1911 St Louis House

3137 Longfellow, exterior

I am so in love with this house I can hardly stand myself. At first, it just looks like an average nice old house. But then you arrive at the front door:

Front door

It looks untouched by time, as if it actually were 1911. Now step inside…

Entrance hall

Butler's pantry, with wooden ice box

Butler’s pantry, with wooden ice box

Ice. Box. Literally.

Ice. Box. Literally.

Interior doors

These are INTERIOR doors, people.

Original bathroom

Original, untouched bathroom

Kitchen sink

Original kitchen.

I found this amazing place at my new favorite obse… um, website, Old House Dreams. The link to the house, with tons more photos, is here: 1911 Colonial Revival, St Louis, MO – Sold | Old House Dreams.

It has been sold, and I hope the new owner doesn’t rip out all the original fixtures. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a house this untouched. Time travel, baybees!

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My So-Called Paranormal Life

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I have always felt spirits. When I was a child, from the age of about three to five, I could sense things in the house where we lived. It was an ordinary ranch house in the Garden Lakes subdivision of Rome, Georgia, a seemingly harmless house, but I had an imaginary friend whom I now believe to have been a child spirit. His or her name was “Doe A Deer,” like the song from the Mary Poppins soundtrack I listened to over and over in those days. I can remember that I actually saw Doe A Deer, and that s/he was an actual child, though I don’t know if it was a boy or a girl. In fact, it seems like there was no gender, which didn’t seem odd to me at the time. I never thought about who s/he was, just accepted the fact that it was my friend. Doe A Deer was a good, friendly spirit.

There was also a bad spirit, or spirits, in the house. At night, I used to wake up terrified and not know why. I would often run across the hall from my room into my parents room. Jumping down from my tall antique iron bed, very quickly, so nothing could reach out a hand and grab me from underneath, I’d run to my door and stop, peering down the hallway to the left, into the darkness. All would be silent and still, because something was down there waiting for me. Finally I would work up the courage to navigate those three steps across the hallway to my parents’ door. This wasn’t just the after effects of a nightmare, or simple child’s fears. It was pure terror. Even now I can feel the “things” at the other end of the hall. They were real.

I also had a terrible nightmare when I lived in that house, a dream that stays with me to this day. I was outside in our yard watching my dad who had pinned my brother up on the clothesline with clothes pins. Actually, it wasn’t exactly a clothesline but some laundry-drying device we had, a kind of umbrella-shaped thing (only without the fabric of an umbrella) that would spin around so that you could hang the laundry all around it. Dad was spinning my baby brother really fast on it, like a ride at the fair. While it didn’t bother my brother, it felt sinister somehow, and kind of upset me. I went to go back into the house, but when I opened the carport door that went into our kitchen, there was an evil woman there. She came towards me and I tried to get away but she grabbed me and put me in a cardboard box she had on the kitchen table. I remember her pushing down the lid as I was fighting and crying. There were holes punched in the lid of the box so I could breathe. She had pushed me almost all the way into the box when my mom came in and said in a sharp voice, “What are you doing to her?” The woman let go of me and left the house immediately. Then I woke up.

These are the main experiences that I remember having as a child, all of which took place in that same house, oddly enough located at 13 Trentwood Drive. Nothing else “unusual”  comes to mind from the rest of my childhood except for a unique feeling I had for old houses. I always was drawn to them, even at a young age. I remember getting a very strange feeling any time I went into an old building, kind of a tingly sickness in my stomach, almost like my bowels churning. The house I remember most is my grandparents’ house in Knoxville, a beautiful old home built at the turn of the century on a street (now gone) called Melrose Place. It had a large front porch, a big wood-panelled hallway with pocket doors leading off to the various rooms, and a massive carved banister running alongside the staircase up to the second floor. I remember the smell, and the general atmosphere; it was so different from our own house, and from any other place I’d been, for that matter. I must have spent the night there at least once, and I know there was a big attic that surely I must have visited, and probably several times. But all I can seem to remember now is that creepy but wonderful sick feeling and the woody, musty smell. I remember nothing else, nothing specifie, no conversations, no meals eaten, no baths taken, just a lingering eerieness. I find this lack of memories quite odd. It is almost as if I were transported into another world when I was in that house. I would go off by myself and “feel” the past, touching the wood and the doorknobs and just feeling them. I remember going into the upstairs bathroom and just sitting there looking at the clawfoot bathtub. This feeling of otherworldliness came on not only there but in nearly any old house I went into.  I think I sometimes entered another dimension. My parents used to say “I’ll bet you’re going to grow up to be a historian, you love old houses so much!” but it was much more than a simple interest in history. I was able to enter into the world of the past and feel something essential there.

