It was like a scene from a scary movie, one where you shout at the TV: “Don’t open that door!”
Last weekend in October. A husband and wife cleaning out the basement of an older house, bickering about what to keep and what to toss. Wife throwing out old useless things and complaining that stuff hasn’t been unpacked despite moving in over a year ago. Husband stoically sorting and putting things away.
Wife pauses, absent-mindedly looks around, focuses on a particularly disorganized area and notices something leaning up against a back wall.
(All husbands out there know something bad is going to happen, right? Cue spooky music.)
“What’s that?” wife asks.
“What’s what?” Husband delays. He is busy and preoccupied and doesn’t want more work.
“That!” Wife points.
“I dunno. Something the last owners left behind,” husband says, unconcerned.
“It looks like a … headstone?” Wife says dubiously.
“Pull it out,” she says.
Husband does, realizing wife was not going to leave the room anytime soon.
“It looks real.” The headstone is heavy and heavily dusted with basement dirt and a few spider webs for atmosphere.
“Maybe it’s some kind of factory second?” Husband says, hopefully.
“Nope. It’s real. You can tell it’s been in the ground,” wife says, pointing to an unevenly-edged, darkened area at the bottom of the stone. The letters and bas-relief appear naturally worn, particularly toward the edges of the stone as expected.
Husband wipes the dust, revealing a death date for George H. of March 3, 1811 or 1841. The year is hard to decipher, as is the last line – either an epitaph or perhaps the age of someone’s son. Wife shivers.
“What is that doing in our basement?!” Wife asks. Husband sighs, knows it’s going to be a long night.
The Real Story
It’s a real-life drama and not part of a cheap Blair Witch horror flick, resulting in a mystery for our family.
This past weekend, we found a headstone in our basement. And no, it was not a Halloween decoration leftover from previous holidays.
It was a fitting start to the Halloween weekend but put a bit of a damper on the holiday fun: It’s one thing to see creepy headstones and macabre decorations on someone’s lawn and it’s quite another to find the real deal in your basement.
We had looked forward to owning an older house in Waukesha in part because we’re both interested in local history; however, we didn’t expect an up-close and personal experience. The Waukesha Springs era is exotic; a headstone in the basement – not so much.
Here’s what we know: there is no body buried in the basement. We checked, by exploring the dark recesses and with the previous owners.
Nor was the headstone from a burial on our wide city lot, although living in Waukesha and knowing that the majority of Indian burial mounds in the area were bulldozed, we can’t exactly be sure someone wasn’t buried around here. We do know, however, the headstone didn’t come from the Indians, nor from one of in the area.
After and Internet research and a phone call, we learned the headstone is a relic moved here by a previous owner.
Waukesha is a big, small town, as a I’m fond of saying, and I’m sure we’ll get to the bottom of the mystery. In the meantime, we’re following-up with the historical society and others to find a home for the headstone other than in our basement.
But life lesson learned: Be careful about cleaning out your basement. You never know what you’ll find. And don’t do it the day before Halloween. You could end up with nightmares.