THE HAUNTED LIGHT
Several years ago, in another life, I owned a 100 year old home which was one block from the center of a quaint little New Jersey town. Old houses can be charming, and this house was charming. Old houses can have character, and this house had character. Old houses can be mysterious. This house held two mysteries; the first was the mystery of the overhead foyer light.
When we first moved into this old house the light in the foyer worked fine. It was operated from a switch in a hallway just off the foyer. We moved-in in September. By Thanksgiving the light did not work.
I tested the switch and it seemed to have power. I tested the fixture and it seemed to have power. I changed the bulbs…there was no light.
My brother-in-law was an electrician (He still is an electrician; he just isn’t my brother-in-law anymore. Why do you lose the good relatives in a divorce?) Anyway, my BIL the electrician checked the fixture and he did not know why it did not work. The house had old knob-and-tube wiring, perhaps it was bad. There was barely any excess wire at the outlet; perhaps it was not making the correct connection. Whatever the problem we just accepted the fact that the light no longer worked.
The other mystery in this old house was a switch upstairs which did not connect to anything. It seemed to have a wire going someplace, but it did not operate any fixture or any outlet. It was an old house, apparently what it connected to had been removed.
Around Christmas of the first year we occupied this house the foyer light suddenly was working again. We called it the “Christmas Miracle.” The light worked for about eight months and then as suddenly as it worked, it now was once again broken. The “haunted light” worked like this for twelve years. On in September, broken by Thanksgiving and around Christmas we experienced the miracle of the light. It worked for ten or eleven months and was broken for one or two. We never did anything to fix it. We finally decided it must be effected by the change of seasons. It was a temperature or humidity kinda thing. Except that every once and a while it would go either on or off for differing periods of time. Clearly it was just haunted. It was just one of those things you had to accept in an old home.
One night, about two years before this era of my life was about to end, I accidently flipped the upstairs switch to nowhere. The foyer light went on. I flipped the upstairs switch to nowhere again and the foyer light went off. Then another light went on, the light bulb in my head.
The foyer light was connected to two switches. It was the classic two way switch setup, except it was wired incorrectly. If it was correctly wired, the light would be turned on or off from either switch. Instead, the foyer light only worked when both switches were in the on position.
If the upstairs switch was on, the foyer light worked from the downstairs hall switch. If someone fiddled with the upstairs “switch to nowhere” the light would suddenly not function. If someone subsequently fiddled with the upstairs switch we would experience the “Christmas Miracle.” The mystery of the haunted light was solved.
Two years ago the old house was sold. The buyers forced us to pay for carpenter ant extermination for two ants the inspector found outside (there is not one square yard of dirt in New Jersey that does not have carpenter ants) and forced us to spend thousands of dollars to remove an old empty buried oil tank.
I was not happy with this added useless expense and was not enamored with the new buyers.
The last thing I did when I closed up the old house and moved on with my life, was to flip the upstairs “switch to nowhere” to the off position.
Perhaps the new owners will solve the mystery of the haunted light in less than twelve years.
Perhaps they won’t.