Sunday, October 14, 2007

29 East LaCrosse - Haunted or Not?

Friday, October 12th, marked the eleven-year anniversary of the day we signed on our home at 29 East LaCrosse. Built in 1908 (some documents say 1907), it is certainly by no means old by East Coast or European standards, but here in what was once a Wild West city where frontier soldiers, Idaho miners, and Northeastern Washington lumberjacks would freely spend their hard-earned cash, the fact that it's still standing and habitable says a lot. Add to that the discovery while researching our home's history that it has been a rental for much of its structural life, along with the fact that it bumps up against a commercial zone, and it's doubly amazing that it hasn't been razed by now. Built on what was once the rural edge of town with no houses on the lots behind it, it now sits squarely in a north central neighborhood, several miles from the the city limits.

Its history as a rental becomes all too apparent whenever we start a remodeling job (which has seemed continuous over these past eleven years!). Shoddy worksmanship, dangerous wiring, and poor construction have all been uncovered, replaced, and redone. More than once, we've scratched our heads and wondered aloud, "What were they thinking?" There are days (usually in the winter) when I feel the walls close in on me and deeply feel the cramped living arrangements and lack of privacy in this seven-room residence. But most of the time, even while wishing it were bigger, I love this house! Five years ago--our sixth anniversary at this address--it became the home I had lived in the longest during my then-35 years on this planet. That realization felt odd to me, since my years in my childhood homes felt longer than the time I've spent here. Still, there are many memories, like ghosts, that flit around me within these walls. In the early mornings and late at night, the floors creak beneath my feet as I walk from room to room. The ladderback doors and old frame windows give a character to the place as I consider how those before us spent their days and nights in this abode. There were many who lived here; more, I'm sure, than the city directories will ever reveal, as renters moved in and out between the dates of publication.

Eight years ago, a reporter from the local paper knocked on our front door and said he was doing a human-interest story for Hallowe'en. Following up on archived stories from The Spokesman-Review, he was visiting the current residents of homes that had once been reported as being haunted. Intrigued, we invited him in as he handed us an undated clipping from the Depression years about two young women who claimed to have experienced a ghost in what was now our home. Had we ever heard this story, he asked us. Had we ever seen a ghost or heard anything that was unexplainable? No, we replied, and no, again. Nevertheless, he interviewed us and wrote up a nice piece for the Entertainment section of the paper. In reading the old clipping further, we realized that the young women had fallen behind in their rent, and had concocted the story to avoid paying their bill once they had moved out. So our insistence that our house was not haunted was justified...or was it?

Three years ago, we had to put our beloved apricot tabby, Sammy, to sleep after she became fatally ill. Sammy had loved our children with a protective fierceness rivaling that of a dog. Every night, she would cuddle up with Matt at the beginning of the evening, both of them falling asleep. In the middle of the night, she would pad quietly into Missy's room and spend the rest of the early morning hours with her there. It was a ritual; I'd tuck Matt and Sammy in every night, and wake Missy and Sammy together every morning. Never allowed in the adults' bedroom, she nonetheless would jump up on our bed and nuzzle me awake every time one of the kids was ill in the middle of the night. Although by the time Sammy died we had acquired Tessa, our current feline companion, her loss was devastating to us all. We brought her home in a cardboard box, which my husband buried deeply between our shed and the alley, filing the hole with large rocks and earth so that it could not be dug up by unattended dogs.

Several months ago, my son mentioned that he still sees Sammy. At nearly 14, he loves math and science, has an ironic sense of humor, and can out-argue an attorney. I mention this because he's the least likely of any of us to be whimsical, a dreamer, a believer in fantasies. But he's seen her, in our yard, on the couch, in his bedroom. About once a month, in the corner of his eye, he'll see her there, and when he turns to look directly at her, she's gone. A ghost, an angel, a whisper of a memory...whatever she is, she's welcome to stay in this very small, somewhat old, creaky-floored house.

This post was written for the 34th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy, "Halloween and the Supernatural!"
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