A couple of months before Dan and I got married, we moved into a beautiful old arts and crafts style house. He had on his eye on it for years before, being a place where a friend of ours had thrown many a party. When she decided to move out, she called to let him know that the place was available to rent. Starting our marriage in a new space was important to Dan, so we took it.
The space was big and cheap and charming, as well as drafty and crumbling around the edges. Originally built in the early 20th century to be the elegant homes of Ohio State University faculty and administrators along a small ravine, it was flanked by a lot of old housing that had been carved into apartments, where students left couches out on porches and had neon signs that said “Open” in their living room windows.
My grandmother’s girlhood home was only a few blocks away. She was happy to hear of our move, because in her memory, the ravine was an upscale, safe place. Our house was set back from the street toward the park, behind enough trees to give us a sense of privacy, but still facing a busy thoroughfare that bustled with steady traffic and yelling students at all hours. Falling asleep to the sounds of sirens and whirring cars and drunken renditions of the OSU fight song and the really bad drummer who liked to practice late at night was the easy part.
After we’d signed the lease and started transitioning our stuff to the new place, we encountered the same refrain whenever we told someone about our move:
“Really? You’re moving into that haunted house?”
It was well known around the OSU campus that a man who had lived in the house twenty years earlier had hung himself there. His name was George.
In my life, I’ve managed to sleep in a freshly painted yellow room originally intended for a baby that had passed away, the mortar basement of a 100-year old farmhouse that had child-sized fingerprints impressed into the wall a few inches from my pillow and the former dining room of a house where Daniel Webster supped with his Whig homies across the street from an early American graveyard. Moving to the site of a suicide didn’t seem like an optimal choice, but haunting potential was nothing new.
Dan had a national show at the club almost every night of the first week we moved in, so I had to get used to nighttime alone in the new place quickly. As I worked to set up my home office on one of those evenings, I heard footsteps inside of the house. Because we had just moved from a half double, where I heard my neighbor’s footsteps regularly, it took me several minutes before I remembered that there was no good reason for me to hear footsteps. I looked at my dog, who was at my feet, and my cat, who was on my desk, and felt a chill.
Strange noises were a constant at a night those first few weeks. The attic door constantly blew open. There was enough general unevenness about the place that Dan called the previous tenant to find out more about the house’s history.
“We performed a ritual before we left to set George’s spirit free,” she told Dan. “I was hoping that you wouldn’t have any problems.”
George had lived there with his wife, who died of cancer. He killed himself in mourning. Our landlord, who had lived next door at the time, had bought the house from the grieving family. Dan asked him about George too.
“Goodness, if he is a ghost here, he’d be looking out for you, trying to help you out,” the landlord said. “He was such a nice man. I sure hope that wherever he is, he’s with his wife. It would be terrible if he isn’t. He loved her so very much.”
I avoided finding out which room was the site of George’s death, but some parts of the house were definitely creepier than others. A friend took pictures at our housewarming party and later called me to marvel over the number of strange apparitions in his photographs. There were nights when I was alone, felt that chill, and, to calm my own panic, talked out loud to the house.
“I’m just trying to live and do my work here,” I’d say to the air. “If you have to be here, please just leave me in peace. You scare me.”
Six months after we moved in, we took our 10-day honeymoon in Mexico. As an added treat, Dan hired a friend (I’ll call her Laura – not her real name) who cleans houses to work on ours while we were away. When we came home, the house was pristine and organized, every corner and cranny was swept and scrubbed. She more than cleaned the place – it felt like a new home. It smelled good. It felt mysteriously warm there for January.
A three-inch hole in the front screen door was the only odd new addition.
When I saw Laura a few days later, I saw her out at a party, hugged her and thanked her for what she had done, for how hard she had worked. She searched the room for eaves-droppers, then leaned into me and said in a half-whisper, “can I ask you something?”
“Does it feel better there now?”
“Absolutely,” I answered, launching into all of the therapeutic benefits of having a sunny vacation in the gray of winter and coming home to a clean house.
“No,” she said. “I mean… is it calmer, more peaceful there now?”
I looked at her as inquisitively as I could. “Well… yes.”
“Did you know there was a ghost in your house?”
I shrugged and gave her a non-committal “Uhh… I kind of thought so, maybe.”
“You don’t mean maybe, you mean yes,” she told me firmly. “You can’t fool me, I can tell that you’re the kind of woman who can pick up on these things…. Let me tell you something, I had to kick an ASSHOLE of a ghost out of your place. I was there over two days because I really wanted to make the place nice for you as a wedding gift, and that thing was just dogging me the entire time.”
“Did you see that hole in the screen door?” She asked.
“I was taking some garbage out, and the screen door slammed and locked me out, against gravity. I will replace that screen for you. I had no other way to get back in. I had to cut it open to get back inside.” Then, she reiterated, just in case I hadn’t gotten it the first time: “Take a look at that lock on the screen door when you go back home, you’ll see it had to lock against gravity. The ghost did it. There was no other way it could happen.”
“When I got back inside, I was pissed. I told it
‘I don’t know who you are or why you are here, and if they want you here, they can invite you back in when they get back, but right now, you have to get the hell out of here. You are not welcome in this house.'”
“Tracy, I had to physically force this thing out of your house. It was strong, and it fought me, but I got it outside and told it to stay out.”
I think I just stood there, blinking.
“Once you’ve gotten it out, it can’t come back in without your permission, you know. It shouldn’t bother you anymore, unless you want it there for some reason, but I can’t imagine why. It was a PAIN in the ASS.”
I told her about George. She looked confused.
“You think it was him?” She asked. I really didn’t know. I had never been certain that the spookiness wasn’t simply in my head because of the shadow of suicide that came with the house.
“I got more of a female sense out of it,” she said. “It was just bitchy to me the entire time. She hated the way I was cleaning, she hated anything I did to the house and she just kept nagging me and nagging me.”
For the six years we lived there, the house never completely lost its creepiness, or its charm. I’d still shudder a little when I crossed certain floorboards in the attic, and make unreasonable demands on the dog to stay at my side when I was home alone. And more than one thing happened during our time there that made the place feel a little deathly.
But the random late-night noises lessened after Laura’s cleaning. When there were jostles and bumps around the house, they became easier to dismiss as squirrels on the roof, falling ice, a tree branch. A couple of bats did get into the house through the attic, though, and there was never any question about why that was creepy.