River House: A Creepy Story

Hello readers! Here is another story for you- this one is true and creeped me out when I heard it. Enjoy.

My father told me this story when I was in high school. I had always loved Victorian houses and one day he remembered this tale from his boyhood and told me.

It was probably late 60s, early 70s, a time in our country when Victorian houses were seen as eyesores and “people who know better than you” decide what should happen to neighborhoods in your town, with or without owner permission.

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Most of our country was built and re-built after the Civil War, with huge Victorian building booms happening all over during the age of industry. More people than ever before rose to join the echelons of people who had indoor plumbing and their basic needs met. More families were able to buy or build houses. The families in the neighborhood of Fort Smith, AR that faced the Arkansas river built semi-prosperous middle-class Victorians in the mid 1900s.

By 1969 those houses had seen better days. The river had eroded its banks and the port had caused families to move away, leaving the neighborhood pock-marked with empty lots where houses had been torn down already, but none would be re-built. Beside that neighborhood was a National Biscuit Company. Even though the lovely smell of crackers and cookies filled the air from that bakery many days it did not keep change from damaging the area. The spires, fish scales and General Grant roofs could not rise above the influx of factories that polluted the river and belched soot day after day.

My Father was a Boy Scout, eventually he became an Eagle Scout. But they did lots of strange jobs to earn money for their troop. One of these jobs was spending a summer tearing out anything that could be re-sold from three of these Victorian houses in that doomed neighborhood. After the troop was done the homes would be demolished.

The work was hard, yet fun. As long as the boys got the windows, trim, doors, and fireplace mantels out intact, they could damage the remaining house as much as they wanted to. At first my father said it was fun, armed with crowbars, the boys went to work on the first house. They would tear everything out of a room, pile it all in the middle, then toss out the windows anything that wouldn’t break to a waiting trailer below. Mantles, doors and windows had to be carried out. The boys enjoyed tearing up the plaster walls, then realizing how much effort it took, soon resigned themselves to the job at hand.
They started at the top and worked their way down. The work was very labor-intensive and one house took about 3 weekends to strip.
In my head, while my Dad is telling me this story, I can picture him as a young man, leaning out an open dormer window with no sashes, inhaling the cool breezes off of the river not too far away.

After a few weekends they were done with the first house and moved on to the second one. My Dad said everything about this house was different for some reason. He absolutely did not know why but he said the feelings he was getting were emanating from this house! He said when they left they felt fine, but when they were working they felt sadder and sadder! At the top of the house it wasn’t too bad or noticeable, but as they got lower it got stronger. They even complained to Gene, their Boy Scout leader about it and he said he felt it too but didn’t know what to do, so they pushed through.

Finally, the last weekend came for that house. They were almost done. They just had to pull the mantles and baseboards down on the first floor and check the basement for anything that might be of worth. When they finally got down there the dank, cool air felt good on their sweating arms. The stone foundation was moist and tiny drops could be heard in the warren if rooms: coal room, furnace room, storage room, and a strange little room with round bolts set into the wall that were worn as though chains slid back and forth inside them for many years. Here there were remnants of some children’s toys: part of a teddy bear, a rotten block, and a tattered and soaking old book. These were in a corner by the chain bolts next to a pile of old rags. They all knew then where the sadness came from, it emanated from this place alone.

After experiencing that they morosely searched the basement and found a small stash of extra trim. As they were bringing out the last of the beauty from that sorrowful house a man showed up to talk about the neighborhood. My Dad said sometimes this happened and they tried to keep the visits quick because people would go on and on about how awful the neighborhood had gotten and how beautiful it had been, how it was such a shame to tear down these beautiful old places etc.

This guy happened to stop while they were all taking a water break before loading the trailer so they all heard him. He told them that he grew up next door and that the family was weird. He then asked if they had been in the room in the basement yet. With raised eyebrows they told him they had and asked him what he knew about it.

He then told them about the chains. The family had had a child born defective and they kept it chained up in the basement. He said you could hear it crying sometimes and that when the authorities were finally called and took the child away it was so lonely and wild it acted like an animal. Not much later it died, more from shock than anything else.

They were all quiet then he said, thinking about that poor child and its miserable life. And they all knew the feelings they were getting in that place had been the child, its hurt borrowed deep into the place, waves of hurt stored in the stone and wood.

Later my Dad and his troop salvaged the third house and thankfully nothing was odd about that one. As my Dad grew older and saw the wanton destruction of so much of Americas beautiful architecture he began to draw a parallel between the shut away child and the unwanted houses. Both being told they were worthless and gotten rid of quickly when they could no longer tolerated. Both of these things made my father and myself very sad, but I am happy to say that as long as my Father was on earth he did his best to be kind to everyone and empathetic to other’s problems.

The End

Well friends, I hope you liked that one. Most of the illustrations are from my book “The Secret of Sterling House” available on Kindle and Amazon. It’s a spooky treasure hunt book about kids that move into an old Victorian and find a paper clue. I hope you are enjoying this series. More stories to come!

-Jaime

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