The Empty House

Photo by Rudy Rodouin from unsplash.com

Some of you — okay, both of you — have told me in the past that you like my stories about houses. Here comes another. It also happens to illustrate (as I have once or twice here) that Facebook isn’t always so bad after all.

I misspent my formative years in Akron, Ohio.  I was driving with a young woman one afternoon in 1971 when she pointed out a nice ranch-style house on a corner. “No one has ever lived there,” she said. I stopped the car for a few seconds and checked the place out. It displayed a well-maintained exterior with a nicely manicured lawn. That said, there were no curtains hung in the window and it gave off that psychic wheeze of non-occupancy that some houses do when they sit empty for a while. “What’s the story?” I asked.

The story as told to me was that the house had been built by a husband for his wife to her specifications. He had gone over the plans with her regularly and frequently brought her to the building site, making changes that she requested. When the house was finished she decided that she did not like it and refused to move in. He refused to sell it. They accordingly stayed in the home they were living in and never moved into the new one. The husband continued to maintain both homes. 

I would occasionally drive past that house to see if anyone had moved in. No one had. Time passed.  I moved from Akron in 1978 and rarely returned. Life went on. I would intermittently think of that house and that story but only in passing, such as when telling the tale to someone else as a bit of whimsy.

Fast forward. The world, as Roland the Gunslinger would say, moved ahead. My fifty-year high school class reunion resulted in a return trip to the city which had been known as the “Rubber Capital of the World” (due to the manufacture of tires, as opposed to what you were thinking!) but was now known as “Crakron” as the result of the illicit drug trade which had taken root. I began woolgathering and thought of all the times that I had driven past that empty house. I remembered what it looked like and the general area where it was but couldn’t remember the streets that formed the intersection where it rested. I mentioned the story to a few friends of mine who had lived in the area but no one knew what I was talking about. One friend even patiently drove me around the area for a couple of hours in an attempt to locate the house but to no avail. 

 I started wondering about the house again last weekend after watching You Should Have Left — a contemporary haunted house movie — and did what anyone does these days when they have a question. I went on Facebook. I went to a page devoted to Akron’s history and posted the story about the house. I also asked if anyone had heard the story and knew where the house was located. 

It only took a few minutes for me to receive several responses. There were some variations but the consensus was that the story I had been told wasn’t quite accurate. A man had purchased the house with the intent that he and his betrothed would live there after their wedding. She, as the story went, literally left him standing at the altar. He was devastated and retained ownership but not occupancy of the house until his own death, apparently hoping that the love of his life would return. She did not. Someone else purchased the house subsequent to his death, tore it down, and built a new one on the lot. 

I did an online search to find the name of the original owner but the available records on the website didn’t go back far enough.  Finding that information may well involve another trip to Akron and a physical document dive in a government office but I want to hunt down the name of the heartbroken owner and then pay him a visit at his last resting place. I’m going to tell him that whoever jilted him did him a  solid. Better to have one major hurt than experience a thousand smaller ones every day. 

There is a story everywhere. You just have to find it. There is also a country song for everything. There are two that apply to the story of the jilted groom from Akron. One is by George Jones and the other is by Trace Adkins. 

If you would like to share an unusual or eccentric story about your home town, we would be interested in reading about it. It can be an urban legend or one that is lesser-known, even if it is known only to you. Either way, please share it with us. Thank you.

 

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

41 thoughts on “The Empty House

  1. You have the best stories, Joe. I grew up in Los Angeles. Plenty of stories there, I’m sure, but at the time, I wasn’t into digging them out. Thanks for sharing this one.

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  2. First! Thank you, Terry. I bet, being from Los Angeles, that you have many of your own that would easily top mine!

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  3. Love this story. Like Terry said, you have the best ones. Whenever I go back to my old home places, they are so much smaller than I remember. And no place I ever lived growing up had more that one bathroom. With three women in the house, I don’t Know how my dad ever got to even shave.

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    • Thank you, Patricia. I know what you mean about old home places. The house I lived in as a wee lad had this huge backyard. When I visited it as an adult the yard had somehow shrunk to postage stamp size. How does that happen?!

