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All Haunted Houses Are Not Old

It’s that time again: home construction season. A lot of building news is about green designs and mortage rates. Here’s another consideration: should you worry about building a haunted house? Once upon a time, I did…

The condo sits on a hill in a clearing in the woods, one of those flatlander second homes with glass walls, zigzag angles, and a half dozen roof planes. I spent five months on the crew that built the place and I was lucky to get out alive. The house was bankrolled by a couple from Jersey and the pay was good. Too bad they never got to enjoy it.

It started the day Jack Moody turned his rig into my driveway. Moody owned a small construction company in town. He told me he was putting together a crew to build a condo. I’d worked for him a couple of times, and he needed a hand. He told me who was working and how to find the place. He wanted me to start the next day.

The pay wasn’t great, but it was off the books and jobs were scarce and I needed the money, so I said sure. When Moody drove out he backed over my cat. I should have quit right then and saved a lot of grief.

Next morning I put my tool box in the truck and drove over the mountain to Quechee. I spent an hour searching through the fog for the job site. By the time I found the place, a concrete mixer had pulled in and the crew was helping pour the foundation.

I said hello to Jack and a couple of guys I knew, nodded to the new ones, and helped with the pour. After the truck pulled out we tamped down the glistening concrete slab.

“This is a pretty sorry site for a house,” I said. The front wall faced north, while the southern exposure butted up tight against a hill covered with spruce trees.

“Must be planning to burn a lot of wood,” Jay Barnett said.

Jack laughed. “They’re from New Jersey. It’s all electric.”

There wasn’t much to do until the concrete set, so I headed home early. On the way up Route 14 I slowed down for a police cruiser with flashing blue lights. There’d been an accident. I eased by. It was the concrete truck upside down in the ditch.

The next day we were bolting down the sills when Jack stopped by to check our progress. We took a smoke break, and then Jack left to check on another job. As he was leaving he mentioned that a Redi Mix driver had been killed yesterday.

“Jesus, we must have been the last ones to see him alive,” I said.

It was autumn by now, a bad time to be starting a house in Vermont. The mornings were foggy and cold. We turned back our watches and the days shortened. We had to work fast to button the place up before first snow.

One morning Jack pulled in on an inspection trip, it was the day after Halloween. The wind was blowing hard and toilet paper was flying all around the house. “Damn kids, looks like the place got papered,” Jack said. Nobody said a word, but after he left we all laughed. We’d been shitting in the woods around the place for weeks, and those paper ghosts were our own.

Laying the sub-floor we discovered that the foundation was out of square. Jack chewed out the guys who built the forms. They claimed the foundation was built to the architect’s specs. If it was off, the plans must be too. Jack took a look at the plans and agreed. The next day we were joined by a fifth crew member: the architect. Jack told me he didn’t really need the guy, but he had to make sure he wasn’t going to screw us up with his plans again. The architect was happy. He needed the work.

Bringing the architect on board did not solve our problems. One morning I was getting my tools out when I heard Jack and the architect hollering at each other. Nearby, a truckload of fiberglass insulation lay on the ground.

“The blueprints show the wall studs 16-inch on center,” Jack shouted, waving the plans.

“I know,” the architect said. “But look.” He pointed at a bag of insulation. “I got a great bargain on 24 inch!” We had to rebuild the walls.

A couple of days later Jay cut the end of his index finger off on the bench saw and went to the hospital. When he got home he found his wife in the sack with a neighbor. He had a breakdown and quit.

I began to think the job was jinxed and so did Jack. We tried joking about it. Then the architect arrived and told us we’d better speed it up. The Jersey guy had been given two months to live. Brain tumor.

The Quechee condo was one of the last houses Jack built. His wife died of cancer, and then he did too. Maybe it was all that trash from the job he burned in a garbage barrel at home. The Jersey couple sold the house before they had a chance to move in. The architect decided he’d had enough of Vermont and moved.

I often wonder what kind of spell had befallen that house. Was it an energy hog that deserved to be cursed? Maybe we trampled on some sacred burial ground? Was it the ghost of the overtaxed farmer who’d lost his land to developers? Or just bad luck?

Sometimes I run into Jay in town, and we usually get onto the story of the old condo curse. And we always end up with the same question. Who lives in that house today? Someday we’ll have to take a drive over and see. Someday.

Ponds for Viking Funerals!

Boston Globe columnist Mark Feeney declares his affection for “ridiculously tame” urban ponds in a wry “G” section essay, “Fond of the Pond.” Bypassing the grandeur of more distant monumental landscapes, he’s quite happy with the human scale of Boston’s Fresh Pond as a strolling destination and calming object of contemplation. In fact he likes this pond so much he contemplates the rewards of a Viking style funeral on its waters. Read More..

Zombie Jamboree

We were on the set of a movie being shot in Newbury, Vermont in 1986. It was about a small town full of zombies, and it was called Return to Salem’s Lot. It was a sequel to the film made from Stephen King’s second book Salem’s Lot. Sort of like Carrie visits Newbury. Newbury had a nice ring to it, horror wise. Anyway, it was directed by Larry Cohen, who was a kind of schlock auteur, which might explain how guys like Sam Fuller, the legendary Shock Corridor director, got in the cast. Shock meets schlock. Plus Tara Reid. Read More..

Reflections on the 2009 Pond Season

With the pond season winding down, it’s our traditional time to look back, take stock of the season, and suss out trends in pond construction and use. Read More..

Tap Your Pond for Fire Protection

There’s a saying in the countryside that the fire department is great at saving cellar holes, and insurance premiums covering backwoods homes reflect that pessimism. The combination of woodstoves, snow-covered roads, and widely scattered volunteer fire fighters make insurance underwriters edgy. And winter is not the only dangerous season. A few summers back, a squad […] Read More..

Bubble Trouble in Your Pond: Winter Windmill Aeration and the Pitfalls

For many pond owners a time will come to improve water quality. A growing number of people meet this challenge with aeration. Aeration can be especially useful when you’re raising fish, particularly in the wintertime north where oxygen levels under the ice can be fatally low without that extra dose of air bubbles, otherwise known […] Read More..