by Cherie Ann Turpin
(30 Stories in 30 Days)
Most of the textile factories and thread factories in Willimantic shut down in the 70s and moved abroad to China and Bangladesh. One would not be surprised at the condition of Willimantic by the twenty-first century. Once a sprawling, working class community with huge Victorian homes, ancient buildings but bustling businesses on Main Street, and a steady influx of factory workers, many houses now stood empty or became drug havens for heroin junkies. Many of the businesses had gone bankrupt or moved to the strip mall down on I-195.
Ironically, the mall a venture put forward as a generator of new jobs during the recession in the late 80s, had actually killed what was left of downtown life. Here and there a few storefronts attempted to breathe life, and actually did survive, albeit piecemeal. Several restaurants actually maintained good business, drawing in the yuppies and college students who lived on the outskirts of Willimantic, or who lived in Mansfield near the state university set in the midst of cow pasture and patties. But it was nothing like what it was in the past. Such was the state of economics in Southern New England.
And what of the lost souls who wandered up and down the street, search for the last opium hit, or the latest high flowing from dirty needles that would surely take them from the everyday misery of the memories lurking behind the empty theater across from cracked, crumbling Hooker hotel (actually J. C. Hooker, who never imagined himself being known as a junkie swatter’s haven, a hooker’s hotel?)? Or the greasy spoon still serving fat burgers and gravy fries to truckers traveling through from Providence to Hartford, to New York, to beyond?
Nestled in the midst of this slow death was a fledgling cafe, once a fledgling bookstore specializing in feminist studies and other such subversive material. The ghosts of the bustling city lived in the alley between the cafe and Greenleaf lamp shop, and moved through brick and wooden walls, creating cold spots in storefronts and restaurants. Most of the living did not notice the dead among them as the locals shopped and ate with their children on Main Street, preferring familiar small town comforts. Students from Eastern State and Connecticut State, looking for cheap beer and a change of scenery from the desperation of campus life tended to be far too inebriated to notice any signs of haunting.
Not all of the ghosts existing in the alleyway were metaphors; some of them were actually dead. Rumors on top of rumors gathered on this ghostly “hot spot.” Without fail urban tales of its evil past borrowed heavily from a mostly true account of a vicious, bloody murder of a prostitute by a drifter in the early 1900s. Most people walking past the alley assumed the shadowy figures to be heroin addicts. Police officers who routinely chased away and arrested regular loiters failed to notice that some of the criminals they were chasing disappeared into the surrounding walls, or just around the corner. Some of the more sensitive types, unaware of their own abilities, instinctively avoided walking near the dark alley by crossing the street or doing a swift walk-around with averted eyes.
Tourist ghost hunters are a pain in the ass. [to be continued]
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.