As an adult, I have lived in several houses where spirits have made themselves known to me more noisily. While in college in the early 80s, I lived for a year in a beautiful Gothic structure in Athens, Georgia that was built in the late 19th century. My room was upstairs, a large bedroom with a fireplace, a teeny closet, and huge dormer windows. Often at night, but sometimes in the daytime, and always when the other tenants were out, I would hear footsteps. Usually they sounded like someone running down the stairs at breakneck speed. But once they reached the bottom of the staircase, they would stop. I would wait for the front door to open, hoping it was one of my roommates on their way out, but it never did. Sometimes I would leave my room to go look down the stairs, but there was never anyone there. I would call out to my roommates, only to find that I was only one home. There were other sounds, too. Not only me, but several roommates as well heard things moving in the walls, almost like the sound of someone breathing. But it was inside the walls.

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I had another odd experience while living in Atlanta in my late 20s. I bought a piece of fabric at an antique store, planning to use it as a tablecloth or a window covering. It was a batik cotton cloth with designs on it. The man who sold it to me said it had been an altar cloth, but I didn’t really think anything of it. It was pretty and interesting, so I bought it. When I got home with it I left it folded up and put it in the linen closet for a while. One day I remembered it, and decided to air it out on the porch, then put it on my kitchen table. I took it outside, where it was a beautiful sunny spring day. Walking to the edge of the porch, I unfolded the cloth and started shaking it to get the dust out. As soon as I did, a wind came up and started blowing the trees. It got stronger, tossing the plants around on my porch and blowing my hair into my face and mouth. I stopped shaking the cloth and looked up at the sky. Huge dark clouds had moved in and had begun to block out the sun. The wind picked up fiercely, and really started to howl. I got scared and somehow knew it had something to do with the cloth. I folded it up quickly and put it down, then went inside, leaving it on the porch. As soon as I got inside the rain started, but soon it cleared up. Later in the day I took the cloth immediately to the trash can and threw it away. Someone said I should have burned it, but I would never had done that. It felt like doing anything other than getting rid of it immediately would have unleashed more power into the world.

The most significant experience I ever had was in the house I lived in right after getting married. It was in Decatur, Georgia, just a regular 1950s brick ranch house. When I first looked at the house, my friends lived in it, but were thinking of selling. I was attracted by the warm, homey feel it had. We eventually bought it and moved in, but from the moment we moved in, the atmosphere felt changed. The homey feeling was gone, and instead I felt nervous and uncomfortable in it. Soon afterwards I started smelling odd things from time to time – cigar smoke, perfume, mothballs, bacon—smells that would appear and disappear completely at random. They were very strong, and definitely not coming from any natural source.

I was pregnant at the time, and went to bed very early every night. Our bedroom shared a wall with a smaller room we used as a den and t.v. room. One night, after I’d fallen asleep but my husband was still up watching t.v., I heard him open the bedroom door and peek in. “Are you okay?” he said. “Yes, I’m asleep. Why?” “Oh, never mind. I must be imagining things.” This happened again a few nights later, and then again, and finally I asked him what was going on. He told me that each night as he was watching t.v., he would hear the sound of someone crying. He said the first time, he turned the volume down on the t.v., and listened, but couldn’t tell where the crying was coming from, but that it seemed to be coming from my room. He thought it was me, which is why he kept coming in the bedroom. But I was never crying. I was asleep each time it happened. This went on for months, and finally he stopped coming in to check on me, though he kept hearing the crying.

We finally moved out of that house about a year after my son was born. The last night that we officially owned the house, my husband went back to gather a few last minute items we hadn’t yet moved, and the baby and I stayed behind at the new place. When he got back from cleaning he was shaken up and I asked him what had happened. He said that after he had gotten all our things out of the house, he went back in to sweep. Each time he cleaned out a room, he would close the door and move on to the next room. He said he would pass back by cleaned rooms and find the doors opened. Finally, he heard a door slam in the back of the house and decided to leave. He is not easily frightened but was obviously upset.

