August 21, 2009


Category: News — Ira @ 6:47 pm


A house is never still in darkness to those who listen intently;
there is a whispering in distant chambers, an unearthly hand
presses the snib of the window, the latch rises….

—J.M. Barrie

For decades, the story has resided in the Wagler clan’s chronicles of lore and legend, to be trotted out and re-examined from time to time, when the fire burns low and the murmered talk turns to certain mysteries of the distant past. It was solemnly recited to each of the children in turn as they were considered old enough, it was passed down, whispered in hushed tones to those of us who weren’t even born when it happened. I first heard it when I was probably three or four years old, when one of my older brothers (Stephen or Titus, I can’t remember which), took me up the stairs and showed me the spot in the old section of the house where it all went down. I absorbed the tale with wide wondering eyes and tried to comprehend the fact that such a fright-ful thing had happened in the sanctuary that was my home.

It happened around fifty years ago, in the mid 1950s. A few years before I was born. And a few years after my parents had moved up to Aylmer. This was before my father added a sizable addition to the ramshackle house that was on the farm when they arrived. The original house was small, consisting of a few rooms on the ground floor, and three bedrooms upstairs.

It was a dark and stormy night. Oops, that’s Snoopy’s infamous line. Actually, it was a still and bitterly cold winter night. No one remembers the exact date or month. A thick layer of frozen crusted snow covered the ground. A full moon glowed in the clear night skies, casting eerie shadows onto the earth below.

It was a normal evening. Nothing out of the ordinary. After the barnyard chores were finished by lantern light, the family gathered round the supper table. Maybe Mom had concocted one of her delicious milk-based soups of beans and bacon and other magical flavorings. Everyone sat around the kitchen table and ate from pale green hard plastic soup plates. Maybe the children fussed for the last scraps of cherry pie. After supper, the boys lounged around and read; the girls helped Mom wash and put away the dishes. Soon it was time for bed. The family gathered round. Knelt while Dad’s rhythmic mellow voice rolled in lulling waves as he recited the traditional High German evening prayer. Asked the Lord to watch over them as they slept that night. The lulling flow wound down and stopped. The prayer was finished. The children rose to their feet and trundled off upstairs.

As was his habit, Dad stayed up late, after the family went to bed. Perhaps writing some notes for a future book, or perhaps penning his weekly Budget news letter. Eventually, between ten and eleven o’clock, he retired. He turned off the hissing mantel lamp; its bright glow flickered and died. The house went dark and quiet. The fire in the wood stove diminished to cooling embers. The bitter cold crept in. All the family slept.

Upstairs, the northeast room was used for storage and assorted junk. Even years later we called it the “trash shtoop” or trash room. Beside that room was a smaller bedroom used for company. A purple curtain covered its doorway. And on the west side of the top of the stairs was a larger bedroom that my older brothers and sisters shared.

My two oldest sisters, Rosemary and Magdalena, around twelve and ten years old repectively, shared a bed by the north wall of the large room. Their younger brothers Joseph and Jesse slept on a bed over on the south side of the room. Maybe they had an invisible line on the floor to separate the boys’ side from the girls’. I don’t know, but somehow it worked, at least short term.

On this particular night, my sisters slept on their bed on their side of the room, snuggled against the cold under the warm thick goose down blankets my mother had made. Across the room, the boys slumbered under their own heavy blankets.

The frigid winter air crept in through the old pane-glass windows. From the west, the full moon cast white light on the floor and shadows in the room. The night hours passed. All was still, as it always was.

Suddenly, Magdalena awoke. What time was it? There was no clock. But she heard something, some unfamiliar noise, somewhere in the house. A nervous energetic girl, she always slept lightly, easily awakened by the slightest sound. She lay there, under the thick goose down blanket and listened intently, every instinct honed, all her senses focused.

And then she heard the creaking. On the stairs leading up to the second floor, to their room. Footsteps, slowly, softly, steadily. Creak, creak. Up and up. Creak, creak.

She shivered. Covered her head with the heavy blanket. It could be Dad. Why would he be coming upstairs at this late hour? She lay there, silent, unmoving. Rosemary, at her side, slept on.

The deliberate incessant creaking reached the top of the stairs. Soft treading footsteps then, approaching their bedroom door. Almost petrified, Magdalena froze there on the bed. Covered her face, all but a spot where she could peep out.