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  4. That was an interesting story, Joe. I’d never heard it but I’m sure there are many stories about people and places in Akron. There used to be some great calendars with old, old pictures and information about the sights shown on the calendar pages. Somewhere in various moves, those old calendars disappeared. I’ll have to look up that Facebook page. 🙂 — Suzanne

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    • Thanks, Suzanne. The page is “Akron Memories” and for those of us who misspent our formative years there it is a time bandit. I might have known this and apparently forgot but do you have a connection to Akron? If you’d like please email me at josephhartlaubatgmaildotcom.

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      • Thanks, Joe. My roots are in Akron but I’ve lost connection with my relatives and friends there. The last time we were there was in 1994 to bury my mother’s ashes in Holy Cross Cemetary beside my dad’s body. He died in 1980. My dad lived and worked in and near Akron for about 60 years, Most of his family had moved to Akron. My mother was from Cuyahoga Falls so her family was in that area. Many from both sides are gone now. I’m 78 and was one of the youngest. Thanks for the email address.

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        • I was there from 1963 to 1978. You probably would not recognize it. Cuyahoga Falls is EXTREMELY different now, State Road Shopping Center is gone and the downtown is full of antique shops. You’ll enjoy the Facebook page, I’m sure…

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  5. Good morning, Joe.

    Interesting story, and I agree with Terry. You always have the best stories.

    I can’t think of a good “house” story. The closest I can come is a “castle” story. I grew up in rural Ohio (West Liberty), home to the Piatt castles – two brothers, two castles, that date back to the Civil War era. Originally grand homes for the wealthy Piatt brothers, by the time I was living nearby they were open for tours, with families living in a small area in the back. My Latin teacher, in high school, Mrs. Piatt, lived in one of those castles, and Latin club parties were occasionally at “the castle.”

    I know of no unusual events that occurred in those castles, except for the legend of a tunnel that connected the two (a half mile apart). As I recall, the brothers were on opposite sides of support for the underground railway, and the tunnel was abandoned during that era.

    No one could ever tell me the exact location of the tunnel, but as a high schooler looking for adventure, I would have loved to find the tunnel and explore it. Maybe, someday, the tunnel can fit into the plot of one of my stories.

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    • Good morning, Steve. I had never heard that story. Thanks so much for sharing. If anyone could come up with a terrific plot from that it would be you. Maybe, however, it is better that you didn’t find that tunnel. Can you imagine what shape it would be in now? Have a great weekend.

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  6. You had the same thoughts as I did. That gentlemen, instead of mourning, should have done the dance of joy when she left him at the altar because a short term misery beats a lifetime of miseries.

    When you were explaining the first version of the story–I thought you were going to say the woman had been murdered there, because I would surely have felt like doing the same if I bent over backward to build her a house that she had input on and she still rejected it. Talk about an ungrateful wretch (not to mention some other unmentionable words)!

    Very interesting story, either way. I’m glad you come across these stories. I bet there are thousands of others that never get told.

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    • Thanks, BK. I am sure that you are right about all of those untold stories. As far as the first version of that story goes…indeed! “Ungrateful” is only one of the words one would reflexively reach for!

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  7. I grew up about 2 1/2 hours northeast of Akron in Jamestown NY. For many years there was an abandoned home in town. In the early 70s a middle-aged couple were murdered there by their daughter and her boyfriend. Thus was big news in a small town of 35-40 thousand. The last I knew it was still vacant.

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    • Douglas, thank you for sharing that…I almost said “great” story but I don’t think that’s the right word. Maybe “spellbinding?” That would be big news in a town of 350000 – 400000! It does remind me, however…Jeffrey Dahmer grew up just a few miles from my parents’ home in Akron. An acquaintance of mine subsequently bought the house and still lives there…

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  8. I echo Terry’s sentiment. You have the best stories, Joe. The perfect blend of melancholy and intrigue for a gloomy Saturday morning.

