Anchorage House is a beautiful old mansion sitting like a grand gentleman on the Mount Allison University campus. The old man has a white beard, white hair, wears a black top hat on and is rather stout. He looks distinguished in the daylight, inviting enough to come in for a cup of coffee or a snifter of brandy. But looks can be deceiving and he can be quite the different sort in times of quiet, especially in the fall when the shadows of autumn grow to collect secrets.
I worked in Anchorage House for a few years. My office was on the second floor of the three storey building and it was a beaut. Hardwood floors and panelling, high ceilings and crown mouldings, windows with a view of tall elm trees and student life passing by. It was a cozy place to do business in fall. Usually.
Anchorage House was built in 1892 by a Sackville, N.B. lawyer and then sold to a doctor in 1906. In 1933 the home was bought by retired Mariner Captain Ronald V. Bennett, brother to the 1930s Canadian prime minister Viscount Richard Bedford Bennett. My office was once the bedroom of the captain’s wife.
It would have been a nice spot for a bedroom as it looked out to the landing, where the first floor stairs met the second floor. Mrs. Bennett could see whoever it was climbing up the staircase and probably watched her children nightly, ensuring they went to bed on time.
The story goes though, that her two sons died fighting in the Second World War. Their mother was distraught at the loss, often climbing the stairs to visit their empty rooms. It was said she did this even after her death many years later. I know this is true, I’ve heard her.
Yes, but Anchorage House was an office building, you say. There must have been lots of people coming and going, up and down those staircases. But not as many as you would think. One autumn lunch hour I was alone in the house. All alone. No one downstairs, no one on the second floor (except me) and no one on the third floor. There was no one else there.
My desk faced out the door with a direct view of the landing. Everyone using the stairs had to pass my office. Up and down and down and up. Even when I was busy with my work I could see all the different shapes of people treading on the steps and passing me by. Except one day.
One, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor.
I looked up from my computer to see if someone needed my help, as I was the only one there. But there was no one there. Oh, OK. My mistake.
Back to work.
Again, one, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor. I look up. No one there.
That’s weird. Maybe I’m hearing things. Maybe I’m tired. Maybe the old gentleman house is stretching his bones? There must be a reason for this. I walked to the landing and looked down the stairs. Nothing. No one.
Hmmmm. Do I let myself be scared? I don’t have to, as a co-worker rushed in the front door and up the stairs to her office, her office that’s straight across from mine. I didn’t tell her what I’d been noticing. I didn’t want her to think I was a silly goose.
One, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor. I looked up. And nobody.
This happened a couple more times until my co-worker came into my officer and asked me if I was experiencing what she was experiencing – hearing footsteps but not seeing anybody.
“Oh yes,” I said. “It’s kind of freaking me out.”
“Me too,” she admitted.
Then one, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. There! We were hearing it together. Tiptoeing out into the landing we looked down the staircase. It was a student, my friend Pete, climbing the stairs. He looked up at us expectantly and we started laughing.
I asked him if he had been here earlier and he said no, it was his first visit.
It wasn’t the grieving mother’s first visit and I doubt that day was her last. After that I made sure when I was working evenings to turn on all the lights although it made leaving torturous. I had a million switches to shut off before I left, each light I turned off brought me closer to the darkness. But good old Anchorage and Mrs. Bennett left me alone.