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Tuesday, April 16, 2024 at 10:41 PM
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Remembering the Hunt County haunted house

Remembering the Hunt County haunted house

“Bells started ringin’ and chains rattled loud, I knew I’d moved in a haunted house.”

— ‘Haunted House’ song lyrics, recorded by Jumping Gene Simmons 1964.

The old house was charming, even in stages of ruin. An elegant two-story with dormers.

Paint gone so long that it was impossible to tell what color it might have been. Probably white.

Nearly all houses were painted white the last time this one enjoyed any.

Weathered gray boards hung from the eaves. Some by a nail and a miracle. Broken windows allowed remnants of curtains to wave in the wind. Birds freely flew in and out.

A front porch larger than whole homes today once spanned the front. But it had fallen in, leaving the front door chest-high to most wanting to venture inside. Still, it was easy to envision a time when it was a gathering place. Evenings in rocking chairs. Talking about the spring garden or the neighbor’s cows across the road. Listening to doves cooing. And singing “Blessed Assurance” together. Like my grandparents did. Before television.

What was left of someone’s country home sat off an oiled county road amid kneehigh grass and weeds.

For a quarter mile in either direction in rural Hunt County, Texas, a few miles outside of Commerce, no other house or any sign of life existed.

I was in the house twice, once for educational endeavors and once during a temporary lapse of good judgment.

The first was a class assignment. I was doing time at East Texas State University at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s.

Left there with a degree in psychology and art.

Graduated short of Magna Cum Laude, closer to “Laudie How Come.”

Today, the school goes by the name of Texas A&M at Commerce.

Visiting the derelict dwelling one spring afternoon was part of learning oil painting techniques in Professor Karl Umluaf’s class.

Yes, the same Karl Umlauf, whose work today is found in more than 40 museums and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Modern Museum of Art in New York City and the Dallas Museum of Art.

His assignment was for young minds to find inspiration in the old house worthy of capturing on canvas.

Many set up easels around the outside and began capturing the structure’s aging essence in oils. I found my muse inside, looking through massive windows from huge rooms with 12-foot ceilings.

Applying paint to canvas, I daydreamed of what life through the long-gone glass looked like over the decades. My completed masterpiece resembled an East Texas rural setting. Trees, fences, flowers and crumbling front porch columns. All framed by the window openings from where I stood.

Done and headed back to campus, I had no way of knowing the old house, and I was not through making memories.

I am trying to remember how that next meeting developed. It’s miraculous how the brain protects us, deleting total recall of youth’s stupidity.

What I do recall is winding up in a carload of guys one night with nothing better to do than “check out this old, haunted house.”

Other cohorts from my hometown of Mount Pleasant matriculating at ETSU may or may not have been involved.

I’m not saying until I’ve confirmed the statute of limitations.

When headlights hit the old house, I thought, “I’ve been here before.”

It differed from daylight, looking like an old house in decline. In the dark, it looked like something straight out of a midnight movie horror flick at the Martin Theater in downtown Mount Pleasant.

Then some idiot said, “Let’s have some fun.”

An hour later, we were back, leading a carload of unsuspecting victims. All corralled at the Sonic back in town, they were dared to check out a haunted house. “Unless you’re chicken!”

Two refused to get out of the car on the spot. “Y’all go ahead, we’re good.”

After climbing to reach the front door from what used to be the porch, we stood in the two-story foyer, illuminated only by moonlight.

This is as good a time as any to define, “Let’s have some fun.” Two “plants” remained at the house while we went to town looking for suckers.

The group moved slowly toward the staircase leading to a landing at the top that overlooked the foyer. About two steps up the creaking stairs, one of the planted “haints” shuffled out of an upstairs bedroom in the darkness, a flashlight under his chin. Moaning, “Who is in my house?”

On that cue, the other co-conspirator echoed similar sounds from the downstairs hallway.

Unsuspecting victims made a mad rush for the front door. The leader left the building in full stride. Completely forgetting there was no front porch. And that the ground was five feet below the door. The rest was a scramble of bodies knocking down anyone blocking the path to preservation.

We watched as taillights disappeared in a cloud of dust, dimly illuminating shadows of those still trying to climb through car windows.

Surprisingly, everyone survived. Not surprisingly, however, some never spoke to us again.


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