It's funny about moving out of a town you've lived for a long time -- it occupies your thoughts a lot more than you ever expected it to when you left. You get the usual nostalgia for what you've experienced, of course, but you also start remembering all the stories you've been told about, even if you didn't experience them yourself.
I lived in Denton, Texas from 1992-94 as a student at the University of North Texas and again from 2009-2016. I wanted to live there for a much longer time. It is my favorite city in the state, and I feel I was, for the most part, happier there than I was anywhere else. The town had an entertaining history, too, with lots of historical buildings and a few small museums focused on the city's historical past.
Every year, in the early autumn, a local woman began hosting "ghost tours" around Denton's town square. I went on one of them -- tickets were just $15, the woman running the tours was a talented storyteller, and it was a very enjoyable way to spend a late October evening. I didn't believe most of the stories, honestly. Some were of the "A famous person visited this building once. Some say his ghost still roams its halls!" variety. On the other hand, there were some amazingly gruesome and unnerving tales focused on Denton tragedies, particularly the fires that plagued the early decades of the Denton Square's existence.)
After the tour, I stopped in at one of the local coffee shops for a mocha latte. I'd gotten acquainted with a few of the local characters during my time in Denton, and was finishing my drink while watching a couple old-timers play chess. One asked me what I was doing on the Square so late, and I mentioned going on the ghost tour. The other codger immediately checkmated his opponent and said, "I'll tell you about a haunted house."
This guy (I'm not including his name because I don't know how to contact him to ask permission) lived in Denton since he was in his 20s, and at some point, had made enough money to buy or build a number of different houses. In time, he'd sold all but three -- he gave one to his daughter; he and his wife lived in the second one; and the third one was the one he swore he'd never let anyone else own.
I won't tell you the exact address or provide a detailed description. I doubt the owner wants a bunch of wannabe ghost-hunters snooping around his property, and I don’t blame him. So we’ll strip out as much of the identifying information as we can. But it's a beautiful old Victorian mansion on Oak Street that's actually registered as a historic landmark with the state. "Ha ha, I can find it now!" No, you can't -- Denton, and particularly Oak Street in Denton, is full of beautiful old Victorian mansions that are registered as historic landmarks.
So anyway, this old guy said the house had a long history of being haunted, even before he bought it. As far as anyone knows, the haunting started some time in the late 1940s, when the owners, an elderly couple who had lived in the house for decades, began hearing disembodied footsteps and catching glimpses of figures in black out of the corners of their eyes. They didn't know why they were seeing ghosts -- they were aware of no one ever dying in the house. They were apparently willing to live with the spectral visitors for several years. The couple died on the same dark, stormy night in the early 1950s. The inquest's official cause of death was "Mysterious."
The next owners of the house heard the same disembodied footsteps, but the figures in black were less of the "catch 'em out the corners of your eye when you're not looking" camp and more of the "show up looming ominously at your bedside late at night" camp. The recently-deceased elderly couple also made some post-death appearances. They were seen occasionally huddled together in one of the closets, unnaturally pale, shivering violently, silently screaming.
The owners of the house vacated the premises one night after being awakened by flashing lights and deranged laughter inside their bedroom. In fact, they left the house by the bedroom window and had to rely on neighbors and friends to get their belongings out over the next few days, as they refused to set foot back inside the house.
The house was empty for a couple years afterwards. The next family who bought it thought it was a charming old house for about a month. After that, they spent some time getting awakened every night by malign whispers in the darkness. They moved out as soon as the whispers were replaced by bloodcurdling shrieks.
The next family -- Dad, Mom, three kids, and elderly grandmother -- lived there very happily for seven years, with no evidence of the supernatural at all. They told friends it was the best house they'd ever lived in, and said they couldn't imagine what all the fuss was about ghosts.
On the eighth anniversary of buying the house, all six of them were found hanged in the attic.
After that, the house was empty for quite a bit longer than before.
The current owner -- the old codger telling me the story -- bought the house in the mid-1980s, just after it had been designated a historic landmark. Most of his other properties had been modest residences, making this mansion the nicest house he'd ever bought, and he figured he could flip it and make a fortune. He told us he spent part of one night in the house. He was aware of the previous stories about it, but figured he should try to sleep in his own property at least one night. He left not long after midnight. He wouldn't tell us why he left early, but he said he wouldn't spend more than an hour inside for any amount of money.
He's attempted to rent it a couple of times. He always told potential renters some of the house's history, because he was afraid of misleading folks. That scared a number of renters away, but there are always a few thrillseekers willing to try living in a haunted house. But everyone who he showed the house to thought it was extremely disquieting and somehow "off" and they refused to sign a lease. In fact, his leasing agent once brought her young son along with her for a showing -- the kid piped up while she was showing off the kitchen and said, "Mommy, the bloody man says we should go upstairs now to see his axe." The whole group walked straight out the front door, and the owner hasn't attempted to rent the place since.
The codger said his only issue with the house now was that he couldn't knock it down -- it was a historic landmark, and the state would never allow it. Plus it has to be maintained in livable condition, even if it's vacant. Can't have a historical landmark falling to pieces, right?
So his strategy is hiring five-man teams of laborers, once a year, to handle maintenance on the house. All five go into the house together, along with himself and a priest. They go into every room together, do whatever needs to be done, then move on to the next room. No one goes off by themselves for any reason. And they always leave the house after an hour. It's a pain in the ass if there's a lot of maintenance that has to be done, because it can take a few weeks to finish, but that's his rule. The whole maintenance crew has been told about the house, and they're all thoroughly scared of it, but they do it because he pays 'em well, because he's willing to take the same risks they do, and because they feel the priest gives them some measure of spiritual protection.
There have still been disturbing incidents. The laborers regularly hear footsteps upstairs or people speaking to them from other rooms. The previous year, they heard the sound of pounding fists on the floorboards the entire time they were in the house. Two years before that, one of the workers saw a little girl in the hallway who said to him, "Come help me, I'm lost." And three years before that, the shadows of six people hanging from nooses could be seen on the wall of the house's entryway when the crew opened the front door.
The codger said the thing that really worries him about the house is that it'll somehow entice someone else inside. The neighbors on either side of the house have reported seeing flashing lights and beckoning figures in the windows, but they've been warned about the house's dangers. And a nine-foot-tall fence has been built around the house, with the doors triple-deadlocked and security bars on the windows, which he hopes will be enough to keep anyone else out of the house.
He said he's been tempted to just hire a construction crew to drive in and knock the house flat, but he doesn't want to go to prison for it. And he's worried someone would just build a new house on the site and start the whole problem all over again.
Of course, I asked if I could see the place. He said he'd already told me the address, so I could go look anytime, but he didn't recommend it. No, can I go inside, I asked. And he said no, and he called me a damn idiot, which was probably accurate.
I did go look, naturally. Stood outside the nine-foot-tall fence one morning and looked at it. It's a really pretty house, classic style, the kind of place you'd be proud to own and live in. Did I see two people watching me from an upstairs window, their mouths opened in silent screams? Maybe. But the curtains on the window were closed, and I really wanted to see something spooky. Maybe it was just a shadow, maybe it was just my imagination.
I took a picture, and it looked perfectly normal in every way.