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Zillowing Out

A $420,000 Mansion In Kansas That Whispers To Your Troubled Soul

Edited in Prisma app with Mononoke
Chris Thompson/Defector

Every day I refresh my email inbox, and I make sure to check the spam folder. I check the trash folder too, just in case. Every day I hope that I will get an email from the District of Columbia with a link that will allow me to book an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Every day, no link comes. The District of Columbia is doing such an awful job of vaccinating people (truly, egregiously bad) that I am stuck in the purgatory of knowledge that my own vaccination is imminent and that I have no idea when it will arrive.

People keep trying to give me hacks. Go to this parking lot and wait for there to be extras. Call this number. Say you have a pre-existing condition. I’m not doing this, partly because I am lazy but mainly because as much as I despise Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration, I do not think that scamming a system of precious vaccine doses will help anyone get them faster. And, after this terrible fucking year I am trying to think more about the collective “us” than about me. This, however, does not help the fact that I am still very much occupying the same couch space I have held for over 365 days.

I painted the walls of my living room green a couple of years ago in a fit of mania. They look nice, to be honest. The color was called dirty martini, I think. I was lying on the couch a couple of days ago staring at them and thinking about how it felt kind of like I was inside a leaf. That’s not a bad way to feel. But I began to imagine the walls growing around me, leaves sprouting from the plaster, the crinkling of new life growing out of the paint. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Something to think about instead of the fact all of my biggest enemies have gotten the vaccine before me? I have always had an overactive imagination, but even I know that thinking about the walls being alive is a recipe for being signed into one of the clinics where they give you sock that don’t slip and meals that come in tiny plastic cups.

This of course, reminded me of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story The Yellow Wallpaper, which I have always loved. Since the pandemic began, I’ve been much more aware of when major infectious diseases were reigning and the Yellow Wallpaper was written during the era of cholera. I re-read it—this story about a woman with a “nervous condition” who “takes pains to control herself” but can’t always—after my little thought about the leaves, and it absolutely rules. Here is a woman with some kind of mental illness, trapped in a mansion, focused on the brokenness of a wallpaper pattern, wishing desperately that she could be a little more mentally well. Thank god we have SSRIs now, am I right?

Anyway, I was rereading this story when friend of the column and current Sports Illustrated staff writer Emma Baccellieri texted me. “I have a Zillow house for your column… the wallpaper… omg,” she wrote. Oh no, I thought. The short story has come to life. My brain will soon be overtaken. But this is my favorite kind of text to receive and so I eagerly clicked. It is a perfect house in that it is 100 percent no-doubts-about-it extremely haunted.

I asked Emma how she found it, and she told me a bit about how she sank through this rabbit hole. She had been learning about Abilene, Texas, because of Abilene Christian’s basketball game, and learned that it was named after Abilene, Kansas, and this house is famous in Abilene, Kansas and just happens to be for sale for $420,000! What a perfect coincidence. “I love that the exterior of this house gives off somewhat creepy vibes—maybe haunted but not definitively so—and the interior just throws all subtlety out the window and screams HAUNTED HAUNTED GET OUT OR BE CONDEMNED TO MISERY FOREVER,” Emma says. “Obviously, I love it and would move in immediately.”

In the intro paragraph to The Yellow Wallpaper, Perkins Gilman writes that she and her husband John had secured:

“a colonial mansion, a hereditary estate, I would say a haunted house, and reach the height of romantic felicity —but that would be asking too much of fate! Still I will proudly declare there is something queer about it.”

Well. I would write an intro to this week’s house, but that’s pretty much it. Are you scared? Let’s dive in.

This week’s house is located in Abilene, Kansas. It has five bedrooms and four bathrooms and is 4,732 square feet. That is a lot of square feet. It is because this is a mansion. A fancy mansion called “Lebold Mansion.” The exterior is brick and stone, and it has a little tower kind of like a train station. I really like the way it looks. I like that the wrought iron on the second-floor patio railing matches the outdoor chandelier above the front door. I like that the doors look just like the ones Gaston breaks down with a tree in Beauty and the Beast. One terrible omen that I do not like is that the supporting columns of the porch look like they’ve been scratched at by some kind of animal.

Screenshot: Zillow

Anyway, it is a historic home, so I did some research for you. It is one of the eight architectural wonders of Kansas, apparently. Here are some blurbs from articles in the summer of 1887 (when the mansion was built), published by The Hays Free Press:

This should really be enough for you to know better than to buy this place, but some people have thought themselves better. According to the Zillow listing it was sold in 2010, and then again after a price cut in 2016, and now it is listed for sale again with two price cuts and no buyers. Could this be because, I don’t know …i t’s HAUNTED AS SHIT?!?!?!

The things I do for you people. Here we go, into the definitely haunted mansion and … oh my god.

