by Laura Kathryn Rogers
Blount House was old.
It was old when the first English settlers came to the area, founding what would become known as the town of Crenshaw, Virginia.
Then, the house had no name. It was a one room cabin near a well-used Indian trail.
As far back as records went, there was some mention of the dwelling. As far back as records went, no one had a good word to say about the place.
Bad things happened there.
No one who lived there, seemed to live long–or, if they managed to leave, to survive long after leaving the place. After a time, it ceased to mentioned in polite conversation.
Yet, people, always strangers, continued to be drawn to it.
There were a few whispered stories about suicides in the house. Owners who bought the place, fixed it up, maybe added a room or two to the acre lot. Then, after going missing, were found–often at the end of a rope.
The house was used during the Revolutionary War as a hospital. The house caught cannon fire from the British, and in the whimsy of future owners, no one ever repaired the gaping hole, as if it were a type of monument.
Blount House got its name in 1834 when Captain William Blount, a retired and unimaginably wealthy sea captain moved to the area.
The captain, in his 60’s was handsome and extraverted. He had a full head of thick white hair and a closely trimmed beard. He took special care of his wardrobe. He was not quite a dandy, but he was close. He was strong, hardworking, and quickly respected in the growing community.
Townsfolk had tried to warn him. However, Captain Blount was the type of man who closed his ears to any information which conflicted with his plans or personal desires.
He bought the house, which by then had five rooms, and spent nearly a year lovingly fixing it up, importing costly items to create a conservatory and a ballroom. All of this was for his young wife, Savannah, who loved music, dancing and horseback riding.
By the time he finished restoring his new home, it rivaled Monticello. The grounds were lavishly laid out; even the carriage house seemed a bit palatial. Select townspeople were invited to an extravagant ball to celebrate the couple moving in. Thus, the house was christened by the public, who whether they were invited or not, chose to stop looking at the place askance.
Within a year of that hopeful, joyful party, both Savannah and Captain Blount would be dead, both by the same hand. Along with them would be the dashing rake, William Crenshaw, a distant cousin of Lord Crenshaw, whose land grant had led to the large scale settling of the area. William, a few years older than Savannah Blount, spoiled, rich and lacking ambition also loved music and dancing.
He also made the unwise choice to also love Savannah Blount.
Savannah loved neither her husband nor William Crenshaw. Had she been asked, before her husband sealed her and William Crenshaw in the attic (before turning a family revolver on himself), she would have told you she was fond of both men.
However, Savannah was as practical as she was beautiful. She knew what her life would be as a spinster. So, she sold herself to the highest bidder. And, after all, love could sometimes happen in such cases.
Captain Blount denied her nothing, and was deeply infatuated with this lady who had a womanly figure and china-doll features. He never hit her, never verbally abused her. Even when he discovered the affair between her and William Crenshaw.
He waited until she was napping, and used chloroform. A clever ruse got Crenshaw to come over to Blount House, and a knockout punch kept him there. One could only conjecture what the couple, once awakened, thought or felt. All they knew was the trap door was sealed and there was no getting out.
The townspeople knew the Captain to be a man of business, frequently gone. Sometimes, William, a trusted friend, went along. Sometimes, if it were to some glamourous place such as New York or Boston, Savannah accompanied her husband. The captain hired staff only for events, or when the couple would be at the home for a prolonged period of time.
William Crenshaw’s extended family, thinking him a womanizer and an incipient alcoholic, didn’t initially check on him.
Nearly three months passed before alarm bells went off for anyone. Three months was a long time to be away, even for Captain Blount. The town’s Sherriff, Abner Forsythe, did some checking and found that there had been no banking activity for Captain Blount for some time, also unusual for him. His letters of credit had been untouched.
Abner knocked at Blount House. He then looked in windows. He saw Captain Blount on the floor of the conservatory, decomposing. He broke out the window, and gagging on the smell of death, found that the Captain wasn’t alone in this recently created morgue.
The Sherriff’s nose led him and several of his men to the attic, where they used axes to gain access to what had become the crypt for Susannah Blount and William Crenshaw. The couple, starved and dehydrated, had died in each other’s arms.
The horror of this crime kept the place shuttered and avoided for more than 20 years. The town grew around it. In the War Between the States, Blount House again became a place to provide care for the wounded and dying from battlefields nearby. When the war ended, the house was shuttered up again, and it seemed to go into sleep, as reconstruction and the industrial era changed the world around it.
Blount had only distant relatives, and his estate, once uncomplicated by his solicitors, had gone in equal shares to them. Not interested in even viewing the place, those relatives made fitful attempts to sell Blount House. However, with its reputation of being a house of sordid murder and death, there were no buyers.
