Friday, June 20, 2014

The Mystique of Abandoned Places

Last night my youngest sister, Beth, called me and we got talking about ridiculous, risky things we did when we were kids. Beth is sixteen years younger than me so we don't share a lot of memories. When I was born—the first of my parent's eight children—my folks were young and ready to take me on adventures. By the time Beth, the youngest, came along, my folks were basically pooped and the younger ones sort of made their own adventures. But either way, we lived in a rural area outside of a medium-sized town with a small town atmosphere. And we were surrounded by woods.

While we talked I asked Beth if she remembered Bum Seelye's, an abandoned house on top of a hill far out at the end of Vine Road. Beth said she didn't and I realized it had probably been torn down years before she was even born. When I was a kid it was a favorite place to explore despite the fact that we were strictly forbidden to do so. I remember going there with my friends and it was always an adventure.

The place was falling apart. There was evidence that people camped out there—hobos perhaps—but at one time it mush have been a nice house. Most of the staircase to the second floor was intact and we'd go upstairs to look out of windows from which the glass had been gone for ages. Because the house was at the top of a hill there was a great view. There were odds and ends of broken furniture and clothes strewn about—old magazines, remains of dishes, and pots and pans. Once during one of our clandestine visits I stepped on a nail and had to hobble the half mile home with a shoe full of blood. After yelling at me, my mother put me in the car and took me to the doctor's for a tetanus shot. I actually got quite a few tetanus shots when I was a kid.

Beth said she wished she had been around in those days but we talked about the never-ending wonder that was Mary Opelt's Woods, right across the street from our house. There was the foundation of an old house there, too. The one Mary Opelt had lived in. I remember digging around that thinking we were young archaeologists and coming home with broken teacups, half-rotted shoes, and rusty spoons and forks. How our mother put up with us I'll never know.

Beth remembered sawdust piles along the edge of the woods that I forgot about. There was a cabinetry business where they planed and cured wood in these great oven. I'll never forget the whooshing sound echoing through the woods when that oven was opened during the day. Beth remembered sliding down the piles of sawdust and also picking Indian Pipes, a kind of wildflower, and picking teaberries.

Years ago, when I was living in Maine, my friend and I took a walk in the woods up by Sebec Lake and while we were climbing over rocks and roots and fallen leaves we realized that underneath all the vegetation there was a stairway made of stone. We even found the remains of an iron handrail that had fallen off and lay buried in moss and ferns. Someone had once lived there—someone who had built a stairway of stones with a fancy, iron rail. We spent the rest of our hike imagining who it might have been and why they were no longer there.

There is mystery and magic in abandoned places—echoes of people who once lived there. They speak to us through what they leave behind and we dream dreams of them and imagine their stories—and make memories of out own.

Thanks for reading.  


  1. As both an archaeologist and a writer, this piece was filled with great resonance and wonderful imagery. Thank you for sharing it!

  2. Thanks for reading it and for commenting!


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