Saturday, October 11, 2008


Haunted Houses

The Songwriter has an unabashed love of classic ghost stories which has resulted in an impressive collection - more than enough of the scary tales to satisfy each and every dark October night. Sometimes on especially wicked evenings, he reads them aloud to us.
M.R. James, Ambrose Bierce, Edith Wharton, Dinesen and Poe - all masters of chilling lore and frightful fable. We often gather round the orange glow of a fire to listen, snuggling down in soft blankets, with comforting pillows at the ready in case I happen to need something to clutch tightly and still a pounding heart. I am not sure if Edward listens all that closely to the plots of each tale, but if there were an actual ghost in attendance, he would, no doubt, be the first in the room to notice him. I am certain he sees things I cannot. And after all, I do happen to believe in haunted houses.
Once, on a golden autumn afternoon I stood in the dining room at Hammersmith Farm in Newport, Rhode Island, watching as the late afternoon sun streamed in through the huge floor to ceiling window. Hammersmith Farm was the childhood home of Jacqueline Bouvier and served as a family retreat after she married John F. Kennedy. During his presidency, Kennedy’s helicopter would often land on the expansive back lawn and he would stride up the hill to enter the house through that very dining room window. Standing there, I could almost hear the helicopter blades whirring overhead and catch the whispers of happy, echoed welcomes on the air. There was hardly anyone else in the rambling seaside house the afternoon of my visit and unlike many famous houses, there were no restrictions, I was free to wander anywhere I chose. The rooms were unchanged, frozen in faded time. Jackie’s wicker-filled childhood bedroom, the large, serene room she later shared with her husband, the floral walls of the gracious staircase where, in a familiar photograph, she once lifted her arms in delight on the night of her debutante ball, the grassy sunlit hill where the famous photographs of the Kennedy wedding reception were taken - all remained just as they had been then. I felt like a most reluctant fortune teller in that place, as I knew what lay ahead for these large-spirited people who still seemed so very present in the glow of that sunlit afternoon. I could feel the muted rustlings of history in every room, down every hallway. There was an undeniable melancholy to the atmosphere, as if the grand old house itself had absorbed something essential one grey November day, a sadness that now permeated the very air inside its shingled walls.

Hammersmith Farm was sold not long after my visit there, the floral wallpaper stripped, the furniture carted away. I have always felt fortunate to have been there when I was, for I believe I visited more that just a house that afternoon. There were spirits present there, shadows from history still dancing in the setting sunbeams that shone through a tall dining room window.
A haunted house? Absolutely.

"Our revels are now ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on..."

William Shakespeare from The Tempest

Painting Above: The Haunted House by Atkinson Grimshaw

46 comments:

  1. fijyhfr
    Oh Pamela, you toutch the essence of what was, what is and inevitably, what is to be...
    Sometimes, in some places there is an overwhelming presence of what has been, because of it, there are some places I dare not go back to....

    ReplyDelete
  2. A beautiful post Pamela. Thank you so much for including the photo of the young Jaqueline at the end of the post, as I tried to imagine her in your debutante description. It was a delight to see the actual photograph.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love this post Pamela.
    Surrounded by a house that held so many beginnings and witnessed from afar such tragic endings.
    If only we could turn back the hands of time to intercept happenings that have such horrific results.
    But for those few sacred moments you stood in that very hall where a young girl grew to be a woman and fall in love with a handsome man, someday to become the President and she the First Lady.
    Thankyou for sharing this place in history!
    xo Susan

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am stunned into silence, thoughtful and touching writing about special moments in an innocent life and the photograph is the icing.
    Hugs Lynn xx

    ReplyDelete
  5. "There are more things in heaven and earth,my friend Horatio!" I do believe in haunted houses..
    What a beautiful picture of Jacky..not knowing about the life to come..
    Thank you for the sweet comment on my latest post...My book is finished and is going to the publisher soon! Happy Weekend to you*

    ReplyDelete
  6. Delicious thoughts of spirit inhabited places.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Jacqueline is one figure that I admire and love reading and learning about in all forms...and I must say that this anecdote was by far one of the most beautiful stories referencing her.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thank you for this very atmospheric piece of writing, It made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Yes I do believe places hold something of what has happened there. Shortly after moving in here I was in the bath with the door open and saw the tall figure of a woman in dark clothing in front of a brown patterned wall. In a second it was all gone. A couple of years later we got around to redecorating and sure enough the oldest layer of paper was the dark brown tiling sort of design I had seen on the landing. I've not seen her since. I think she was just checking us new owners out.

    In our old farmhouse in Wales where I had found green Medieval pottery, there'd be the smell of pipe tobacco at 3pm in what was the kitchen during Victorian times but was older.

    I have the same feeling of sadness when I see photos from just before the First World War. I wonder just how many of the smart young men survived, or how many of the smiling farm hands so confident with their hands came back.

    You bring these topics up so well. I could rattle on and on. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Lovely post Pamela. Yes I do think places hold on to happiness and sadness long after the event. Near to us is a house where it was said horses pulled a coach through at midnight. Because of this, in the last century, the people pulled down the middle section of the house, so it now appears to be two houses. I have passed at midnight but have never seen a thing - it's not that I don't believe in ghosts but I do think you have to be in a receptive frame of mind to pick up the signals. Thanks for visiting me. Call again.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hammersmith Farm....a cherished memory you are fortunate to have.

    I happen to live right by what is arguably my city's *Most* haunted site. Tales of ghost sightings and other spooky goings-on there are legion.

    You've expressed yourself, as usual, so well in this post. You have a real gift.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Oh! Forgot to mention---its a perfect, perfect image you've chosen to illustrate this post.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Beautiful.

    I feel like I was there with you.

