abandoned houses, eccentric millionaires, ghost stories, haunted house, hidden identities, imagination, insane geniuses, internet stalking, Kristine Goodfellow, muses, novel writing, obsession, The Mansion on Butcher Lake, unkept promises, writers, writing, writing ideas
Well, folks, it has been three years in the making, but I do believe Mansion on Butcher Lake will be released today. I’m exhausted and exhilarated all at once! The novel is a ghost story/love story. I believe this style is called ‘gothic love story’.
The first part of this blog is a section from a past blog that I am re-publishing so new readers will know how my obsession, er, interest in the mansion began. If you’ve read it before, bear with me. At the end, I reveal the extremely strange and confusing contact I had with the crazy, er, eccentric owner of the mansion.
One of the greatest compliments my man has given me came after he finished reading the manuscript. He looked at me, set the stack of papers on the nightstand and calmly said, “You scare me.”
And he meant it.
As with most of my books, there is a story behind the story.
In 2007 we lived in rural south central Pennsylvania. I fell in love there, so it will always be special to me.
My husband and I often visited a public park a mile from our house in the ‘historic section’ of the village. The placid blue lake and the tree-lined area surrounding the water always took my breath away, but I will never forget our first visit.
The underground springs that feed the lake keep the water at 52-degrees year-round. This works as a natural outdoor air-conditioner, so my husband and I took our dog for a walk there. We were three-quarters of the way around the wooded reservoir when I spotted something off the beaten path, nestled back in the woods—a barely visible roofline including dormer windows, a balcony and a ‘widow’s walk’.
I glimpsed what appeared to be an antebellum mansion situated on the slope of a hill, partially hidden by trees. What? Here in the midst of pastoral Yankee country? The house seemed out of place in a village full of colonial brownstones and New England cottage-style dwellings.
“Look at that! Let’s go see it,” I begged.
We left the path and tromped through tall grass, masses of ivy and scratchy, overgrown bushes to get a closer look. Once I saw the mansion in its entirety, I stood mesmerized; my heart pounded.
It was love at first sight.
I’m not kidding you. You know that dizzy-dancing feeling you had when you first met your significant other? That’s what I felt as I gazed on this glorious, decaying mansion.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” I said under my breath.
“Umm…are you seeing the same wreck I’m seeing?”
Wreck? No. I saw a hundred stories just waiting to be written. Ideas circled the house like fog; story-plots rose up from the porch and swirled around the Georgian columns. 19th century gentlemen stood in small groups on the porch, a lady wearing a mourning gown, her identity covered by a black veil roamed the grounds and pale-faced beings with sad eyes peered out through the lace curtains in the upper windows. They begged me to tell their stories. Oh, the possibilities!
“Ohmigod! Look at it.” I crossed my hands over my chest and sighed. “It’s soo…” I breathlessly tried to come up with a word for my new love.
“Creepy?” my hubby offered.
“No…no. Well, yes, but…wonderful.” I couldn’t take my eyes off the mansion. The red front door drew me like a magnet. I moved closer to get a better look. A hand gripped my arm and stopped my progress.
“Where are you going? That’s private property.”
“But, it looks abandoned.”
“That doesn’t make it any less of a crime.”
“Okay. You stay here. I’ll be right back.”
“Are you crazy? This is like the beginning of every bad horror film I’ve seen.”
I smiled. “You big chicken.”
“The only thing I’m afraid of is getting arrested. C’mon, Kristine, let’s go.”
“No, please. Just let me look at it longer.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” He shook his head slowly, a slight grimace pulling his mouth into a straight line of serious confusion over my behavior. His usual look.
I smiled at him until his dimples showed his bemusement despite the criminality of my newest endeavor.
We stood there knee deep in weeds. The dog began digging with urgency a few yards away near a mossy pond. I secretly hoped she’d dig up a skull, but I kept that to myself lest my husband know the frightening possibilities this house conjured up in my twisted mind.
The sun began setting and the tall, white, house glowed like an apparition. Ivy had snaked up the two-story columns; hanging vines gently moved in the breeze. A giant, black iron chandelier swayed above the door. Massive chains suspended the substantial light fixture from the top of the two story porch roof.
After a moment of silence, my man said, “All right, let’s go.” He turned on his heel and called for the dog.
I didn’t move to follow him. A few feet away he turned around. “Are you coming or not?”
“Not.” I marched closer to the house. I was losing daylight. I only wanted to get a closer look at this residential magnificence—my muse.
My husband let me walk by myself for a few yards probably wondering if I was doing what he thought I was doing.
Of course, I was.
He quickly caught up to me. “You are insane. You know that?”
“Uh huh. And conveniently, that can be used as a means of legal defense. That’ll come in handy.”
He chuckled. I realize the man’s positive, jovial outlook on life is a blessing. Truly, I do. Our footsteps became quicker, more self-assured as we walked hand in hand. Crickets chirping and small animals moving in the underbrush near clusters of oaks and pines occasionally broke the strange silence surrounding us in the twilight.
