While growing up in Walkerton I heard my share of urban legends. I'm certain that many of us have learned our own. This is one Halloween story that will frighten your minds! Here is the first of several to be included for Walkerton Page readers before Halloween.
The Woman Waiting in The Window On Avenue F
There is an old "Lake Erie & Western Railroad" engineer's house located at what was once 323 Avenue F. I used to know it as Tommy Turner's old home. I grew up 2 doors down the street. I would often visit and help him put models together in his upstairs bedroom. We would hang out and listen to loud music while, his Mom was busy downstairs. But, I was much younger. His Mom and Dad babysat me now and then.
When I walked down the elaborate wooden stairway in the house I would notice an old painting at their front door. I asked his Dad, Lawrence, "who was in the painting?" He said it wasn't of any actual people but is a depiction of a train steaming on a bridge from artist Joseph William Turner. Pulling on his tobacco pipe, reading the newspaper in his favorite reading chair he said, "the painting was already there when we moved in the house." I asked him, "who lived there before?" And if it was "the same Turner family?"
He said, "I knew a railroad engineer from the old Lake Erie & Western Railroad built the house when the town was new." He explained, "the builder was the lead engineer and manager at the Walkerton train station." Mr. Turner said, "the guy built the house with the front porch like it is was for his elegant wife.
She had elaborate designs for the house and wanted a home to be comfortable so she wouldn't feel drained while, her husband was on long railroad jaunts around the midwest. She always got her way with him because he and she loved each other so much and she didn't know if their grown up children would be home to visit as often as she hoped. They were a long distance family who longed for each other."
Mr. Turner called the lady "Rose" and said, he, "thought she still has a presence in the house?" I asked, "do you mean its haunted?" At that moment I felt a wind draft chill from behind me in the warmness of the Summer weather. Then I heard a wind howling coming from the painting. I cried, and screamed! "It's haunted! Isn't it?"
He said, "do not be afraid of Rose." "She was a world traveler who sailed overseas." "She was the devoted wife that was encouraged to spend as much money as she wanted for the decor of their new Walkerton home." Mr. Turner went on, "no one could deny they were in love and, that he could only think of her with all the luxuries she designed there. And, that she stayed busy during his long travels?"
"Sometimes, she waited in her favorite rooms where she painted. The portraits were done in one room upstairs in the spare next to their bedroom. The other on the front porch for landscape paintings while, she was alone."
He laughed, "she may, very well, have painted the one at the front door signed JWM Turner?" He said, "I knew that during the sunny days she would set up her easel on the front porch where she left behind cushioned benches and a wicker table."
The Turners didn't know what to do with the old furniture? Since, the many decades it sat after she supposedly kept the front porch the same. So, he put the old dusty rose flowered cushions and, white wicker furniture in storage.
He said, it was about that time that he began hearing footsteps and a wind howling in the old brick home even during the still heat of summer. Once, he heard her call out for "Wilbur!" He said he and the wife knew it was "Rose," anxious, and alone.
Evidently, Mr. Turner felt that Wilbur was the name of the husband who had gone on the long journeys and that she was searching for him. I asked Mr. Turner, "do you think she is here right now? Because, I felt a chill running up and down on my spine."
"Rain, Steam, and Speed" JMW Turner (1844) London, British. The location of the painting is widely accepted as Maidenhead Railway Bridge, across the River.
Lawrence asked me to let him take a look at me. He gazed. "No, there is nothing wrong with you, Kirk." "You just let that painting and the front porch get to you." Later, I ran home. I didn't really think about it anymore, much, the next few days. But, that eerie painting of an early steam locomotive stuck with me! I grew up only 200 feet from the Nickel Plate tracks.
One early, evening, riding in the front seat of my Mom's old '62 Ford Galaxy 500 I thought of the lady named Rose while, looking out the car window, as I saw the Turner house approaching on 6. As time would have it, I saw the figure of an old lady with white hair sitting at the front porch window as we passed in the car. My Mom's turn signal clicking, blinkers activated for the turn to our driveway. What I saw was she held the white sheer drapery open to see me and, waved!
Then, the curtain sprang back to position. I asked my Mom, Evelyn, did you know if the Turner's Grandma was visiting today? I thought maybe she would give me candy if I ran to the house after I get out of the car? My Mom said, "no."
She had recently, visited Phyllis earlier that morning. My Mom said, Mrs.Turner made no mention of anyone coming to visit while she was sweeping their brick driveway? My Mom would walk through the alley behind our homes to return soda bottles to Wilcox or go to pick up milk or meat.
They often visited and shared coffee and borrowed kitchen stuff from each other, as neighbors will. My Mom said, "both Grandma's didn't have grey hair!" She said, "it couldn't be either." At that point I knew it was the old lady, "Rose," waiting for her husband to return from the his train journey! Or, maybe, she needed to see if it was really me? Perhaps, she peeked out the porch window from the other side thinking I was the husband she longed for to return home?
I immediately, ran to Phyllis and knocked on the door. She answered from the kitchen side on the back and wanted to know why I was there? I asked if she knew what happened to the man and wife who built that house?
She said, that she knew that a long time ago the husband got killed in the train crash of 1908. A train had derailed in the fog after chugging over a wooden trestle that bridged over the Kankakee River. I don't know the exact location. I only thought at that moment of the howling wind, fog painting carefully placed at the front door of the house visible from the ornate stairway. That the widow who lived there was left to survive alone. Did she paint the painting of the train in the fog and sign it JMW Turner?
I understand from other accounts that she didn't want to change anything in the house since he left her for work that day he got killed. She wouldn't even turn a cushion for fear it could change her bond with Wilbur. At that moment I knew it was true then. That I really did see "Rose" that one day. But, I didn't tell Phyllis. I didn't want her to be scared about what I knew. Had Rose painted to the scene of her husband's demise through British artist Turner?
During the coming autumn, the leaves blew in the wind. Tommy and I would pick up walnuts that fell from the old Walnut tree at the sidewalk lawn along, Roosevelt, with my brother, Tim, in front of their house. It always dropped apple sized balls from its dizzying heights onto traffic on 6. We would toss them at each other as kids.
One particular day when Tommy and I played outside, I looked upstairs after something caught my eyes. A curtain had opened and the hand of a little old lady revealed her face I remembered from before. She is Rose. But, she wasn't alone.
A taller more elderly woman stood behind her. They called out the name "Wilbur!" One said, "Stop throwing those walnuts!" I told Tommy to look up at the window over the brick driveway, and as soon as he turned the curtains sprang back to position. I said two old women are upstairs! He said, "No, it cannot be."
"Nobody is home but me. My Mom is at the laundromat." Did we see the apparitions of Rose? And who was the other old lady?