The manifestations took many forms.
At first, I thought it was only one benign ghost giving us the creeps but as time wore on I realized that there were just too many strange things going on in the apartment to be explained by one ghost or spirit or entity.
For starters, we, my daughters and I, just felt we were being watched. It was creepy, but not scary like a snake or spider. In an odd way it could be comforting, a feeling that you were not alone and even being protected.
But there were more concrete manifestations than just a feeling. We heard unexplainable footsteps on the roof, for example, as well as a distinct dripping sound late at night. At least once, a plate of cookies skittered across a kitchen counter to spill on the floor, and another time someone looked at me through the window as I gazed up from outside, even though I was certain the apartment was empty.
And then there were the windows in winter.
There were four large ones facing south overlooking Main Street. If the temperatures dipped below freezing at night, a masterpiece would slowly develop in the frost between the panes. The styles varied widely from still lives to landscapes to abstracts. Whatever, the art glowed in the early morning sun and then melted away as the sun rose.
The apartment was on the second floor of a brick building erected in 1917 in the small town of Solon, Iowa. The first floor was originally a hardware store, but served many purposes over the years. The upstairs, where I lived, was in the beginning a large hall and home of the Solon Lodge of the International Order of Odd Fellows. This fraternal organization has roots into the Middle Ages and among other things “aimed to improve and elevate every person to a higher, nobler plane.”
Perhaps some benevolent Odd Fellows stayed on?
Sometime around the 1950s, the downstairs became a Shop Rite grocery store, and the upstairs was remodeled into an apartment for the grocer, Joe Holland, and his family.
By the time I first met Joe in 1980, he was in his late 70s and living alone in the apartment and had become a bit of an eccentric.
He was so frugal that he made it a point to never use his own toilet. Instead he’d walk to one of the businesses in town, including the newspaper office that I ran, to do his business. Every morning he’d look out from his window to the Solon State Bank, waiting for 9 a.m., at which time he’d walk to the bank and study the interest rates posted for the day. One time he showed up at my office with an armload of papers and asked if he could have an envelope big enough to hold them. I offered to sell him a 10-by-14 inch manila– the newspaper, as it was in the old days, still offered stationery supplies– for 50 cents. He said he didn’t have the four bits and asked if I had one in the garbage that he could use over for free. I found him one and then he asked if I’d help him get the papers into the envelope. Each was an officially printed certificate reading “U.S. Treasury Bond $10,000” across the top.
I moved to Solon with my spouse and two daughters after serving four years in the Army. I’m originally from Chicago but we chose Solon because that’s where my wife’s family had settled. I was a journalist in the service and soon found employment with Hospers and Brother Printers of Iowa City, which owned the Solon Economist newspaper. I worked for them until 1983 when I bought the paper and went off on my own.
After a dozen years of marriage, my wife and I divorced. I rented an apartment at 212 Main St. and was Joe’s neighbor in 1985. When Old Joe passed that October, I got to watch as workers unloaded nearly an endless stream of boxes filled with old newspapers, promotional stuff for the grocery store, clothes, and old furniture from Joe’s place. Then one day the workers threw out a couple dozen suitcases, leaving them in the alley before the garbage man came.
My daughters asked if they could look through them and I gave the okay. A half hour later they came running up the steps to me breathless and white as ghosts.
“Dad, we found a gun,” they reported.