This story comes from my paternal grandmother.
Here in my little hometown there stand several houses that were designed by and built for wealthy local families in the last two or three decades of the nineteenth century by a man who is always referred to as the Philadelphia Architect. Although I may be wrong as to this (all my books on local history have been spirited away by my brother, who uses details from them when he occasionally guides hikes), he originally came to town from Pennsylvania to build a new courthouse in the 1870s, and stayed on to undertake private commissions.
One of these private houses, which stands out in the knobs alongside what was once a major US highway but became a glorified back road when a bypass was built in the 1970s, is different from others built by this man, in that it has a spiral staircase that rises two full stories and can be seen from outside the house through a huge window on the second floor.
In the 1930s, the house was owned by a family named Blanchard (a pseudonym): a married couple with several children ranging in age from puberty to their late teens. All was well in the family until the husband began an affair with a woman whose name is not preserved in local lore. The affair was especially devastating to his wife, and she finally in despair hanged herself from the top of the spiral staircase. Her children found her when they arrived home from school that afternoon.
Blanchard eventually sold the house. It’s been through several families since then, but there have always been whispers that, down the decades, alarmed motorists have rushed up onto the front porch, banging on the door and anxiously informing whoever answers: “I saw a woman hanging off that staircase–through that big window! Is she–did you–” And the words trail off into silence as they look up at the stair and see there’s no one there at all.
I’ve been past that house many times, but have never seen the dangling body. Maybe I haven’t been in the right frame of mind; maybe I’ve not seen the right trick of the light. But Gran told the story well; I can’t go by there without feeling a chill up my spine.