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Growing Up With Ghosts (Part 1)

I grew up in a truly haunted house.

The house was a huge Victorian home in Elizabeth, New Jersey complete with eight bedrooms, three full floors, beautiful real oak floors and wood-workings, twelve foot ceilings, a second-floor porch, walk-in closets, a servant’s stairway, squared-winding stairway from the first floor to the third, and a very unique bathroom design.  Unique because the only “restroom” was a room just for itself, with the large bathtub and sink in an adjacent separate room as to allow access without “disturbing” someone who may be bathing, showering or shaving.  (Why this design does not exist today….bewilders me!).

The front porch was large and covered by a full porch roof, allowing people to enjoy fresh air and breezes during sun or rain.  This porch also had an interesting stairway.  It had the regular five steps from ground to porch in the front-proper, but the side of the porch facing the driveway (which was a “covered” driveway complete with what we called the “carport”) had a three-step design.  Three steps from the porch floor to….well….nowhere but a three foot drop to the ground!  This anomaly, we learned, was to accommodate horse-drawn carriages that were three feet high, allowing easy access to the carriage from the porch for residents and/or guests!  (I have never seen anything like this since!).

Of further notable beauties to this house were exquisite marble workings around a faux fireplace and mantle, in the front door foyer and bathroom upstairs.  The “piece da resistance” of the home was a gorgeous stained glass window situated on a wall immediately to your left when entering the front door!  This window had, what appeared to be two huge eyes “looking always” into or out of the house!  When the sun shined a certain way in the evening….the reflection “stared” at anyone in the “living room” and in the late night hours, they shined a “careful, chilling watch” over the stairway.  The “eyes” were more a “comfort” though than a threat, and provided my family with some type of security, not fear.  (Was this intentional?)

The story, as my family knew it, was that the home was designed by a very wealthy man who had a brewery running in nearby Newark, New Jersey in the late 1800’s.  Newark, at that time, did have numerous breweries very busily distributing beer.  In its “day,” this home was a mansion, within walking distance to the local Elizabeth train stop, yet far enough away to be considered “quiet and rural.”

My maternal grandfather, Michelle Spirito, immigrated to New Jersey from Italy in the early 1920’s.  He opened a shoe-maker/repair shop in Elizabeth and did very well!  Well enough to have five children and buy four parcels of land, three with homes built on them, on the same street.  Two of his children became teachers, one an eye surgeon, one an Assessor for the State of New Jersey, and my mother, who was an incredible typist and worked for many years for Dunn and Bradstreet as well as Exxon.

The first known ghost experience at our home occurred soon after my mom married my father.

The last home my grandfather bought was given to my mother and father to begin their new life together and begin their family.  The house, in need of some TLC was being attended to by my father.  An early-morning riser he was, at approximately 4 or 5 am one day, he was painting in the kitchen.  Then he heard it.  Loud steps on the stairway leading down from the 3rd floor.  Bang!  Bang!  Bang!  He yelled, “Who is that?!  Hello?!”  Nothing.  The “steps” continued, getting closer….my dad, an ex-Marine, was no whimp, he was solidly-built and tough to the bone!  However, this scared him so much, he ran out of the house faster than a rabbit in a dog track!  That was the first incident.

Some years later, after my sister and brother were born, another “encounter” occurred.  At this time, my mother’s two brothers were also living in the “mansion.”  While watching television, in the living room, under the “eyes” of the window, my father and brother were taken back by, this time, a visual encounter!  A “pinkish white flash” sailed by them in the hall, and up the winding stairs!  My brother asked my father, “Did you see that?”  My father did.  He dismissed it as “Uncle Luke going upstairs” because Luke used to wear a raincoat that was a white color.  However, Uncle Luke was not home!  Then my sister screamed!  She was watching television on the second floor, in my other uncle’s (Boe) room.  She saw it too and ran downstairs in terror!  “I just saw a ghost!”  My brother chimed in….”Me too!”  My father tried to calm the situation down to no avail!  Fear continued to grip the family.  (What was that?!)

I was born in January of 1965.

The stories of the “haunting” to date, were passed up to me until I was old enough to recall them.  I remember first hearing that “Thelma” was our “ghost.”   Thelma?  I needed to know who “Thelma” was.  Here is Thelma’s relation to our house…

Thelma and her mother, according to recorded information, ran a boarding home at our house during World War II.  Thelma was a chronic alcoholic, and loved the house more than anything!   The house was a boarding home, there were some obvious “modifications” to the home we could see to support that, but Thelma wasn’t about to leave the house after WWII and her mother couldn’t afford the home anymore without “boarders.”

Thelma, a chronic alcoholic, chose to “die before leaving” the house, and killed herself in the basement.  This story was substantiated not too long ago when a woman showed up at the house, and met my sister.  She wanted to “look around the house for memory’s sake” and explained to my sister that her “Aunt Thelma loved this house…..”  Wow!  Myth turned to truth!  Thelma “refused hospitalization” at a crucial time of her life….(health conditions are unknown), but she died there and, apparently, stayed there!

By now, the “legend” of our house being “haunted” and by “Thelma the ghost” was well-established among my peers, my brother’s peers and my sister’s peers!  Everyone always has questions about “her” and our house!  It truly became a “local legend” among our friends and family and even by some that weren’t!  As a young child, I was quite aware of “Thelma” and our haunted house, and proof came frequently!


By Leo Battenhausen, a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.