Many of the locations I have read, investigated, or had paranormal experiences at are considered historic or “older”. In some of these old places, I have come across a few VERY creepy things, which back in the day had a logical purpose.
These are my top 5 creepiest things I have actually seen with perfectly logical explanations!
- Children Shoes in the Walls – Nothing is creeper than doing a reno on a house and tearing down a wall only to find a stack of worn old leather shoes in the wall! This was a very common practice in the colonial and Victorian times based on traditions tracing back to 1308, and probably further back, in Europe. There are a few ideas as to why the practice of putting worn shoes in the wall near doors, windows, and fireplace was done. One explanation was to promote fertility. Most often they are children’s shoes, but men and women’s shoes can be found as well. Another explanation was to ward off evil spirits or witches! Items that were used for such purposes were called spiritual middens and these shoes in the walls are called “concealed shoes”. It was thought that witches sought smelly shoes and would be attracted to the shoe in the wall. It was also thought they didn’t have the ability to go backwards . . . yeah . . . so when cornered after sniffing the wall, they would be caught and captured. I also read that dead mummified cats or other clothing items would be put in the walls for the same purpose of tricking witches.
- Solitary Toilet in the Basement – I have only come across this once, in a house built around 1760 that functioned as an inn. Let me tell you it was one of the creepiest things to see. The floor was dirt, the foundation was stone and in this lonely dark corner was a single toilet just hanging out. Was someone living down there?! Was someone locked up down there?! What IS THIS?! The explanation I have found for this is back in the day post WWI in industrial cities like Philidelphia, Pittsburg and Chicago when people would come home from work very very dirty they would enter the home through the basement to wash up and use the restroom. Another reason I found for them is to prevent a sewage back up in the main part of the home. Just in case the sewage went array, it would backup through the toilet in the basement and save the main floors of the home. They were put in older homes when sewage systems were first being installed in old homes in the Northeast.
- Secret Staircases – These “secret” staircases are common to find in homes dating before 1900. In fact, I can’t think of an older home I have been to that didn’t have them. They are easily identifiable because they are almost always narrow, steep, and often have a turn to them. They were the staircases used by the servants and or slaves of the home. They often connect the upstairs to the kitchen area. Because of their steep and narrowness, often in later years, homeowners would board them up as a safety concern.
- A Room in the Attic – I have encountered this a few times now. A walkup attic space with a full-fledged singular free-standing room complete with a door on it. Both times these rooms looked like they were meant to be habitable with finished walls on the inside (plaster and/or wallpaper) and windows. One of them even had a fireplace opening and appeared to be decorated as a 1930s children’s bedroom with two iron rod single beds, a rocking chair, and clown pictures on the wall (yes this was real). TOTAL creep factor! The other room I saw even had a lock on the outside of the door. Explanations of what these rooms are a nursery or play area for the children to keep them away from the rest of the family. I have also heard these rooms where for travelers looking for lodging overnight and would be locked from the outside so as not to be a risk to the rest of the family during the night. Another explanation these are “disappointment rooms” where a family member would be locked away due to disfigurement and/or mental disabilities. Lastly these could be simply the servants’ quarters or boarders’ quarters.
- Fireplace in the Basement – This also seems super weird. Were there people living in the basement!? Sometimes this was true, but more often this was the cooking fireplace. The servants or slaves would cook the meals at the hearth in the basement and then bring them upstairs to the family. It is a common finding in colonial homes of the wealthy and buildings that functioned as inns or taverns. I have encountered this in multiple colonial homes and one post-colonial summer home made by a very wealthy man (Atsion Mansion).
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