    I grew up in the house my mother grew up in. My grandfather built it in the early 1900’s for my grandmother, but he included these secret passageways in the back of closets and inside the walls of our bedroom. He even built a side attic on the second floor with a drawstring floor that led to a mysterious set of stairs for a fast getaway out the back door. When I was younger, I had no idea why he’d built so many hidden passageways. I just thought they were cool to play in. It wasn’t until I’d been long gone that I did some digging and discovered why. My best guess is he helped hide Native Americans from slave-traders as part of an underground network. It’s the only thing that fits with my family history.

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    • Ah, secret passageways and tunnels. Makes me think of many fond hours spent reading Hardy Boys books!

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    • Thank you, Sue, for your comment and for sharing. What a great house to grow up in! Now we all know why you turned out so well! I would have given ANYTHING to have secret passages in the home(s) I grew up in. Lucky you!

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    • Slavery ended, more or less, in 1865, and the Underground Railroad did, too, so I’m confused about your timeline. Was there a NA slave trade into the Twentieth Century?

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      • Many Native Americans tribes were driven out of New England in the nineteenth century, but others were still persecuted into the twentieth century. They still are, in places. I found a relative of mine (on my Grandfather’s side), for example, named Little Rain, who was kept as a servant long after the “official” end to slavery. History books are notorious for hiding America’s dirty little secrets.

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  9. Speaking of castles…

    In little Yakima, WA, the heart of orchard country in Central Washington, there sits a castle. I know, right? What in the world? Built in 1914-1915 by Chester Congdon. He was a bigwig lawyer in the town at that time, and involved in mining. Then his family got into trees, and now there are acres and acres of Congdon Orchards stretched out all over the valley. I happen to live on 5 acres smack-dab in the middle of a few of their trees.

    The castle has always held fascination for folks in the surrounding area for as long as I can remember. For a long time-before I was bigger than a grasshopper-you could visit, take a tour, etc. But not now. It’s owned and maintained by the family, who actually live back east somewhere.

    But what I remember the most is when I was in middle and high school, it was a night-time destination for the bravest among us knuckleheads. (Not me, of course…) Sneaking out to the property, which sits west of Yakima proper, and drinking beer among the trees at the edge of it made for some long-lived high school lore. Ahh…the stories that circulated. Made my hair curl all by itself just hearing them. And, of course, there were plenty of hauntings, mysterious women prowling the grounds, and bloody knives that figured into the stories by the more imaginative among us.

    If you’re interested in castles, here’s the link for this one: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/washington/congdon-castle-in-wa/

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  10. Re the first version of your story — Yes, that woman certainly was a wretch…unless. Unless she was kidnapped before she could say “I do”. Unless the man was physically horrid to her and she found the courage to run away. Unless she was zoomed away by aliens, or vampires, or ghosts, or drove off the road to avoid a deer and died alone in a ravine with her wedding veil clutched to her heart.

    Sorry, I got off track there for a moment.

    I don’t remember a house in KC having an eerie tale to tell, but there was a small pump station that was illuminated 24 hrs a day (inside) with red lights. The story that was told: it was the location of a grisly murder and the lights were kept on to warn children away.

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    • Laurie, thanks for sharing that great story. I wonder if it were true or simply a vehicle for keeping children away from the place. Or maybe both.

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  11. PS I shouldn’t type while eating — my comment wasn’t in regards to the first version, but to the leaving-the-poor-guy-at-the alter one.

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    • Laurie, you can eat, drink or whatever you like while you type here at TKZ…as long as you’re writing!

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  12. Fascinating story, Joe. Thanks for sharing.

    Abandoned structures take on a life of their own built by the imaginations of writers who wonder about them. No wonder they make compelling jumping-off points for mysteries.

    In my little Montana town, a bowling alley was the site of a notorious 1979 murder. A husband wanted sole ownership of the downtown property and his wife stood in his way. He and an accomplice made various attempts on her life before they succeeded. She was shot and killed in the bowling alley during a “robbery” staged to cover the crime. It took three trials to finally convict the husband. He died in prison last April to the great relief of her family.