Other unusual experiences I possess include a healing ability and dreams that come true. Several times I have held my hand over someone (usually one of my children) and feel warmth coming out of my palm. The children feel the warmth and feel better. The most significant experience of this kind was when at the age of five or six, my son had fluid on his hipbone and suddenly couldn’t walk. We took him to the ER and they took x-rays and told us the fluid was the result of some infection or cold, and that it would eventually be reabsorbed by the body. They said to put him to bed and let him rest for several days. He was in a lot of pain and slept in bed with me that night. I woke up before him, and held my right hand over his hip for quite a while, sending healing energy to him. He woke up a while later and said “Mom! My leg isn’t hurting at all!” He jumped out of the bed and was able to walk completely normally, which was amazing given he had to be carried in to bed the night before.

My premonitory dreams occurred only once, over the period of about three months in my late 20s. I had a series of dreams about insignificant things which later materialized. One was a dream about an old abandoned building I used to drive by on my way to work every day, the carriage house to an old home that had been torn down. The building had been standing desolate for several years and had housed squatters and vandals and graffiti artists periodically throughout that time. In the dream I was with a dear friend, standing in the upstairs window of the building. We were looking across the lawn at a bulldozer that was coming to tear down the house. We were very upset, and rushed downstairs to try to stop them from coming. Then the dream ended. Two or three days later I was on my way to work and passed the house as usual. I saw a bulldozer standing in the yard, and thought, “Hmm…that wasn’t there before.” On my way home, the house was gone.

The second dream involved my then-boyfriend, with whom I had recently broken up. It occurred the night of his birthday. In real life, he and I were supposed to have gone out during the day to celebrate, but he had stood me up. I had gone to bed very angry. In the dream, it was the day after his birthday. He called me and said, “I am so sorry about yesterday. My sister came into town unexpectedly and said she would take me out to eat anywhere I wanted to go. I told her I wanted to go to the Grill in Athens, so we drove up and spent the whole day there.” The actual next day, just after dreaming this, I called him to berate him for standing me up on his birthday. He said, “I’m sorry! I went to Athens with my sister and we didn’t get back till late.” I told him about the dream, and how weird it was that he actually had gone to Athens with his sister. He replied, “Oh my God. You’re freaking me out. Do you know where we ate lunch?? The Grill.”

My daughter is also a psychic, perhaps stronger than me. She lacks any training but is in touch with spirits in my mom’s house and at her school. She is a healer as well. Is this hereditary? Is it something we can hone and develop and really put to use? I wonder.

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Edgar Allan Poe’s Letter

At the end (though he didn’t know this) of his too-short life, Edgar Allan Poe found himself scrambling for money, mourning his recently-deceased young bride, Virginia, and teetering on the edge of homelessness. Although he had welcomed the responsibility and the company of his aunt turned mother-in-law, Maria Poe Clemm (whose pet name, “Muddy,” reflects the mother-son bond the two shared), he was hard pressed to come up with enough money to cover their basic living expenses. Over the past few years, many opportunities to make his writings visible to a larger public, thereby ensuring steady income as well as recognition as a writer, had been wasted, most often due to his own self sabotage.

In June of 1849, Poe was living with Mrs. Clemm in New York City in the tidy cottage in Fordham (now the Bronx) where Virginia had died in 1847. Eager to find funding for his ultimately ill-fated literary journal, “The Stylus,” Poe had decided to embark on a short tour or several northeastern cities, giving readings from his own works and general talks on literature and philosophy. The relatively new “speaker’s tour” undertaken by many writers was surprisingly lucrative, and Poe was desperate to earn money. Though he professed to despise speaking to large groups of people (he saw it as akin to parading his talents before applauding admirers), he was found to have a natural gift for performance. A number of fellow writers, men and women of letters, and a few curious literati who had heard him speak praised his oratorial abilities.

Even so, Poe intensely disliked touring. Before leaving New York, he promised Muddy that he would soon return, and that their “dark days” of poverty and of living hand-to-mouth would be over. He planned to earn enough money to fund the premier issue of “The Stylus,” then wait for the subscriptions to come in, thereby paying back the initial investment and ensuring the financial success and stability of the review. For the first time in his life, Poe was going to be self sufficient.

