Wednesday, January 5, 2011

When Home is... Haunted

Have you ever walked into an old house and felt uncomfortable? Have the hairs on the back of your neck tingled as you have stood in a room? Or have you noticed cold spots in a room no matter how heated it is?

Conversely, have you walked into rooms of houses that feel happy and welcoming? How many times have you talked to others about a house having a ‘lovely feeling’ but being unable to explain why?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about house ‘feelings’ lately. While writing an article about the history of our house and learning about the families who lived here since the 1890s, I felt those families with me as I walked up and down our staircase; all of us connected through our love of this house. Despite the poverty of our suburb 100 years ago and the hardships all the families would have endured, I felt this building had been a happy home many times over.

‘Your house has such a welcoming, warm feeling’, said the magazine’s photographer as she took our photo on the staircase. And she wasn’t commenting on the interior decoration. It was the same feeling I had the moment we walked through the front door on the first open for inspection day.

A very different reaction to the one I had earlier this week as I walked into a B&B in the country. The B&B was part of an historic homestead, which once would have been majestic but today is very rundown. We were in a separate wing to the main house; the nursery wing which was built in 1920. Walking up a steep staircase we came to a series of attic bedrooms connected by a veranda with a bathroom at the end.

The bedrooms were charming: fireplaces, sloping ceilings, multi-paned windows looking over the back courtyard and all the original farm outbuildings, and the original beds, wardrobes and dressing tables from the 1920s. In true Victorian style, Lily’s bed was so high she had a little staircase to climb up into it at night.

The kids were beside themselves – it was like living in a dollhouse. Stuart thought it completely charming and spent the 24 hours there daydreaming about having enough money to buy it and bring it back to life. I couldn’t wait to leave.

I was surprised at my reaction; I love quirky houses, the older the better. And original furniture too! As for ghosts... well, The Ghost and Mrs Muir has been a favourite since I was a teenager. But there was a coldness to all the rooms. They felt sad and empty. Even down in the courtyard looking up to those attic windows I felt a sense of not being welcome.

I climbed into bed with trepidation. Neither of us slept well that night. We woke every time the house settled or the wind rattled the window. Stuart blamed the light from the veranda which we left on in case one of the kids needed the bathroom. I blamed the feeling inside the room. It didn’t want us there and we were gone by 9am the next morning.

As we drove down the farm road away from the homestead I wondered what stories that nursery wing had to tell. It seemed to be sagging under the burden of the past. It didn’t want to bear witness any longer but it wasn’t prepared to share either.

As we drove out the gates I felt a sense of relief. Until Ned spoke.

‘I loved that house. When can we stay here again?’

‘Yes, when?’ chimed in the other two.

So much for children having a sixth sense.


Megan said...

the person who was unhappy there was probably the mother...?

Germaine Leece said...

But would the mother have ever visited the nursery wing?! Perhaps it was the governess... or the lonely children?!


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