The doorknob squeaked softly and turned. Slowly, their bedroom door swung open, the hinges squealing mildly in soft protest. Magdalena stared. The figure of a man materialized in the shadows. He stood there a moment, unmoving. And then he stepped into the moonlit room. A complete stranger. Medium build. White hair. White beard. And, Magdalena always insisted, he was wearing white clothes. Although that could have been an illusion caused by the glistening moonlight.

She froze in helpless horror and watched as he padded softly into the room. He paused, stood there briefly, and surveyed the room. Then he approached the bed on which her brothers slumbered unaware. He reached the bed, then strangely, knelt down and looked under it. Reached in with his hand and felt about the floor. For only a moment. He rose to his feet and turned toward the girls’ side of the room. And then he shambled straight toward them.

Petrified with terror, Magdalena could only watch as he approached. He reached their bed. Stopped, then bent down to look under their bed as well.

As he was stooping down, Rosemary suddenly stirred and moved her foot. Briefly. At that slight movement, the man froze. Then he rose quickly to his feet and padded softly from the room. The door closed behind him.

“Rosemary,” Magdalena whispered frantically. “Did you see him?”

“Yes,” Rosemary whispered back. “I saw him the whole time.” She had not been asleep after all.

“Shhh,” they whispered in unison. They listened intently for footsteps treading down the stairs again. There were none. All was silent. Their brothers slumbered on.

The silence could mean only one thing. The man was still upstairs with them, perhaps in the rooms across the hall. Maybe he would return. They lay there quietly, side by side, tense with terror, wide awake. And waited. And waited. All was deathly still. The hours crept by, minute by painful minute. And still no sound.

And then, after what seemed like an eternity, they heard stirrings of life below, the welcome sounds of Dad clattering about downstairs, the thump and bang as he filled the woodstove and lit the fire. Moments later he called up. “Girls, time to get up and do the chores. Get up.”

They made no sound and did not move. Dad called up again. And again. Irate, he finally hollered up. “If you won’t get up, I’ll have to come up there and fetch you.” Still they made no sound, did not move.

Thoroughly irritated now, he finally clumped up the stairs and walked into the bed-room. “Why won’t you get up?” he demanded. And for the first time in hours, they stirred. The words flowed from them in torrents. There was a strange man up here. He came into the room. He’s still up here somewhere.

Dad reacted with a chuckle, utterly disbelieving. Surely they had just imagined it.

“Ah, it’s probably just Melvin Keim,” he said. Melvin Keim was a young man from another community who came around from time to time to work as a hired hand. Dad’s first thought was that he might have arrived late and just walked in. He was probably sleeping over in the guest room, Dad said.

The girls were adamant. It was not Melvin Keim, they protested. It was a strange man, with white hair and white beard. And white clothes. Dad realized at last that his daughters were not delusional, that they had seen something or someone, or at least thought they had.

He walked through the guest room. No Melvin Keim or anyone else. Then he opened the rickety old blue door to the trash room on the northeast corner of the house. A blast of cold air greeted him. He walked in and looked across the room. The east window was half open. Dad waded through the clutter of junk furniture and boxes of books and old magazines. Over to the window. He leaned out and looked down. On the ground directly below the window, a full story down, a fresh set of footprints led away from the house and out to the road.

Faced with such irrefutable evidence, Dad had no choice but to believe the girls. He did take them aside separately and questioned them closely on what they had seen. Their stories meshed. Every detail. Shaken, Dad admitted that he had forgotten to lock the doors that night. A rare oversight, one that probably never happened again.

My sisters have never wavered from their original version of events. Magdalena in particular recalls in vivid detail every second of the ordeal.

After fifty years, the mystery remains, as puzzling today as it was back then. And as creepy. Who was the stranger who wandered into our home on that moonlit winter night? A tramp? Or someone more sinister? What did he want? Why did he go upstairs and into the room where my siblings slept? What did he want under the beds? Did he know the place? Why did he slip out a second story window to escape? How did he do that without injuring himself? And where did he go?

We’ve rehashed those questions for fifty years, for longer than I’ve been around. And we’ll never know the answers.

Perhaps my father’s recited evening prayer that night was honored in ways he could never have imagined.



  1. Oh MY ! I hope I can sleep tonight after reading that story. I remember hearing something similar but the guy had a shifty smile with really BIG teeth and wanted the soul or the essence of little children!

    The Snoopy reference was cute and brought back happy memories!

    Take Care,

    Comment by Michelle V. — August 21, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

  2. You can bet that your readers will double check their doors before bed tonight! A good story well told!

    Comment by Katie H. — August 21, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

  3. Ah, the memories of childhood. When all the world was a wonderland, the possibilities endless, and hope always rose in the morning.

