My name is Ernie Rogers. I’ve been in real-estate for over forty years. In that time, I’ve had the privilege of seeing many of the beautiful and historic homes that can be found throughout the region. Sadly, I must also state that I have seen a number of houses which can only benefit from a wrecking ball.
I am not speaking of places in need of a new roof or even a complete renovation. Truly, I’d rather see a house restored than to see it rebuilt. To me, preserving the past is a noble goal, and one which is personally special, so I would not call for demolition if there was a hope of conserving the history all houses seem to contain.
A good house seems to hold the residues of smiles and laughter. The mood is light and seems to encourage joy and happiness. I’m reminded of the fertile ground of a garden, where blooms of any kind or color might grow. These good houses are not the only ones, however, and others feel as though they hold history of another sort.
Perhaps it is the ‘other’ history that fouls these places. Of those I have found, most possess an atmosphere that is dark, heavy, and cold. I have watched potential buyers closely when I show them such a location and have witnessed the subtle effect wrought on them. In their comments and questions, I have heard the echo of my own experiences.
I’ve seen the energy just leave them. Enthusiastic shoppers fall quiet and contemplative. I believe they struggle with an experience they cannot comprehend. They become distant and confused, their happy smiles replaced by an impatient grimace. They complain about the stuffy air, even though the windows are wide open. They clutch and massage their temples and foreheads, as a sudden headache cuts short the showing.
Keep in mind that I often get questions about ghosts or haunted houses, that’s just a part of the job. I typically turn the question back and ask of their experiences. Mostly these are open-minded inquiries and my impression is that if I suggested that a place might be haunted then I might make an easy sale. But my goal is to help people find the house that makes them happy, so I show them as many places as I can and never endorse any house over another. Even when I’ve been saddled with a house that simply will not sell, I just wait with the idea that the perfect buyer will come along sooner or later.
The house on Maple Lane was just such a place. It had sat empty for decades, falling slowly into a sorry state. An investor, seeing the marvelous potential, had done some brilliant work in bringing it back from the brink of decrepitude. The house and grounds were beautiful, the location was excellent, and though the asking price wasn’t cheap, it was very reasonable. Those of us in the business were astounded by how it remained empty year after year.
It became something of a legendary beast, its sale was to real-estate what a white whale was Captain Ahab. It would have been a majestic plume to put in one’s cap. I showed the place to a few viewers myself. Ultimately, I’m glad I never sold it.
Unlike the other ‘bad’ houses, the house on Maple Lane was a delight to behold. The original owners had invested in fine materials and tasteful embellishments everywhere. The work to restore it had added virtually nothing new. In my own walk-through, however, I could not get over the sense that something was amiss. It took me years of reflection before I could spell the problem out.
You see, the beauty present everywhere was a facade. Below that surface there was an emptiness and hollowness that rendered such splendid details meaningless. It was more than being “just for show”, that is, beneath the superficial layer, there was really nothing there at all. That nothingness, that hollowness, emptiness, or void seemed to draw into itself the happiness that would otherwise go to making a house into a home.
As I said, I showed it a few times over the years. The last time I did so, it was to a young couple just getting their start in the world. They were, so far as I could see, very happy and in love, with the vast potential of life spreading out before them. They even mentioned building a large family and this was why they were looking at places which might be a little more than a couple would need.
Maple Lane had such a place and it was offhanded that I suggested a visit. Though I didn’t expect to sell the place, one never really knows who is suited for where, and it seemed prudent to show them every option I could. It was a mistake to take them there, one that has bothered me ever since.
The showing started with promise. They were wide-eyed and in disbelief that such a place was in their range, though I had explained that the price of a house often comes down when it’s been on the market as long as this one had been.
Then one of them, I don’t remember which, made a joke about ghosts scaring people away. This was apparently a sensitive subject between the two and may have been more ill-spirited teasing than comedy. As we continued the tour, they began hurling these little barbs back and forth. It might have been quite funny if things weren’t so serious. Then they began to openly bicker and I felt more than a little awkward at being present. I couldn’t even complete my pitch, having been forced to excuse myself to the car when they started arguing louder and louder.
The two people that left the place were not the two that had arrived. While I have not use for or love of gossip, I heard that the two had broken up and gone their separate ways. I hold a bit of guilt having wondered if my showing them the house was somehow responsible for this. I console myself in thinking that they hadn’t bought that first house together, so an eventual break up might have been worse than for things to end that way. Perhaps I’m just kidding myself. And their tragedy is a small price to pay for how much worse things might have been.
The house was eventually sold to a family from out of state. Sadly, less than a year would go by before the place was empty again. After months of fighting, things ended in a bloody and unspeakable nightmare from which no one would emerge alive. In hindsight, I might say that this was far from unpredictable, but I’ve not yet found a way to deal with the notion that such a horror might have been prevented.
Sensational stories now surround the house on Maple Lane. It is considered common “knowledge” that the place is cursed or haunted. Young neighborhood boys test their courage by daring to walk up to the door and knock. Those too frightened stand back and hurl rocks at the few windows which still have panes. It now looks as it should, ready for the wrecking ball, sadly one family too late.
In the stories that came out, we learned that the demolition should have actually happened long ago. For the last family that died there was the second and not the first.
story by Joe Stanley