Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ghostly Estate

Driving to the sale in the early dawn hours, sun in my eyes as I traveled east on the old state route.  I could feel the anticipation. The sale was being described as an “old homestead” and I had heard from several sources that the house was packed full of old and interesting stuff. As I drove, coffee in one hand steering wheel in the other, my mind begins to wander off to the house ahead. All the notable antique dealers would be there.  Collectors of books, primitives, tools, and whatever else you can think of.  Junk shop dealers and curiosity seekers as well. I needed a plan of attack. Suddenly, as if coming from another source, a thought in my head said “Bottom of closet”.  Okay I decided, that agrees with my typical hunting style. While dealers and high rollers are scarfing up the “crown jewels” of an estate, I am usually somewhere on my hands and knees or tip toes,  searching for my treasure. Bent over under porches, squeezing into tight crawl spaces, digging through dirty and dusty boxes, it all fits my Modus operandi, so unless I see something extraordinary, it is the first closet I see.  “NO, the upstairs closet, in the hall between bedrooms, and without haste” came another thought.  Is my eccentricity over these sales reaching a point where I am talking to myself?  Without any further deliberation I put it out of my head, rolled down the window to a stream of fresh morning air and continued driving.

Arriving at the sale I could see a small crowd gathered near the entrance to the house.  Parking my car and walking a narrow path I soon joined them. Greetings and small talk ensued and before long more people starting arriving. As the chatter of the group melded into a swirl of one unintelligible voice I drifted off in thought again. A very strange feeling took hold of me.  As I glanced over the house, a slight breeze came up and a few birds flew out from their nest which was situated in, and at the top of a rotting corbel. The house was in an advanced state of decay but beyond the peeling paint and crooked shutters I could see all the glory of years past. Now well into a daydream I looked out over the landscape and could see children playing on an old swing hanging from a tree while adults roasted corn over a fire at some distance.  It appeared in my mind to be about 1910 or thereabouts.  One of the children, a boy, wearing a flat hat and suspenders ran up to me and said, “Hey Mister, don’t forget that upstairs closet” and he vanished into thin air as I felt a hand on my back from the person behind me. “Get moving” they are opening the door, he said as I snapped back to the present.

