Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Two Constitutionals in Haunted Irvingotn

This started out as a blog about National Novel Writing Month, and then would up becoming one about the walks that Jackson and I take around Irvington each Wednesday afternoon when the weather is nice. When I started typing up these notes at work the other night, it was about NaNoWriMo and how well that was going so far this year; but then it took a long detour around the places where we walked last Tuesday (we took our walk last week on that day because I needed to go vote—and that ended up being a good thing, because the weather on Wednesday was not remotely conducive to taking a walk), and how my memories of those places is helping to shape the things I am writing about for NaNoWriMo this year.

We stared out by going over to the Irvington Presbyterian Church, by way of the library so I could drop off some items, and then after I voted, we went over to Lazy Daze; and then after that, we walked back around Johnson Avenue to Audubon Road and took that south to Irving Circle, which we followed one quarter of the way around, to University Avenue. I don’t remember precisely why I chose to walk along University, which I usually avoid because the sidewalks are horrible if you’re pushing a stroller, but that’s where we went; and when we got to the intersection of University and Oak, I realized that we had never—that I could recall, anyway—continued along the stretch of Unversity that goes from Oak to Arlington (on foot).

Irvington is the old stomping grounds of a great many people that I met in college—including my wife—and one of the many nice things about living in Irvington and taking walks around the neighborhood is that I get the chance to reminisce on those days when I happen to pass by a house where one of those friends from college used to live. There are two such houses along that stretch of University between Oak and Arlington, though I don’t remember the exact location of one of them, just that it’s along that stretch of University. So instead of passing it by, we went down that stretch of University, and then wound up at the corner of Arlington. Nothing really caught my eye or got my attention, though, so I didn’t linger on it—and instead thought about walking by another Irvington landmark, though one that bears no relation at all to anyone I knew in college (or so I thought before I sought it out).

For some reason, I looked up H.H. Holmes on the magic internets the other night, and I found a website that I had seen before but not marked, maintained by the people who currently live on the lot where once there stood a house that was rented by one Mr. H.H. Holmes. Legend has it that Holmes took up residence in the house specifically so that he could bring a young boy there and kill him, thereby adding the house (which was either demolished at some point or…moved?) to the haunted lore of Irvington. (The story is dramatized in a novel called The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, and there is also a documentary about it available on DVD.) While looking at the website, I noted the address of the house that currently occupies the lot where the Holmes house once stood. I knew by the address number—5811 Julian—that it was a place I had walked past at some point, but that particular Irvington legend had never stuck with me, so I had never marked the address the way I had marked others. But since I’m working on a very long Irvington story for NaNoWriMo, I’ve been trying to make note of more of those types of things—so I decided that I wanted to walk by the house and have a look.

When I first thought about walking by that house, I had planned to save it for Wednesday, when I would have more time to be out and about, without having to worry about getting home at a certain time so that I could go to work. But that Tuesday it didn’t take long to vote, and it also didn’t take long to stop at the library or the coffee shop—and the unexpected jaunt out University to Arlington pretty much meant that I could swing by the place on my way home without going any further out of my way—and at that point, there was still plenty of time left in the two hours that I had budgeted for the walk. So away we went, going north along Arlington to Julian; and I resisted the urge to get off of Arlington (or its sidewalk, at any rate), thinking—correctly, as it turned out—that none of the cross streets would lead me to where I wanted to go without some serious backtracking. So we turned left on Julian, and I started looking out for number 5811.

And it turns out that 5811 Julian is at the corner of Julian and Bolton—and that the house is literally three doors down (sorry) from another of those houses where someone I knew from college used to live. I grew up way the hell out near 10th and Post, where nothing remotely interesting has ever taken place. But all of these people I used to hang out with in college grew up in Irvington, including the girl who used to live on Bolton, three doors down (sorry again) from the lot that used to be owned by a fellow who is now thought of as America’s first serial killer. The website Holmes in Irvington, the one maintained by the people who live on the lot, indicates that as of March 2011, they were thinking of selling their house and moving on. I don’t know if I could sell my own house and move into that one—nor that it would be good idea to try, especially considering the roughly ten grand we’ve dropped on fixing up the house we currently live in—but man, does the idea of living on haunted land strike a chord with the overactive imagination that led me down the path of letters.

And wouldn’t you know that this story has an epilogue? The day after election day last week was very windy, and it got progressively colder as the day went on; and by the time I was ready to go out on my usual Wednesday walk with Jackson, it was not only windy and cold, but also a little bit rainy—not really rainy, but that fine sort of mist doesn’t give you enough cause to open your umbrella, but winds up getting you wet, eventually, anyway. It was an unpleasant day to be out in the world, at least with people who aren’t hardy enough to stand up very well to such things. Four-year-olds are not very hardy when it comes to cold, wet, windy weather; but I was too much in the mindset for a walk, even if it was going to have be a short one—and that’s what it wound up being, just a quick jaunt out to the coffee shop and then an even quicker nip past that Holmes house/lot one more time.

Nothing at all creative came to me that second time I walked past it, but I had had an idea for the title of my NaNoWriMo project the day before, after we had walked by it and I had started thinking about how close it was to a house I had actually been inside of once or twice before (and maybe that my wife had too, since she was good friends with the person who used to live there when they were in high school together), and about all of the other things in Irvington that are either haunted or are reputed to be. The unexpected Tuesday walk wasn’t just a good walk for a Tuesday, it was a good walk, period; and I had almost passed on it, because we never go for walks on Tuesdays.

Next: An actual post about how National Novel Writing Month is going for me this year, and hopefully some pictures of Jackson. I got the big idea to separate all of the Jackson pictures from the non-Jackson pictures, and then label and categorize the non-Jackson pictures, mostly so I have an idea of what Irvington things I have photographed, so that I can go back and look at those things for reference, if I need to.

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