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Ye Old Haunted Carriage House on the Corner of Lake and High
A true story, honest.
By Pamela Jane Hume Partridge
Copyright © P. Partridge, 2000. All rights reserved
I was born on October nineteenth, 1953, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. My father's parents, Robert and Gertrude Hume, had raised their four children in a large two story home on South Thomas Street in Metuchen, a well established nearby town. Not long after I was born, my parents bought a home on the same street across from Grandpa and Grandma's home and up two doors.
Our little neighborhood was the perfect place to grow up as a child. At one end of the street, the corner of South Thomas and High Street, was the YMCA. Most of my free time was spent there swimming, playing pool, or just plain hanging out on the front steps with neighborhood friends and my sister Suzie.
Across from the "Y" on the diagonal corner of Lake Avenue and High Street was the Reformed Church where Suzie and I were "forced" by our mother to attend Sunday School weekly while she attended church. At the time it seemed unfair since none of the other kids in the neighborhood had to spend their Sunday mornings in church, except for Karen Goracy and the Dolan kids, but Dad frequently reminded us they were good Catholics. Dad didn't go either. He said kids don't choose to go to Sunday School or summer camp, they're sent, and mom knew what was best for us.
Behind the church was one of our favorite places to play in the wintertime, Tommy's Pond. If we were lucky enough to get snow that "stuck," we would spend as much time there as we could sledding and skating. Some days there were so many kids on the ice that you could do little more than walk around on it, and what little snow accumulated on the hill was beat down by our metal sled runners to mush and mud by noon.
At the other end of South Thomas Street were the neighborhood elementary school, playground, high school football and baseball field, and woods. I attended Edgar School for my first 6 years of public schooling. There was a summer recreation program at the playground, and the woods offered another place for adventure in the spring, summer and fall. I never went into the woods alone. You never knew who or what was in there, and there was a good chance no one would hear you scream if you needed help. My Dad said his own childhood days were spent in part in those woods, but they weren't safe to be in alone. If there wasn't a good matinee movie to see at the Forum Theater on a fall Saturday, we'd sneak into a football game next to Edgar School by crawling under the fence during the National Anthem while everyone else stood at patriotic attention.
My best friend was my neighbor, Mary Lodge. She had an older brother and sister, and two younger brothers. She was in the same grade as me at Edgar School, but we weren't in the same class. Her younger brother Freddy was one member of our neighborhood gang everyone liked to play with. He was afraid of nothing and no one, and would take any dare or do just about anything suggested. When we discovered a penny candy store two blocks away, we not only talked Freddy into going there to get a stash of candy for our gang at least once a day, we also convinced him it would be OK to go into his mother's pocketbook and coat pockets to get the change needed to finance the shopping sprees. That all ended when we got caught with bags of candy, and of course we were quick to finger Freddy when asked whose idea it was by my Mom and Mrs. Lodge. We hung low until we thought up another scheme for Freddy to play out. He was great at climbing trees, well, one day he wasn't so great. Anyway, I can remember him getting into Mr. Riegel's American Chestnut tree in bare feet and shorts, and knocking down the maturing nuts. We picked them up from the ground and then threw the prickly, spiny nuts at Freddy's bare legs and feet. He ran home to his mother and tattled on us, then came back for more. We wondered if it was senseless loyalty, or sheer stupidity.
By the time I entered third grade we had a neighborhood gang of 15 that played together. There was Suzie and I, Susan, Dukie, and Butchie Briscoe, Cathy Dolan and her two younger brothers, Merle Chernick, Erica Boeddinghaus, Jeannie and Bobby Class, and Mary and Freddy Lodge. Later Richard Toth and Karen Goracy moved into the neighborhood, but I did not get to know them as well as the others. Out of the 15, there was a core group of 6 that were inseparable, Suzie, Mary, Freddy, Cathy, Susan and myself. We knew our block and its immediate surroundings like the backs of our hands. Moving like a band of marauders, we'd go from our street to Tommy's Pond, through the church and YMCA, down to Edgar School, in and out of the woods, and back home in record time. We weren't bad kids, but we were capable of a little mischief when we didn't have a positive way to channel our energy.
