My family moved to Oak Park when I was very young. The house we moved into was much larger than the apartment we had rented in Chicago, and I was afraid to go to the basement and to the attic in the house.
The basement was dark even with the lights on, and there were many storage recesses where I believed the bogeyman could hide. I also believed that an evil man lived under the basement stairs in the coal bin.
One time I was in the basement alone and someone mistakenly turned off the ceiling light and locked the door.
I ran up the stairs as fast as I could go and pounded on the door until my mother unlocked the door and let me into the kitchen. I was certain that the coal-bin bogeyman would get me.
I knew the attic was dark, and I believed villains hid in there. I succeeded in making every excuse possible to not enter the attic.
My fear was also fueled by some older neighborhood kids who told me that the room above the garage was haunted by the deranged uncle of a former owner, and they said that they had seen his ghost frequently wandering our yard in the dark of night brandishing a butcher knife.
My grandfather once told me that the wife of a former owner had shot and killed her philandering husband on the front porch. I believed the story, and, for all I knew, it was a true story and the husband’s ghost was afoot.
With this in mind, I kept my eyes open and was ready to run if I saw a specter.
I felt better when my grandmother berated my grandfather for telling me a story that she believed was absolute nonsense and was meant to scare me.
My grandfather denied any ulterior motive and said he told me the story because it dealt with the history of the house.
Within a few months I began to believe there were no bogeymen, ghosts or crazed killers in our midst. I attribute this to the fact that a family member would escort me to the so-called scary places and show me that all was OK.
In the basement I looked inside the coal bin and all I saw were large chunks of coal that in a few months my uncle and I would be using to stoke the furnace.
In the storage room I saw shelves filled with preserves and not with ghouls.
In the attic, my grandmother took me into each alcove, and I saw only trunks. However, I jumped about a foot in the air when I saw a headless figure wearing a wedding gown standing in a corner.
My grandmother told me the gown had been hers, and she preserved it by placing it on the mannequin, so I revved up my courage and touched the mannequin a couple of times and, of course, the figure did not move.
I believe that I was a kid who had a vivid imagination, and it took my entire family to adjust my thinking.
John Stanger writes the monthly “DOOPer’s Memories” column in the Viewpoints section of Wednesday Journal.