Marie: You know, any month that starts with a Day of the Dead is sending you a message that things are going to get worse before they get better. I don’t know about you in California, but out here in Chicago, the days are certainly getting gloomier. You get one or two days of Indian summer (like today), then slap! Dark, cloudy days with intermittent cold rain come to stay. Thanksgiving, reminding us of the harvest, will be only a momentary respite. Then again, all that cloudiness does make everything look more mysterious. ’Tis the season of the grim and things dying, only to be reborn in spring.
Michael: Mmmm-hmmm. And that brings something to mind. As Dan Ackroyd asked in Twilight Zone: The Movie in those memorable first and last scenes, “Do you want to see something really scary?” Try a Haunted House, a staple of Halloween and of all things spooky.
Recently, Yahoo.com posted pictures and stories of 10 “real life” Haunted Houses from around the country. Now, is it me, or are the pictures of Franklin Castle in Cleveland, Ohio and the McPike Mansion in Alton, Illinois simply eerie to look at?? Especially the McPike Mansion, once known as Mount Lookout. So scary and spooky the picture was probably taken by a ghost. It was left derelict for a long time and virtually all of its luxurious appointments were looted, like the marble on the 12 fireplaces, the intricately carved wooden banisters, even the toilets. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, you know.
Marie: And, unfortunately, on Landmarks Illinois’s most endangered buildings list for 1998. The current owners had intended to turn it into a hotel but have never been able to raise enough money to properly renovate it. So even though it’s smack in the middle of town, it’s still kind of derelict-looking, which really heightens the atmosphere. In fact, it’s located kitty-corner across the street from an abandoned quarry, which is kind of creepy in itself. Hope the ghosts like it.
Michael: BTW, Franklin Castle, aka the Hannes Tiedemann House, was supposedly being renovated into a private club a few years ago. Imagine: having spirits among the spirits, Gin and Tonics amid the ghouls …
Marie: Whoa. Sorry, I’ll take my cocktails with the currently living, thanks! Besides, that turned out to be a complete sham, and the next guy who was renovating it got a 30-day condemnation order in 2010 and had huge unpaid bills. Sounds like a bad-luck house. But the house and coach house did get sold to some outfit called Oh Dear! Productions LLC (sounds like either a ghost tour organizer or a porn producer, doesn’t it?) on August 26, 2011 for $260,000, according to local media reports. The new owners, whose company was incorporated in Delaware just before the sale, did get a permit for exterior renovation and debris removal, and the property is on the National Register, too. So: you’d think they’d want to give the poor house a real makeover after all.
Michael: Still very spooky, though.
Marie: You bet, and it’s not just you. Even in daylight, these buildings are altogether ooky, as the Addams Family theme song says. Unsettling. Which, I think, is the point of a haunted house: to shake us up a little and make us think about what unnerves us and why, possibly to give us an opportunity to overcome those fears. But not always. Usually, there’s a pretty good reason for primal fears; they’re part of our survival instincts. If a weird-looking house is giving you bad vibes, it’s nature’s way of telling you there’s something wrong there and to stay away. Words to live by.
Michael: Well, don’t stay away from them online. See what you think of all these houses with their horrible histories, and let us know your reactions. We lo-o-o-ove getting feedback.
Marie: Oh! Oh! Wait, I have another one – you’ll love this. It’s horror novelist Stephen King’s house in Bangor, ME (Stephen and Tabitha King own three homes, per Wikipedia, including a summer house in Lovell, Maine; they’ll probably be at the winter home in Sarasota, Florida by the time you folks read this). Cool, isn’t it?
The Bangor house is so nicely kept that even on a cloudy day, it looks almost too normal to be intimidating. Almost. It has two non-matching corner towers (doesn’t the awful stuff in a haunted house usually happen in the tower??), and what looks like a weathervane. Classic. I’ll bet that old rural Victorian Gothic Revival house takes on an extra creep factor in a bad rainstorm. Yet it does have that nearly traditional horror combination of the witty in-joke with the freaky. Don’t you just love those wrought-iron gates made to look like spiders’ webs, with the looming bats flanking on the posts? Darling! In a Gorey sort of way …
Michael: Absolutely. And here’s another little tidbit for those who can’t get enough of the famous: Celebrities and their haunted homes.
Marie: Finally, since you started this discussion with The Twilight Zone, I think it only appropriate to mention an excellent book for a dark and stormy night – Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories on the 50th Anniversary, a collection of short stories edited by Rod Serling’s widow, Carol. The second story in the book is called “A Haunted House of Her Own.” It’s written by – surprise! – New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong, who is much more associated with a far different branch of the fantasy genre (she writes about werewolves and similar ‘otherworldly’ types). Nevertheless, hers is one of the strongest contributions in the bunch. She really got into the, um, spirit of the thing.
Michael: Excellent segue!
Marie: Why, thank you! [blush] My next post on spooky books, probably in a week or two, will focus on spirits and cemeteries. But yours on a certain American film auteur will be coming before that. Meanwhile, y’all be sure to check out our Spooky Films, Shows and Plays We Like page – we’re always adding more entries. Send us yours!
Bye for now,
Michael and Marie