Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Place of Repose and a Ghost

July was partially consumed with the first stage of a very large project. There were a lot of inspections in this stage and even more will be scheduled for October. One of the inspections was of this building.

This is the back side of the Columbarium at Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago. For those who don't know what a columbarium is, this is the dictionary definition: "a sepulchral vault or other structure with recesses in the walls to receive the ashes of the dead." The building was built in 1915 and it, as well as the entire cemetery, are on the National Register of Historic Places. I went here last year to research how much we'd have to inspect of this place.

It's exceedingly peaceful, although it's bounded by two heavily traveled roads. While driving around the cemetery, I discovered this was the burial area for most of the Eastland disaster victims. I talked about that in post from a year ago. In the west hallway of the main floor, there is a framed replica of the newspaper.

The building itself is two floors with restrooms and cemetery facilities in the basement floor. The dome, resplendent with its terra cotta tiled roof,

is adorned on the inside with painted plaster and gold leaf. 

There are 8 marble columns, two in each cardinal direction "corner".

While the plaster is cracked, the painted decorations around the dome area are still in excellent shape.

The building is not air conditioned and has suffered water damage from leaks. The dome shows signs of wear, but the original builders were very astute in designing and building a structure which has held up exceptionally well for over 100 years.

There are 8 stained glass windows around the dome. They are all the same.

I couldn't see anything wrong with the windows, although, admittedly, they were at the equivalent of the third floor from where I stood.

I've never been in a place like this so it was an honor to do the inspection. This is the entry to the east columbarium.

There were 4 areas inside the building where ashes could be stored. This is the oldest of the 4 locations.

Left side of the arch.

Right side of the arch.

I had to inspect this hallway. The west side is just like this but it doesn't have the ornate arch. The hallway is lined with carved wood "shelves", for lack of a better word. There are rows and rows of niches in which urns containing ashes are placed. Most had some other things in the niche with the urn; dried flowers, photos, death notice. There was a plaque inside the niche giving name, birth and death dates. The oldest urn was dated 1916, but I admit I felt it disrespectful to look at all the urns. A few were empty, leading me to wonder if there is a storage fee one has to pay, even on those long buried. What if you're the last of your family? Or were the urns removed because family no longer wanted them here or were moving and wanted to take great-aunt Bernice with them? Would those niches ever be used for more recent burials?

This particular hallway had etched glass windows.

As befitting the name "Bohemian", these panes represent eastern European fraternal societies. They were instrumental in getting the cemetery plotted and getting the columbarium built. As my mother and her mother's family are from the Czech Republic, I felt a particular kinship with this place. Many of those buried here were Jewish.

It's a gorgeous building.

It's one of those places where, if I could just win a very large sum of money in the lottery, I would approach them about an endowment to rehabilitate the building, add air conditioning, fix the leaks and the broken plaster that came with them, renovate the bathrooms and leave a legacy to keep this place functioning. It wasn't creepy at all to be in the place, even after I processed what happened as I was finishing the interior inspection.

I was in the room where the arch leading to the east hallway is located. This room has extensive water damage to the plaster wall behind me as I'm looking at the arch in the photos above. When we walk into a room, we start to the immediate left and work our way, clockwise around the room, giving walls a number and noting what kind of damage, if any, we see on the wall. I had progressed to the wall opposite the arch. I had finished the west hallway and had left the middle hallway for last, as it was double the size of the west and east hallway. It's also the main entrance into the building. You walk up these stairs,

through those doors visible at the top of the stairs, into an alcove and then into the main hallway lined with niches. This hallway is two stories tall with recessed and ambient lighting. I've set the stage here for what comes next.

I'm looking south, not that the direction matters. To my right is the entrance into this room. Next to this room is a wide stairway heading down and the ceiling between the entry and the dome area. There are columns at the east and west side of this area. This is the column near the room where I was.

The name of the donor of the column is on this face. You can see the intricate and beautiful painting on the column. The direction of this photo would have you looking into the dome area. You can barely make out some of the marble columns in that area. To the right, out of sight, is the entry hallway and the west hallway.

