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The Ghost of the Vicary House

Milestones Vol 26. No. 1

By Denver & Eugenia Walton

Sometimes there doesn't seem to be any advantage to being a ghost. For one thing, I can't scare anybody (but I'm working on that.) Another thing is that I can't do any damage (in my own house?) Anyhow, I don't want to be a poltergeist! So I'm reduced to being an unknown ghost here in the Vicary House. I have tried making my presence known, but nobody believes in ghosts anymore, so nobody can see me. I did present myself to a little girl one time, and she saw me and laughed. She must have believed in ghosts! Her mother, standing nearby, asked why she was laughing, and pulled her away, into another room. Once, some kids broke into the house and I tried to scare them away, but no luck.

My story begins a long time ago (time means nothing to ghosts.) I was a young man, healthy and handsome, and ready to go out to see the world. I wrote to a distant cousin, Captain William Vicary, and told him I was coming west, and that I could stop by and see him when I passed through the Ohio valley. He replied and insisted that I plan to stop and visit with him for a few weeks. This sounded great to me, for beyond Vicary's place there was mostly wilderness.

Alighting from a carriage in the little boat-building town of Freedom, I met my cousin, who welcomed me. warmly. He took me to his house, a big mansion on the south end of town. Everything went well until one day when the captain let me use his telescope. I was sitting on the porch, exploring the riverbank from a distance. The Vicary land extended nearly a half-mile down to the Ohio River, and at the river's edge I spied a boat dock. It was very warm that day and I thought of taking a swim. Captain Vicary suggested that I contact some of the neighboring youths and make it a swimming party. (He, himself, sea captain that he was, couldn't swim!) So four or five of us found our way down to the river, suitably attired for a dip in the beautiful blue waters of the Ohio.

There was an old rowboat docked beside the pier, and this would prove to be my undoing. Diving off the pier, I turned and swam under it, and struck my head on the bottom of the boat. I must have swallowed a lot of water, for I quickly sank to the bottom of the river. I wasn't missed right away, but when my friends didn't see me in the water, they started searching and finally found me under the pier. Of course, it was too late for me.

After a lavish funeral, the captain and his family, deeply regretting my accident, had me entombed in the mausoleum north of the house. And, there my spirit stayed, contented, for many a year.

The captain died, too, a few years later and he joined me in the mausoleum but he was a quiet ghost and was not much company, as were other members of the family as they passed away. The house passed on to a younger generation and eventually to a cousin who knew little of the history of the house. And then one day, some of the living residents took a notion to dismantle the mausoleum and transfer the earthly remains of the inhabitants to a nearby cemetery.

I was outraged! My spirit was not ready to be moved to a strange place. My years of peaceful nonexistence were at an end. The other ghostly inhabitants made no protest to the move and I never heard from them again.

I, myself, naked and afraid in the cool October air, sought shelter in the nearest structure, the old stone house, once the abode of the captain and his family. Even as a ghost I found it difficult to enter the solid stone house. But I eventually found a missing stone under the porch, which allowed me to enter. You cannot imagine the change this made in my life. From a quiet, inactive life (make that death) in a small mausoleum to an active nonexistence in a big stone house, my life (death) was dramatically changed. For the first time since my drowning,

I was surrounded by living people. To escape the ruckus, I usually stayed in the third floor ballroom, where it was mostly too hot or too cold for the living to spend much time there. From here I could watch the changes in the world around me.

I had seen the steamboats on the river when I was still alive, but soon the locomotives made their appearance, speeding across the captain's lawn, making their way west from Pittsburgh. In time the horse-drawn carriages disappeared and "horseless" carriages, (automobiles they were called,) were traveling across the lawn even faster than the steam trains.

When I tired of the ballroom, I would often float down stairs and circulate among the living residents. I quickly found that I was not visible to the people in the house. Once in a while I would try to knock a vase off the mantle, but I had no powers to move anything. This was frustrating. The only living thing that could see me was the house mouse named "Vic" (one of the many generations of "Vics" and "Vicky's".) Vic and I get along well and often race through the house together. There was one room that was kept closed for many years, so tightly that even I had trouble getting into it. They called it the "bride's room" and from what! could learn a wedding was planned and the honeymoon room was decorated all in white. Then the wouldbe bride ran off with another man and the room was locked up and all but forgotten.

Another feature of the house was the long, long tunnel that went from the basement down to the riverbank. Sometimes at night people would move through the tunnel. They called it the "Underground Railroad" but nobody ever talked about it. In later years the tunnel collapsed and the entrance was sealed up, leaving no trace of the passageway.

A later owner of the house decided to partition off the big rooms to make it possible for more families to live in several apartments in the house. This made changes in my floating pattern and really put a strain on the house's antiquated heating system. As a ghost, I didn't feel hot or cold, but some areas of the house really got frigid in the wintertime. Some of the old fireplaces were still in use, but I didn't go near them. I wasn't sure what the open flame would do to my ghostly existence. I remember one incident where a teen-aged girl lost her shoe down a hole in the floor, near the fireplace in the old part of the house. Her mother was so furious that she made the poor child go barefoot from May to October that year.

Years passed and then excitement again! There was a lot of activity and earth moving in front of the house. By eavesdropping to the various conversations among the living, I learned that a new highway was being built and the house would be tom down. I was really frantic! Dull as it was, my existence in the old stone house was something special and I didn't want to lose it. Then things were changed as I watched and a big concrete wall was erected in front of the house. This was due, I learned, to a petition to save the house, drawn up and signed by the living neighbors and people from the surrounding communities who didn't want to lose an important landmark. Little did they know that I didn't want to lose it either.

Then the house was empty for a long time, except for me and Vic. Unheated, unwanted, the Vicary house stood silent for years, until a new group of people arrived. The new living guests didn't sleep overnight in the house but came by day to make changes. They came and tore out all the newer partitions, restoring the original size of the rooms. They put new slates on the roof and cleaned the stones on the outside, restoring the original tan color of the house.

A few years later a new heating system was installed (and boy was it fun to scoot through the hearing ducts from one room to another!) They poured a cement floor in the basement, hiding forever the bones that might or might not be buried there, (just kidding.) And there were changes to the outside, too. The old stone driveway was changed to concrete. Trees were cut down. Flowers and herbs and vegetables were planted in attractive little gardens on the grounds. Inside, floors were sanded and finished. Walls were re-plastered and painted (one of the rooms is yellow and it contains furniture I haven't seen since Captain Vicary's day.) These new living people were rapidly restoring the house to the grandeur it hadn't enjoyed since Captain Vicary lived here.

The town of Freedom has a special festival every year called Vicary Day and crowds of people come to see the house as it changes and improves each year. My spiritual existence has been altered again and you know, I think I am going to enjoy it. I cannot see anything but good times in the future for the Vicary House.