Where I grew up, everything was new. Even the structures that were ostensibly “old,” like the house I grew up in, were built in my parent’s teenage years. The strip malls all looked the same because they were all built in the same decade. The elementary schools all had the same floor plan because they’d been built in rapid succession as the town expanded. There were a few old farmhouses, but they were on the edge of the town.
It is really easy not to believe in ghosts when everything around you is brand new. I grew up believing that the prairie beneath my feet had been empty before us, that white settlers had driven in covered wagons from Tennessee and made homes not quite where we lived, but in Dallas and Fort Worth. Over time the cattle drives of the late 19th century expanded the area. The little exurb I grew up in was incorporated in the 1960s, but I don’t remember seeing houses even that old. They were all from the 80s, the 90s, five years ago.
This is one reason to really like cemeteries. Not only are cemeteries cool as hell and full of sweet epitaphs, they are a really good place to cry because no one will bother you! Because I think cemeteries are wonderful, I have a Zillow alert for the word in various regions of the United States, and that is how I stumbled upon this gem.
This week’s house is not as spooky as last week’s house (which we will never speak of again!!! All six of you who emailed me pictures of the wires with no subject lines are DEAD TO ME), but it does have a cemetery.
The house is also in Maine. Though there are no photos of this, the listing promises us that the 12.5 acre property includes a 100 year old community cemetery. Probably, the cemetery is even older since the listing says this house was built in 1843. That’s pre-Civil War! Even though we know from the get-go that this house is haunted, it’s hard to believe it. We have seen clearly haunted places, and this doesn’t look like one. It’s too quaint. The red wood paneling with the green roof and black shutters make the house look like an adorable upstate bed and breakfast. The windows all have fresh trim. There even appears to be a really nice sunroom on the east side.
But immediately upon entering, we know better. It’s unclear how unsettling these photos would be if they weren’t fully overexposed and terrifyingly saturated, but they are so we must evaluate them based on their present state.
In our first photo we have a stairwell that certainly creaks, carpeting that looks like it is made of pet hair, wallpaper that is stained with dirt, and the most terrifying thing of all: a drop ceiling. The ceiling tiles you remember from zoning out in 9th grade biology have somehow made their way into what was at one point a beautiful house. The next photo is somehow worse. Here a cool circle tile flooring has been half removed, the wallpaper looks like dried leaves, and the other wall is painted a dull navy. There are two plush velour couches that look comfortable, but you could not pay me 100 bucks to sit on them. And yet again, the ceiling! There are fluorescent lights in this room as if it is a terrible hospital. I can only imagine these were installed because of the haunting. Nothing makes a space feel less spooky than deeply unflattering, very bright lights.
Now we have a brief reprieve. A kitchen and a bathroom. Both look old, but old is okay. Maybe if we washed up the baseboards and changed the tile it could look warm and inviting. Maybe this place isn’t so bad after all.
But no. It is bad. Now we are in yet another pet-floor carpet, stained wallpaper, public-school-ceiling-tile room with a wooden stove and … oh no. Oh absolutely not. Ah shit, there’s a little doll up there. Oh no. I do not like it. The little doll is wearing a bib. It has its arms up. We have to move on.
Now we are in terrible kids’ rooms. One yellow, one pink, both have lines in the carpet that are probably from a vacuum cleaner attempting to pull 100 years of dirt out of the fabric, but could very much also be from a ghost dragging something across the room. Just as creepy is the room a few slides later that has a Winnie-the-Pooh mural on the wall? And little rock flooring? The room next door doesn’t even look like anyone finished it. There are some beautiful exposed beams on this ceiling though. Is that what’s under all that wretched drop ceiling?
The saddest room of all is the sunroom because you can imagine it was once grand. The sunroom is covered in beautiful wood. It has a stone floor. The windows let in a ton of light even with a few of them boarded up. You can imagine this as a greenhouse, a woman in a hoop skirt or (gasp!) men’s trousers navigating her way through towering leaves and tiny tomatoes. You can imagine someone standing there, watching a horse pull up with a buggy in the circle drive and running outside to greet them. Where the other rooms have modernized themselves enough to cover up these bones, this room, with its chandelier and moss on the ground, reminds us that someone else lived here, that the floorboards that squeak on the stairs have been heard by others, that time moves on even when places don’t.
This is a kind of haunting, too. It’s the same haunting that curses parents who look across the dining room table of a family and see, for a split second, their baby with peas on his face instead of their college-aged son. It’s the haunting of the past. Or, I guess, history.
I started going on ghost tours a few years ago. Maybe, I thought after a few years of living in the mid-Atlantic, places could be haunted. But what you find on a good ghost tour isn’t a blur of fog in the eye of your camera or a hair raising breeze when you turn the corner (though you can find those, too). What you find is history. One in New Orleans taught me about a handsy ghost who squeezes women’s butts, and a weeping ghost who lives in an abandoned ballroom. But it also taught me about the plague, about the atrocities of American slavery, about prostitution and liquor laws and scheming mayors. The real spooky stuff isn’t that ghosts could exist, but that our past exists so readily in front of us, that our history is all right here.
I sometimes wonder if that’s why so many people want new houses, want something constructed last year. I’m not one of them, so they fascinate me. Maybe they want the fancy appliances and to not have walls with 700 layers of lead paint on them. Maybe they don’t want to be reminded that other people have lived there, too, that private land and private space are an illusion.
Of course, no place is new. The place I grew up with isn’t new. The earth is so old. The country is so old. The dirt is very, very old. In fact, the land I grew up on (according to native-land.ca) belonged to the Kiikaapoi, Jumanos, Tawakoni and Wichita tribes for centuries before white people arrived, made and broke treaties, and selfishly claimed the land as their own, parcelling it out into neat half-acre plots with eight-foot fences. This week’s house is on land previously inhabited by the Wabanaki Confederacy, the Nanrantsouak, and the Abenaki tribes.
What’s great about this house is that it reminds us just how many other people came before us. People who thought drop ceilings were a good idea, and people who were landed gentry. People who agreed to have a cemetery built on their property and people who put up a mural of a children’s television show.
From the drone photos of this house and its land, you can tell the neighbors are close by. The 12.5 acres goes deep into the woods and runs out at the Kennebec River. Somewhere between the old back door and the riverbed must be the cemetery. In the dark, if you heard a noise, which way do you run? Everything around you is haunted. The spooky season is everywhere if you only look.
This house has been listed on Zillow for 372 days. Two weeks ago, its price was reduced by $25,000. If you buy this spooky house, please let me know when it is renovated and I will come visit. Thank you.