I was completely alone on this level. The head of maintenance had turned on all the lights and left. In fact, at the time I was doing this inspection, he said he had things to do in the cemetery and was I okay to be left alone. I rather prefer doing inspections without company. Sometimes people are not real happy when I point out things which are defects and which I need to document. He also would have been bored as ladders and other repair equipment told me they know what needs to be repaired.

We talk into a small tape recorder and describe what we see. I was was talking about the water damage on the south wall and turned, slightly, to the corner of the south and west walls. Out of the corner of my eye, although not really straight corner, I saw a white-haired elderly gentleman in a black suit walk from the main entry hall, make a right and head into the west side hallway. I saw him clearly; white hair, black suit with a white shirt. As my voice sort of echoed in the space, I dropped the pitch so as not to disturb him, and continued with my inspection. When I finished the room, I walked down the east hallway. There wasn't much to see. I documented the etched glass windows and the plaster damage to the ceiling. At the far north end, I realized there was a small alcove with doors leading to the entry alcove. I didn't remember seeing that in the west side. I probably missed it. I needed to make sure I checked it. The north room of the west side had extensive water damage to a corner and the ceiling. It wasn't exactly like the room on the east but there might have been an alcove and I skipped it. It had taken me 10 minutes to inspect this hallway.

I walked out of the east hallway and cautiously approached the west hallway. The last thing I want to do is disturb someone who is paying respects. Of course you knew there was no one in that hallway. The little old man was not there. I walked all the way to the end and discovered there wasn't an alcove on the west side. That's why I didn't remember one.

It seemed odd, though, that the man wasn't there. Perhaps, it didn't take him long to pray or whatever and he left via the front door or he could have gone down the west stairs. Ten minutes can be long enough for someone to pay respects and leave, particularly if he used the stairs. Whatever. I inspected the main hallway and then entered the entry alcove. The light wasn't on and the switch I found didn't turn the lights on.

After inspecting the wall with the front doors, I figured I'd crack the door a bit so the bright sunshine would illuminate the room. The doors were locked. This is the inspection photo of the left side of the front door, but you can see the heavy wooden doors on the building. The other thing is, when I went from the west to the east hallway, there was no one in that middle area. I would have seen them because I debated doing the middle hallway before the east but opted to save that since it had the entry alcove with it.

These doors were shut tight. I finished the inspection of the alcove and walked from the north end to even with the hallway. He had been walking not fast but at a good pace. It's possible that he could have gone down the stairs and I wouldn't have seen him leave. There was no sound because the floors in these hallways, are carpeted. I've heard that you can "feel" a ghostly presence because it manifests as a cold spot in an otherwise normal temperature room. It was hot the day of this inspection, so hot, that I'd had to wipe my face on my shirt several times while completing this. The place isn't air conditioned and the air inside was still, close even, you could say. There was no cold spot. There was nothing, other than the sighting of this little old man making a right turn into the west hallway.

I was never scared. It seemed odd, but I finished the stairwells and then did the exterior inspection. It stayed in the back of my mind and I puzzled over how fast the man had to be to leave without my seeing him. It never occurred to me to ask the head of maintenance when I checked out, if there had been anyone in the columbarium. If he was on the other side of the cemetery, he wouldn't have known.

In relating the story to others, I've had people tell me 10 minutes is enough time, even if he'd walked all the way down to the end in the west hallway, to pay a modicum of respect and leave the building via the stairs. It's possible I think it took 10 minutes, but it actually took longer so there would have been plenty of time for someone to leave. He could have been more agile than I think which would have allowed him to move faster. He would have known where I was since my voice, even dropped in pitch, echoed and I was embarrassed to disturb his contemplation.

Another theory is one advanced by a number of science-fiction buffs and which was explored in Star Trek: The Next Generation. This theory says there are any number of realities, all co-existing on top of one another. A ghost is not a manifestation of someone passed, this theory says. It is that person's reality intruding upon someone else's reality. This means that in another reality, this man is alive and walking into the columbarium through open doors to pay his respects to someone in the west hallway or to arrange to have someone placed there or any number of reasons he was in that spot at that time. His reality, for the brief 10-15 seconds I saw him, intruded upon my reality. He never turned to look at me although I find it hard that if he were "real", he wouldn't have known I was there; that whole "echoing voice" thing. When I saw him, he was walking, determinedly, toward the west hallway.

