Sunday, May 22, 2011


I want to welcome you to the Alternative Zoning Blog. I put this together primarily in support of my newest book, available on Amazon and CreateSpace. Although I am happy to promote the book any way I can, my real interest here lies in creating a community where like-minded people can share in their experiences.

The Attaways left the hectic world of the east coast in a covered wagon (minivan) to build a life in the Midwest. We eventually settled down in Germantown, Ohio in a house constructed in 1840. We fell in love with the size and character of our home, and soon happily settled into our new community. As the "new kids on the block," we quickly found that ownership of such a place carried the responsibility of knowing and becoming a part of its history.

Life in a small town is everything we ever wanted. Like it or not, you end up becoming a member of a real community. Relationships with other people ebb and flow, but in the end we always remain part of a larger family. It is in these relationships that I celebrate my life in a small town though my book.

By watching the current television media, you would think cities like New York or Los Angeles  have the market corned on humor. Spend a little time in a village, and you will find that we live our in own excellent brand of comedy. Just ask Garrison Keillor, he'll tell you. And live in a town as old as Germantown, you can't walk two blocks without finding another ghost story concerning someone's home. Alternative Zoning captures both of these elements, and it is on these points that I invite you to share your own experiences, funny, scary, or something that just reflects life in a small town.

Please send me your thoughts, accounts, short stories, essays, or whatever else you have to share to: 

I will happily post them for everyone's enjoyment, and welcome comments here or on my accompanying Alternative Zoning Facebook page.

Our Haunted House

         Over the twelves years we owned our last house, I have often been asked the question, is it haunted? Through this post, I hope to finally answer that question once and for all.

