In the early 1940s when I was 14, I had a birthday party on the fourth of the month. A friend of mine named Jimmy and I were headed there, to Pennington Avenue. Back in those days there were two ways of getting places, walking or riding the bus. Since money was hard to come by, walking was the way most of us went.
We had just got to the South Rome bridge when we heard someone yell at us. Two boys we knew were coming down the street so we waited on them. One of them asked where we were going. “To a party,” we answered.
Eddie laughed, “Over at Skeeters?” he asked. Skeeter was a very large boy for his age and how he had got the nickname no one knew. “We were on our way over there, too,” the other boy, Robert, said.
We turned down Branham Avenue and headed across the playground. At that time the city had a playground with swings, seesaw, and other things at the foot of Myrtle Hill. We went though the park and along a dirt road at the cemetery.
Skeeter lived in the block just past Myrtle Street, and it didn’t take but a few minutes until we were there. He greeted us with a hotdog in one hand and a Coke in the other. We joined in eating and then playing games. In those days you didn’t stay out too late. At about 10 o’clock time was called and the party broke up.
We went back down Branham Avenue to the road around Myrtle Hill. Since it was dark we stayed on Branham Avenue instead of the dirt road at the foot of the cemetery. We crossed over on the other side for we had heard people talk about the haunted house. As we approached, someone let out a low moan. We all stopped, then Eddie began to laugh. “Got you that time,” and he laughed some more.
Thinking it was not funny we all turned toward him as he began talking. “Come on fellows, I was just funning.” Standing there in front of the houses that were empty we didn’t think it was funny.
“Look,” Eddie said, “I got a quarter that says no one here will go through the house,” and he pointed to one with an open door. “I got another quarter,” Robert said, “that says no one here will go.”
Here my friend Jimmy said, “Lonie, where’s yours?” “Don’t need one,” I said. “I’m going to take all the money by going though that house.” I handed Jimmy my quarter, saying it was in case I didn’t make it. With Jimmy holding the money I headed for the steps to the porch, walked up the step and onto the front porch. Turning, I waved and stepped though the open door.
If I live to be 100 I will never forget the feeling that came over me. A chill went up my back and it felt like I had stepped into an icebox. I walked into the room that was dark except for a little light that came from a streetlight. I stopped in front of a fireplace.
I was not sure what I saw or heard from that moment until I jumped off the back porch.
As best as I can recall, there was in one corner of the room some dark smoke. In the middle of it appeared a white mist of some sort. The mist seemed to separate and start toward me. I was frozen and couldn’t move. I stared as it came closer. There seemed to be a face in the white mist, with eyes that were piercing, and I felt a chill come over my whole body.
I was frozen stiff until I heard someone calling, “Lonie, are you all right?” It was the voice of Jimmy from the front porch.
I moved though the house, running onto the back porch, never stopping for the steps, and jumping off the end. I stood for a moment, still trembling from the cold. I remember that I didn’t want them to think I was scared, so I calmly walked to the front where they were. They watched wide-eyed as I approached.
I remember one asking what I was doing standing there in the middle of the room pointing. I didn’t recall that I had been pointing while I was standing by the fireplace.
I started to walk toward South Broad, trying to get warm. Eddie asked again what I had been pointing at when they could see me from the road. Jimmy handed me the money. We walked across the bridge with very little conversation between us.
Robert and Eddie went out Second Avenue. Jimmy and I went up Broad Street, with me stopping at the Krystal to get a hot cup of coffee for I was still cold. Jimmy left me on Fifth Avenue. I crossed over and sat down on a bench to wait for a bus. Where the parking deck is now on Broad Street and Fifth Avenue there was a Sears store at that time. I drank the coffee with a little warmth returning to my body.
As I look back and try to recall the events that took place inside of that house it not clear to me.
The one thing that is clear and I will always remember is that on a hot muggy July night I almost froze to death. When I think about it after all of the years that have passed, I still get a chill up my back.