“City of Shakes”



Our little family moved into a haunted house in Oriskany which dated back to the early 1800’s. It was originally constructed as a private residence for an eccentric and exceedingly stern Circuit Court Judge. He had often resorted to the gallow’s pole in defining community standards.

The Oriskany battlefield, a national landmark which had witnessed one of the blooodiest encounters of the Revolutionary War, was only a thousand yards away. Later in its life, the house had been “A Home for Aged Priests”, a “Catholic Training School for Boys” and, during World War Two, a “Well-Known Whorehouse”. Rome Air Force Base was only only five miles distant. There were still these neat red and blue  lights in the bedrooms which one could raise and dim from control panels on the wall.

A house with a history.

It had fallen into disrepair after the War ended and the pilots flew home. It had been closed for years.

An enterprising young developer and his wife had purchased the property for investment purposes and they were in the process of attempting restoration.

Only part of the ground floor had been completed and made available for occupancy. The unfinished front section of the dwelling featured the dusty remains of an old chapel, complete with stained-glass windows, creeping cobwebs and bent and broken pews.

We lived on one side of the completed construction with seven rooms. A  fat, balding couple with bad teeth and matching social graces occupied the other. I suspect it was hearing me refer to him with disparaging words through the heating ducts that brought him to turn me into the New York State Police for licensing violations.

I was still operating with Iowa plates on my ’64 Chevy Super-Sport and a Driver’s License also issued in Des Moines. It seemed that there was “reciprocity” between New York and Michigan and Michigan and Iowa, but not Iowa and New York. I was confronted with the necessity of having to take another “road test” in New York.  I had already passed one when I turned sixteen. I was now twenty-four. It seemed brutally stupid.

The cops had been ultra-cool and had even called me at the station. It wasn’t that I was ignoring the warning, just putting it off. After I was detained and ticketed two days later, I played  Bobby Fuller and “I Fought The Law and the Law Won” for the arresting officers, who accepted the dedication in good humor. I made the following month’s issue of the “New York State Police Digest”. The boys also told me the whistle-blower was my next-door neighbor.

As I was beginning to plot lasting revenge as the finest of Irish do, it happened.

If politics makes strange bedfellows, raw terror creates even faster friends.

It was a bitterly cold, dark, windy, snow-filled February night. A little past Midnight, Eileen and I heard strange sounds of pounding and clanking.

Then came loud, angry, echoing footsteps. Evil on the ear. Back and forth.  Dragging, banging noises coming from the unfinished and unoccupied floors above.

Our phone rang.

Excitedly and with genuine fear, a raspy voice implored: “Ya hear that?”

It was the asshole. We had never directly spoken before.

So it wasn’t him upstairs. Or his wife. Or my wife. They had no kids. Laurie could barely walk. The sounds rose with renewed persistence. Fuck.

It’s genetic coding. With certain stimulus, the chemicals kick in. This time they demanded establishment of the largest human grouping immediately available, regardless of status or style.

“Look, man. Come on over. Bring your wife!”

They joined us in seconds, both with winter coats hastily thrown over nightwear, feet clad in bedroom slippers crusted with snow.

New clattering above, now with a heavy metallic ring, was ranging back and forth.

Hi, I’m Peter;  this is Eileen.”

“Joe; ‘n this is Marie.”

“Joe, we could go upstairs and look or we could notify the cops.”

He had the number of the State Police.

The patrol car pulled into the winding driveway approaching the house, only five minutes having elapsed since summoning aid. The crashing footsteps, rhythmic slamming and pounding pulsations increased in volume. Then, utter silence.

Joe and I met the officers out front.

“There’s this unbelievable racket and it’s really loud and scary and it can’t be just squirrels or even raccoons or anything and it sure would be great if you guys could take a look”.

“He ain’t shittin’ ya!”

A full half-hour was spent by sergeant and partner carefully combing all upper floors of the house, flashlights illuminating the rotting, molding legacy of neglect over decades. Incredible debris was stacked and stored everywhere, each sweeping beam revealing boxes and rags, barrels and cans,
broken glass, rusting pipes and papers torn by time. The third floor had housed an old dormitory; sinks and toilets aligned in ghostly, ceramic  precision on their long, empty march to pending demolition.

My pal Joe and I trepidatiously trailed the police. We were getting more spooked with every step. So were the cops.

The silence remaining and the thorough search concluded without hard resolution, the officers walked around all external property and viewed the fresh-fallen snow for any clues to be learned or signs to be seen.

There were the usual assurances given that “it might have been something with the wind” or “maybe things fell against each other a few times by themselves” and an offer to return with haste “if things start up again”, but the police were undeniably not dismissing our concerns out of hand and departed as reluctant confidants in a mutual mystery. They mentioned they’d been there a few times before, responding to calls from former tenants.


I asked Joe and his wife if they wouldn’t mind joining me in a drink or two to celebrate the end of the noise, if nothing else.  They were delighted to remain in our stove-warmed, fire-lit kitchen for a while. After an hour passed with newly treasured stillness undisturbed and two six-packs of “Carling’s Black Label” and a bit of bourbon convivially shared, they really opened up.

Marie had told him “not to”, but he never listened to her anyway.

They both would be less uptight about everything and feel much better about life once Joe got the “rape charge” behind him.

Joe said they were only “gonna give ‘er a bath in the creek“, he and his six buddies.

They’d been “huntin’ up north” and “met  ‘er in ‘is bar” and she knew “they was only kiddin’ “when they “stripped ‘er bare-ass”.

Now, Joe confided he wasn’t totally sure if any of the others might have “had a little fun with ‘er titties ‘n all”, but he was damned convinced he was in the clear as far as he could remember, which might not be all that much. They “was all realllll fucked-up!”

Marie stood by her man.  Joe would never “rape nobody ’cause he’s always got plenty waitin’ at home!”

With begrudged admiration for Joe’s ability to win so fully Marie’s belief in his clearly questionable innocence, yet equally full conviction that time had come to bid them a pleasant evening and excellent life together, I suggested that the hour was late and the companionship enjoyed. With a yawn, I offered that it was super we’d finally met, even under such strange circumstances, but it was time we all got rest.

G’night, Joe.”

“G’night, Marie”.


Within forty-eight hours, we had relocated into a lovely little apartment on Hillcrest Drive in Utica.

I have no knowledge regarding the outcome of Joe’s rape charge, not feeling inclined to pursue any further contact with the couple other than playing a record or two for him and Marie when he’d hit me up on the WTLB listener line for “anythin’ but one a them coon tunes” dedicated to “Poochie ‘n Smoochie”. I was, said Joe, the only “celebrity” he’d ever known.

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