2020/07/02

Low Strangeness

Guilford well

Sometimes the most fascinating curiosities aren't to be found in the skies above our heads, or even in the dark woods beyond our doorstep. Sometimes they're right under our feet.

A reader passed along this immersive story:
A resident who plummeted “into the abyss” below a New England home that dates back to 1843 was pulled from frigid well water over the weekend, officials said.
Officers responding to a home in Guilford, Connecticut, learned a resident had fallen through a section of wood flooring, tumbling about 30 feet down into a well that had been covered up by an addition in 1981, according to the Guilford Police Department.
Police say the victim was treading water for nearly 25 minutes before firefighters descended into the well and pulled them to safety.
“Miraculously, the victim only suffered minor injuries but was transferred to the hospital to be checked out,” the department wrote in a Facebook post.
Police warned that older, historical homes in New England may have hazards that were not upgraded by current code.
Guilford well 2

This particular hazard isn't limited to New England.

A century and more ago, my hometown was known for its booming liquor industry. Distilleries and breweries lined the riverbank, supplied by the natural springs in the green bluffs above.

The founder of our local university built a stately house atop the bluff. All of the household's water was piped in from a spring farther down the slope.

Other luminaries and magnates built their mansions on the same street. Today, the breweries are gone, but the school and the historic neighborhood behind campus remain.

Some years back, the sister of a friend now long gone moved into a rambling Victorian foursquare on that venerable street. They'd bought the place for a song--the result of the bank foreclosing on the elderly, widowed former resident.

I spent a couple of afternoons helping my friend clear the decades' worth of accumulated junk out of the place so his sister, brother-in-law, and parents could move in. During our trips from the back door to the dumpster next to the garage, I noticed a capped well in the backyard.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened during the cleaning or renovation of the old house, at least not that I heard or witnessed. But sometime later, I happened to be playing some tabletop RPG at a friend's house. It wasn't my regular game, but one of those hybrids formed when members from two different groups with a couple of players in common forge an ad hoc association for a short-lived campaign.

One guy from the other group whom I hadn't met before turned out to be employed at a local drain clearing outfit. At one point late in the night he started telling war stories of the weird stuff he'd found in people's drains, and other plumbing-related escapades. His accounts jogged my memory of the well in my old friend's sister's backyard. The drain cleaner sagely nodded and told this tale:
A few years back, we got a call from a guy on that street. This was in the fall, and it was our last job of the day, so it was already dark out. I was new to the job and town then, so it was a bit intimidating to pull up in front of a giant mansion that looked like a better kept version of the Addams Family.
The boss and I got out of the truck and went around to the back door of the house. The owner met us there. He was a clean-cut guy in his 50s who must've been a banker or something. The dirt on his arms and knees looked out of place. Nice enough old guy, but he was kind of flustered and wanted the problem taken care of NOW. You know the type.
Anyway, the guy said he'd just bought the place a couple weeks back and had finally gotten to work on it that day. I got the sense he planned to fix it up and flip it. Based on how little he probably paid for it, and how much other houses in the neighborhood had recently gone for, it sounded like a good plan to me.
The only problem was the deep thudding sound that would ring out seemingly at random. It seemed to travel up through the house, and it got on this guy's nerves to the point he couldn't get any work done. So he called us.
Nine times out of ten in situations like this, you're dealing with a misbehaving old water pipe or heating duct. Boss told the guy, who said no, he'd traced the sound to a floor drain downstairs.
Boss said we'd take a look. The owner led us down the back kitchen stairs to the basement. It was actually kind of nice down there, with one room that had been remodeled into a bar sometime in the 80s.
But the owner kept right on going, through the bar and into a bare concrete storage room. There was what looked like shoulder-high black wood paneling along a section of the left wall, and I was surprised when the guy slid it aside to reveal a cramped staircase heading farther down. The steps weren't concrete. They were rough stone with fittings and a railing that looked like 1800s ironwork.
The owner stood by and said the drain was in the middle of the sub-basement floor. You couldn't miss it. Boss nudged me in the ribs as if to say, "You're gonna see something, now!" ducked into the landing, and headed down. I got a spooky feeling, but not wanting to wuss out in front of a customer, I followed.
Thankfully, once you got under the low entrance, the stairwell ceiling had enough clearance to stand upright in. It was rounded and surfaced in yellowed plaster. The faint light shining in from the room above gave out halfway down, and the rest was pitch black. I called up to the owner, asking him to turn on a light. He said there was no electricity down there. Great. Boss and I switched on our flashlights.
A draft of cool, damp air hit me when we walked into the sub-basement. The only way I can describe the smell is cave-like. Most of the area was taken up by one big room, with a right-angle wall in the upper right corner possibly enclosing a second, smaller room. The walls and floor were all stone like the stairs. The place felt really old--like a catacomb or a vampire crypt or something.
Boss' flashlight beam found the drain after a few sweeps over the floor. It turned out not to be a drain so much as a trapdoor--about three feet on a side, made of old but sturdy boards.
I didn't really want to open it, but when boss reached down and grabbed a hold of the door, I rushed in and helped him lift it. Surprisingly, the old hinges didn't creak. The wood just groaned a bit. Boss shone his light down into the hole and motioned for me to get down and look.
It was like a set from Phantom of the Opera down there. We had to be thirty feet down into the hill, and here were all these unnervingly narrow stone pillars descending into who knows how many more feet of ink-black water. All I could see were our flashlight beams reflected on the calm surface. The water looked ice cold, though I couldn't confirm it since it was at least ten feet down. The whole scene reminded me of Venice, where buildings' foundations are sunk deep into the water.
We headed back up and found the owner waiting out back. Boss told him he couldn't find a drain problem, charged him the minimum for a house call, and referred him to a plumber friend. 
I asked the storyteller what had caused the thumping sound the house's owner had complained about. He said he didn't know and that neither he nor his employer had seen anything that might have made the noise. I suggested he ask his boss if the owner had called his plumber friend, and if so, to ask what the plumber had found. He said he'd ask when he returned to work on Monday and report back to us next weekend.