Once inside the house I saw the most gorgeous of antiquities in every direction. My eyes quickly darting  across the table I noticed a few things of interest but as I moved toward them, once again, I heard a voice in my head, “NO, NO, the closet”. So turning and heading for the grand staircase I went, thinking by now that I must be going crazy.  As I reached the top of the stairs I looked up and down the hallway for a closet. In typical Victorian style there were doors on both sides of the hall and all but one were open.  I immediately identified the open doors as bedrooms, so the closed door must be the closet. I approached the door and opened it revealing a few old dusty garments and some boxes on the bottom of the floor. Before I could even analyze the sight before me, the hand of a woman reached over my shoulder and with one fell SWOOP the garments were gone leaving me with a clear view of a few old cardboard boxes and a very large book.  Dropping to my knees I went through the boxes, one by one, shoving them out behind me as I determined their contents to be of no interest.  Now left with only a very large book which I recognized as a family bible I thought, “I knew it” I should have looked on the table downstairs!  As I opened the bible I saw a very old photograph between the first pages. I held it up to get a better look and I could see it was a confederate soldier, all decked out In his uniform. Although dirty and faded I could easily distinguish his handsome features. Young but dignified, a wispy thin moustache and piercing but understanding eyes.  His uniform was neat and buttoned to the neck. He was grasping his sword with the left hand. “What are you staring at, sir, have you not seen the likes of me before” he seemed to be saying.  There I go again as I laid the photo back in its place and continued to flip the pages.  Alas! I saw a confederate note, currency, then another, and another and another, as I turned the pages I found one every 50 or 60 pages.
Then, In my mind I hear again, “These bills were mine son, I put them here, Yes ME,  I am the one in the photo! I served in the 1st Confederate Regiment, Georgia.  I moved north years later, they came with me, but no one ever discovered them after I passed”.   Now, when one “hears thoughts” in one’s head, are we to assume that the words are our own since they originate in our own brain? Since these confederate notes certainly were not mine and I had no knowledge of their history, was I just romanticizing their past or was someone telling me something? If an entity or GHOST, were to try and communicate, how, without a physical body, without vocal cords to vibrate air that will strike your ear drum could they achieve it? If they enter the information to you telepathically, how would you be able to differentiate their voice from your own?  Quickly dismissing all of this but keeping it in the back of my mind I picked up the bible and took it to the cash table where I paid for it and put it in my car. Upon returning to the house I made some small chat with the liquidator during which she offered unsolicited information about the sale. She said that the family had originally been from the south and they had come to Western Pennsylvania in the late 1880’s to obtain work and prosperity.  An eerie feeling came over me as I digested this information. Surely now I must be imagining all of this.  Isn't it a reasonable assumption to think if confederate notes are in a bible they came from the south? What is the big deal, purely coincidental! 
There are admittedly hundreds of antiques and old things in the house but nothing else much that would indicate a southern family. Because they would have acquired the bulk of their belongings over the many years living here in the North. " Hey, I don’t see a cotton gin", I laughingly said to myself as I tried to snap out of this imaginary ordeal. “We didn’t bring it, didn’t see a need to” said the voice in my head. HEY NOW, this is getting ridiculous, reminding myself to take a few weeks break from this activity after the sale. 
Now, after having thoroughly investigated the contents of that closet before I purchased the bible, I did not see the need to return but yet I felt compelled to look again. I felt as if I were being drawn to it.  Suddenly again, in my head, “Its in the closet, you haven’t found it”. Now finding myself entering a complete dialogue with this person in my head I retorted, “The closet is empty, there is nothing left, I have searched it to the bare walls”! When I didn’t receive an answer I became even more determined to look once more. The door was open; I looked in, there was nothing. There was no shelf to explore above and the floor was bare. Still I got down on my hands and knees and crept in a little further.  Moving like a dog on all fours my hand struck a short board which teetered up from the opposite end.  Intrigued by this I took the small flashlight that John had encouraged me to carry from my pocket and shined it on the floor. The short board was loose and chipped, and held with only a single nail. I was able to get a finger inside the chipped area and without much difficulty pried the board up. Shining the light into this dark abyss I saw a wooden box. I took it out but unable to open it with my hands alone I set it aside and peered back into the floor again. I could not believe it but I saw more wooden boxes, all the same size. Maybe a dozen, maybe more. The whole floor would have to be pried up, BUT I was at an estate sale! The voice came again, “IT is not yours”!  Of Crouse it is not mine, I know, but what to do? The house has been sold, certainly it belonged to the previous owners but I still don’t even know what the boxes contain.  I put the box back and covered the board. Downstairs I went to see the liquidator.  She is very professional, has been doing this for many years and her clients are her highest priority so I knew I could tell her.  We went to a private area and I began spilling out the whole of the details practically without stopping to take a breath, when she said, “Slow down, what box, what ghost, what board, what are you talking about”.  Once I regained my composure and related the events she came with me to see and brought along a sharp instrument. With this we opened the box, in the dark of the closet and only by the illumination of my flashlight we beheld US Gold Double Eagle 20 dollar gold pieces. One upon the other, shinny and bright as if struck by the mint yesterday! Looking at one another our hearts almost stopped.

Immediately she evacuated the house and halted the sale. She called her two strong helpers to the closet with crowbars. They hastily tore up the rest of the boards and one after the other the boxes were removed and opened. Each one the same, full to the top with beautiful 20 dollar gold pieces, all dated 1860. Because she feared the new house owners may try to claim the treasure which was rightfully that of the great great grand daughter, her client, the news media was called in. Huge crowds gathered, the police department came and had to block the road leading to the house. The flashes of newspaper photographers taking pictures for the daily paper. It was organized bedlam!  After nearly an hour of talking and answering questions, having been identified as the one who found the treasure, I got into my car for the drive home.  I looked at the bible which was quite the treasure itself on my front seat. I thought I should return it but as I opened the book and saw the photograph of the soldier again, I heard the voice “Keep it son, it is yours”.  I closed the book and was about to drive away when I looked toward the house one last time. There on the front porch, amidst all the people still milling about. I saw a man in a confederate uniform and a young boy with hat and suspenders. They were beckoning me to come forward. I saw them very clearly, very vividly but everyone else seemed oblivious to their presence. Getting out of my car I went toward them. As I approached them all of the people around stopped what they were doing to watch me, silently now, I walked right up to them and they did not disappear. The world seemed to have stopped, time stood still. He began to speak to me, his lips pursed, and he said Buzzz, Buzzzz, Buzzzz, I reached over and shut off the alarm. Swinging my legs over the side of the bed I thought, 5 am already! Time to get up and go to that estate sale over at the old homestead!

Please visit for a complete list of all Western Pennsylvania's estate sales conducted by the area's important liquidators, the website is updated weekly