Secrets of Spook Hollow
Updated: Sep 11
Living in Altoona, you are likely aware of an area called Spook Hollow, in Juniata? It sounds more eerily ominous than it is, but the event I am about to describe caused me to wonder if this might be part of how the name came about. The address of our old house (pictured here) I learned since writing this was 1405 5th Avenue, which was located near Spook Hollow. Just off 14th Street. The house may be long gone and likely replaced with another...or not...I don't know. Since that time, so many have left the city that the population is now half or less than it used to be.
Anyway, at the foot of the steep embankment along the road passing in front of her house, Aunt Lou kept a small garden of tomatoes and other vegetables. Their house, not very far from ours, was a three-story Victorian. Very similar to ours above, it was also built into the hillside. As the embankment dropped, most of the foundation was exposed, making the house appear enormously tall, especially to a small boy like myself.
John and Louise Aurthur were friendly neighbors, and Louise, or 'Aunt Lou' as I knew her, just loved children. So she was more than happy to watch over me while mom and dad were busy elsewhere. She was a strict old girl, but she treated me kindly and I loved her house because it was so clean and well kept compared to ours.
Even now, I recall it to be typical for the time and the age of its occupants; pure victorian right down to the depression glass, the shiny table cloth covered table in the dining room!
In those days, everyone called me Jimbo, and I contentedly play for hours in the dirt amid the rows of the vegetable garden while Aunt Lou swept the porch and did other chores.
This particular day she taught me how to weed the garden, but it was a hot midsummer day, and I soon turned to games of fantasy as I crawled on hands and knees between the rows.
"Don't you step my tomatoes down," she would holler to me from the porch.
Besides being shirtless inside my railroad-engineer bib overalls, I sported only underpants and bare feet, and still, the stifling heat as the summer sun passing overhead as it leaned toward the west made for a wonderfully lazy afternoon.
Finally, leaving behind yet another unweeded row, I crawled out of the garden and laid my back on the soft, cool grass facing the eastern side of the gigantic-looking house. The sun was so brilliant that I had to shade my eyes as I looked up at the azure blue sky above its' roof.
It was then that I noticed, just beyond the housetop, that the sky appeared to be filling with black smoke. As I watched, the blackness crept slowly closer and closer, and as it drew nearer, a sudden gust of cool air swept across the garden, and then another, and another in quick succession. Something was coming! I sensed it and sat up, waiting.
Unknown to me at the time, a storm was definitely closing in, and what I thought was smoke was in fact clouds. As I continued to surveil them, a sudden bright flash followed immediately by a loud clap of thunder sent me scurrying like a frightened squirrel up the embankment onto the front porch.
Allowing the screened door to close with a percussive bang nearly as loud as thunder itself, I crashed into Aunt Lou, who was then coming to the porch to call me inside.
"Goodness, boy! You gave me a fright!" she said.
I feel quite sure that the startled look on her face closely mirrored my own. The storm settled in with more thunder, and the rain came down hard for a very long time.
Now, you may recall the Howdy Doody show with his pal, Buffalo Bob. As the storm lingered, Aunt Lou made some 'sup' and a sandwich for my dinner. As I waited, kneeling in front of the small, gray-hewed television screen. (Sup is what we today call 'soup.')
"Say kids, what time is it?" Bob would shout. "IT'S HOWDY DOODY TIME," was the reply...and I shouted along with them.
The year was 1955 or 1956, and to my knowledge, the Howdy Doody show was the first of the classic children's shows ever to be on television. Also, by this time, Aunt Lou was probably in her late fifties or early sixties. I'm not sure. In any case, John's and Lou's house was adorned with woolen rugs and what appeared to me to be fine wooden furniture protected by lace doilies and a dining room that displayed her bone china, depression glass, etc.
Also, as was so aptly put by Johnny Dep in his role as Willy Wonka, she and her house smelled like "old people...and soap".
Lou served the 'sup' in a glass bowl next to the similar pink depression-glass sandwich plate. She sat both on top of a small footstool that served as my dinner table in front of the television,
and then returned to the kitchen.
The smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the room as she continued with whatever she was preparing for her's and Uncle John's dinner. To my knowledge, John was a railroad worker, like so many others at that time, although I would not swear to it since I was too young to care.
The sun set long before the darkness of the storm abated, but the downpour changed to a soft, continual soaking rain which made it pleasant to sit in the breeze of the open screened door of the stuffy old house. Aunt Lou remained in the kitchen for some time as darkness fell, and I returned to the television after carrying my plate and bowl to her for washing.
Howdy Doody had ended, and another program was already in progress when Aunt Lou returned from the kitchen. She was only a few feet from the spot where I knelt watching the show, when she suddenly stopped and slapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a scream.
Jerking my head around, first to her face, and then back to look behind me to where she fixed her gaze on the screened door, the visage that we saw made the hair on the back of my neck tingle, and fear flood through my body. I found myself unable to move.
There, directly in front of us, was a rolling ball of blue light that seemed to have attached itself to the outside of the screen. It undulated as if it was trying to push its way through, and if it made any sound at all, it was masked by the sound of the television and the falling rain outside,
The sight of it was ominous and chilling as Aunt Lou, and I watched it in staggering fear. Seemingly stuck there for several seconds like the iridescent eyeball of some wayward alien staring at us, it sparkled at its edges, and then, without as much as a wave goodbye, faded or just drifted away, I don't recall which. Never, it seems, to have returned.
When it was gone, Aunt Lou dove forward, slamming and locking the front door, and then running at the speed of arthritis to the kitchen where she did the same to the rear door. In our fear and her haste, the whole thing set me to crying, which only added to the cacophony of television, the falling rain, running feet, and doors and windows being slammed and locked.
After fully securing the house, Aunt Lou returned to the living room, switched off the television, and scooped me up from the floor. She sat in an overstuffed chair with me in her lap, trying to comfort herself and me. We sat sobbing together and, as time passed, I eventually fell asleep.
The next thing I was aware of was my dad lifting me from the sofa, where I was obviously deposited when things calmed a bit. Lou was still crying, or perhaps crying again, as she stumbled through the explanation of what she saw.
Dad passed me to mom, who held me close against her, patting my back while she and dad continued to talk to Aunt Lou and Uncle John. In the comfort of mom's arms, a calmness came over me, and with my head resting on her shoulder, I was again fast asleep. The next morning I awakened in my bed, where the saga, for me, ended.
The sky was again as blue as every Pennsylvania summer sky, and I have no recollection of anyone ever speaking of the incident afterward. My guess is because the only witnesses of what occurred were a three or four-year-old boy and a hysterical older woman who most likely died believing that a ghost visited us the night she and I saw the blue fire dance on the screen.
It wasn't until sometime after being accepted by the Navy, long after Aunt Lou was gone, that I finally learned the truth of the alien creature that visited us on that rainy evening. You may have heard of Saint Elmo's Fire, a phenomenon seen occasionally during storms when the air is full of moisture and electrical discharges.
Like so many things that come upon us unexpectedly, the blue fire is something I have hoped all of my life to see once again, but I am sadly still waiting. Like so many of the realities in our world, it sounds more mythical or ethereal, rather than true, but you won't think so if ever you've seen it dance,