I had a colleague who was adept at saving threatened historic properties from being torn down. Some accused him of using trick tactics to evade demolition, but he once confided over coffee that it was all about procrastination. Delay long enough, and some bad actors will go away because timing is key to financing the project. Delay is also critical for building support to save or restore a distressed but historically significant property.
But years after I left the community we both had worked in, I heard the rumors of spooky tricks deployed against developers. Tales that implied forces more than natural were called into play to abet his goals.
We’re talking about properties that are sometimes hundreds of years old. Places like old courthouses have had their share of lawyers and clients’ traumatic deaths through rage-fueled strokes and heart attacks. Think of all the rage generated through sentencing, fair or not.
What effect might it have if you could harness and direct the remaining essence of all that angst? A developer stumbling over his bundle of plans and having a fatal fit at the foot of the courthouse steps?
The evidence was hard to gather. The incidents were spread over my colleague’s long and successful career. But there was the architect who fell into a casement as cement was being poured. Next was the developer trying to replace the old city stables with condos -crushed when a cart collapsed and buried him in horse manure. There were others over decades. Nothing ever directly pointed to my colleague, except the reputation that those who crossed him sometimes met strange ends.
Having all that unrepentant anger and rage abet your efforts is not without its peril, and the forces that reside in old buildings are not always in harmony with each other. Old unresolved grudges persist.
It was All Hallows Eve that the fire department responded to the fire at the 18th-century mansion that housed the historical society. They found his body in the library. The chalk marks on the floor were half erased by the efforts to put out the fire, but they still radiated a sort of sickly glow.
The vellichor, that musty smell of old tomes, mingled with the scorched smell of combustion. The nearly consumed architectural renderings of developments he had prevented lay in a planned disorder at the cardinal points of the chalked pattern. In the very center, he lay with an architects scale rule plunged through his heart.
It was never clear what he had been doing. But the habitues of the society noted that he was often closed alone in the library late at night on the eves of certain celebrations: Walpurgis eve and All Hallows. After that, the historical society took care never to meet on those evenings. Certain glows, emissions, and odors were said to come from beneath the library doors.
Then there was the sad case of the demise of an entire Board of Directors. First, they had considered selling the mansion. But they were struck down by food poisoning at a banquet given by the developer. A replacement Board rapidly rejected all offers to sell.
Every Halloween, the city capitalizes on its history by offering haunted mansion tours. It’s my understanding that the historical society solved its fiscal crisis by charging admission on Halloween. The scary effects are reputed to be the best on tour. And the historical society is mum on how they do it.