It was only after about twelve hours of ownership that we were informed our new house was haunted. I mean, how do you respond to that? Something like that doesn't show up in the disclosure. 'House shows minor termite damage, brick pointing appropriate to the age of the structure, and an infestation of spectral anomalies.' You anticipate a lot in an older home, but ghosts?
       As we were still unloading boxes from the moving truck, local self ordained keeper of the village history and culture, Siggy, stopped in to welcome us. She was a sweet woman who spent a very long life in our village, and was pretty much known to all. She was what you would call a staple, and had tidbits of knowledge and gossip concerning every house and family in town. As we quickly found out, there is no engaging in a passing conversation with Siggy. Once she had your attention, you might as well stop whatever it was you were doing, and give her your undivided attention for the next thirty or so minutes. 
       On this particular morning, she came to deliver the 'welcome aboard' speech. We were provided with a complete history of the town, its churches, businesses and its German culture. She then continued with a complete history of our home, its owners, its transitions between residence, boarding house, and restaurant, finishing with the matter of fact statement "Oh, and it's haunted."
       Fortunately, my wife was fielding a phone call with the moving men, who were late. I was glad for it, for I am quite certain this assessment of our new home would not sit well with her. During an initial tour of the house, I went to inspect the attic. My wife was not interested in following me there, out of a morbid fear of attic and basements (how could I know, our last house was built on a slab and had a crawl space). When she asked what was up there, I made the mistake of saying Norman Bate's mother. It was a wise-ass comment I would later live to regret... many times. It was hard enough for her to shrug off that scene in Psycho, you know-where the detective spins the chair around to find the mummified remains of Norman's mother? But to make her consider the presence of a disembodied spirit, might have taken buyer's remorse to new level. No, I tucked that little piece of information away for another day.
       That wasn't the last time I heard such rumors. My son came home from school one day and announced, "There was this kid I met, and he said this house was once a mortuary, and there were a lot of dead people here... who died, and that it's really scary, and it's haunted." I've never been able to confirm that one, from anyone, but a house of that age and size inspires such controversial rumors. I quickly dispelled that statement as nonsense, and told him not to believe silly stories that were intended to scare the new kid. After he left the room, I began to look around the house with a growing sense of apprehension. I half expected I would soon find one of our children puking up split pea soup, while cursing in a 5,000 year old dead language. 
       As it turned out, my expectations were unwarranted. Weeks turned into months, then years without any kind of possession or wicked spectral encounters. I'm not saying it wasn't haunted, but don't be biased by movies that sensationalize this kind of phenomena. As I see it, a house is kind of like a sponge. Over the course of its life, it soaks up a family, then wrings out the past with the introduction of the next family. A house as old as ours had soaked up and wrung out a lot of memories, but a sponge can never be completely wrung out; there is always a little something left behind.
       Every family wants to leave behind an impression where they live. It starts with little things, like pictures and furniture, which may eventually lead to something more enduring like structural modifications. What I really find to be true is what they leave behind in the sponge is a little bit of their identity, perhaps something that says I was here. After 170 years, the house itself grows something of a personality, and jealously holds onto the echoes from its past owners, much in the same way we keep photos to remind us of who we are. It is within those echoes you will find your ghosts.
       Echoes may even be a poor choice of words. There are many who will argue that it is a sentient being, caught between this world and the next. We can observe and report, but in the end, the truth will always be lost in theory and conjecture. So what was the nature our echo/manifestation? Was it scary? Was it apparent, like a ghostly image?
       My personal experience was pretty basic: I never felt alone. It wasn't a creepy feeling, more like the company of someone familiar to me. No matter where I was in the house, I never felt alone. It was always with me, unshakable. All I can say, is I was never lonely. Also, I would often see something move within the periphery of my vision, like someone waving a hand just behind me. Perhaps it was our ghost waving his arms, yelling "Yoohoo, I'm over here. Hey, pay attention to me!" When I turned, there was nothing to be seen. I wouldn't exactly call this conclusive evidence, but it helped to build a foundation of belief.
       In time, my wife and I experienced other things that led to the credence of our ghost. First of all, I will state for the record that my wife and I can be diametric opposites. I have been accused on several occasions of being forgetful. I wish I could say the same of my accuser, but the truth is, she is organized almost to a fault. So when I say, "Honey, where are my car keys? I know they were right here," it will be answered with "Wherever you lost them last dear." The odds are not in my favor that they were moved by some mischievous presence, but I had my doubts. However, when my wife encounters a lost set of keys as well, there is definitely something weird going on. And when it happens so often that you purposely leave your keys in obvious locations only to go hunting for them later, the odds diminish. 
       Okay, so lost keys may not be enough either, but the lights were another thing altogether. On many occasions, we'd wake in the middle of the night to see the glow of all the downstairs light illuminating our hall. This wasn't one of those sit up in bed and scream at the top of your lungs moments, but it did inspire wonder. Sometimes it was the light on the bedside table. I will confess that I don't even have the motivation to tap the snooze button when the alarm goes off, let alone turn on a light in my sleep. Again, weird. 
       The deal closer was when one person, whose honesty I have no need to question, told me he once saw a complete manifestation of a little boy in shorts staring at him. I think in some ways, all of these things may have been our spirit just looking for a little attention. Unless you were a very popular kid in school, I am sure you had your moments where you knew what it was like to invisible in a room; it gets to be pretty lonely.
       So, any or everything may not add up to much, I guess it's just a matter of belief. Personally, I like the idea, and I was surprised to find that my wife even warmed to it. In time, the house, or ghost, or both became a member of our family. Looking back though, I think it may have been the other way around. I have found that on our journey through life, we take a little from everyone we meet, and leave a little of ourselves behind. I think a house like ours becomes the record of this transference. Every squeak of floorboards or groan of timbers is the echo from all who trod upon them. Every family who passes through its rooms leave behind their memories to be absorbed throughout, right down to the very foundations. Our house was not a place we used to pick up our mail and park our car. It was place where we laughed and cried, ate and slept, entertained and relaxed. Our house was where we lived our lives, and we happily became a part of our house's life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dayton Ohio Ghosthunters Society Case File

I'm submitting a piece from my new friends over at the Dayton Ohio Ghost Hunters Society (DOGS). They are doing some very interesting work that is well worth the read. Their link is over on the right of this page, and I really encourage you to check out their site.