The neighborhood around it became a place of sedate, moneyed residents, and the street facing it was very calm. As it was one of the last on the street, it rarely even got the occasional carriage. Even mischievous children avoided it. And so, the house slumbered on. Neighbors came and went, but Blount House remained empty.
It was only with the advent of the roaring twenties that attention, this time from an unusual source, came to both the town and to Blount House.
Isadora Duncan, rebellious dancer and icon, swept into the town, offending many with her bare arms, and smoking of cigarettes from elegant holders. She saw Blount House and wouldn’t let anyone rest until she learned who the owners were She quickly bought it. Isadora poured money and love into the weathered old home. By the time she moved in, it was transformed.
By then, she didn’t have the money to return to France, where she’d been living on and off before buying Blount House. So, by default, she belonged to Blount House as much as it belonged to her.
There was a problem, however. Crenshaw, like many small towns, had its own royalty, its own morality, code of conduct and list of names of persons to who that code applied to, and to whom it did not. Isadora, having had three children out of wedlock by this time, sometimes seemed to enjoy flouting convention.
Some of the more monied and storied folks expected her to (with gratitude) amuse them with her dances. They were annoyed when she did not offer. Angered when she refused. Offended when their offense did not seem to register with her.
But as it turned out, Isadora was having problems of her own. Isadora had enough money to support herself, though not lavishly, and she often patronized the local stores. The curious and the nosy, of which there were many noticed that more and more, her ready laugh was less, her smile strained, her eyes darting about as if there was some source of care that only Miss Duncan were aware of. At last, it seemed as if she wore fear on her face.
And then, she was gone. Word got round that Blount House was for sale in early August of 1927. She had left most of her belongings in the house, and had taken a ocean liner to France, getting the money from an admirer. On September 15th, 1927, the world learned that she had died the night before in a tragic accident in Paris, choking on a scarf that got caught in the wheels of a car in which she was a passenger.
The handling of Miss Duncan’s minimal assets was carried out by businesslike men who saw estate conclusions as a daily part of their work. They were not superstitious, and did not consider Blount House a house with a reputation for dark mischief.
But the people in Crenshaw knew.
Again the house was boarded up. Again, people walked by quickly if they had to walk by at all. Again the house was mentioned sparingly, and if so, with a type of emotion akin to fear.
Decades went on, and the neighborhood, once inhabited by the well-to-do had begun to age, and be abandoned. A small branch of the state college was built two blocks from Blount House. in 1954. Entrepreneurs bought up many of the old homes along the tree-lined street, cut them up into apartments, and priced the dwellings to appeal to college students. A few students inquired about Blount House, now owned by a family in New York.
Blount House had, in its third century, become something of a macabre place, a haunted house, but with no ghosts. The stories still circulated at times about the house’s tendency to make ghosts, not house them. But even these stories were told with caution, with looks over the teller’s shoulder, with something like fear that someone, or something might be listening.
In 1955 the family who owned it came to live in the town, moving from New York state. There was Edgar Frost, a professor who had signed on to teach English at the college. With him was Edith, his tall, ethereally beautiful, red-haired wife. They had two twin daughters, Ella and Elsbeth, who looked like their mother with flaming red hair and feline-like green eyes. Most of Edith’s love was given to one thing– Blount House.
“If I’d known it was this beautiful, I would have dragged Edgar down here simply years ago.” She said, gushing.
Edith, a heiress with a nearly bottomless bank account called in painters, plumbers, electricians, and gardeners. The result was stunning. The conservatory and ballroom were established to their former grandeur. The main stairway was replaced with a spiral black one with marble steps. Windows and doors were replaced. Two luxurious bathrooms were added. No expense was spared. Local magazines came, shyly asking to take pictures. Edith proudly consented.
Photographers were not inclined not to stay long. Odd things happened during their photo shoots. Film would be fine during the shoots. Pictures would be exposed or foggy upon return to their labs. One photo showed an oversize imprint of what appeared to be a hand. When the photographer attempted to touch it, he was shocked so badly that he lost all sensation in his hands. He was found on the floor, twitching, his arm blackened up to the shoulder. He died six weeks later.
Other folks who visited left quickly as well. They often said they felt unwelcome. Like there was a heavy weight on their chest. They had trouble breathing. Their throats would lock up, and they felt as if they were about to choke, or……were being choked.
Edith appeared fine. The children played happily in the yards, in a playhouse and a treehouse which has been built for them. Edgar, busy at the college seemed to be the picture of a fulfilled man, walking to college to teach each day, walking home at night, swinging his umbrella, often whistling a tune. People started to forget about the Blount House’s history.