There was, however, one place we steered clear of--the haunted house on the corner of Lake Avenue and High Street. Alone or together, it was a piece of our world none of us wished to explore. My Dad said it wasn't haunted, it was an old carriage house that used to be called the Towers. He claimed he played with the children that grew up there when he was a kid, but that was hard to believe. He even said it used to be one of the most beautiful homes in town in its earlier days before it fell into ruin. Yea right! Dukie and Butchie Briscoe knew it was haunted, Bobby and Jeannie Class knew it was haunted, Cathy Dolan knew it was haunted, even Freddy knew it was a haunted house of terror.
The evidence was overwhelming; the main house was a classic old two story Victorian home with a third floor windowed tower. You couldn't see it well from the road or sidewalk because it was surrounded by a dense overgrowth of trees and twisted vines, interspersed with brambles and shrubs. The wooded perimeter of the property was so dense in fact, that it was dark around the home even on the sunniest summer day. That darkness choked out any green vegetation below the treetop canopy, so nothing but dead leaves, rotting twigs, limbs and mushrooms blanketed the ground. The house was a vague structure in shades of gray framed by its barren wooded background. I never stood at the entrance for too long to get a good look at the place, but a glance down either end of the circular puddle filled driveway while passing by revealed a dirty run down building in disrepair. The shutters either hung off center with missing slats or were missing altogether. The steps to the porch were uneven and broken in places. The window shades were always pulled, and the only evidence of life inside was the dim lights you could see at night, barking dogs, and the steady stream of delivery and beer trucks that drove in and out of the estate day and night. The carriage house (horse barn) was completely out of view on the south side of the home, and Dad wondered if it was still standing.
How I hated to have to walk to or from my Aunt Ruth's and Uncle Don's home on Cliffwood Place in the evening. It meant having to go by that wicked house. I swear, I could feel little beady green eyes follow my steps so fixedly that the hairs on my neck stiffened under a certain draft of chilled air as soon as I got a few feet past the start of that property's hedgerow. Despite the inner voice that said be courageous, my approach to that corner was slow, and I often found myself to be running as I crossed the intersection of Lake and High-- right up until I reached the corner of Cliffwood Place.
One late October Saturday morning before Halloween, Freddy initiated the plan for the South Thomas Street gang. He dared us to go onto the Tower's property and knock on the door. There was dead silence within the group. We all looked at each other to quickly poll the group's response.
"Yea right Freddy, as if!" his sister Mary said.
"I'm not afraid to go in there!" said Freddy. "Halloween's coming, I bet we'll find some real scary stuff!"
I thought, sure he's not afraid, Freddy's too senseless to be afraid. (He once fell 42 feet out of his backyard tree. It didn't do much for his ability to reason or use sound judgment.)
"You're not afraid huh? Well I tell you what, you go in first and we'll follow you," I said.
And so we all agreed. Like a pack of wolves on a hunt, we'd stick together and Freddy would take the lead. If someone was going to reach that door and knock on it, it would be Freddy himself.
We cut across the field behind the YMCA along the dirt footpath we had made from our many trips to mailbox and Tommy's Pond. We finalized our plans along the way. Cathy Dolan stayed by the mailbox that we designated as our look out post. Freddy lead the way across Lake Avenue onto the property at its south east corner. We would make it first to the south side of the building before going to the front steps. Through the dark vine filled jungle we moved quietly in single file. Every step we took was carefully calculated with rhythmic, deliberate speed. We followed in each other's footsteps like programmed machines. No one spoke. There was nothing on our minds other than getting to that house or the carriage house building if it was still standing. We were focused, terrified, but surely focused on completing this mission as quickly as possible. When a twig snapped under foot, all of us froze at once. Freddy would turn around, make a grimaced face as he put his finger to his mouth and motioned us to continue.
"Shhhhhhh!" It wasn't uttered, but it was clearly understood.
We continued on....
Half way to the first destination Freddy went ahead while the rest of us waited back until Freddy returned with the "all clear" signal. It came quick enough, eyes as big as saucers, Freddy returned with a warning.
