Happy Days Are Here Again

Arts & EntertainmentBooks & Music

  • Author James Deaton
  • Published July 12, 2015
  • Word count 1,113

It, at one time, was a big deal; all lit-up and busy, out where the rich folks lived. Huge, enormous white columns on the front porch with big oak slab doors that you could see going by on the river; people buzzing about; cars and carriages going up, down and about the oh-so-fancy circular driveway. They even had Paul Whiteman‘s orchestra perform at a party in the '20s.

Now, the gigantic three-story red brick house just sits empty and deserted, surrounded by weeds, at the far east end of town. It’s just some big former residence with every-which-way cross boards that used to be shutters. But they’ve been painted over dark green so many times, maybe that’s what made them all sag, droop and come off their hinges. It seems now that only the layers and layers of paint hold them together. In its day, it was quite the showplace, all gleaming and bright; but now, after surviving several floods and many, many years, of sitting empty, it just looks like an incredibly old, big, chipped-paint, abandoned, crumbling mortar, once-upon–a-time "lived-in" house.

The locals warn you to keep your distance from it; it might be haunted or at least their tales of the goings-on in the late 1920s and 1930s could make you think the last residents didn’t end up happy.—in fact it must have seemed like the world was going to hell in a hand basket.

Of course, the biggest thing in the United States was "Black Thursday," the big Stock Market crash of ‘29 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting rock bottom. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Al Capone, the Great Depression, unemployed war veterans, the Lindbergh baby kidnapped, yellow fever, World War II; there’s only so much cheer that Burns and Allen, "Babe" Ruth, Walt Disney, the Gershwin brothers and Cole Porter can bring. The song may have promised Happy Days Are Here Again but they weren’t.

Mr. and Mrs. Gray and their kids were the last ones to live there in the '20s and '30s. The Grays lost almost everything, when the Stock Market crashed in 1929. Mr. Gray kept his head above water for several years, tried to take Franklin Roosevelt’s advice, "When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on." He wasn't old enough to develop a necessary thick enough skin. It all got to be too much; after he lost the house to the county for unpaid and back taxes, he went out to the horse shed, crawled up on a table, made a noose, tied the rope to a rafter and put the other end over his head. Then the damned fool fell. It was just too messy a site for a determined suicide victim. The table was knocked over; he’d obviously kicked at everything around him. It sure wasn’t somebody going into that sweet goodnight. The county’s coroner called it a suicide but what if he changed his mind at the last second?

Since then it’s been empty; the county tried to sell it. But during the Depression, nobody could afford it, and then, later, after World War II, when folks could afford it, the house was too run down and needed way too many repairs for people to want it. Why wasn’t it torn down? Somebody-not sure who-paid all the back taxes so it’s been stuck in legal limbo and estate fights ever since.

At night, kids swear they’ve seen a candle light wandering from one room to another all over the second floor. The house was the first one in the county to be electrified in the late 1800s but a candle is more dramatic. Besides, the electric was cut off years and years ago. The "ghost" can only be seen at night. I always thought it was just a scary story; I went to see for myself. It’s not a shy "ghost." He/she’ll wait for folks to draw a crowd. A bunch of us kids used to gather on the riverbank; "Now, look up at the windows on the middle floor." Sure enough, a small light appeared, visible through the grimy windows in the 2nd floor on the left, and slowly rambled from room to room where the kids’ bedrooms were. The children that used to be in the rooms are now dead or about 80 years old. Seventy five or so years can play hell with a house.

The riverbank was close as anyone would get to the residence. No one wanted to actually go inside but almost every noise in or around the house was blamed on the "ghost."

In the mid-'70s, the "haunted house" is bought by some widow-woman who really just wants it for the acreage and the house’s base because even though the run-down house is a sight, its basic foundation is sound so, like something from The Godfather, she goes to the estate manager and makes him an offer he can’t refuse. She directs the contractor to do a thorough gutting of everything left in the old house—plumbing, electric, fixtures—then turns the architect loose. (It seems that, her late husband, a doctor, left her pretty well-off. Like a 1970s version of Sarah Winchester). In a lot of ways, it’s a sad sight to see all that old brick all covered over by the bright, white aluminum siding. Like the school or bridge, it’s nice to know they’re there even if they’ve gotten beat up or old.

But a ghost occupies a space or area, not a particular dwelling. Be it an old brick mansion or a gleaming "new" house really doesn’t matter. An older place can seem spookier but a newer one works just as well.

It isn't a mean and threatening ghost or poltergeist; oh, sure, there is one account of the 'ghost' biting a guy, sending the fella running, near-nekkid, hollerin' and screamin' into the night but there's no bite scars or even red marks.

"Damn thing bit me!"

But the man that told it is known to really like his marijuana so the story's source isn't exactly what you might call reliable.

This newest ghost merely likes to stack furniture on the dining room table, empty cupboards and open the front door at odd hours, walk with lighted candles and fart (and boy that'll sure open up your sinuses; that's one time when "smeller's the feller" doesn't apply) so unless you're June Cleaver or Miss Manners, you won't be too put-off by the shenanigans.

Jim Deaton, a Memphis resident, is the author of the 'Blue Mud Trilogy'. Set in 1976, the 'Blue Mud Trilogy' comically tells of the small, rural and fictional town of Clayton, Kentucky and its residents through the eyes of one of its younger inhabitants, Woodrow.

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