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Kittredge: Haunted Houses

In the early 1980s in Middlesex, there was a Haunted House for the amusement of the local children. An old abandoned farmhouse in the center of town had been so neglected that, although it was very close to the road, it was barely visible since vines and trees encased its dark, weather beaten clapboards. Doors hung askew, the floors creaked, there was no electricity and it smelled musty from time and the resident rodents.

For a few days each year, its decrepitude proved its glory. The cast occupying the haunted house was dedicated and well known. The corpse laid out in the parlor sat up every now and then and, if - once you’d caught your breath - you looked closely, you’d see that behind the dirt and pallor was the much loved Elementary School bus driver. And the mad scientist brewing concoctions was none other than the school principal. The Town Clerk, Fire Chief and Road Commissioner all staked out territory and rattled their chains. It was the best show in town. Part of its success was that the grownups were having so much fun and conveyed it to the kids. Once their identities were discovered by the clever children, they showed warmth and affection - just for a second - before resuming the haunting.

Soon, however, legitimate concerns were raised about the safety of the building and the Middlesex Haunted House was no more. Private haunted houses and forests soon sprang up across town in the foothills of the Worcester Range.

I must confess that we hosted a pretty elaborate haunted house for several years. We shut it down when I was told by a neighbor that her son was so scared he wouldn’t let her drive by the “witch’s house” even in the full light of day. I’d squeezed his finger and told him he wasn’t plump enough and to come back next year. Then I offered him cookies and the roasted first joints of chicken wings that looked remarkably like, well, small fingers. What was I thinking?

It’s easy to get all wrapped up in our own drama at times and it’s worth remembering that this can be alarming and destructive.
Take, for instance, another haunted house that came at the beginning of this month. Matters turned seriously scary when a small faction of our House of Representatives became too wrapped up in themselves to see the effect they were having on an unwitting public. And for a few chilling days we couldn’t seem to find our way out. Many Americans longed to see - if just for a second - the faces of people they knew and admired and had, in fact, elected.
There’s a time and place for Haunted Houses but it’s at the end of October, and we’d best not get too carried away with the game. We’ve had enough of chicken wings pretending to be fingers. Right about now we could all use a little treat – with no tricks attached.

Susan Cooke Kittredge is Associate Pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church.
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