The Madwoman’s Ghost in the Attic

When I was a young boy living in Caribou, Maine, back in the 1960s, we had two rocking chairs in our living room. I spent a lot of time in that room, playing with my Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars on the floor, building with my Lincoln Logs, and generally lost in sweet illusion. Life was sweet and completely innocent and I was the master of my own imagination. But something happened. Something I did a lot of the time, without thinking, has haunted me up to this day. It was something I knew nothing about, something that I couldn’t possibly have guessed.  You see, when I was lying there on the floor, my foot would invariably find its way to the leg of one of those rocking chairs and then, without the slightest thought, I would start that empty chair a rocking, back and forth. The rhythm soothed me and gave me a sense of peace.

Then, one day, my mother was walking through the room and saw what I was doing, rocking that empty chair with my foot, and she stopped cold, dropped the clothesbasket she was carrying, spreading its contents all over the floor, and she cried, “Tommy! Stop it!”

I looked up at her, confused. What was I supposed to stop? Stop playing with my toys? I didn’t think, couldn’t possibly have imaged, what caused her so much concern.

“Stop rocking that chair with your foot!”

I stopped. But then, like any kid might, I asked “Why?”

She looked at me with wide eyes and said quietly, in a voice that was a warning, “Never, never, ever rock and empty rocking chair. It’s bad luck.”

“But what will happen?” I asked, still confused.

“When an empty rocking chair rocks, it means that soon, someone will die.”

And a million thoughts ran through my mind. I thought back to all the times I rocked that empty chair and in the simple faith of my youth I wondered, “How many people have I killed by mindlessly rocking the empty chair?”

I never did it again.

Even though I know better now, even though I realize that it was only my mother’s belief in a superstition that gave me many sleepless nights, even though I am educated and know better, I still make it appoint never to rock an empty rocking chair. Just in case…

Ghost stories aren’t usually easy to research. They don’t happen to several people at once. They never occur when you have a camera or a recording device. I have seen one ghost in my life, which I will not discuss here, not yet at least, but I am certain that if I had such a device in my hand at the time, the last thing I would have done would have been to have the presence of mind to point it at the apparition. Besides, ghosts exist in the corner of your eye and at the very edge of your hearing. They care little for our modern devices.

So when trying to research a good ghost story, you won’t find the kind of documentary evidence that would make a skeptic happy. No. People who tell their stories don’t usually want to and often only do so after someone pleads with them to share, to get it off their chest, so that they won’t feel like they’re so alone. It does a person little good to share an experience that they can’t explain and that keeps them on the very edge of being considered a fool by the world because, yes, once, perhaps more than once, they saw something that they cannot possibly explain. And then you listen and even though you know better, there’s something ancient deep down inside you, something innocent and even though you know better, you can’t stop yourself from listening…and believing. 

Such is the story of Tina and Kenny Lusk of Waterbury, Connecticut, two professional pilots who moved into a charming Victorian home in Waterbury in the spring of 1990. As they were signing the papers, the seller of the house, an elderly fellow who had lived in it for years, gave them a quiet warning about a ‘disturbing presence’ within, and to expect to experience it at some point. But a story is only a story and after a year of living in the house with no sight or feeling of such a thing, the Lusks must have shrugged it all off as the imagination of an old man and nothing more.

But then there was the rocking chair in the attic…

People who have lived in houses they claim are haunted will tell you that there are usually places within the house where they experience cold air or the hair raising on the back of their heads. It could be a room, a corner, even a closet. In the case of the Lusk home, it was the attic.  This was a Victorian house, so the attic was full of odd corners and dark exposed wood. People often leave things in the attic that they don’t want, and when they move, they don’t bother to take them with them. These things are all that remain of the people who have lived and passed through before. They are a reminder that someone came before. So it was with this place – a rocking chair, some clothing hanging on a bar, sundry items, toys and cookware.

 A window on either side of the space let in enough light to waken the shadows and…something else? Ken was in the attic for a moment to store supplies when, in a moment of silence, from the corner of his eye in the corner of the attic, he saw the empty rocking chair left there by the previous owner, begin to rock by itself. Ken moved toward it to discover how such a thing was possible but as got close, it abruptly stopped.

“I just kind of shrugged it off at first,” he explained in Charles Robinson’s The New England Ghost Files, “I attributed it to a draft passing through and left it at that.”

Then the presence the previous owner had hinted about began to truly stir. Preparing for bed one evening, whatever was in the attic began to make itself known to them.

Thumping sounds would be heard and Ken would climb the stairs to the attic only to find everything quiet and as it should be. It happened at odd, unpredictable intervals.

In early August, 1991, things became even stranger and more unsettling. One afternoon while playing with the dog in the yard, Tina looked up to the attic and saw something that should not have been there, something…other. A dark figure was moving strangely in the attic, twisting and twirling in front of the window.

“The figure seemed to be dancing,” she recalls, “I couldn’t make it out well enough to tell if it was a man or a woman but it was twirling and throwing up its arms in a dance.”

She ran inside and told Kenny what she had seen. She was beside herself with fright. Together, they went upstairs to see if somehow, someone, a stranger, was dancing in front of the window in their attic.