Then, Edgar seemed a little less brisk in his walks. The girls missed school. Then, Edgar explained they had hired private tutors for them, as the girls had developed night terrors, and extreme anxiety about leaving home. Slowly, Edith seemed more and more reluctant to leave the house. Even to purchase household items or groceries. She paid extra to have things delivered. However, even the best of delivery boys tended to want to leave the items at the door, hi-tailing out of the yard when they rang the bell.
The grocer, Theo Grigsby sent one of his longtime workers to collect the bill. It had gone over $100.00 and he couldn’t keep extending it. The youth came back, stumbling, without his bicycle, clutching his stomach.
“It’s hungry.” The boy, his eyes wide with terror, raised his shirt. Theo Grigsby saw a perfect, large bite mark on the boys stomach, bleeding.
“What’s hungry?” Theo asked as he loaded the boy in his Oldsmobile and headed for the local hospital. “What, boy?”
But the child didn’t say. Before he was gotten inside the emergency room, the child was dead. Doctors never found the thing that caused the bite or caused the youth’s death. Edgar made a large payment to the family, and paid the grocery bill in person. He began to drive to work. He seemed more withdrawn, a shadow of his former person.
In December 1956, Edith had lavishly decorated the outside and inside of Blount House. She invited the local papers to photograph her efforts. They politely declined.
The day after Christmas, a new boy, on a dare, climbed over the fence and went up to the window of the ballroom. He had to bring something back to prove he’d been there. As he peeped in the window, he heard music, ancient music, begin to play.
He saw Edith, resplendent in a lovely gown, sweep into the center of the room. She held her arms out as if she had a partner. The boy could see no one with her.
“No, I promise, I will never leave you.” She said. Then, she pulled out a sharp knife.
The boy wanted to run, but his legs were frozen beneath him. “I will never leave you.” Edith said again, simply.
Then she thrust the knife deep within herself. She fell to the floor and her blood formed a pool around her. The boy saw Edgar, walk in, see his dying wife. Heard him curse something that the boy could not see. Saw Edgar shudder once, then fall to the ground.
When the boy could move, he summoned police. When the bodies were removed from the house, they found that Edgar and Edith weren’t alone. Upstairs, in their small beds, the twins were also dead, shot once in each temple.
The slumber of Blount House remained undisturbed for several decades. Tightly shuttered, with “No Trespassing” signs throughout the large lot and on the home. Everyone seemed to take the prohibitions at their meaning, and stayed away.
The town grew in the opposite direction. By the turn of the century, the neighborhood was an abandoned looking place, full of cheap and neglected apartments. Neighbors didn’t know each other, nor did they care to. It was unusual for anyone to stay long. No one seemed to care about the sole intact colonial home.
And still Blount House slumbered on.
In 2003 a newcomer to town, a high school teacher, Louise Melrose, was looking for an inexpensive place to live. Louise didn’t qualify for low-income housing, and was tired of apartment living. She had looked at one uninspiring or wildly price-inflated house after another. She was nearly ready to settle for a small apartment when, a whim, drove down the street where Blount House waited.
That day in August of 2003, Blount House stood before her, and for Louise, it seemed like love at first sight. A different kind of love, of course—who could, after all, fall in love with a house?
But still, love just the same. Something about the place seemed sad, passed over, like her. And so, with her pristine credit and modest savings, convinced the attorney, Mark Frost, distant cousin and inheritor of the place, to sell Blount House to her.
The town was still in some ways as small as it had ever been. Louise was a comely woman, a bit overweight, but in all the right places, her clothing dated, but in colors that complemented her chestnut hair and gray eyes. Mothers pushed reluctant bachelor sons her way in church or when she was out having a meal in a local restaurant. She nicely rebuffed them all.
Finally, word got round that she was, obviously, either a circumspect lesbian or a terrible snob. Too good for their local boys? Some were downright sniffy about it, and old dowagers were sometimes unkind about their comments about Louise. If Louise noticed, she didn’t seem to care. She had something else in her life that mattered more.
As so many owners before her, she began to clean up the yard of limbs, years of leaves, replace a few broken windows. She painted the outside of the first floor herself. People who happened by to see what she was up to, noted that she painted carefully, in a near devoted way. Her funds were not bottomless as the Frost families or Captain Blount’s had been, so she was careful, looking for deals at local antique stores, yard sales and in the people she hired.