"I made it to the carriage house and looked in. You guys ain't gonna believe what I saw inside! The dogs ain't hitched out today, we can go. I swear, you're gonna pee your pants!"
Before we could say, "What's in there," he told us to hurry up and follow him, motioning us on. Again he took the lead, retracing his steps. We approached the carriage house's south side where there was a window. Looking behind me to see if others still followed, I could see a big old iron stake in the ground and what looked to be a rusted chain and bones arranged on the ground in the pattern of a dog skeleton. I pretended to not see anything and followed close to Mary. We got to the window, and Mary being taller than me could look in, but my nose was short of the windowsill and I could only see up into the building and its roof, not down to the floor. We grabbed some rotting logs on the ground and stacked them up to stand on to get a better look. I had just gotten up high enough to peer through the dirty web covered glass when I lost my balance under the bone shattering shriek of what could be nothing other than a wicked witch's voice.
"Hey, what are you kids doing here!" she hollered.
We were all frozen in our place.
"You heard me, what are you doing here. Ya looking for somethin'?"
"Noooo.... Maaaaaam!" managed to come through our lips. We didn't want to look at her, but our eyes were fixed. She was right behind us and was the ugliest looking old thing we had ever seen. If she wasn't a witch, she was an alien, 'cause nothing like that lived in our neighborhood, let alone our state.
"Who are you, what are your names?"
One by one, each one of us gave her a false name. I could only think of my cousin's name. My sister looked at me as though I was out of my mind as soon as I said, "Mary Jane Hecht."
"Where do you go to school? Tell me, where do you go and what grade are you in? If your parents don't call me by 12:00 noon today, I'll have the cops come and arrest you all for trespassing at 1:00 on Monday-- right out of your classrooms, and you'll never see your parents again! I'll see to that. I know a couple of the officers, and they look out for me. Why they'll even bring you back here if I see fit."
We turned around and high tailed it home. When we got to the end of the driveway, Cathy Dolan was already gone.
We burst through the porch door of my house, feeling confident Mom would console and protect us. She was just hanging up the phone when we got into entryway hall. The looks on our faces were an easy read for her.
"Now what's the matter!" she asked.
"Mom, you know the haunted house near the Y, well, we went over there and the witch that lives there caught us by the building next store, and she told us if we didn't have our parents call her by noon time, she was gonna have the police haul us out of school Monday at one o'clock, and arrest us, and take us away forever, and we'd never see you again. She even said the cops might bring us back to her house and she'd turn us into dinner for the dogs. You gotta call her right now."
"Mary, you've got to stop crying and Pam, you've got to slow down. Now tell me again."
"MOM! Listen!" and I said the whole thing over again.
I could hear my Dad in the living room put his paper down.
"What's all the commotion in here. Have you kids gotten yourselves in trouble again? I want to finish my lunch and read the paper before heading back to the hardware store."
Mom explained to him that we had trespassed on the Tower's property and that the woman who lived there wanted a phone call by noon.
Dad replied, "We're not calling her. I know who it is, and she is just a crazy old lady. Don't you call her either Jeanne."
"Dad, you have to call her, or she take us away. She is gonna have the cops haul us out of school at one o'clock on Monday. She knows the cops. They do what ever she wants them to. You see all those beer trucks that drive in there. The cops don't do anything to her, but there gonna do something to us! Call her now. You'll do it if you love me and Suzie. PLEASE Dad! Call her."
"Pamela Jane, I told you, we're not calling and forget the police. Now either go out and play or go to your room."
We went outside and talked about our dilemma until my Dad left. I told the kids I'd go back in the house and try to soft soap Mom into calling. We decided it would be better to send Suzie in, her crocodile tears always worked on Mom. Seconds after she went into the home she came back out.
Mom said, "You heard your dad, I am not going against his word, now go play."
We were pretty quiet the rest of the weekend. We hung close to home, spending most of the time on the steps to our house. The gloominess that surrounded that old house a block away now surrounded our spirit.