Halfway up the terraced lawn, underneath branches of a large willow tree, we found the remnants of a Japanese garden. A small, crumbling footbridge lay over a dried brook. As we got closer we found busted stone birdbaths, shattered wooden birdfeeders and ornate wrought-iron lawn furniture, ivy twisting through its intricate designs and staking its territory inch by inch through time.
As we approached the front porch, I trembled with excitement. Two five-foot wire-frame Christmas angels held trumpets and stood like silent sentinels beside the peeling red double door. It was as if they announced the approach of any guests—or in my case, trespassers.
I climbed the first set of wide steps. Hubby pulled me back. “What are you going to do? We’re close enough.”
“I’m going to knock.”
“Have you lost your mind? You really think someone lives here?”
“No, I don’t. If it’s abandoned then we have nothing to worry about. If by chance an eccentric recluse lives here, we’ll simply tell him we’re lost and ask him for directions to The Forge Tavern. Simple as that.”
“Seriously? Have you never watched slasher movies? That eccentric recluse is really a maniac with a chainsaw.”
I laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“How’s that ridiculous?”
“The chain-saw guy lives in Texas.”
“Ugh.” Realizing there was no deterring me, he sighed and said, “It’s a good thing you’re good looking.” He continued up the last few steps. “The good-looking ones never die in these kinds of films. At least you’ll survive.”
“Don’t worry. We’re completely safe.”
“Oh, yeah? How do you know that?”
“Because we’re not teenagers and we’re not going to have sex inside this abandoned mansion. Everyone knows you have to be young, nubile and half-clothed before a serial murderer finds you worthy of hacking to death with a machete.”
I realized something strange. The door handle had been removed, the old-style keyhole had been filled-in and there wasn’t a doorbell. That’s odd, I thought. Someone obviously doesn’t want visitors.
So, I knocked.
“No answer. Let’s go!” He and the dog headed down the steps.
“Wait. That’s perfect. Now we know no one is here. I can peek inside.” I put my face to the wavy glass of the arched window panels and peered into the grand foyer of this majestic beauty.
The last of the sun’s rays shone through the stained glass window that paralleled the curved-mahogany staircase. It cast a mosaic of color on the floor.
I will never forget what I discovered inside that house. I’d found a writer’s dream. There was a story inside! The tale practically wrote itself right there.
It looked like nothing had been disturbed inside this house in years–everything had a layer of dust and cobwebs hung from every door frame. To the side of the staircase stood a half-decorated Christmas tree, a box of ornaments near its base. Garland hung suspended from the banister as though someone stopped midway through the job. Boxes marked ‘ornaments’ lined the walls. The entry table held several Christmas knickknacks. It looked like the residents started decorating and someone or something scared them away. It was as though they dropped what they were doing, left and never came back.
A narrative began forming in my mind. An idea was planted into my subconscious.
It took three years of visiting the mansion whenever the muse struck me, before I actually sat down (on the edge of the property line) and wrote an outline for the story.
Six weeks later, I let my ever-loving husband read the first draft.
And it scared the crap out of him.
“You wrote this while I was gone?” he said after one particularly disturbing scene. He turned the page, set the manuscript down on his lap and scoffed. “I thought you were writing a romance.”
“Well, it does have a love story wrapped in there.”
“I hadn’t noticed. I was too freaked out by the demons, the tortured ghosts and the witchcraft!”
“Yeah, well, there’s that.”
“I can’t believe you wrote this when I was gone.” He stared at the prose resting on his legs.
“Neither can I.”
My writing this fear-provoking story coincided with my husband’s six-week-long business trip. And this business trip coincided with a series of violent spring thunderstorms that plagued south central PA for weeks. I remember writing until deep into the night, thunder shaking the window panes as the sun went down and shadows crept up the walls. Sometimes the house creaked and moaned after a storm.
A few times, I was so lost in writing, it became dark in the living room and I hadn’t noticed until there was a lightning/thunder episode that jolted me back into reality.
And then one time…I heard something in the basement. I sat in my darkened living room unable to move. My watchdog was nowhere to be found—probably hiding under my bed. The next clap of thunder made me slam my laptop shut and fly up the stairs turning on every light along the way. I threw myself under the covers and turned the TV to a nice romantic comedy. I fell asleep with the lights and TV on.
Of course, the next day I started writing all over again. And scared the crap out of myself all over again. Every day, I vowed to stop working when it got dark and every night, I regretted not stopping when it got dark. That’s me. Go figure.
We moved to West Texas in 2010 and I really missed spying on my mansion. In October 2011, I went back to PA and had some free time on my hands. Guess where I went? Yep.
But, I haven’t been back to the house since then. Will I go back to my muse someday? You betcha. I might just have to drag my man with me next time.
I can almost hear him say, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
After that walk in June 2007, I asked everybody I ran into, who’d lived in the town for any length of time, if they knew anything about ‘the mansion’.
I received the same information over and over again. The house belonged to an eccentric millionaire who purchased it, began renovating and then abandoned it. No one knew why. Rumors abounded about a nasty divorce, but no one knew for sure.