They found nothing. Ken’s response was to shrug it off, to dismiss his wife’s experience as nothing more than a wild imagining. Tina recalls, “He told me that I was letting my imagination run wild because of what the seller had told us. Still, I didn’t see how he could take it so lightly, considering that he himself had heard those strange thumpings in the attic late at night. But I guess he wasn’t ready to accept the idea of a haunting. He’s a very rational person. As for me, “she remembers, “the figure I had seen in the attic window was very disturbing, although Kenny was able to half convince me that I had probably just seen a moving shadow up in the window, maybe a draft rustling through some old dresses hanging in the attic.”

The Lusks were pilots and one of them was often gone while the other remained at home with the dog. Three months after Tina saw the strange dancing form in the attic window, Ken was away on a flight and she was alone in the house. Repainting some of the rooms, they kept their painting supplies in the attic and one afternoon, Tina reluctantly made her way up the stairs to get the paint. She recalls the effect visiting the attic had on her that afternoon. “

“While I was up there, I couldn’t believe how nervous I was getting,” she recalls. “My whole body was shaking. Still, nothing unusual happened., and I went back downstairs feeling a little more relaxed. I got more and more relaxed each time but on my fourth trip to the attic, all of that changed.”

She was more relaxed. Of course there  was nothing there, nothing at all. So it was with a light heart that she began to gather the color of paint she needed. As she bent over to find it, she heard a strange, light tapping noise coming from the far corner of the attic, where an old Raggedy Ann doll sat propped on a chair.

Tina’s words speak of a nearly unutterable fear. “When I looked in that direction, I saw something absolutely bizarre. You are going to think I’m crazy, but…well, the arms of the stuffed doll were clapping and moving frantically, like some invisible force was manipulating them. I just froze and stood there in absolute terror. Then, a few moments later, the doll came flying in my direction, like something invisible had picked it up ad thrown it at me. At that point, I rushed out of the attic screaming at the top of my lungs. When I got downstairs, I ran out of the house.”

She went to the house of a friend and calmed down. She decided not to tell her husband about her experience, fearing that he would lightly brush it off again as nothing more than her imagination. When he returned later that evening, Tina returned to the house but never left his side. The next day, something would happen to Ken that would make him change his mind about his wife’s wild imaginings.

He would meet…her…

Ken was a hobbyist, a maker of models, and he went to the attic to look for his model airplane glue. He had to move boxes and search, so he was up there for some time. He was rummaging through a box when he happened to look up. What he saw there defies explanation. He remembers, “I suddenly saw the strangest thing. I was…well…an elderly woman slowly crawling across the attic floor on her hands and knees. I just stood there sort of dumbfounded. As she crawled past me, she turned her head and grinned at me strangely, and then she proceeded to crawl on all fours toward the attic wall. When she reached the wall, she passed right through it and vanished. And then, for just a few moments, I could hear this strange muffled chuckling coming from the inside of the wall. It was the most frightening thing I have ever experienced.”

The couple began to think about leaving the house, but they were not the kind of people to leave without at least knowing why. The rappings continued. They avoided the attic. They had a friend who worked for the historical society and had access to a lot of local history. What they discovered seemed to at least align with what Ken saw in the attic on that afternoon.

Tina recalls, “We found out that one of the home’s original owners, an elderly widow named Mrs. Bouchard, went insane and starved herself in the attic in either 1878 or 1879. We were at a loss about what to do. We even talked to our priest about it, but he didn’t want to get involved.”

Whoever…or whatever…was taking refuge in their attic, it continued to make itself known. An oil paiting they had stored in the attic was torn and defaced. Tina’s sister, Catherine, had been visiting and ran from the yard screaming when she clearly seeing an elderly woman looking down at her from the attic window.

Some houses can’t seem to keep an owner. You’ve probably known of a place, perhaps near your own house, that keeps going up on the market every year or two. There are places that seem like they can’t hold a family. Something pushes people away and out. Kenny and Tina sold their house in July of 1992 to a businessman from Rhode Island who himself moved out and put the house back on the market in 1993. Is it possible he saw the ghost of Mrs. Bouchard crawling across the attic floor, too?  They say that a house doesn’t shelter you for long periods of time and then just let you pass – it retains a part of you, a kind of residential memory.

But here’s the thing. We will never truly know the story, the full, unadulterated story of the house in Waterbury with the spirit of a mad woman lingering in the dark corners of an attic. Charles Turek Robinson interviewed the Lusks in November of 1992, again in December and once more in February of 1993. He relates the events of the couple as the first of his ghost files in the seminal work on ghosts in New England, The New England Ghost Files. In an author’s note to the book, he explains that he has changed the names of all persons in the book and replaced them with pseudonyms to assure privacy and anonymity. The book is a particularly frightening compendium of tales gathered from interviews throughout New England. Most of those interviewed would not have agreed to have their experiences recounted in book form unless their names were changed. Mr. Robinson has passed away, so it is unlikely that we will ever know who the Lusks really are and whether or not this entire tale is nothing more than a creative exercise in fear.

That’s the thing about ghost stories. They take place in quiet, out of the way places with only one or two people to experience the ineffable. It wouldn’t be a ghost story if you could tear it apart, dissect it bit by bit, analyze every minute detail and find a way to explain it away. No, a ghost story is a lonely thing, a bit like a ghost itself, to be experienced by a few, in the lonely dark of an evening, far from the light, far from any explanation except that somehow, something remains long after it should, and it waits there, in the corner of the attic, for a new tenant of the house below.

LINK – The New England Ghost Files on Amazon

Music for this Podcast

MYUU Living in the Dark

MYUU Collapse

MYUU Cold Shivers

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