Who would have guessed that there was a market for tearing down haunted houses?
I’ve been in the construction trade since I was a teenager. I learned how to build and tear down (there really is an art to taking things apart and recycling) commercial buildings and homes.
But it wasn’t my years of experience that got me my first job tearing down a haunted mansion in New Jersey. No. just dumb luck. I heard a rumor and followed it up. Turned out that there was a dilapidated Victorian mansion on the outskirts of a small town near Trenton, New Jersey, and no one wanted the job of leveling the old eyesore.
The owners of the house wanted to use the land for other purposes but couldn’t find anyone to do the job. The house had a bad reputation and locals firmly believed it was haunted. They ran ads offering twice the normal fees to wreck it, but no one seemed interested.
How could I resist that? Some fools believed in ghosts and were offering a damn good reward for taking the place apart. I’ve always recognized an opportunity and seized upon this one. The owners were delighted when I showed up with my crew of four men to take the job. We were all from upstate New York. I didn’t bother telling my crew that the place was supposedly haunted.
I didn’t waste any time renting a wrecking ball, but by the time we got to the house it was getting dark. I rented it for two days, so I wasn’t concerned. I had one of the guys, Ralph, camp out next to it so no vandals could cause problems. I paid him extra to do that. It was one of the reasons the crew liked to work for me. As bosses go, I’m generous. The rest of us rented rooms in a nearby motel.
Like always, I woke up early and got ready for the day as the sun rose outside of my thinly curtained window. There’s something about starting a new project that I love. Not the guarantee of money (although I admit it helps), it’s the adventure. You never know what you’re going to find, or how long a project will take. My estimates are usually pretty close, but with the owners paying double, I knew it was going to be profitable job.
I ate a light breakfast and left before the rest of the crew. It was a short drive to the house. Along the way I noticed gathering clouds in the distance, but was relying on the local weatherman’s reports that said there wouldn’t be any rain for at least a week. As I pulled up I could see right away something was wrong. The boom was facing the wrong way. I jumped out of the truck and ran over to it and saw the steel wrecking ball was down… and on top of Ralph!
I was too shocked to move at first. I snapped out of it and started the rig up and raised the ball up and then away from Ralph’s remains. I moved it away from his body and lowered the ball back to the ground. As I turned it off, I wondered why someone would do this. It was obviously no accident. I called the police and waited.
Three weeks later.
The investigation at the crime scene and ensuing media holiday were over when I returned with my crew. The original three were spooked by what happened but agreed to come when I offered more money. The new man was eager to get to work. When we got to the house I had the men work inside, salvaging flooring and a stairway. I then went to the construction company and rented a boom. It was the same one that killed Ralph but they only had two, and the other was rented out.
When I returned there was an ambulance and a fire engine in front of the mansion. I ran over to the ambulance and peaked inside. The new guy was lying there unconscious with bandages around his head and ribs. The E.M.T.s were filling out a report when I asked what happened?
They told me he fell from the second story staircase. Just then one of the crew came over to me. It was Jerry, one of my oldest employees. There was fear in his eyes.
“Something pushed him from behind,” he said, looking me straight in the eye.
“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled.
“Tony, Bob, and I were downstairs when we heard the new guy scream. I looked up and saw him fighting to keep his balance, but something pushed him!” his voice rose.
“Okay! Take it easy Jerry,” I told him.
A day later.
The new guy survived with a concussion and three broken ribs. I paid his hospital bill and sent him home. Jerry and Bob quit. I couldn’t blame them. That left Tony, who apparently needed the money more than the other two, and who could control his misgivings.
We grimly dismantled the stairs and salvaged the rest of the wood from the first floor. After working all day without taking a break we completed our task. The sun was sinking into the west and it’s dying light streamed through the broken shutters, causing shadows inside the old house.
Tony was closest to the front door when someone shouted at us from above!
“Damn scoundrels! You won’t get away with this!” a dark figure on the second floor roared. We went out that front door like two missiles launched from Cape Canaveral! I suddenly became a believer in ghosts. When I calmed down outside a thought hit me and I started up the rig. I’m not sure how many times I let that massive ball tear into the old Victorian. It didn’t take long to turn it into rubble.
I wasn’t going to let my first haunted house project fail. Yeah, I could have salvaged a lot more, but everything considered, I still turned a nice profit. The last I saw of Tony he was running down the road. I really hope he shows up someday, so I can pay him. I hate loose ends.
As It Stands, there’s nothing like good old American ingenuity.