I'm down to Occam's Razor now. I've rather eliminated the idea that he went down the stairs, given that he came from the main entry. I also don't think he could have moved fast enough to get down the stairs without me seeing him. The only caveat would be if he visited someone in the very first room of the west hallway. Still, that seems an awfully short amount of time to say hello to grandma. I also think I would have heard him or some noise as the stairs were worn marble and not carpeted. Could he have been in the front alcove, which was dark, and I missed seeing him because he was in a black suit? Possibly, but why be in an area where the doors were locked. There would be no purpose to standing in the alcove. And no, I didn't see anyone come up the stairs the entire time I was inspecting the dome.

If my presence bothered him, he could have gone into the dome area and just sat or sat in the south or north rooms of the west hallway and waited for me to leave. He could have asked me to leave and come back at a later time. I would have said, "I've got stairs left and then I'll be heading outside. If you like, I'll wait on the west stairs until I've finished the exterior." I never saw him in that hallway.

So, [cue Twilight Zone music], ahead of Halloween, there is your ghost story for the month. I still ponder this even though I've decided I did see a ghost. I've since discovered that Bohemian has a reputation for being the least haunted of all Chicago cemeteries, even given it's the final resting place for Eastland victims. As I said, I was never scared and am not scared at the memory. It's interesting, to me, to feel that a man loved someone so much, he comes back to visit them even after he's passed on.

Beverage:  Water


The End of Summer

So many photos with stories to tell. It's been quite a summer; quite a year. I'm going to start here and move backwards and probably sideways and maybe forward. One never knows where the road will go.

After last year's washer replacement, I took at look at my other appliances. The refrigerator was probably the next target. The seal around the door had, for years, not been flush with the upper left and right corners. The upper left corner allowed warm air to seep inside, particularly during the summer. It would condense and "rain" occasionally onto the items on the left side. Usually, this happened when you opened the door to reach in for something. When I bought yogurt, it went on the upper left shelf and the tops of the containers were always wet. Mold would, occasionally, grow on the upper right corner of the door because there was a semi-sealed environment with warmth and moisture. I was cleaning the door and the roof at the upper left of the fridge 3-4 times per week.

The lights would short out because of all this moisture. I haven't had an interior light in months. I bought a replacement bulb in the spring, installed it (That was an adventure.) and it lasted 3 weeks before there was a fizzle one day when I opened the door. It was then that I realized there were 2 bulbs in the fridge, one at the front left and one at the back right. Well, I'll get around to replacing both of them.

And the seal at the lower left of the door wasn't flush anymore. Chilly air would seep out, since cold air is heavier than warm air and would cause mold to grow on the bottom corner of the fridge. I didn't see that until this summer when I dropped a bottle of seltzer and it sprayed all over the floor. What's this on the side of my fridge? Ewwwww.

We bought it in 1993. I would say I have gotten my money's worth from it. It wasn't quite level but that's also a product of a 1953-built house and the floor in that location isn't quite level. It has served this family and me well, but it had started to run a lot more than in the past. It was simply dying, albeit slowly, but dying nonetheless.

I'd read where appliances are cheapest at Memorial Day. Also, the time to replace the fridge is before you need it. I intended to buy one over Memorial Day weekend, but life intervened and I didn't have the funds. I limped along. It wasn't quitting on me, just running more and more. That could be chalked up to the loose seal and the summer temperatures and, perhaps, it would stabilize once fall got here. But I kept looking in the event there was some deal which would be too good to pass up. Enter Labor Day.

JC Penney, of all places, is starting to sell appliances. They had a Labor Day sale. I compared the above fridge with other places that sell it and Penney's had the best price, including free delivery. I had to pay $15 to haul the old one away. Then, I got an additional 10% off the price because I used my JC Penney card AND because I'm an "exceptional customer" (Not sure why. I don't buy that much stuff from them.) I got 18 months no-interest. As I intend to pay this off by Christmas, or sooner, the no-interest made the whole purchase that much sweeter. It was delivered yesterday.