The dreaded day came. I tried to convince Mom I was too sick to go to school, but when Suzie, Freddy and Mary did the same, the jig was up. All of us were sent out the door, down the street to Edgar School. Up the stairs we walked, into the building and first floor. Suzie and Freddy went to their first grade rooms, and Mary and I walked up the stairwells to our third grade rooms. While the rest of the kids were lively with the holiday excitement of Halloween, we were subdued over our pending certain arrest.
All day I watched the clock. The closer it got to one, the faster the second hand seemed to go. I felt to ill to eat my lunch, so I returned to my class with an empty stomach. Twelve thirty came and went. I couldn't help but keep my eyes pasted to the clock during our quiet reading time. I held my book up to cover my face so the teacher wouldn't notice that I wasn't reading, and hopefully to hide my face from the cops who were sure to be looking for me.
One o'clock approached. The noises in the room and hall took on an eerie sound of their own. I listened intently for the footsteps coming up the stairwell. My heart pounded painfully in my throat. If I didn't have a heart attack, I'd surely die by choking. The second hand approached the hour of ONE. Closer and closer the moment of doom approached. I heard steps in the stairwell. They echoed up to the second floor. There was at least two people coming, and the closer they got, the more their steps reverberated in the stairwell. I just wanted to pass out. Closer and closer, louder and louder they got. They hit the top stair.....
...and down the hall they went. It was just the principal and a parent. She smiled as they walked by.
The hour came and went and the clock returned to normal speed. I was safe. Church attendance paid off at last. I swore I'd be good forever and never complain about Sunday School again.
At last the bell rang and we were dismissed. No cops, and I was headed home. I met Mary, my sister and Freddy outside of the school. We walked home together. We were greatly relieved, but exhausted.
Mom asked Sue and I if we were feeling better as we ate our snacks. We assured her we were. Then we went out to play.
At the supper table we ate quietly. When we were almost done Dad spoke up.
"Well, how was school today?"
"OK." Sue nodded.
Dad continued eating.
"So, I see your still with us."
I lifted my eyes, but not my head and looked at my sister. My sister did the same.
"Yea." I replied.
"So, you didn't get a visit from the cops today. Hum, I wonder why?" He put his fork down and looked at me and Sue. Mom followed his manner. Dad wiped his mouth with his napkin to signal he was done eating. Mom held back a smile, got up and started to clear the dishes.
Dad leaned forward and folded his hands on the table and stared right at me. This was one of those moments I wished I didn't sit across from him next to Mom. I could feel a "talk" coming on.
"Mrs. Renner called here last Saturday before you kids even got home and told us what happened. Your Mom was hanging up the phone when you kids came in the door. Mrs. Renner thought it was pretty funny how she scared the daylights out of you. She just couldn't resist. But she also made it clear she doesn't want you snooping around her property again. There are too many things to get hurt on."
"So you knew all along Dad?"
"Not much gets by this dad, ya know. Remember, I grew up here too. Everyone on this block knows everyone else and whose kids belong to whom."
"So you just went along as a joke?"
"No, I went along to teach you a lesson, and I hope you kids have learned a good lesson this time!"
And I can assure you, we had..........., for a few days anyway.
Several years later we moved away from Metuchen when my Dad bought a hardware store in Red Bank, New Jersey. Sadly, the Towers burned flat to the ground and gone with it were the opportunities for other kids in the neighborhood to have a good old-fashioned Halloween scare.
|Edgar School||South Thomas St||South Thomas St||YMCA||Corner Lake and High||Corner Thomas and High||Down Lake to pond|
|Edgar School||South Thomas St||South Thomas St||YMCA||Current site of Carriage/Tower House||From Carriage House to pond||Tommy's Pond|
|Edgar Field||South Thomas St||South Thomas St||YMCA||Reformed Church||Down Thomas from High||Tommy's Pond|
|From Edgar down Thomas Street||South Thomas St||South Thomas St||YMCA||Reformed Church||Corner of High and Thomas||Tommy's Pond|
|From Edgar down Thomas Street||South Thomas St||Thomas to Edgar field||Back of YMCA||Reformed Church||Corner of High and Thomas||Tommy's Pond|
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Last updated 10/31/00 by Jim Halpin