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Zillowing Out

A $20,000 Small Town Church That Is Absolutely Haunted And Will Ruin Your Life

overexposed line drawing of a church
Illustration: Chris Thompson/Photo: Zillow

This is the continuation of an ongoing series about my obsession with terrible Zillow houses.

I was raised in the church, but not a beautiful one. We attended a big evangelical church in the exurbs of Dallas for my whole childhood. It wasn’t the kind of church I would later learn exists: the kind of church built to force you to believe in the holy, with ceilings so high you can’t help but look up, with art so grand it mesmerizes you into assurance that anyone with that kind of talent must have been divinely inspired. Evangelicals don’t believe in that kind of reassurance. God, they say, should be enough. 

But because I was such a religious child, I love churches. Little churches, big churches, churches with steeples, especially. It should come as no surprise then that one of my many nationwide Zillow alerts is for buildings with the word “church” in their description that were built before 1940. All of these churches are similar: they are made of wood or brick; they have a central bell tower shape; they are taller than they are wide. Most of them have really nice stained glass. 

At first glance, this week’s home is one of those churches. It is on Main Street of a tiny town called Duke Center right on the border between Pennsylvania and New York. The closest city seems to be Buffalo, which is 90 minutes due north. Down the street is a cafe at a fork in the road called Y Bar & Grille. The town is full of little wood-paneled houses, with porches and big yards. Main Street is paved, but most of the driveways aren’t. The sidewalks are worn paths in the grass. The church itself is whitewashed with dark, stained glass windows. It was built in 1900 and the only evidence from the front that there was at some point a renovation is the terrible half-screen door installed at some point. There is a limp American flag hanging from a utility pole(?) out front. Ain’t that America, I thought to myself. 

“Lots of potential for the creative buyer!” the description reads. And at $20,000, you bet we are going inside. The first photo is of a boring kitchen. It looks like every kitchen in every church I have ever been in: functional. The next photo is better. There are adorable built in cabinets, and the door looks original. There is a tall narrow window with stained glass, green on the outside, and little circle fragments with patterns that remind me of figs in the middle. There is light coming through, and though the church seems pretty dark from the photos, you could imagine a really nice pattern all that stained glass would cast on the wooden floor. The fourth picture is another angle of the same window. And then we get to picture five. Now the tone is shifting, we are in a hallway that has clearly been built as a renovation because the ceiling bisects another one of those tall windows. Down the hall, where we assume the sanctuary must be, there is another beautiful stained glass window, this one blue on the inside. 

Now I grew up evangelical so I do not know very much about Catholicism, but everything I do know makes it seem spooky as hell. Ah yes, we choose the pope with a dark, ominous cloud of smoke. We eat the actual flesh of Christ and drink his blood. Catholic churches are dusty, but that is intentional: the dust floats in the air and makes the light from the overhead windows look like it is being beamed down straight from the Lord. The air smells like rosemary and incense. All around you is art, beautiful art, sure, but art of a man being brutally murdered. None of that knowledge is really enough for me to prepare you for what is coming next. 

When I first flipped to picture six I thought it was some kind of glitch on the camera. Realtors in small towns, I have learned through my extensive experience in looking at their work, are often bad photographers. Picture six shows two nice stained glass windows, one blue and one yellow. But at the top there are some faint dark lines. Maybe cracks in the wall, I thought, when I looked a little closer. That could explain why the church is so cheap. But NOPE. Those are not cracks in the wall. 

They are DOZENS OF LONG DANGLY WIRES. They are blurry in the photos which I can only assume means they are moving. The next two photos show them from what appears to be a still in progress second story. The wires are hanging from the ceiling to the floor of the new story above the sanctuary. They are, by all visual cues, at least 10 feet long. They are so thin. They are wispy like the terrible hair of a balding witch. They might be for lights or something, so maybe if you brushed one of them you would die instantly. Honestly, that might be better than walking around and being brushed lightly on the head, whipping around, and seeing nothing, and then feeling something else on your head again. 

Photo via Zillow

There are also two long fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling on cords so thick it looks like you could swing back and forth on them. But of course you would not do this because of the DANGLY WIRES. They would wrap you right up, probably they would get all tangled in your hair, and maybe they would strangle you and you would die right there in the church! Would you be the first? It’s hard to believe so! 

Let’s move on. Maybe things will get better. 

There is a stained glass window shaped like a guitar pick scattered with some red diamonds. That’s nice. Take a deep breath. In. OK, good. Out. The beautiful window is in a little cubby which is very cute. OK! Maybe we could put a bed there. Maybe this is a safe space to spend the night.

It is not! The cubby faces the terrible wires!!! And there are a few big concerning structural cracks. Let’s go back downstairs. Here is a room with a ceiling fan, but now we are wary. We have a right to be. The listing promised us a master bedroom and this must be it because it has a closet. The listing actually promised a master suite, but where is the bathroom?

Oh no, here it is. There is another beautiful window here, but guess what else? SOME TERRIBLE WIRES. They are wrapped around some pole on the window in a little circle?? That can’t be good! But what’s worse is the shower. To be honest, I had two nightmares this week about this church and both of them involved this shower. Can I reasonably assume that the giant red stain on the walls and floor of the shower are probably from iron in the water causing discoloration over time? Sure, I could. But it doesn’t look like rust. It looks like a big ol’ blood stain. The kind of stain that Law & Order: SVU would do a really slow pan over in the television dramatization of my death. Olivia Benson would step aside to let them carry my body bag out, feel that wire brush her hair and bolt for the front door. 

Photo via Zillow

The next few photos are blurry, which is good because we are in a rush to get the hell out of here. A room with a broken window? No thanks. A room with a door that looks like someone clawed at it with their nails while begging to be let out? Absolutely not. A room with a hole in the wall and a weird assortment of metal shelves and a little altar and a ceiling that seems to be dropping pieces of itself onto the ground? No gracias! 

The next photo isn’t even turned to the correct orientation. It’s understandable. Even looking at these photos for too long (as I have done this week) make you feel like you might be inviting unwanted spirits to reside near you, like maybe just seeing all these wires could allow them to creep right through this screen and suck a little bit of your soul out through your eyes.

Let’s go outside. Do you want to go outside? Here’s a water heater. Let’s leave. 

OK, whew. We made it, and here from the side of the church, it feels like maybe we were being a little silly after all. Here is the broad side of the building with its three fairly penis shaped stained glass windows and three beautiful trees already turning red and orange and yellow. Here is a little deck made of red wood that seems nice, but wait is it? It is. That deck is sinking into the cursed earth beneath this church. 

We know better now. It may be the spooky season, but now that this story is done I will not be entering this church via photos again. I do not want it. Not for $20,000. Not for free. But now that it has haunted me, you must be haunted too. 

The haunted church has been listed on Zillow for nine days. Unlike the other homes in this series, please do not even say my name inside this church if you buy it. Thank you so much.

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