The ghost in the attic

Since it is nearing Halloween, I guess I better tell this one.

This was the house that I lived in as a child, and only until my parents divorced. It was not particularly old, 30-40 years just really isn’t old when you are looking at architecture. The house that I am currently living in (and buying) has been here since at least 1896, the insurance adjuster that looked at the house had to fudge the number to 1986 to get us insured though. Why, I got no idea. This house has been standing in exactly the same place for more than a hundred years. No storm has been able to move it, no amount of flooding has relocated it, it is pretty solid. So solid, in fact, that all of the exterioir walls are 18″ thick, and made of brick, mortar and adobe. No wolf will blow this place down. (though the 18″ thick walls really do suck when you have to replace pipes and the such, as I learned last year at Christmas.)

The house of my childhood lacked at least a couple of things. A foundation would be the most notable. The house was built on sticks that just stuck up out of the ground, there was no concrete involved. Dad paid, to believe the story I heard, $5,000 in cash for that little house. It was really a great little house (here I must emphasize the word little.)

Some time after Dad bought the house, he realized that he would need to find a way to add sleeping quarters for all of his children (technically, it would have been his lack of condom use that led to this situation) . There were actually only two bedrooms in the house at that point, the parents and the kids. Each of those rooms was tiny. Like, you could fit a bed and a dresser but that was about it. In fact we kids actually had the larger bedroom since they still haven’t invented the triple-decker bunkbed. My brothers got to sleep on the bunkbeds, I got to sleep on a mattress on the floor (to dad’s credit, he did actually nail some boards together around the mattress, but it was hardly a bed).

So it was out of necessity that dad finally decided to add on to the house. Well, not really add on per se, since there was never anything added to the exterior, let’s call it a redneck renovation. There were two major changes made to the house out of necessity (in which order they came I really can’t remember, but they were around the same time), one was to turn the attached garage into a living room. This freed up the previous living room to be the new master bedroom. That change should have meant that there was another bedroom for the kids, alas that bedroom was turned into dad’s den. Well, he called it a den but the fact is that all he kept in there was guns and all of the equipment that he used to reload all of his shell casings. It did have a desk in it, but I doubt there was a single paper in the thing. Oddly, the new living room (old garage) was the only part of the house that had an actual concrete slab as a subfloor. That conversion was pretty easy when compared to the next. It was time to build second story sleeping quarters.

If I haven’t yet mentioned that my father was cheap, now would be a very opportune time to do it. He left the garage door mounted to the new living room since he thought, and I don’t know if it is true, that it couldn’t be considered “livable space” (by the assessor) if it still had the garage door. So when he decided to turn the disused attic space into bedrooms it was a very covert operation. The water heater (no, not a “hot water heater”, if the water was already hot why in the hell would it need to be heated) was located in a small closest just across from the bathroom, the remaining space between the water heater and outside wall was a closet in the bedroom. Dad thought that he could turn that space (the closet behind the water heater), which I am guessing was roughly twenty inches wide (probably closer to two feet), into a staircase. Which he did. Much construction ensued.

The former disused attic was taking on the shape of livable space, to a point. The apex of the ceiling up there must have been five feet or less, near the walls the ceiling would have been more like 2.5 feet. A couple of closets went in, if you can call a galvanized pipe that goes between a couple of pieces of lumber a closet, that is. He did enclose the closet like spaces with some faux knotty pine veneer, it didn’t look that bad really. A family of four foot tall people would have loved this house. I never realized just how short that ceiling was, nor how small the house was in general, since I was only five or six years old at the time.

Dad expertly left the closet door in place, that being the access to the newly christened upstairs. That way the county assessor would not know that he had increased the square footage of the house without increasing its size. Problem is, my oldest brother happened to ask the assessor if he/she (I don’t remember, probably a man though) had seen the new upstairs. So dad ended up with a house that was worth quite a bit more, had to pay way more in taxes on it, but, it also had a staircase so narrow that I would probably have to climb it sideways at this point. What the hell, I got my own room out of the deal. Actually, no, I don’t think I did. I remember having a bed opposite my middle brother’s bed in the one half of the new attic/bedroom, but I think the eldest brother might have gotten the other half of it all to himself.