    ReplyDelete
  14. oh...shivers down my spine...what a delicious description...

    ReplyDelete
  15. I loved this post and the journey it caused my mind to take. Houses hold such memories, don't they. If walls could talk... I always love historical homes and as a family, we are drawn to places with historical significance, particularly historical homes and battlefields. It's wonderful to know just enough about a place to allow your imagination to fill in details. Thanks for the journey.

    Blessings,
    Christi

    ReplyDelete
  16. Enjoyed this post very much. Thank you. Also loved the photo of Edward at the Blessing of the Animals.

    ReplyDelete
  17. How very sad that they dismantled the house's interior after it had clearly been lovingly preserved.

    We sometimes have ghost stories read out loud on winter nights too.

    I simply loved that Lincoln quote after the post on the blessing of the animals too.

    Beautiful things here, as ever!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Haunting story of the spirit of the soul of a house.
    My Great Aunt lived in an amazing home, and after she passed away, it was sold and they put up a McDonalds. I still remember visiting her and having fruitcake and sherry as a young woman.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I so enjoyed reading this, how lucky you are to have visited Hammersmith Farm before it was sold and to have had it almost to yourself. I would have loved to go there - I'm surprised that, with its connections to the Kennedys, it wasn't preserved for the nation. Your ghost story evenings sound so snug - though I'm not sure I could cope with the really scary bits:)

    ReplyDelete
  20. What a wonderful picture - in the spirit of the season. I'd never seen it before.
    As a great sceptic, I still feel that some places are definitely haunted and hallowed if one listens carefully enough.
    A super post.
    ps. Dogs are super-sensitive to atmosphere - you shoul ask Edward about anywhere you consider odd!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Wonderful writing, as always, thank you for sharing your experiences at Hammersmith Farm. You have made me think about a couple of places where I have experienced echoes of the past merging with the present. What a tragic family Jaqueline married into.

    ReplyDelete
  22. You gave me shivers this morning, Pamela.
    What a terrible shame the house was sold.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I loved your post today, Pamela. I was in junior high when Jackie was first lady. I always loved her. She was forever fascinating and beautiful.
    Thanks for the debutante photograph. What a delight!

    ReplyDelete
  24. You are a great story teller Pamela.

    clever keep sake boxes too.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Your posts are better than a cup of spiced tea by the fire on a crisp autumnal night. OH! to be read to aloud. What a luxury! I bet Edward takes in much more than you know. At least the pleasant tones of the spoken word. Hammersmith Farm is not something I had the luxury of seeing before it was sanitized. As one who feels those shadows that cling to much loved buildings....I appreciate this post.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I love being read aloud to as well. Will there be a special reading on Halloween? :)

    ReplyDelete
  27. Another great piece of writing Pamela! Have a great week & greetings to Edward! :-o)

    ReplyDelete
  28. What a glorious post Pamela. Your writing takes my breath away, and makes me rather envious too. What a wonderful photograph that is, so full of joy and promise, yet so sad too. I loved every word.

    The cherry on the cake? The quote from The Tempest.

    ReplyDelete
  29. At first I was marveled to see such a blog.Your blog is sparkling. It has a great appeal. How are U able to cope such a lot. Meet me at
    http://gwb-chinese.blogspot.com/
    Waiting with curiosity. To know your innovation.

    ReplyDelete
  30. What a perfect October visit here today Pamela. And yes, Edward would be the first to speak up! Give the sweet fellow a hug. Great photo of Jackie.
    Lisa & Alfie

    ReplyDelete
  31. You evoked the atmosphere wonderfully.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Pamela, that picture is lovely and poignant when you think of the challenges that laid ahead for the young Jackie Bouvier. To me, her life was the perfect example of "grace under pressure". And you quoted from my absolute favorite W.S.'s play. What a treat to start the day reading you. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  33. Maybe not by ghosts, but I do believe that ancient house are haunted by the memories of those dwellers of yesteryears. Walls bursting out with so much history inside them.

    Lovely post.

    Greetings from London.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I was telling my husband about this piece of writing last night whilst watching BBC1 when, low and behold, in front of my eyes Stephen Fry began a conversation with a lady in Newport, Rhode Island! She went on to say that she went to the Kennedy's wedding ceremony.
    Fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
  35. stunning post my dear...the perfect way to start my week.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Wonderful post, as ever.
    Your writing is also very atmospheric.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Mmmmmm, fun scary. I love all those things about October from all the colored leaves and autumn squash to your aforementioned ghost stories and haunted houses.

    ReplyDelete
  38. wonderful writing - beautiful pics - lovely blog - thanks for coming by my site and your very nice comments - loved coming here and finding out that Edward is an amazing hound!

    ReplyDelete
  39. I wonderful post! I have read several biographies on the Kennedys and really enjoyed one specifically on Jacqueline and her life. She was such an interesting women with so mucy style and grace and very private in a way which adds to her mystery. How wonderful it must have been to walk through that house steeped in so much history and yes there is so much sadness too. Thank you for such an interesting post!

    Gillian

    ReplyDelete
  40. This was great! I love ghost stories and can't get enough of them...More please...:-)

    ReplyDelete
  41. What a delightful and zabsolutely beautiful post. I am convinced I have been in that photo place in another lifetime. Thank you so much for sharing....AHH
    Linda

    ReplyDelete
  42. What a beautiful post; It was wonderful to be transported through your memories, and surely, you did great justice to the sadness and history of the house.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Yes, things can be haunted in good ways. Extremely well written post!

    ReplyDelete
  44. This is a simply stunning piece of writing! You paint the most beautiful pictures with words...I just want to keep reading and reading, I wish you would write a book. You must write a a book!

    ReplyDelete

I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!