Casefile: Patterson Homestead

August 29th, 2008
8:00pm - 2:00am

Investigators Present (entire evening):
Rob, Ilka, Patty, Don, Amanda 
Investigators Present (partial investigation):
Allison, Wendy, Ed 
Additional Support:
Sherry Partin and Mary Dusing
Photography Expert:

The evening of August 29, 2008 was a hot, humid and cloudy one. The parking lot of the Patterson Homestead already had four team member's cars in it when I pulled up with Case Manager Ilka at a few minutes after 7:00pm. Standing together in a small group were Don, Amanda, John and Patty. Mere moments after my arrival, Allison and Wendy showed up, completing the group that was supposed to be there.

Briefly, I went over the details of what I knew about the Patterson house. Robert and Elizabeth built the house in the early 1800's, living in a log cabin during its construction where the caretaker's house now sits. They lived there until the 1830's when their son, Jefferson and his wife Julia moved in. Robert and Elizabeth had eight children while Jefferson and Julia had 14 (of which only 10 survived into adulthood).

There were five deaths associated with the property that I knew of: Colonel Johnston (Julia's father) and four of Julia and Jefferson's children (Rachel, John, Elizabeth, and Katie). Activity in the house consisted of footsteps, cold spots, phantom smells (of cooking), items moving, and even full bodied apparitions. A bust of John H. Patterson (co-founder of NCR) had turned to face a replica cash register.? We were certainly in for an interesting evening.
It must be noted that the Patterson house is a three story (with basement) Federal style home. We had four floors to cover, two teams (one per floor), and only two CCTV cameras. I was glad that Lisa, the caretaker, arrived a little early and ushered us into the house, our arms laden with equipment. Not too long after we got our gear into the house, Sherry and Mary, our intuitives, arrived.

Setting up Command Central in the house's kitchen proved to be a little challenging in that we had to move a table around and run our video cables across the floor and over the top of the refrigerator. It made for an efficient setup, and it wasn't too long before we were taking the tour with Lisa. For the first floor, it was the entire group traipsing around listening to the stories about the Patterson family. John was busy snapping pictures and was having a tough time maneuvering around the tour group. He decided to start at the top and work his way down which proved to be a better idea.

During the tour we found out just how hot the third floor really was, and I was already dreading investigating up there. After being shown the entire house from top to bottom, we regrouped back in the kitchen and split into groups. Patty, Sherry, Mary and Don were Team 2 while Allison, Amanda, Wendy, and I comprised Team 1. My group was slated to check out the third floor for the first hour, so we got down to it, and sweated it out for almost half an hour. During that time we heard a couple weird noises that could easily be explained away--nothing out of the ordinary.

Little did we know that on the first floor the other team was having a lot of success. Of course, they had both psychics with them, and they were picking up on two small children (toddlers--boy and girl) playing marbles in the front sitting room. It is presumed that these two are Rachel and John, two of the Patterson children that died of cholera in the late 1830's. They also picked up an EVP (one of our best of the night) in the parlor as well as Don and Amanda attempting to debunk the secretary door opening seemingly on its own.

After a brief "smoke break," the teams switched floors and went back at it. My team heard some weird noises in the first floor parlor and snapped a few pictures of orbs (ahem...dust), but again, the other group was picking up on a teenage boy on the third floor. Patty would ask questions, and the psychics would hear the responses which were quite smart-alecky. It would be later confirmed that a 16 year old boy had died in that room upstairs from cholera after clinging to life for several weeks. Typically, once cholera was contracted, the individual was dead around 6 hours later.

Switching after the second hour, my team went to the second floor while the other team investigated the basement. Much was made about the "Christmas Room" that held all of the holiday decorations?it gave Patty the creeps being in there. There was a completely sealed off room (which could've only been the root cellar) that Don was intent on finding out why it was blocked off. Upstairs, my group was getting nowhere fast in Julia's room, and that EVP session wouldn't yield anything either.

During some down time during the third and fourth hours, I went back into Julia's room with the two psychics and sat there while they picked up on the spirit of Mrs. Patterson. They said that they could feel how stoic she was and how much she loved her family. Other things they picked up on were the hardships the family had to endure, the sense of longing and loss when Mr. Patterson and Katie died, and it was at this point that Sherry got direct empathic contact with Robert Patterson. She felt a great pain in her kidneys and back which is where Robert was wounded by Indians during an attack in the 1780's.

