On top of the bluffs across the Mill Pond there's a house that used to be owned by David Angell, a writer and producer for Cheers and a co-creator of Fraiser, who was onboard one of the two planes that slammed into the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Angell and his wife, who was on the plane too, were in the middle of renovating the house when they died.
For the next two summers the house sat vacant and unfinished. Outer walls were left unsided, sheathed in plywood, window frames were blank, the frame of an extension stood bare and, although I'm tempted to call it skeletal, it simply looked like what it was, an organized pile of neglected lumber.
The Angells had no children. No one I asked seemed to know if there were any heirs or what would happen to the house now. Whenever people talked about it, the concensus was always that the house would never be completed or occupied. Someone could be counted on to say something like, "They'll never sell it now" or "I wouldn't live there. How could anybody, knowing..."
This is the kind of thing that's said about houses where some tragedy has occured, usually a grisly murder. People who don't believe in curses or ghosts will shudder at the very idea of living there. Their own imaginations would haunt them well enough, without anything having to reach out through their TV screens to grab them.
But, outside of the movies, I've never seen or even heard of a house with a bloody history being left permanently abandoned. Shortly before I moved to Fort Wayne there was a double homicide in the neighborhood where the blonde had found us an apartment. A gay couple was murdered in their living room by a thug one of them had met in a bar and brought home. For weeks afterwards the yellow police tape was left wrapped around the house. Then, one day, it was gone and there were cars in the driveway and lights on in the windows at night.
By 2004, work had begun again on the Angells' house and that summer we could see lights on inside when we went down to the dock and looked across the pond at night. There are three big houses close together on that bluff, and this morning I was walking by the pond and I couldn't even remember which house was that house, and of course there's nothing about it to tell me which it is. Its awful history is just a story now. The house is alive with some other family's summer memories.
This is as it should be. The earth belongs to the living, as Jefferson liked to say, the dead are not even things.
The story of the house's revitalization always makes me think of a story from Thoreau's journals, a Cape Cod story, as it happens. Here it is.
June 18, 1857. A youngish man came into Small's with a thick outside coat, when a girl asked where he got that coat. He answered that it was taken off a man that came ashore dead, and he had worn it a year or more. The girls or young ladies expressed surprise that he should be willing to wear it and said, 'You'd not dare to go to sea with that coat on.' But he answered that he might just as well embark in that coat as any other.