The distinct atmosphere lures me in. History. Oddities. Stories from days gone by. Like a roadside museum, the antique store’s white flag flaps in the breeze, declaring, “Welcome!”
An old-style shop bell rings when we enter. My daughter—my favorite sidekick on these adventures—greets the person behind the counter. The view spreads out before us, sending a little shiver of anticipation through me. Look at all this stuff!
Wide wooden floorboards creak beneath our steps as we venture further in. Tight maze-like trails wind through ceiling-high towers of collectables. Nineteen-fifties Doo Wop music plays in background. And I know. This is going to be an interesting stop.
I’m not looking for anything special today. In the past I’ve searched for old snowshoes, odd bits of furniture, a replacement dish. This is a lark, a diversion on a rainy New England day.
We separate and begin wandering through the merchandise, one thing draws my interest, another my daughter’s. Never too far apart, we often call each other over to share discoveries. “Look at this, it’s just like grandma’s!” or “Oh my God, who would hang this on their wall?” when spying taxidermy squirrels and clown paintings. We have a good chuckle and separate again.
Like any good story, the deeper in you delve the more interesting it becomes. I work my way into a cluttered corner to examine military paraphernalia. Vietnam and Korea War-era combat boots and uniforms. Buttons, patches, and medals of honor, all faded now. There’s a helmet, the taped-on label stating this piece is older, American Army from WWII. It’s seen action based on the scuffs, scratches, and dings on the outside. Turning it over, I find a yellowed photograph of a woman with a baby glued to the inside crown. Someone’s family. The folks back home, waiting, hoping, praying... This item seems to have an energy, perhaps a residual of all it has been through. I trace the picture with my fingertip and can’t help but wonder if this soldier made it back.
Memories of my own father come swooping in. He never had such things to show me. Two Purple Hearts, but no uniform remained from his service in WWII. Being injured, everything was lost before he returned state-side to marry his sweetheart, my mom. Dad died an old man, saying all his “Army buddies” had gone on before him. “There’d be a hell of a party on the other side,” he’d often joked.
I gently replace the helmet and move on.
My girl—that’s what I still call her though she’s in her mid-20’s—beckons me over to check out vintage clothing. Dresses from the 50’s and 60’s. Platform shoes from the 70’s… "Hey, wait a minute, those aren’t antiques!" I laugh and admit they probably are. And that I wore similar ones with trendy bell-bottom jeans “back in the day.” When I was like two… hahaha… Our expressions turn somber as we stroke the soft, wide sleeves of an old mink coat. The tag attached to the hanger places the item in the late nineteen-forties. Its satin lining bears initials embroidered in elegant cursive letters.
A twinge of sadness creeps in.
A lady likely wore this coat on special occasions. Dinners and dancing. New Year’s Eve, maybe? Was it a Christmas or Valentine’s Day present from her beloved husband? We’ll never know, and that’s the part that makes me sad. These treasures from the past have found their way to this shop. But how?
I’m fairly certain it’s because I’m a writer…
that I muse over stranger’s things. Stories are my life, and my curious mind can’t help but imagine where these items came from.
What’s their story?
We wander down into the basement of the shop. The air is musty and cold. Harsh white fluorescent replace the warm yellow lighting of the upstairs rooms. Items lean haphazardly against walls or are piled in no particular order. These things are obviously of lesser value. Some more modern…records, cassettes, and VHS tapes I recognize from the 80’s and early 90’s. Not what I consider antiques, but they’re headed that way. Holiday decorations, a child’s plastic vanity set. “Creepy Santa” my daughter dubs the life-sized “thing,” standing beside a bedraggled tree.
“Want to head upstairs again?” she asks in frustration.
I agree and follower her lead.
In our final turn about the basement labyrinth, we stop for one last look. Hidden behind old leather jackets, we discover a large dusty photograph. A wedding couple? They look like it to me, posed in what appears to be wedding finery. The gentleman’s suit coat sports a boutonniere, the lady’s dress and hair are adorned with flowers and lace. Yet their faces appear similar. Could they be siblings at some other formal event? Who knows. Either way, it’s a lovely photograph, one that likely cost a pretty penny when it was taken. A twisted wire on the back of the black frame suggests the picture hung on someone’s wall. A prized memento, perhaps displayed in a parlor for visitors to admire. And here it hung, wasting away, buried in a dank cellar.
“Oh, that’s sad,” I tell my daughter. “No family to keep this, to remember them?”
“They’re probably all gone,” she surmises. “I bet most of this stuff ends up here from estate sales.”
I move the jackets to another spot to keep the photo uncovered, and we move on.
Yet they haunt me.
Fast forward one week, and I’m still thinking about the pair. I relay the highlights of our day “antiquing” to my critique partner friend over the phone.
“Was it expensive?” she asks.
“No… Eight dollars,” I dismiss. “Can you believe something that cost so much back then—in what appears to be the late Victorian era based on their clothing—is only eight dollars now?” I explain a sign suggested it was even less. “Thirty percent off most items in the basement,” it read.
A sale…on memories.
“You should buy it,” she declares, not a hint of doubt in her tone.
Days pass, but the idea sticks with me. I think of my own family photos, the ones I love of my grandparents, parents, even my immediate family. Could they end up like those things someday? Lost? Forgotten? Novelties for strangers? I hope not.
“Keep your coat on,” I tell my daughter when she arrives home days later.
“You’re going back for it,” she states rather than asks, knowing I’ve been preoccupied with the photo.
So, how does this story end…this, my first chronicle of haunted history? The photograph now sits prominently in my writing space, surrounded by crystal candelabras and vintage china. Items I imagine would be familiar and pleasing to the pair, whoever they are/were. I’m looking at them now as I write this post. Treasured once more. By a stranger, yes, but it’s the best I could do for them.
I often sense the couple is grateful…when our gazes lock during the day, and I feel like I rescued them. “A soul connection. Be careful of that,” another friend warned upon hearing the story. But I’m fine with it, and I’m not concerned. I enjoy their ghost-like company. They inspire me—as did the other items in the antique store—to start this chronicle and other projects. There’s even a setting/scene in my upcoming release (Hellfire and Handbaskets) because of this “haunting” experience.
For those interested in haunted objects… I’m not suggesting all antiques are haunted, far from it! Some are, and not in a good way, but that’s for another discussion. Others merely speak to you, perhaps on a soul level, and they deserve a second chance.
How about you? Have you ever felt a connection to something you found in an antique shop, thrift store, or yard sale? A family heirloom? Tell me, I’d love to hear your story! In future posts, I’m going to explore more haunted history, so be sure to stop back.