Maybe all the stormy weather we’ve had lately has put me In a ghost story mood, or maybe it was the bonfire we had, just to get one last roasted marshmallow in before it gets too hot. At any rate, my family has been retelling some of our old favorites. It seems appropriate that my husband found someone with another interesting story involving haunted furniture for my collection.
My new friends Bob and Michael Pearson have a home full of beautiful antiques from their respective families. Bob has nautical pieces that reflect his family’s love for the sea, where they made their living. Michael’s family were involved with the railroad and she has albums of great photos to illustrate her wonderful stories. They have interesting pieces they have collected during their travels during Bob’s military career. All this is interspersed with Michael’s own paintings, mostly of flowers.
There are several pieces of Victorian furniture and decorative items that came from her family home. Among these pieces are a desk in the Eastlake style with figured walnut veneer. The top rolls up to expose a writing surface and a series of drawers and slots. You can just imagine all the writers who sat at the desk to compose letters to friends and family. They also showed me an Edwardian writing slope. This piece was made toward the end of the popularity of this form. There is an embossed leather writing surface and wells for crystal ink wells and pens. The closed desk has painted and inlaid decoration on a bird’s eye maple field. Michael described an oil lamp that had been converted to use electricity. Unfortunately, the milk glass shade had been broken and the lamp is currently stored in the garage until a new shade can be found. These three pieces are lovely in their own right, but the real story involves the interaction of all three.
Michael remembers traveling by train to visit her great aunt Nellie Pearl Huntley in her “spooky, old Victorian house with lots of gingerbread.” As an imaginative child, Michael was really effected by the atmosphere in her Aunt’s house. Aunt Nell visited the family in their home a few more times before her death. Michael’s father, as the favorite nephew, inherited many things from her house. A vignette was created from some of Nell’s favorite items in the entry hall of the family house. The desk was placed near the stairs with the writing desk and lamp resting on the top. The lamp became the night light for the entry way as little Michael became a teen.
One day, Michael had dumped some school books on a chair near the desk and left them there while she went out for a date. When she got home she scooped the books into her arms and then tried to turn out the light. She remembers the closed desk and writing slope because she had to stack the books back in the chair while she turned the light out. She picked the books back up and went upstairs to her room. Later, when her mother came to say goodnight, she mentioned that Michael had left the light in the hall on. Michael tried to tease her mother by saying a burglar had turned the light on because she knew she had turned it off. Her mother retorted by saying a ghost had turned the light on. (Her mother’s biggest fear was having a burglar in the house and Michael was not fond of ghosts.) After they had thoroughly frightened each other they crept down to the entry to turn off the light. When they got there they found that not only was the light on but the desk was open with the open writing slope sitting in the middle of it! “I told you it was Aunt Nell,” said Michael’s mother. She calmly turned off the light and went back to bed. After all, she was much happier with a ghost than a burglar.
Michael tells me that the same thing occurred several more times through the years. Aunt Nell seemed to like the placement of her possessions until Michael’s father decided to make some “improvements” to the desk. He thought pieces should be used and felt he would enjoy combining his stereo with the desk. He removed the center board of the pull out writing surface and dropped his turntable into the drawer below. By hinging the front of the drawer he could access the dials. Aunt Nell either didn’t approve of the use of her desk or of the music played because she would drag the needle across the album or completely turn off the power. The stereo didn’t just have a brief lapse, such as a power surge, but the dial would have been turned to the off position. After months of interrupted musical evenings her father gave up and removed the stereo.
Years later, with both her parents gone, Michael and Bob chose a few things from their house to remember them by. Though the lamp, writing slope and desk all live in Beaufort at the Pearson home they are not in the same room. (Even putting two of the pieces together for the sake of the photos for this article was a little creepy. I didn’t lose my nerve only because Dixie the dog seemed not to lose any sleep as a result.)
I hope you have a few family treasures that you love. I think the possessions that go from generation to generation help us keep memories alive and help us appreciate the past. But, if any of those possessions go bump in the night, give me a call. I love a good ghost story.
Libby Holloway is a Certified Appraiser of antiques and residential contents. She is a member of the International Society of Appraisers where she is currently serving as Secretary of the Board of Directors. Libby can be contacted at www.LibbyHollowayAppraisals.com.