In November of 2010, my wife and I visited my parents in North Carolina. One of the things we decided to do was to check out Carl Sandburg’s home, where he did most of his writing and, eventually, where he died.
I’m always a little wary of going into places like this (for reasons I’ve already covered), but I figured it would be a fun opportunity to see the home of one of the best writers from the 20th century. I was aware of a lot of his work, but I knew almost nothing about the man himself, much less his home life. Usually when I go to a historical site, things can get a little overwhelming. I have to mentally prepare myself, since I never really know what I’m going to encounter. It could be mass hysterical insanity, or it could be calm as a lake on a windless day.
As soon as we walked into the house, I felt comfortable. There were echoes, but they were very faint; the most they did was raise the hair on my neck. Looking at the thousands of books lining the walls, I could feel they had been well cared for. Not just because they were visibly in good condition, but because they had actually been used. Any knowledge or story that could have been absorbed from them had been…these weren’t just books to the Sandburgs, they were a way of life (which was confirmed by the tour guide). Rather than insulate any echoes that remained (as is common with books, since they are handled so rarely when compared to other possessions), the books themselves seem to be the source of it all: the very shelves were once the lifeblood of the house, and they kept my attention throughout most of the tour.
As we moved through the first floor, the echoes remained muted. Even the kitchen seemed devoid of all but the last of fading vibrations. Most kitchens are highly personal places that, except for a bedroom or a closet, usually get the biggest reaction out of me. But here? Nothing. Just warm feelings of meals, joy, and contentment. Much of the rest of the first floor seemed to feel exactly the same: a house long since abandoned by any occupant that may have been present, destined to be rich in emotional memory but devoid of actual energy. This theme continued through the entire house…that is, until we reached what was once Mrs. Sandburg’s room.
From the moment I stepped over the threshold and into that room, I knew something was different. It wasn’t just the high ceiling, or the multiple mirrors, or the old fireplace. It wasn’t the furniture, the twin beds, Mrs. Sandburg’s brush, or even the small selection of books. It was something else. My whole body went into goose-bump mode, and my stomach started doing the twist. Strangely though, no fear came…no dry choking lump in my throat, no fire-and-ice temperature combination under my skin, no buzzing of my nerve endings. This wasn’t an occupied room, but it had a very distinct echo that the rest of the house simply didn’t have. I started shifting my eyes around, as there seemed to be a wavering just beyond the edge of my vision, despite there being no occupant.
When it became apparent that I wasn’t going to catch whatever was on the edge of my vision, I stopped darting my eyes and started looking around normally. Nothing about it seemed all that out of place…hell, I didn’t even get nervous looking at any of the mirrors (a problem that I’ve long since conquered, but still a tell-tale sign of an occupant.) There was just something odd about this particular room. I looked up at the top of the vaulted ceiling, and focused my attention there. Nothing…no spirit floating around looking down on us, or waiting to scare us, or anything like that. Just the same echo that seemed to permeate every surface of this room. The only change was that the wavering in my vision seemed to become amplified a little when I focused my attention towards the ceiling.
The tour guide finished her spiel, and we slowly filed out. Since I had been first person to go in, I was the last person to leave. The moment I crossed the threshold again, everything went back to normal. The goosebumps went away and my stomach calmed, until all that was left was the background echo I had encountered in the rest of the house. I turned around and looked back into Mrs. Sandburg’s room…and the goose bumps half returned.
I would later come to find out that Carl Sandburg had in fact died in that very room.