“If you know what’s good for you you’d better stay out of the haunted church!” That was the warning in the early 1950s as Halloween neared.
“The haunted church” was an old decaying white building just across the street from Slater school’s ball diamond. It stood unnoticed most of the year but with the coming of Halloween its appearance would turn from an abandoned structure to a menacing house of terror (at least in the minds of younger citizens of town.)
This was long before organizations started charging folks to tour haunted houses filled with people disguised as monsters. It was a time when real ghosts and goblins were said to roam the Earth looking for deserted buildings in which to take up residency.
Of course, most of my friends and I had crawled through a broken basement window and explored the church on more than one occasion. Haunted houses aren’t haunted houses during the day. The evil inhabitants never appear until after the sun has set. So visiting one during the day was no big deal.
As brave as most of us were we had never tried entering the building at night. A few older kids claimed to have once on a dare but had turned and fled before getting out of the basement.
So it stood as a challenge … an old building with broken windows, sagging roof and pointed steeple. A decaying edifice where goblins and phantoms would nightly prowl.
Our daily baseball game placed us just a few feet from the old church, and it was during a late October contest that the dare of dares took place.
The game pitted our fifth grade against the sixth. As we began taking control of the game our old rivals began to look for a way to escape the humiliation of losing to a bunch of kids.
“We’ll meet you inside the old church tonight!” a sixth grader yelled as he fanned the air marking the last out of the game. “If you guys have the guts to show up!”
What a way to end a game! All we’d done was beat them in a baseball game and now they wanted us to risk our lives to prove a point. It just wasn’t worth it.
But the more we thought about it the more we knew we’d have to accept the challenge – if we didn’t we’d be the laughing stock of the school.
As soon as school let out we all headed for our tree house to make plans for the haunting experience we were about to face. We figured weapons probably wouldn’t be any good against ghosts and goblins but we still decided to bring everything from bows and arrows to BB guns. Kooker Hendershot volunteered to carry his Boy Scout lantern and Slick was to get his dad’s 6-cell flashlight.
The meeting was set for 9 p.m. in the steeple; we decided to gather at the basement window at 8:30.
Evening finally came and with it a faint moon peeking thorough ghostly clouds. Outside the basement window we heard the branches of the trees as they made scratching sounds on the side of the church.
Slick had the lead position with his flashlight while Kooker took up the rear with the lantern. We climbed the basement stairs to the main floor and quickly headed for the old ladder leading to the steeple.
The ladder began to shake as we all started to climb but the real excitement took place when Slick pushed open the trap door. The steeple exploded with the sound of ghosts and goblins flying around. Somehow we made it back down the ladder without falling. It was then a mad dash for the basement window.
Outside we were greeted by the jeering and cheering of the sixth grade class who had never planned to go inside.
“I don’t know which came out the fastest,” one of the sixth graders yelled, “you guys out of the basement window or the pigeons out of the steeple!”
(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)