October 29, 2002

The Coffin House

Our first home was a 100 year old oddity of a house, built it was said by a retired captain of a tall-masted ship. The house reflected his nautical past in its construction. Later, a well-known painter owned the house, and modified it to suit her need for studio light by opening up a 4' x 16' space in the livingroom ceiling. This was framed up through the attic and extended in a box of equal dimensions four feet above the roof. The resulting box above the roof was glassed in on the two long sides to allow natural light into what was her studio, and covered with a rounded cap, like the top of a loaf of bread.

By the time we purchased the house, it had seen countless renovations and changes, and the large box on the roof had been painted over with black roofing tar. The glass was dark and the livingroom ceiling no longer opened up into the former skylight.

Not long after moving in, we began to notice cars stopping on the street pointing towards the roof with great interest; and people taking pictures of the house almost every day. We soon learned that the house was considered by the townspeople now for decades to be haunted. The coffin-like boxed-in skylight was widely known to contain a body, and/or treasure, depending on which story you heard. Our house was known by everyone as "The Coffin House". It was local custom that, when a school bus passed our house, all the children would duck down in their seats, because it was bad juju to look at it.

And some, at Halloween, you can imagine the mixed emotions of trick-or-treaters that would hesitatingly step up on our porch along the much-traversed sidewalks of one of the more candy-rich parts of town. Many kids would not come up, even for treats. And then, I guess I might have made matters worse.

As a biologist, I had access to pickled pig hearts, imbalmed cats, and a real human skull and skeleton. I got creative with the resources at hand. Poor kids. They'd finally get enough nerve up to come on the porch, and, well, I suppose I might have gone a little bit too far-- in the name of keeping up our reputation as a haint. As a result, over the years, we kept less and less treats on hand, because our visitor count fell off more and more from one Halloween to the next.

I regret to report that years later after we sold the old place, the skylight was restored to its former state. Neither treasure nor corpse was discovered. But I hear it is still the tradition for kids in town to duck and cover when riding past in the school bus. Just to be on the safe side, you understand.

Posted by fred1st at October 29, 2002 06:26 AM

Fred: Would this be the place you lived in when I first came to WCC, before you moved out to the farmhouse (Fall semester 1980)? I don't remember too much about it except that it was big and seemed to have a lot of "character." I like houses like that.

This year for Halloween I want to answer the door in a full ninja outfit...short sword, black cowl, the whole bit. "If you can snatch the gummi bear from my hand, grasshopper, you will gain wisdom."

Posted by: Curt at October 29, 2002 10:24 AM

Yep, Curt...that's the one. The old rambler on Withers Road...spring '81 when we finally sold it. I remember our first visit to that venerable old road, asking "what are those rocks out in front of the houses for?". They were stepping rocks hewn from locally-quarried limestone, left over from horse and buggy days, to help get folks onto horses and into buggies. City kid. What did I know?

Posted by: fredf at October 29, 2002 11:00 AM

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