So first, we have a little vestibule with cool wooden double doors and a nice teal patterned wallpaper above some dark wood wainscoting. OK, cool, let’s continue. Here we have an entryway that is covered in patterns. We have a patterned wallpaper. We have a patterned ceiling. We have patterned stairs up to the second floor. We have a textured floor. There are so many patterns happening at once that I already have a headache, and I LOVE Maximalism.

Screenshot: Zillow

In the next room, we have more of the same, but also some floating spooky chandeliers, and a tablecloth that looks like it might be for a child’s birthday party. The next room has a really lovely baby grand piano in it and some gorgeous light. The windows are almost floor to ceiling, which rules, but here the wallpaper is more unsettling. That’s right: yellow. “There is one peculiarity about this paper, a thing nobody seems to notice but myself, and that is that it changes as the light changes,” Perkins Gelman wrote, so we are gonna hurry along out of here.

Screenshot: Zillow

Whew, OK, here is the kitchen. It is awful in a totally different way. It has one of those fridges where they’ve put mock cabinetry on the outside as if there is something shameful about owning a fridge and it must be hidden? Despite the beautiful dark woodwork in the rest of the house, the woodwork in here looks cheap and is, in my opinion, boring and bad. But it is nice to take a breath somewhere we know we won’t be eaten by the walls. Enough of that.

Up the spooky staircase toward the light we go.

Screenshot: Zillow

What do we have? MORE WALLPAPER. Infinite wallpaper! The problem with this house, I realize in looking at these photos of the top floor, isn’t the wallpaper really. I actually kind of like the wallpaper. It is all too much in a way that I really admire. Every room is doing the absolute most on the walls and there is something respectable about that to me. To make this many patterns work together is a difficult skill! Most houses now just paint everything white and gray and hide their boring personalities behind a facade of sophistication. Not the mansion. The mansion is garish and loud and really trying too hard. The problem isn’t the wallpaper, though there really is a lot of it isn’t there? The problem is the lighting. The lighting in this house is absolutely terrible. It is just bright enough to allow you to see everything and just dull enough to make shadows in totally empty rooms? Or are they not empty?

Screenshot: Zillow

Yikes. OK, here is a … Christmas tree? That’s not terrifying. No thanks.

Screenshot: Zillow

I would be remiss not to also note that every toilet in this house’s four full bathrooms looks like it is for hollow-eyed Victorian children. They are so low to the ground, and their lids are made of wood, and they are perfectly round. I know toilets all used to be perfectly round like this, but I find it unsettling. Some of the toilets even have the pull level to flush system. I do not advise using these ones. I can only imagine those boxes are full of bats.

Many of the photos in the listing are duplicates, showing the house in different types of light. All of these photos share an urgency that I don’t like. They look like they were taken with handheld cameras as the photographer fled the scene. In some there is a bunch of band equipment (chords and amps) in a room as if someone thought, “Hey, this would be a great place for a music video!” and then realized the house was haunted halfway through and fled. Fleeing seems the right thing to do but we still have a few more photos.

Screenshot: Zillow

Back here there are a lot of rooms that are not fully designed with wallpaper like the rest of the house, but they manage to be awful in their own ways. One has wood paneling that goes 5/6ths of the way up the wall and then stops? There is one chair in this room. One of them has walls made of terrible stucco bricks and also a lamp that looks like it belongs in a Ruby Tuesday? WHAT THE FUCK. OK THIS IS THE GHOST’S BEDROOM FOR SURE.

Screenshot: Zillow

Here we have what looks like a prison cell? It has a domed ceiling, and the floors are made of brick and the walls are made of stucco. Some of it is gray and some is white. There is a terrible chest with god knows what in it sitting in the doorway and a LACE CURTAIN blowing in front of a CLOSED window. The door to this room is the same color red as very fresh blood. We absolutely must leave. There is a pattern on the brick floor and I am worried that soon we will become trapped behind it.

Screenshot: Zillow

Out we go! Run! Back up the stairs, through the kitchen, through the hallway, onto the porch. Let’s keep running. No amount of distance feels safe. Even the photos may have ruined us. From the outside the mansion is still regal, but what do we think? Is it good or bad? Maybe it’s an alright house. It would be nice to see some different walls than the ones in my apartment. “Life is very much more exciting now than it used to be. You see I have something more to expect, to look forward to, to watch,” the narrator of Perkins Gilman’s short story remarks after discovering the woman trapped behind the wallpaper, the smudges of the yellow paper on all of her clothing. But at what cost … hm? Maybe it is not worth it after all.

This week’s house has been listed on Zillow for 194 days for a very clear reason. If you buy this house, I will visit, but sadly I must go before the sun sets. I have somewhere else I really must be.