Why are the mannequins dying to talk?
February 23, 2015
“WAIT UP, AUNT IRENE!” Muriel clopped along on the sidewalk in orthopedic walking shoes with short, stacked leather heels. Wisps of hair had come out of her brownish ponytail and were going horizontal. Her black eyeglasses slid down on her nose. She pushed them up, again. The late-adolescent girl had the look of an egg-heady introvert about her. She did not have the inclination to worry about her personal appearance.
Irene Whiteside marched ahead with determination. Then, she held out her arm for Muriel’s benefit, as a stop sign really, and slowed to a stop herself. “Shhhh!”
Murial crashed into her Aunt Irene’s arm, knocking it forward a bit. Irene resembled old school teachers appearing on early television. Her face was old-maidy with pasty white make-up and dots of rouge. Not a hair on her head was out of place, though—plastered down with something and slicked into a bun on the back of the neck. It was streaked with gunmetal gray. She, too, wore eyeglasses, but they were gold filigree design and seemed to be a relic of the 1950s. Prim and proper might be a good description for Irene Whiteside.
Irene spoke. “What is this nonsense? Who is doing this and why? I aim to get to the bottom of this. We don’t need this Twilight Zone stuff going on here in our nice little town. Who owns the house? Why can’t anyone find out who owns it and tell them to stop this and stop it right now? I think I see a light on in the back of the house. Am I imagining it?”
“No, Aunt Irene. I see a light on, too—way far back in the house. What are you going to do?” Muriel was getting anxious.
“I am going to march right up there and knock on that door. If someone answers, I will be overly polite, but I will try to find out every bit of information about the owner that I can, or the people that are on the premises.”
“Don’t do that. I’m scared,” Muriel begged.
The railed porch was empty, but it had not been empty during the daylight hours when Irene Whiteside with her young niece, Muriel, in tow, had made several daylight walk-bys of what was sometimes called the eccentric house, in their town of New Hamburg, New York. On the walk-bys, the chairs on the porch had had stony, motionless women sitting in them. They were stony and they were silent. Each time the thin women sitting on the porch had had on different types of vintage and quite-stylish attire. One wore long white evening gloves that came up over the elbow. One wore a chic hat with a veil. They were not women at all, but mannequins, and as everyone in New Hamburg knew, the mannequins changed positions and clothing daily. Everyone also knew that they somehow disappeared from the porch after dark—and no one ever saw anyone moving them or taking them inside. Theories were put out. Someone was trying to send a message. What was that message and who was trying to send it?
Irene’s feet made clomping noises as she walked across the porch. The sleeves of the brown cardigan she had fastened only about her neck flapped behind her. Muriel stayed back a ways, her right hand clapped over her own mouth. Irene rapped hard on the door. There was no response. From Muriel’s vantage point she noticed the light in the back of the house go off.
“Pssssst! Aunt Irene! The light went out.” Muriel tried to signal her aunt.
Irene rapped on the door again, and again. She was totally disgusted and you could hear it in her footsteps as she left the porch.
When they had walked down the sidewalk a few steps and Muriel could see that her aunt had cooled off some, she ventured some conversation to ease the tension in the air. “Look at it this way, Aunt Irene. These women on the front porch have at least drawn some tourists to our town, and tourists spend money here.”
“I don’t care. It’s wrong. At the very least, it’s exploitation of dummies or something. Tomorrow I am going to march myself down to city hall. There has to be some record of who owns this house. Who pays the taxes on it?”
“People have investigated it, Aunt Irene—newspapers, magazines. If they can’t find out the name of owner, you won’t be able to either, don’t you think?”
“Well, girl, I am going to try.” Irene and Muriel disappeared down the sidewalk that led to Irene’s home off in the distance.
* * *
If you go up the Hudson River from Manhattan about sixty miles, you will come to a little jog in the river where New Hamburg sits. Topographical maps show it to seem to sit next to—or slightly on—the ridge of a small mountain. If you draw a circle with a fifteen mile radius around New Hamburg, that circle takes in places such as Poughkeepsie and West Point. It also takes in small towns with odd names like Fishkill, Peekskill and Plattekill. Poughquag is not that far away.
The eccentric house in New Hamburg, New York looks slightly banged up. One can tell it was nice at one time—the siding is a little weathered, though. It has been known as The John Lawson house since shortly after it was built in 1845. The wooden, Greek Revival home was the only house left standing and untouched in a fire that occurred in 1877 destroying most of the surrounding properties. In the earlier year of 1871, a train wreck within two hundred feet of the front porch killed twenty-two people.
The mannequins that appear daily on the porch are often posed so that they are all looking in the same direction. Sometimes, only one will be looking toward the opposite direction, at something else entirely different. Sometimes a mannequin will be reading a book. Is the intended message in the pages of the book? There have been some strange titles and subject matter. Sometimes the mannequins appear to be looking in the direction of the heaviest fire damage down the street, or at the scene of the train disaster. On some days there are other props with the mannequins: a slingshot hangs from the ceiling of the porch, a milk container holds potpourri, a wooden box holds a brush and a distinctive white towel. On many of the days there is an old-fashioned birdcage.
On the day after their last walk-by, Muriel’s Aunt Irene got kind of dressed up and headed for the city hall. Muriel did not go with her. She preferred to stay in her room and think about the intended message some more. She jotted down some of the book titles and subjects. Would that provide a clue to the message sent by well-dressed mannequins with bizarre tastes in reading material? Could she decipher it in her head?
The mannequins are dying to talk. You can just feel it. Some nearby citizens are hoping they will one day just blurt it out—blurt out the message they wish to tell.
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