As happened so often, the impromptu gaming group broke up after that night. I never found myself at the same table as the storyteller again.

14 comments:

  1. The thump thump was the heart of a murder victim!

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  2. You have no idea how quickly I would be getting that room cleaned out and used once I found it. Probably putting a piano in there.

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    1. The acoustics would be fantastic!

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    2. Just don't have an organ installed. You might attract a psychopathic librettist and composer.

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  3. Modern homes are ugly and poorly constructed, but at least they don't lead to the abyss. On purpose.

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  4. This sounds like a house built in New England in the HP Lovecraft universe. Cultists built a house over the ancient cave dwelling of some evil elder god.

    Any ideas as to what was designed there? Carving out rooms out of the rock is not exactly an easy to hide undertaking and sounds way more elaborate than what a bunch of smugglers would want to do to hide their operation.

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    1. That's exactly what it sounds like, however, this house is in the Midwest.

      Like I mentioned in the post, the hill that neighborhood is built on is riddled with natural springs. A lot of the houses up there were originally built to source their water from the springs instead of the city supply.

      In this case, the builders either knew there was a subterranean lake under the construction site, or they discovered it while digging the foundation. Either way, they sank supports into the lake bed, laid the foundation on top of them, and made the sub-basement into a spring house of sorts.

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  5. My old bedroom in possibly the oldest surviving dwelling in the area - only from 1900 or so, but built before then - had a crude trapdoor hacked into the timber floor. It didn't go anywhere, each room had its own timber floor, the pise walls went to the ground. Does make one wonder why anyone would hack a trapdoor to nowhere into an underfloor space you couldn't really even crawl into. Just a hollowed out bowl in the dust, under the trapdoor.

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    1. That's prime horror story fodder, right there ;)

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    2. There was evidently also an old mine on the property, but I never figured out exactly where it was. Also, it had been back-filled with rubbish, which is a bit sad.
      In the old grounds of an abandoned house on an adjoining farm, long since consolidated into the larger holding, a hollow tree had concealed within a small glass jar of the kind pills and poison used to come in, and the corroded remains of a firearm.

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    3. Abandoned mines figure in a lot of cryptid accounts. Albert Ostman's 1924 abduction by Sasquatch is probably the most well-known.

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    4. In the realm of horror, I think that hollow tree, glass jar, and rusted gun are either the crux of a truly harrowing tale, or of a miracle. Possibly both at once.

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