But the first weeks of the tour proved to be disastrous. In late June, while briefly stopped over in Philadelphia, he was arrested for public drunkenness, and spent time in the Gothic fortress of Moyamensing Prison. While there he fell ill and suffered bouts of hallucinations and nightmares; in the worst one, Muddy was dead, her body being cut into pieces before him. Illness followed him for weeks, and his letters to Mrs. Clemm reveal him to be physically suffering (“from cholera”) and incredibly homesick.

In July the tide seemed to turn for Poe. He arrived in Richmond to a warm reception. “I never was received with so much enthusiasm,” he wrote to Mrs. Clemm. “The papers have done nothing but praise me, before the lecture & since.” His health also seemed to have improved. Having suffered for several weeks, clearly due to a drunken spree, Poe wrote to Muddy towards the end of the month that his experience had served to warn him of the dangers of drink, and that he planned to “extricate myself from this difficulty” for her sake and for their future. In August, he joined the Richmond branch of the “Sons of Temperance,” swearing off alcohol in a very public and accountable manner, as the group was highly visible and its members an influential group of men.

Perhaps most importantly, Poe had secured a future domicile for himself and for Muddy, as by the end of the tour he was engaged to be married to Elmira Royster Shelton, an early love, now a wealthy widow with whom Poe had rekindled a romance. It is unclear how binding their engagement was; following Poe’s death Mrs. Shelton was not forthcoming about their relationship or their supposed engagement. But Poe’s letters show him to have been certain that the marriage would take place.

On September 27, he left Elmira and Richmond, bound for Philadelphia (probably via Baltimore) to gather Mrs. Loud’s poems and his fee. His plan was to continue on to New York City to pick up Muddy, then to move permanently back to Richmond to a new life. This never happened. Poe left on a steamboat in the early hours of September 28, headed for Baltimore. Nothing more was ever heard from him, at least nothing coherent. He was found barely conscious on October 3, in Baltimore, and was transferred to a hospital. He never regained consciousness enough to speak of what had happened to him, and died on October 7.

This is the only extant letter written by Poe to Mrs. Loud, mailed just prior to his departure for Philadelphia:

Richmond
Sep 18 — 49

Mrs. M. St. Leon Loud,

Dear Madam,

Not being quite sure whether a letter addressed simply to ‘Mr John Loud’ would reach your husband — that is to say, not remembering whether he had a middle name or not — I have taken the liberty of writing directly to yourself, in regard to a proposition which he made me while here; having reference to your Poems.

It was my purpose and hope to have been in Philadelphia by the 7th of this month; but circumstances beyond my control have detained me; and I write now to say that I find it impossible to leave Richmond before Tuesday next — the 25 th. On the 26 th I hope to have the pleasure of calling on you at your residence in Philadelphia.

There will be quite time enough to have your book issued as proposed: — but should this unavoidable delay on my part have caused you to change your views in any respect, may I beg of you the favor to let me know, by return of mail, if convenient? Under any circumstances I should, of course, feel honored in receiving a letter from you.

Most Respy.
Yr. Ob. St
Edgar A. Poe

Poe never arrived at Mrs. Loud’s. Viewing his letter now, with the privileged information that is available to those who come along after the fact seems almost unfair. Our knowledge that he will turn up days later in Baltimore, wearing someone else’s clothes, delirous and unable to communicate, makes us privvy to something that was never meant to be seen. The uncomfortable access to a private moment, the public availability of a letter, the simple fact of death opening up his life to our view put the reader in the uncomfortable position of voyeur. The contents of the letter…Poe’s polite excuse for being late, the charming language, the now-famous signature…are extremely poignant, as we know the way his journey will end. This may be one of the most sad and melancholy of Poe’s letters, given the how the story turns out and our knowledge of the writer’s fate.

Poe daguerrotype taken a few days after his suicide attempt in 1848. One of the saddest portraits I’ve ever seen.

In the end, I have to wonder: Is it fair to open up a dead person’s life, turn it upside down and shake out all his momentoes, fears, loves, and weaknesses? As Poe himself hinted at in his texts, do we each become public property at the moment of our death?