She hired Alan Jones, a sometime painter/plumber and handyman to paint the second floor of the house. He noted that she wasn’t bad for a fifty year old spinster. He watched her as she went about the home, arranging furniture, putting up wallpaper, and thought it would be nice to settle down. He was tired of chasing after odd jobs, but didn’t want to work for another man who expected him to tow the line. He could live at this creepy old place with this teacher. Spinsters were usually so grateful for attention, weren’t they?
He tried at first to be gallant, bathing, shaving and showing up in his cleanest, unstained work clothing. Louise didn’t seem to notice. She was polite, but treated him just as what he was, a person doing a paid job for her. He tried to be clever, funny, witty. She would smile, give him minimal attention, and then get back to work on the house.
Finally, one day, as he met her on the second story landing, he made a clumsy pass at her. Louise, offended, and wondering where she would find someone as inexpensive to finish painting took a step back, about to tell him what she thought.
Before she could say anything, a sound of wind filled the landing. A sound of something moving at fast speed. It seemed to hit Alan in his stomach. With an ‘oof’ sound, he slammed against the stair rail, and then over it. Louise ran down the stairs to call 911, as he moved and groaned where he fell. As the EMS personnel arrived, Louise turned away to let them in.
The EMS found him dead, his eyes wide with a horrified expression. The EMS had seen all sorts of things, but nothing like this. The investigation into the death of the handyman was quickly done, all involved parties seeming eager to get in and get out of Blount House, eager to rule the thing as accidental.
Louise’s school term began, and most of her co-workers, though they found her a thing of curiosity, avoided her. The death of Alan Jones stuck to her like a bad odor, and only Kierra Dudley, a new teacher in the classroom across the hall, attempted friendship. Kierra, a widow, was new in town, and went out of her way to befriend Louise.
It took nearly until Thanksgiving until Louise’s reserve was worn down. The two women began to go to movies together, go to community concerts or craft fairs. They found that they had a lot in common, to include a love of history and antiques. Where they bitterly differed in opinion was about Blount House.
Whereas Louise seemed to have an almost motherly devotion to the place, Kierra felt that she would suffocate there. Yet, she continued to visit. Kierra was a strong and loyal friend. Her husband’s premature death had convinced her that relationships with friends and family were important, worth enduring a bit of discomfort from time to time. Still, whenever Kierra could persuade Louise to leave the place and just get out, anywhere, she sometimes did.
They were at a Christmas cantata when Louise noted a jagged mark on the driver’s side door of Kierra’s car. “I know,” Kierra laughed. “Good thing the car is old anyway. Probably some bored kid keyed it.”
“Keyed it?” Louise said, unbelieving. “That wasn’t done with a key. It looks like someone really tore into it.”
“It’s okay, just part of my bad luck, lately.” Kierra said.
Louise agreed, knowing that her friend had seemed to have a lot of misfortune recently. A month ago, her back tires had blown, causing the car to nearly flip. Driving home on a snowy day, several days later, a sudden flurry flew up, blinding her, and Kierra crashed into a gate.
The car’s front was damaged, and she sustained some cuts from broken windshield glass, but was glad it wasn’t worse.
Then, only the week before, a tree in her yard, previously healthy, had suddenly fallen. Had Kierra not jumped aside, it would have crushed her.
Early in January of 2004, Kierra had been invited to dinner at Blount House by Louise. She didn’t want to go, her insides protesting being near the creepy place. She thought about making up a headache, anything to avoid it, but Kierra finally got in her car, and resolutely drove there.
Music, perhaps Debussy, was playing as Kierra rang the doorbell. She heard giggling, and then heard Louise say sternly, “Now you behave yourself.” The door opened, and Louise let her in, looking young and giddy in the dress she’d chosen for the occasion.
“Who else is here, Louise?” Kierra asked.
Louise gave her wide eyes of innocence. “Oh no one, Kierra. No one at all.”
“But I thought I heard you say….”
At that moment, a loud crash sounded in the next room. Louise pursed her lips and said, “Excuse me. Darn back door, the lock won’t work right. Won’t catch. The wind keeps pushing it open.”
Kierra started to follow her. Louise stopped. Put her hands up in the air, in a feigned protest. “No, no, its fine. The meal is almost ready, and really, it’ll take me just a minute. Why don’t you get comfy on the chair over there? Make yourself a drink?”
Kierra went over, and saw a scrapbook lying open on the Queen Anne coffee table. She sat, and shivered. She didn’t feel like she was alone in the room. She felt colder than when she came into the house. She didn’t believe in ghosts or really anything beyond the realm of what she could touch and feel. She tried to ignore it. The sensation grew.
“Okay, whatever you are, you can stop it!” She said out loud. “I mean it.” The sensation of coldness seemed to lessen, then returned. “I don’t believe in you, but I think we need to have it out. Louise is my friend. Haven’t you hurt enough people?”