–In the interest of journalistic integrity I have just fact-checked this portion of my story. My mother could not confirm the actual chronology of the home construction project, nor the living arrangements after the new upstairs. Thankfully, my middle brother was able to corroborate the aforementioned timeline, and tell me that the room that used to be the kids room was now the room with a brand new Bumper Pool table in it. Later it also had a pinball machine in it, though only briefly. We (myself and my middle brother) did share the one upstairs room while the oldest brother had the other. After this conversation it all came flowing back to me.–

I can clearly remember the living arrangements. I know that the new living room predated the new upstairs. The eldest brother got the new room closer to the railroad tracks. My middle brother and I got the one nearest our neighbors. The old “master bedroom” was converted to dad’s den. The old “kids bedroom” was converted to a game room. This is exactly why they should use cubic footage when determining living space: The upstairs shares the “square footage” of the lower level, but there is no way that anyone over the height of about 50 inches could actually live there.

Enough about the house though. Now comes the oddity.

For reasons that science can not explain, we ended up with a ghost in the attic. I am a pretty rational person (at least I have become one since then) and I can’t figure out what logic would have placed that ghost there. The house had never been haunted when it was a single story dwelling, the alleged ghost was never seen anywhere except in the upstairs (which didn’t exist until 1980 or so), the house was only 30-40 years old at best, yet, there was a ghost in there. Why. Why was the ghost there?

While I was on the phone with my brother today I asked him about the ghost, he remembers it just as vividly as I do. It was a guy who looked a lot like Abe Lincoln, wore the stove-pipe hat as well, wore a red and black plaid shirt, and just sat there on a stump. Sitting on the ethereal stump, on the second floor of a house that was relatively new, this guy would either clean the barrel of his rifle, or just have an axe leaning against his leg. What I didn’t know at the time was that the way dad used a rod to clean his rifle was exactly the same way that they packed powder into them in the old days. Was he cleaning his rifle or loading it? Why did he appear to be sitting on the stump (he wouldn’t have fit in the room if he was standing)? Why did he look like Abe Lincoln (the only character that young minds can identify with from the civil war era.)? Ditto for the stove-pipe hat.

I would love to say that I saw this apparition a few times in my youth and then grew out of it, but the fact is that I never did. When I moved back into that house when I was about twelve years old, that guy was a pretty constant presence. He was never vicious, never did anything that could be construed as harmful, yet I was still horribly afraid of him. Of course he has yet to kill me, knock on wood. There was one night, as I was climbing the narrow stairs, that I saw the guy just at the landing, I was so freaked out that I left my dad a note on his door saying that I could not turn off my light because I feared the guy would kill me if I did. That note still existed shortly before dad’s death, I know that because he showed it to my two best friends, only months before his death. I was the only one that wasn’t laughing.

I have never been one to put a lot of stock into the “paranormal” things that happen. Hell, even real believers in UFO’s have to admit that 90-95% of them are easily explained away. That is all well and good. But I saw this guy either cleaning or loading a civil war era rifle right in front of my eyes, wearing a stove-pipe hat, no less. It was not a cloud that might have resembled a hat, it was an actual guy, sitting there performing the action. My brothers both saw him as well, as such we were all scared to go up the stairs alone.

The guy that I saw was actually there. Whether it was due to lights in the background making it look like he was there when he really wasn’t, that is something that I will never know. I do know that all of us brothers saw the guy, in exactly the same place, for years. He never tried to injure anyone, but that didn’t seem to sate us. It is hard to sleep when you know there is someone in the room next to you with a loaded civil war rifle, after all.

The only thing I really wonder about is why the guy/ghost only showed up when we got a second level to the house. Is that the same height that he was at when he was eventually hanged? Who knows.

I hate that freaky house.

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