The Depression House
Was this a house haunted by the anguish of one left behind?
“The game of life is hard to play, I’m going to lose it anyway. The losing card I’ll someday lay so this is all I have to say: Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes, and you can take or leave it as you please.” Johnny Mandel: “Theme from M*A*S*H.”
The last of three stories from my cousin’s unexpected experiences while house flipping concerns an older farm house south of Spokane somewhere off Hwy. 395 on the way to Pullman.
Built during the 20s, just before the Depression hit, it hadn’t been occupied since the early 1950s.
Robert got it for a song, likely due to the fact—or so he thought at such a bargain—that he had snatched it up sight unseen. All he knew about it before actually inspecting the 90+-year-old structure was that it was minimalist Victorian and sat at a quarter mile off the highway.
Originally a property of several thousand acres, planted in wheat, most likely, most of it had been sold off over the decades and was still under cultivation or had been built on. The house now stood on less than an acre of land.
It was in better condition than he had thought. Two stories, a superior attic and partial cellar under the house. Not a stick of furniture or appliance remained. Built solid, it was sound, but the wiring and plumbing were a joke. The most recent upgrade must have been shortly after the Second World War. The project was going to take a lot of work and a lot longer than the usual jobs. Fortunately, it was early May, so he wouldn’t be struggling with winter weather. If things went fairly well, he could have it on the market by late August. The cheap price, odd for this time of high valuations (this was prior to the mortgage crisis), made the cost of the extensive upgrades do-able.
The last owners had been a WWII veteran and his wife. They bought in with a mortgage, and that was the final restoration. According to the property records, they had apparently abandoned it by 1951 for no apparent reason, leaving the bank holding the bag.
They recouped by selling off most of the land to the expanding few farms and housing developments, but not the old house itself, which sat there empty and nearly forgotten for 60 years until my cousin came along.
The first week, Robert went through the usual drill, taking stock of what was needed. And the list was extensive. One late afternoon, about a week after first surveying the place, he and a woman from Avista were standing by their respective rigs in front of the house discussing the electrical service restoration when the air was pierced by the scream of a woman.
Totally unexpected, it took the two a minute to react, after which there came several more screams. Sounding like they came from within the old house, Robert ran up onto the porch and inside, the Avista agent on his heels. They stopped in the barren living room, breathing heavily, and heard... nothing.
Robert said his reaction was, “What the hell?” after which he remembered the other two houses he had renovated that seemed to be haunted. His next thought was: “Not again !”
Robert stood there with the Avista woman for a few moments but, when nothing more was heard, both returned to their vehicles and drove off.
This is where my cousin and his dad, my first cousin Greg, began dozing off in my Aunt Joyce’s living room after a hefty Thanksgiving dinner in 2009. I fell asleep on that big, white, comfy couch, totally safe, surrounded by Chinese figurines, a player organ and Furys, for the first time in many years.
The next morning, after breakfast and before heading back to Sandpoint, Robert said that according to what he had heard through the grapevine all that summer of 2008, was that a young couple had purchased the house and land just before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Afterward, the young man had hanged himself from an upstairs beam as they were going to lose the house and the land. His young bride has found him there and screamed a number of times (seven?) upon discovering his body.
Robert decided to abandon this particular project. Not because of the history of the house—he decided the necessary renovations were simply too extensive and costly to be profitable. At best, he would break even. So far it was the only project he’s abandoned. Later that fall, on a trip to Pullman to take in a WSU football game, he decided to take a quick look at his former project. The bank had bought it back at a 20 percent loss to him. The house had been dozed to the ground. Evidence of the partial basement was all that remained. And maybe... a scream.
See you next time back here in the Valley.
Lawrence Fury has lived in the Valley of Shadows all his life. You can reach him with your own otherworldly stories at [email protected]