I discovered (this is all hearsay) the mansion had been scheduled to be put up for auction due to non-payment of taxes, not once, not twice, but three times. Each time, a check for the full amount came in exactly 24 hours before the auction.
I also discovered several individuals had contacted the owner begging to either buy the property, help him renovate, or encourage him to fix it up and offering remodeling tips. He never once answered any of the inquiries sent to him. After a while, any email sent to him was supposedly returned as ‘undeliverable.’
That sounded like a challenge to me. I was determined to find him. I began an internet stalking campaign. Turns out, the owner is a super-genius with several invention copyrights to prove it. As some of you already know, almost nothing is more intriguing to me than an insane genius.
I eventually found his professional email address. I wrote to this mysterious man and asked for the history of the house. I explained that I’d love to write about the mansion, either fiction or non-fiction. I asked if he would ever consider me taking a tour.
After diligently checking my inbox for weeks, I had all but given up on receiving an email from the owner. Lo and behold! Six months later, I received a response from his secretary, Marianne, who said Dr. X was “charmed” by my letter. She said, “Dr. X gave me the task of responding to you.” The email was quite long and full of information about the owner, but very little about the house itself.
I continued this virtual conversation with his secretary over several emails. Our neighbors and other townspeople could not believe I’d received an answer and they were even more impressed that I’d kept the communication going.
Over the course of the back and forth correspondence, Marianne promised Dr. X would take me on a tour and tell me the history as soon as (pick one) the holidays passed/he returned from overseas/his lecture circuit was over/he returned from vacation/his schedule opened up. “Marianne” moved his availability timeframe back time and time again.
I played along and remained patient, hoping someday my patience would pay off. After many unfulfilled promises and vague excuses as to why I could not see the inside of the house, the emails mysteriously came to a halt. Two years of correspondence between Marianne and I had inexplicably stopped. Two years!
There was nothing in the last conversation that sounded as though the correspondence was ending or any indication that I’d angered the secretary somehow.
We moved from Pennsylvania three years (almost to the day) after the first time I saw the mansion.
Since then, I’ve sent three more emails, trying to reestablish contact to no avail.
Here’s the creepy part.
I let someone who knows the owner (very distantly and through a mutual acquaintance) look at the letters to see if they could figure out what went wrong.
After reading them, she looked at me and said, “You were never communicating with Dr. X’s secretary. Those emails were from him. For whatever reason, he didn’t want to communicate with you directly, so he wrote under the guise of “Marianne” the secretary. The wording, the expressions, his tone…those where all him.”
I reread every email and realized this person was absolutely right. If you read them closely enough, you can tell it is not a ‘secretary’ who was corresponding with me at all. It was Dr. X himself.
There are several clues throughout the long, rambling, emails that point to him as the author. The most obvious is in the first email wherein the writer identifies themselves as “Dr. X’s Girl Friday, Marianne”.
In what century does a woman have to be born to call herself a “Girl Friday” with a straight face? C’mon, when was the last time you even heard that term used to describe a job? (For those of you too young to remember, a ‘Girl Friday’ was an office manager type person who did secretarial duties, ran errands, and kept things running in the office when the boss was away.) I don’t believe any woman today would refer to themselves in such a manner.
Also, throughout most of the email “Marianne” waxes-poetic about what a genius Dr. X is. She listed several of his pet-peeves, told me how he loves to read novels, but just doesn’t have time with his busy world-traveling schedule. She claimed one of his lifelong goals was to write a novel, but his lifestyle and career wouldn’t allow it at present. “Marianne” mentioned how Dr. X had lived such a strange life he could write three or four memoirs about his adventures. Curiously, she mentioned a few times how Dr. X was often ‘misunderstood’ and people tended to treat him ‘boorishly’ so he’d rather not have anything to do with them. She explained he often felt ‘maligned’ when in fact, he was a good man, but people just didn’t understand him. (Wow! How could I have missed these clues?)
I sure wish I knew at the time I was actually having a virtual conversation with the elusive Dr. X. I’m so disappointed that he never kept any of his promises to take me on a tour of the house or provide me with any real history. But, I’m flattered that I’m the only person (that I know of) who has ever received any response from him. That’s something, I guess.
I researched the history of the mansion at the Historical Society in the closest city. The backstory of the house, although vague, was fascinating. ‘Marianne’ once assured me, “Dr. X knows more fascinating facts about the house than you could ever find in the library or the internet.” I regret he never at least sent me whatever that information was.
I no longer feel the strong desire to enter this house. I’m worried the whole thing will leave me distraught due to her slow deterioration from neglect. In my imagination, she is much more glorious than reality would probably allow.
Without any true information, I had to let my imagination run wild. It was quite a ride. I hope you enjoy The Mansion on Butcher Lake. All names, places, incidents and likenesses are either products of the author’s unbounded imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. (Except for you, Dr. X. You’re in there somewhere. I hope you contact me again someday.)
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For more information, please visit my Mansion on Butcher Lake website: www.kristinegoodfellow.weebly.com