    Comment by Jerry Eicher — August 21, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

  4. OK, I think I’ll double-lock my doors tonight!! Are you sure that man didn’t have 8 tiny reindeer and a sleigh? HA HA I know it’s not funny – even to this day I bet your sisters still get goosebumps. That chapter better go in your book because that was so well written I could almost feel the chill in the air, literally and figuratively. Great job ~

    Comment by Bethrusso — August 21, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

  5. Gives me the creeps. Pathway Publishing House housed some ghosts. Some were real and some were not. During the time I was working there, one ghost kept pulling the covers off a visiting man that slept two nights in one of the guest rooms. It put a real fright in all of workers, even men like Joe Stoll.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — August 21, 2009 @ 9:55 pm

  6. This is too creepy, but so well written that it kept me riveted as if I was one of your sisters seeing the white man. Wow, you are an excellent writer!!

    Sure wonder what the deal was.

    Comment by Mary Ann Yoder — August 21, 2009 @ 10:26 pm

  7. Amazing, truly amazing, what you dig up to write about next. This is exactly as I remember it passed down. Old houses are often spooked, but apparently this intruder was certainly no angel, and someone who knew the outlay of the house. Could he have lived there before, and returned for some treasure left behind???? He probably is no longer alive and we will always wonder. But thank you Lord, for protecting our siblings.

    Comment by Rachel — August 21, 2009 @ 10:51 pm

  8. I don’t think my eyes blinked the entire time I was reading that story! I need to go check my doors and say a prayer before sleep, and the prayer will include that I don’t have bad dreams about someone creeping into my room tonight :)

    Comment by Erin — August 22, 2009 @ 12:33 am

  9. I know stories from my in-laws about real robberies by those who knew Amish did not lock their doors.

    From our mission work, we also know of visitations to our village house, though never in the form of a human. Prayer, taking authority as priest of my home UNDER the authority of Jesus (Mathew 8:9), reminding them of the blood of Christ.

    When they would get afraid, she did the American thing – shine a flashlight under the bed, look around the room – “nothing there.” Then she realized that at times there WAS something there. She taught them how to cry out to Jesus. We’d awake to their morning reports that something came last night, they called out Jesus, help me, and then fell back asleep with peace. The Bible is an interesting guide to reality!

    Comment by LeRoy — August 22, 2009 @ 10:16 am

  10. Well written, I made triple sure the doors were locked…and the windows for good measure!!! :)

    Comment by Dawn — August 22, 2009 @ 12:35 pm

  11. Impressed I am.

    Last Friday night after sushi (it got us great seats) we sat on the deck. I snidely remarked that the blogs were getting slightly mundane. Missing the good stuff. Give us controversy, excitement or something that pushes that button. Give us more “aliens”, so as to rip you up afterward. Give us another “Heathen”. We love when it turns something inside of us. Good or bad. Woo us.

    We sparred. The opponent faked a right. What came was that left hook. Blindsided. The hit that sends you reeling into your corner. As I stood rubbing my jaw, I read it again, checked the doors and went to bed.

    Impressed I am.

    Comment by Dave Miller — August 22, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

  12. That was no boogeyman, that was the real deal. Like the other commenters, I was glued to it right to the end. Creeped me out. I’m surprised your sisters didn’t die of fright on the spot. And you wonder (and shudder) about what would have happened if they’d screamed. It’s your worst nightmare…

    And after reading it, I was really glad that I often wait to read yours in the feed reader until I’m in the mood to read and not just do a quick scan. Don’t think I was ready for that the day it came out!

    Comment by Ann — August 23, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

  13. WOW, I was on the edge of my chair. Well done.

    Comment by Rachel Hochstetler — August 23, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

  14. How do you do it???

    You keep me absoulutely riveted, the goosebumps so pronounced that my co-workers want to know what’s going on!!

    Great job Ira….

    Comment by HENRY — August 24, 2009 @ 9:25 am

  15. Whoa! My first thought was an apparition. How absolutely terrifying. Those poor, dear girls. Makes me shiver.

    Ira, I just can’t tell you enough how wonderful your writings are. You have such exquisite talent. You have the ability to turn a simple blade of grass into a luxurious forest. Gosh almighty! I appreciate the fact that you share your blood, sweat and tears with us. More than appreciate. I feel blessed that you give of yourself so generously. Truly, truly blessed. Thank you so very much.

    Comment by Francine — January 25, 2013 @ 10:58 am

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