Suddenly, the pages of the scrapbook turned, then stopped. The room grew as cold as the inside of a morgue. Kierra saw, in Louise’s handwriting, a timeline of sorts. She had done extensive research. All of the people known to have lived in Blount House.
It was a book of the dead.
As Kierra began to read, she felt vibrations begin in the room. Kierra had grown up in Southern California, and it reminded her of the beginnings of an earthquake. As she turned pages, the vibration increased in intensity. Til the room was shaking around her. Vases crashing off the hearth, pieces flying altogether too close to her.
The book slammed shut on her hand. Kierra was sure that her hand had to be broken from the force, but she drew it out, found everything working.
Louise came down the stairs, a frustrated look on her face. “Stop it!” She yelled. “She’s my friend!”
The vibration ceased instantly.
Louise looked at Kierra, as if at a loss. “I can’t explain it…..”
“Don’t try.” Kierra said, getting up, keys in hand. “Grab some clothes…no don’t. Come with me right now, I don’t think it would let you pack anything…..”
“It?” Louise looked around at the quiet room. “It? Kiera, you don’t understand. The house is lonely. So many people have left it, I……”
Just then, the front door swung open. The atmosphere became, if possible, even colder. Louise looked frightened. “I think you’d better go.”
“You come with me.”
“No, I can’t. It wouldn’t be good.”
“It’d kill you if you tried, wouldn’t it?” Kierra asked evenly. “Just like all the others.”
“Kierra, you don’t get it! You make it sound evil! I’ll call you later. Go home! Maybe I should meet you there in the future. It doesn’t seem like you’re comfortable here.”
“You must be crazy.” Kierra, never a superstitious soul, was trembling. “You’ve got to get out of here. I’ve never seen anything like this! You’ve got to go! This place needs to be destroyed, so it can’t hurt anyone else! You’ve got to go!”
Just then, impressions like large hands made indentations on both sides of her arms. Struggling, kicking, Kierra began to be dragged towards the open door, pushed through it. The door slammed behind her. She touched the knob, and got a nasty shock. Music, ballroom music, began to play.
“Of course I’ll dance with you.” Kierra heard Louise say. “Anything, just don’t be mad at her anymore.”
Kierra was in her car, but only long enough to go to the local Wal-mart. Back minutes later. She’d read something years before about how a house was set on fire by rioters. Kierra knew she wasn’t rational, but what else was there? She had to do something……..
She threw her weapon, first through the ballroom window. It was a stick, covered with gasoline soaked cloth. It caught quickly. There was a quick, loud sound. Like a howl of pain. Then, she threw four more, breaking windows. Blount House was soon engulfed. A sound of fury louder than anything she’d ever heard filled Kierra’s ears.
Louise threw open the door, running out. “What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Why?”
With all her strength, Kierra grabbed her friend, and tried to drag her out of the yard. Louise resisted. For a small woman, she had incredible strength. Kierra held on for life—the life of the friend. The roof of the first floor caved in. In the distance, fire sirens could be heard.
Go slow, please, Kierra pleaded silently. This place can’t be saved.
Then, Louise broke loose. Kierra chased after her. Too late, she didn’t see a section of the gate free itself from the yard and head towards her in midair. Hit her perfectly in the back of her head. She fell, unconscious, unknowing and knew nothing.
The papers as far as Richmond were full of it. How a peace-loving teacher with no criminal history committed a horrible act of arson, destroying a centuries old home. Local historical groups howled for her blood. No one mentioned Louise. At least not at first.
In the recovery effort, after hearing Kierra’s statement, there was an effort made to look for Louise’s body. She’d been running towards the house at the last minute. No one could have survived the heat and temperature that had brought down that mighty house.
But no body was found.
After some time in the state hospital in Staunton, there was minor fanfare when Kierra’s attorney got her off on temporary insanity. She returned to the town to gather her belongings, as her family had asked her to return to California for a ‘rest.’
Kierra drove down the tree-shadowy road. She had to be sure.
The gaping black sore where Blount House had been was there, Remains of burnt wood, scattered bricks. Nothing else. It had been a total loss.
Kierra rolled down the window, hot tears rolling down her cheeks. Then a wind picked up. Not harsh, just enough. Music began to play. Kierra heard a girlish laugh. And she knew…………
The lot is the same since the fire. No one has changed anything. Perhaps they are afraid to do so.
At times, the brave walk by the place, but never stop. No one who goes near is in any less than a hurry.
Sometimes, when the wind is up, music is heard, voices of the missing and departed.