    In 2004, the bowling alley (under new ownership) burned to the ground. A new VFW bar was built on the site. Thankfully no more murders…unless I start writing a story…

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    • Thank you, Debbie. I am merely a vessel which carries the record of what has gone before. And thanks for sharing that terrific story. I don’t know if you watch the Netflix series Ozark but there is a subplot — resolved in Season 3 — about an elderly husband and wife who are having a bit of a disagreement over their decades-long criminal enterprise. As Cindi Lauper says, money changes everything. Let us know when you write that story!

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  13. Hi, Joe

    I love your stories! This is another fun one, and a good example of how we often get a different version depending upon where we heard it and how many people passed it on. You can see the kernel of truth in it, only the reality is heart-break rather than just the change of mind.

    I don’t have anything so intriguing, but I did work at a supposedly haunted library back in the early 2000s. The North Portland Branch, on Killingsworth, is a lovely Jacobean-style building constructed in 1913 from a Carnegie grant. Two stories, with the library room on the ground floor. Upstairs there’s a couple of small staff offices, a tiny break room, a bathroom and a large meeting room which is also used as computer lab at times. Back in the early 1990s, staff said they’d seen on the surveillance camera a figure seated in the closed and darkened meeting room one evening. They went upstairs to discover that the room was empty. Back downstairs, they glimpsed the figure on video. A trick of the low light?

    When I transferred there in December 2001, I was told that the library was said to be “haunted,” and heard a version of the story above. I never saw a ghostly figure, on camera or in person, before or after we closed at 9PM. However, the hand dryer in the upstairs public restroom did turn on when no one was there. I heard that on several occasions. Do ghosts need to dry spectral hands?

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  14. Hi Dale. Thank you! And I loved yours. That must have been just a little chilling for the library employees to watch that surveillance footage, as well as for you when you heard the hand dryer turning on. I don’t know if ectoplasm washes off…but I don’t think I’d use the hand gel there. Thanks for sharing.

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  15. My street crosses one of the major throughfares in my town so it’s the road I must take to go anywhere. A house was built a half a mile away from that intersection. The choice of the land was poor. Low in comparison to the surrounding land with an overhang of woods with no sun and a creek nearby so it’s no small stretch to say it’s a dank place with mildew problems and just gave off a creepy vibe. The first owners were a murder suicide within a year. The house was resold at least once a year for almost twenty years in an area where that doesn’t happen until a family finally stuck. They’ve been there ten years or so. No ghost stories have been told, no gossip has been spread. Dead silence. But I wonder every time I pass.

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    • I would certainly wonder too, Marilynn. Some houses don’t seem to like people. Thanks for sharing.

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  16. Pingback: The Empty House | Loleta Abi Historical & Fantasy Romance Author & Book Blogger for all genres

  17. There is a castle in Alliance, Ohio, where I grew up. The place was brought over from Europe, shipped stone-by-stone by a nobleman who lost his lands in Germany… or maybe it was France? The re-building was new but the stones were ancient and so the place was filled with ghosts. All the neighborhood kids had stories of seeing ghostly figures peering from the castle windows during the night, or hearing screams. We all believed them. It was great fun!
    .
    I discovered during my middle-school years that the building was an entirely new construction, including the stones. It was the local Board of Education building, about as European as kung-fu. But that was okay. I still enjoy the memories.

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  18. Thanks, Carl. For those who are unaware, Alliance is just southeast of Akron (which is northwest of Alliance). Alliance is also now the home of the Troll Home Museum, which houses over thirty thousand troll dolls. While I don’t get there as often as I might, I understand that it is worth the trip if you love troll dolls and/or those who love them…

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  19. My hometown is a small mining community in Nevada. It has a reputation for being even wilder than Dodge City or Tombstone in the Old West. In fact, there were 76 deaths before a natural death. Most of this was outright gunfights but there were many murders. It has a separate cemetery for these deaths, Boot Hill. I lived here from a small child until my parents’ deaths in 1971 when I was 12 years old. When reading up on the town’s history, I became increasingly interested. Of course, it set my imagination into a tailspin. This is when I decided for my debut novel, my hometown would be the setting for an intriguing historical mystery. I have had many starts and stops and have been working on this for years. I hope I will be able to do it justice. Now as far as old houses go, I remember as a child we would explore old abandoned houses and imagine the lives of the people who had lived there. The houses were not locked. In fact, back in the day, no one locked their houses. I am sure that has changed now but this was many years ago. We didn’t even have locks on our doors back then. It was a very small community and now has less than 1000 residents. Back in 1871, in its heyday, it had more than 7,000 people and it was just a mining camp then.