I couldn't remember whether we brought the old one in the front or the back. They went around back and determined they had to take the old one out the front because it's bigger than the new one. It seems the freezer space is the same, but the fridge space is smaller. Yet, I don't need all that space. When I was cleaning out the old one, I found sour cream way in the back of the fridge with expiration dates of 2012 and 2013. Stuff is less likely to go to the back and be forgotten in the new fridge.

They tried to bring the new one in the back because it's smaller but it just wouldn't fit between the wall for the basement stairs and the corner of the sink. In the process, they bumped the paper towel holder which has a shelf on it and down it came. It turns out the unit, which was wood, had developed a soft spot on the shelf right where the dish soap usually sits. At some point, I would have set a bottle of soap back on the shelf and it would have fallen through. Plus, there was a section of wall behind the unit which had bubbling in the paint. I've scraped that off and ordered a new unit, almost identical to the old unit. I need to paint the rear entry now. Remember when I bought the paint? Um...yeah. It still sits under the kitchen table.

They also knocked off the wall, one of the spice racks I've had for decades.

My dad made two of these. Simple construction. I think he made a bunch to sell at flea markets, too. This one was held up by one screw in the middle of the unit. The two screws on the end didn't work anymore. The unit which fell was above this. I have a smaller unit on the wall next to the microwave. It was the template dad used to make these two units which are almost twice as long.

I don't use spices much anymore. I don't cook much anymore. Yesterday, after the guys left and I was putting things back, I looked at the spices off the rack that fell. Some of them had Eagle grocery store price labels on them. I don't remember when Eagle left Chicagoland, but they haven't been here in a very long time. Some of the spices had no scent. Some were discolored. Some were hardened.

I knew I needed to replace spices. There are recommendations to replace some every 6 months, but there is a part of me that screams, "Money down the drain!" whenever I'd look at these. Quite a few were purchased for one or two recipes and never used again. These bay leaves aren't even green.

I had an unopened bottle of curry powder. "Best used by 4-20-02." I don't remember the last time I made curry. I love the smell of curry and turmeric, particularly when cooked. The last spice I bought was in July and it was ground cloves. It's to keep the cats out of the house plants. They don't like the smell of cloves.

Looking over all of these, I decided part of tidying up is to critically assess household staples. If I haven't used allspice in 25+ years, why am I holding onto a tin of it, a tin with rusted edges? I had some berries which needed to go to the compost pile. I would dump the old spices into the bowl, haul the bowl to the compost pile and I'd have the best smelling compost pile in the neighborhood.

All the plastic, glass and metal containers and their lids have gone into the recycling can. I have, currently, 6 spices on the rack next to the microwave. I want to move that rack. It's never been in a great position. I took down the one rack left and will add them to the recycling can. They are wood, after all. I found a rack I liked on Amazon and it's going where the wood ones were. Then I will take down the one that's on the wall by the microwave. So I have to walk a few steps for the cinnamon. It will be more convenient in the long run.

The last thing to do is sort through all the stuff that was on top of the fridge and was on the kitchen table. I moved all of it to a table in the office. The kitchen table was tipped up on an edge to make room for the movement of fridges.

Unfortunately, this room has become something of a dumping ground. I have stacks and piles of things to look through and make decisions on. I walk in with every intention of doing a little bit, get overwhelmed and walk out. I tell myself to just pick one pile and sort through it. I can't find my note cards to write letters to friends. They are somewhere in here.

I've cleared off half of this table. I had a lot of magnets on the old fridge. I'm not sure I want to put them back. With the new fridge being shorter, I can now, easily, reach the cabinets above it. That Dutch Oven on the table, can go back into the cupboard. Cat dishes will still be on top of the fridge and I keep my peanut butter on top of the fridge. It's my go-to meal when I'm too tired to cook.

I watched them take away the old fridge. It occurs to me the only appliance I have left from when I was married is the stove. That doesn't seem like it's having problems. The oven still heats to temp and the burners still come on and heat evenly. It was purchased in 1991. I thought, "Well, I should replace that next year", but, realistically, do I need to? It's not giving me problems.

So, summer ends with a new appliance. Heading into fall, this is a good thing. I would hate to have to figure out the fridge doesn't go through the back door when it's 15 degrees out.

Beverage:  La Croix Berry Seltzer