It was soon time for the psychics to leave as well as Allison and Wendy. Shortly thereafter, Ed arrived, and he and I decided to head downstairs to investigate. The Christmas Room was kind of creepy to me too; standing in there by myself I could almost feel someone standing close to me. Ed had ventured off into another room, and I went to find him sitting near the old fireplace. We hung out in that room for a few minutes and then proceeded to wander around the entire basement just checking things out. For a little while, he and I sat in the room at the foot of the basement steps...until a heat exchange unit kicked on and startled us both!

We both laughed about getting scared by the sudden loud noise and decided to adjourn to the middle room to sit on some buckets. It wasn't long before Ed said, "Dude, you've got to take a look at this. Come sit here and just look." We traded places, and I sat and watched where he told me to, over towards the bathroom and straight ahead at some shelves. It looked like a shadow figure was pacing back and forth in front of the bathroom door, and a shadowy head kept playing peek-a-boo in the faint light coming from the Christmas Room.

Overall, it was a great investigation, and as of this writing I am excited to say that we are going back to revisit the place with Paravizionz (our affiliate group) in November 2008. We hope to have more experiences in the basement. And Don hopes to put to rest what exactly is in the root cellar.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Something Bigger in Something Smaller

      There is little likelihood of remaining a stranger for very long in a small town. Sure, the population has something to do with it, but there is something else- community. Kevin Bacon may have only six degrees of separation from everyone in the world, but in a village you are rarely beyond two. Walking through town, sitting in the stands of a football game, standing in line at the pharmacy, or having a cup of coffee at the local restaurant, you are surrounded by your own.

      We arrived in Germantown late at night. I was returning from my job on a work-boat in the Gulf of Mexico, and the rest of my family came by moving van. We were all exhausted from our respective drives, so there was little desire to unload any of our furniture. Instead, we decided that mattresses would be the extent of our labor until the next morning.

      As my wife Sharon and I dug through the tightly packed truck in search of a mattress, one of Germantown's finest parked his cruiser along the curb across the street. After studying us while we wrestled our burden out onto the ground, he got out of his car and crossed the street. He walked like a man who was just out for an evening stroll on warm summer eve.

      "Hi, how are you?" he asked.

      "Fine. Beautiful night, isn't it?" I replied by way of small talk.

      "Sure is. Now, who are you and what are you doing here?"

      He asked more out curiosity than by way of interrogation, but he had his reasons. "The owners of this house don't live here anymore, and I like to know what goes on in my town."

      His town. At that time in our lives, it was a concept we did not quite get. But like every other resident of the village, it was his town. There is pride in ownership, and with it, there arises a need to protect. I was immediately on the defensive, like a thief caught in the act. We introduced ourselves as the new owners, and shook hands.

      "I see. Well, you've got a real nice house here. Welcome to Germantown, and you folks have a nice night," he said with a warm smile. The officer gave us a two-fingered salute off the brim of his hat, and then disappeared into the night.

      My wife and I watched him pull away from the curb to turn up Center Street, and considered the encounter. Where we came from, it was common to be invisible in a crowd. In the fast paced lifestyle of the east coast, you could live a lifetime amid a thousand people and never know even a single name. It wasn't out of any need for isolation, but more out of some preoccupation with our own lives. Now, having been in Germantown for less than an hour, we were fianlly noticed... and welcomed to the village.

      Was he just being a diligent police officer? Maybe he viewed us as potential virus invading the host. Perhaps, but I prefer to remember him as the first soul to welcome us into our new home.

      "I think I'm going to like it here, Hon," I finally said.

      "Me too."

      Silly, how after all these years I remember that night. I think  people are social creatures by nature, and have an earnest need to connect at even a basic level. For that man to check us out and verify the reason for our presence in his town, I felt like I had just taken a glimpse into a universe as yet unseen. Within minutes, he might forget our names, but not our faces. We were now a recognizable element in the much larger mosaic of our town. For the first time, it felt like we finally belonged to something bigger than our own lives. We were members of a community, the village of Germantown, Ohio.