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    • Thank you, Rebecca, for that story. Your hometown sounds like Chicago on a slow weekend night! Oh, wait a minute, you lived in Nevada…that sounds like an interesting place, particularly with a Boot Hill.

      PLEASE keep trying with that novel.

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  20. I once spent the night in a house that felt really haunted and found out later had been the scene of a terrible crime. I grew up on Long Island and when I was 12 my best friend invited me to sleep over her Aunt’s house a few towns over. Her aunt’s children were long gone grown up and moved away. The house was spooky set far back from from the road on a wooded hilly lot. Old fashioned flowered wallpaper inside. I remember being terrified all night and so was my BFF. We slept with the light on. Even though her aunt and her second husband were super sweet, older and so glad to have us. My friend had always said her uncle had been run down by the LIRR, which sounded very dramatic but I never questioned it. Until one day we were moving her mother’s dresser and found the chest was lined with Newsday clippings about what had really happened in Aunt Flo’s house! It was the late 1950s early 1960s and my friend’s uncle was molesting their daughter whenever his wife worked the night shift as a nurse in Smithtown Hospital. One day when the girl was 16 after they had sex and her dad sat up in bed smoking, she walked downstairs, loaded his shot gun, came up and shot him at point blank range as he sat up in bed. She was tried as an adult and acquitted. Moved away to Texas. Her mother stayed on in the house, remarried and never even redecorated! I still remember me and my friend freaking out all night there when we spent the night. I felt the bad vibes. It was not the only haunted place I have ever been in but it was the first and to this day the most vivid.

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  21. Margaret…thank you. If I had to pick a winner today, it would be tough, but I would pick your story. I would assume that your friend’s aunt at least got a new bed? A new mattress and comforter? Or did Fels Naptha work its magic once again? I’m amazed that you and your friend gutted it out in that tragic house where some rough justice was achieved. The guy should be dug up and shot again.

    You might not be familiar with it, but Aerosmith had a huge radio hit with a song dealing with a similar topic titled “Janey’s Got a Gun” and which you can find here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqQn2ADZE1A

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  22. You hit a comment nerve with this piece, Joe. Good job. “She stopped loving him today” – could be the Georgina Jones version. I had a coroner case where the wife removed her husband’s wedding ring (and finger).

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  23. Ouch! Thank you, Garry, for your comment and for sharing. I assume and hope that the widow utilized the bolt cutters post-mortem. Maybe she wanted the finger as a memento mori. If not, today’s helpful hint is…one can remove a ring from a finger by utilizing window cleaner. Just spray under the ring and the finger area between the ring and the knuckle, wait a few seconds, then slowly rotate the ring while moving it up the finger. BTW, this will not work on a finger with a compound fracture.

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  24. When I think of my hometown, ghost stories come to mind. My dad told me about several hauntings. One of a ghostly image many hunters claim they saw up on one of the ridges outside of town. Even one of my cousins said he saw an apparition hovering in a tree beside their camp. They packed up and left, and he refused to go back. Not being one usually spooked, former Green Beret in Vietnam, we all wondered about his tale.

    Another my dad told us about was the Lady of the Lake. (Seems like you hear lots of stories about these spirits.) According to the stories, at a certain time of year a young woman rises from the small lake and walks the shore, weeping. Some say she was an early pioneer to the area who met an awful end.

    Other stories abound about the old cemetery and other sites. Other than my cousin and my dad, I’ve not encountered anyone who actually saw these apparitions, but they are fascinating to contemplate.

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