and was one of the first houses in our neighborhood.
Growing up in this old house, I was always sure it was haunted. Weird and crazy things were always happening. The most memorable thing that happened was one day when my brother and I were playing in my room. My closet door was opened, and my Punky Brewster high tops were on the floor in there. Sudden;y we heard a noise from the closet. We both turned to look, and we saw one of the shoes tap. Clearly move up and down by itself. We were both frozen, staring. And then it happened again! The shoe tapped by itself! (No, there wasn't a frog inside. No, it wasn't just being bumped from the house shaking as a train went by. No, there wasn't an earthquake.)
Bro and I screamed and went tearing down the stairs, bawling. (We were only 7 and 5!) Terrified, we managed to convey to our parents what had happened. After taking a look around in the room and making sure there wasn't really a frog or a mouse in my shoe, my parents told us that we had imagined it. Actually, they told us specifically that I had imagined it... they were always trying to tell me I imagined stuff... and that somehow I had gotten my brother caught up in my hysteria. But my brother and I always knew what we had seen. Even now, if you ask my brother, he will confirm that the shoe really did tap, and we both saw it.
My parents didn't talk about it, but they were seeing ghostly things happen too. Lights turned on and off by themselves. Things fell. Once, a radio in the attic turned on by itself. Once, a jewelry box in my mom's room, which had been broken for years, suddenly started to play. The curtains had an odd habit of jumping off the curtain rod for no reason.
All this continued throughout my growing up years, and on until recently. Now, my mom talks openly about the ghost and will tell anyone who visits that we have a ghost among us. (And yes, she totally believes that the shoe tapped by itself when I was a kid. But, as she says, "What were we supposed to do? Tell our children that there was a ghost in their bedroom?" Clearly, telling your daughter that she is completely insane is a better choice.)
Recently, after the kitchen curtains fell off the rod yet again when nobody was in the room, I decided to start doing some research to find out the stories of the families who had lived here before us.
And really, that is what has been consuming every minute of my life for the past few days.
Using my free trial of a Newspapers.com account, the census records on Ancestry.com, some digitally preserved telephone directories on idaillinois,org, and good old Google, I've found some very interesting things.
My parents bought the house from a couple who had purchased it in 1943. Those people said they had purchased it from the original owners. I still cannot figure out if this is true. I've learned that at least three different families lived in the house, before 1943. I think maybe the original owner was renting it out, though.
I still haven't managed to figure out who lived here from 1930 to 1936. But I know that, from 1936 to 1939, the chief of the town fire department, and his wife and two children, lived here. The son was a teenager at the time, who was also a budding architect, and he actually designed some of the houses in the area. (Besides being the chief of the fire department, the father also co-owned the town's major lumber business, which he had taken over for his father, who had taken it over from his father-in-law, who was one of the first settlers in the historic town.) After the son grew up, he became a volunteer fire fighter. In 1946, he was riding in a fire engine on the way to a fire, when they were hit by a train. This was before crossing gates were installed. Both the driver, and the guy from my house, died. (I even found out that, to this day, the town still has a memorial ceremony for the two fire fighters, every year!)
I don't think that guy is necessarily the one haunting our house, because he died 7 years after his family moved out. But the family who moved in in 1939 has another story. This was a young family with three little boys... actually, I think the youngest was born while the family lived in the house. They lived there from 1939 to 1943. At this point, the father went off to war... he was in the navy. I think the mother and children moved to an apartment a few streets over. In 1945, the father's ship was blown up in the Pacific Ocean. For a few months, he was considered MIA, but eventually was declared dead and considered Buried At Sea, meaning his body was still somewhere in the ocean. Could he be the one haunting our house? Although his family moved out two years before he died, this was the house in which he spent four years raising his children. His spirit could have been trying to go home and be with them again.
But there is another prospect, as well. Of the families that did move onto my street in 1930, the year that the house was built, one of them was a husband and wife with two small children. One day in 1932 the father went out to work on his car in the garage, which was detached from the house. After several hours, the wife wondered why he'd been out so long, and went to check on him. She found him dead. He'd been working on the car with the garage door closed, and the fumes had overtaken him. Could he be the one haunting our house? I can't figure out his exact address... I only know that he did have a house, on our street, and there were only about five houses on the street at the time.
As I've been perusing old newspapers and reading the stories of these families, I've gotten a little obsessed! It feels like watching a TV show! At night, when I went to bed, I found myself feeling a little homesick for the town as it was in the 1930's. Back then, everyone knew each other. The newspaper published things like, "Mrs. Jones has been ill this week, but is somewhat recovered at the time of this writing," and "The Smith family has returned from their vacation in Wisconsin, where Mr. Smith says he spent much of the time fishing, but did not bring any fish home for us," or "Little Billy Thomson had his tonsils out this week. His mother has been staying at the hospital with him.."
I wish I could belong in a small community like that, where everyone knows everyone! I am sure it wasn't as idealistic as they make it seem. People were probably focused a lot on appearances, and creating the illusion that life was wonderful all the time. But still, wouldn't it be fun to live in a place where people cared about each other, and neighbors ate dinner at each other's houses all the time, and if you were sick people came and checked in on you?
Maybe I was born in the wrong decade!