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Little Noises, 1991

This is one of the most underrated films I know of. Very dark, but funny, but dark, it is one of my favorites. Crispin Glover is fantastic. Tatum O’Neal is as well, hell, they all are. I especially love all the unscripted bits, as a lot of it is obviously improvisational. And even in this short clip, so many quoteable quotes…

“What are you doing down therrre, in that getup…”

“I’m really busy right now, tryin’ to write my novel?”

“Oh I’m pretty fantastic. I just had an audition at the Weehawken Dinner Theater.”

“I have a dream, baby, a dream about meee, baby…”

“Do you think this headshot looks like Montgomery Clift?” “No.” “Well that’s just crazy, cause people are constantly pointing at me and saying, ‘There walks the spitting image of Montgomery Clift.”

“She waits, late at night, hearing the wind, it is to gather kindnesses no world can offer.”

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Time travel 101: The old photo of yourself

Julie and Rick, Berkeley, 1993. He was my boyfriend for many years, and this was a visit just to reconnect as friends. Well, that didn’t work!

I’m getting obsessed with my past…need to read some Proust and let it go, maybe. But instead, today I scanned some old pictures I found so I could post them on Facebook. I was surprised at how much time has passed since they were taken. It still seems like just a few years ago, but the first bunch was in Paris in 1991, and the second in San Francisco in 1993…hang on, kids, cause that was 21 and 19 years ago respectively…children have been born and grown up in that time!

I guess it just makes me feel funny because I miss that time, and it doesn’t seem very long ago. But my whole life is different now. I wasn’t particularly happy back then, but I guess the difference is that I had time, lots of time, both to do stuff, like go to France and San Francisco, as well as the time in front of me as far as the future goes, years and years ahead of me to explore, meet people, change my life, then change it again.

Plus I looked so cute. I know I’m fine and all that now, but I just looked so lovely in these years, which represent my early thirties. I thought I was old when I hit 30, but I wasn’t. It was a good time, health-wise, beauty-wise and love-wise. It makes me sad that all I am doing now is getting older, trying not to look it.

I’m not complaining, honestly. Just wondering how it all works. I mean, when do I actually get old, and stop wanting? Am I getting close? I’m not there yet, but I will be one day. No one wants to be 70 years old, but it happens. I’m too young to get old.

Julie with Rick’s bike, a 1968? 1972? I can’t remember BSA that he loved. We rode it across the Golden Gate Bridge in a raging wind. I thought I might fall off but I didn’t.

On our bike ride over the bridge. It smelled like eucalyptus everywhere.

Paris, with my boyfriend Laurent. 1991

Me and my best friend Betty, in Paris. I’ve kind of lost touch with her, and she was my very best friend for years and years.

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My coffee cupboard

I love very few things about the house I’ve lived in for 12 years. The front hallway lacks any feng shui,  there’s no storage, we are plagued by a weird smell whose source I have never been able to locate, the dining room is in truth an indentation in one wall of the great room, and don’t even get me started on the kitchen. But I realized the other day how much I love one teeny thing in this house: I have a coffee and tea cupboard.

While putting away clean dishes, I opened the door to stack some coffee mugs and realized how zen that one little space is, and how happy it makes me just to open the cabinet door. First of all, it smells wonderful: coffee mixed with cocoa mixed with tea. It’s a treat for the nose. And it’s pretty as well: all my coffee mugs are squeezed onto one shelf, from my two large, mega-early morning cups to many mugs my kids made in elementary school with their own artwork on them to the set of four (remarkably, still unbroken!) brightly colored cups they gave me one Mother’s Day, they shine out at me.

I have coffee filters in there, and tea strainers, and several forgotten French coffee presses and those silver stovetop percolators from France that I haven’t actually used since I was in France. I have the obligatory Starbuck’s Komodo Dragon dark blend, hot chocolate mix, and a million kinds of teabags, useful for a million different needs. There is green tea for relaxing, Tazo black tea for making iced tea, Earl Grey for when we’re watching an English show and feel the need, and PG Tips for a simple, delicious cuppa.

But I think the reason I love it so is that it is all mine. Nobody goes into that cabinet but me, so its quirky neatness and good smell are kind of a reflection on me: quirky, crowded, perfumed. And what can go wrong when you’ve got that?

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