The House of Laughter and Crying

East-Wind-over-Weehawken

Now I ain’t saying this story is true, but I ain’t saying it’s a lie neither – mainly ‘cause I don’t want to be sued by any of you folks out there. I am just saying that it is, what it is. If you push me on it, I’ll just have to say that it’s the rabid memory of an old man, and leave it at that.

So let me start the story by telling you about the house.

From the outside, it weren’t nothing special, just a little old place built in the early 1820s to show the folks of the town just how well, Samuel P. Northbody was doing in his business. However, Samuel spent so long accruing money that he never got to finding love (except the love of the dollar, that is) and so the house fell into disrepair for a time when Mr. Northbody went to where rich people go after they die. I heard some folks say that place was New Jersey, but I’m thinking that’s just plain cruel.

Apart from the occasional snake, the house wasn’t visited by anything or anyone in particular until a crowd of soldiers hid in the house for two weeks. That would be during the Civil War of these United States when brother fought brother.

Now I ain’t too sure if the soldiers were Northerners returning home, or Southerners going in the opposite direction, but whoever they were, they took to hiding while the other side was camped right outside – I kid you not. How they never got caught,well only the big man in the sky knows the answer to that. Folks only found out they’d been there, ‘cause one of the soldiers (and by soldier, I mean a fifteen-year-old boy) had left a notebook behind.

Now here’s where things start to take a crazy turn. It was said that John Wilkes Booth hid out in the house after he shot (and killed) President Lincoln. Booth had broken his leg when jumping from Lincoln’s box at the theatre on to the stage. Booth then got some help from a Doctor Mudd, who never told the authorities about the killer’s whereabouts. I reckon that’s why some folks say ‘your name is Mudd’, even to these days.

Apparently Booth hid in the house for three days and nights, while the army folks were looking up and down the land trying to catch him.

I thinking that maybe there is something about this house that makes it a sanctuary for a person – and not necessarily for the good souls, either.

But the story I want to tell you is a lot later than that last one. This story took place in the late 1970s, when I was living in the house after it became a sort of hotel. It was known, locally, as Mrs Johnstone Home for Businessmen (guess she wasn’t thinking there might be business women too). We folks around here had always known it as the ‘House of Laughter and Crying’, and I ain’t exactly sure why that was.

I had been helping out my uncle build a barn, a big one out by the creek, and earning some money before I went off to college. My uncle was sleeping under the sky and my Ma, thought it better if I slept in a real bed every night, so that’s how I came to be at Mrs Johnstone’s.

But it was the man who lived in room 7, on the top floor, who used to get my curiosity excited. He never mixed with the other guests (even although sometimes that would only be me). He ate in his room, and I never really saw him coming or going.

I could tell by the way as he passed my room, and rubbed against the wall outside that he was a large built man. Probably ‘fat’ would have been a better description.

He would sometimes sing to himself as he left to go to the kitchen, or on his return to his room, and I could swear to you that it was…………………now I know this sounds real stupid like, but it sounded to me like someone impersonating Elvis.

He was real good at it, too. You’d almost think it was him. One night after I heard him singing his way to the kitchen, I hid in the cleaner’s store at the end of the corridor ‘cause I knew that if I opened the door a little I would be able to see his face.

I waited and waited. Man, it was a long time, but then I heard his heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. I heard him walk along the corridor and so I pushed the door a little, but that was when the brushes fell on top of me, which made me let out a yell and fell out the door.

I landed at the feet of the man, and I swear to you when I looked up it was………Elvis.

Elvis himself, as I live and breathe. Now remember that this is in the year 1978 and the man was apparently long dead. So if it was him – I have to ask myself, what was he doing in a little house on the corner of a street, in a little town? If it wasn’t him, then I have to apologise for all the craziness that I’ve put down on these pages.

But I swear to you, on my Grandma’s Bible, that I’m sure it was him.

The man stepped over me and continued upstairs, singing. I knew, that he knew that I knew who he was, and it so it came as no surprise, that when I went up to knock his door in the morning – the door swung open and the room was empty.

“Checked out, real early. Around 5am,” said Mrs Johnstone.

There you have it – not much of a story, I grant you, but it’s had me thinking all these years.

I’ll leave it with you, and you can make of it what you will.

bobby stevenson 2017

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One thought on “The House of Laughter and Crying

  1. If it was or if it wasn’t I guess we will never know, but you spun a good yarn one I liked to partake of while laying here. Dressed for bed on a dark dank dreary winters night in the UK. And as I drift of to sleep a sound track seems to play … There’s a guy works down our chip shop swears he’s Elvis, I know he’s a liar but I’m not sure about you.
    Just in case you think I am doubting you. That is a real song look on youtube

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