When you reflect upon life and who made an impression, for the better, a handful of people come to mind. The kind hearted and seemingly innocent human beings that shine even when they’re down. One of them was Tommy.
He was a good ‘ol boy from Missouri. His gifts were obvious from a very tender age. I met him toward the end of his life’s journey but his mark on mine was unmistakable.
Back when Myspace was the rage, I was in an abusive relationship. Life was much more out of focus and I blindly clamored toward anything that gave relief. During this time, I had watched a documentary, “Children of the Grave”. The film dealt with the emotional, physical and psychic aspects of orphanage life. It was well done and featured a paranormal group from the Midwest, PTF or the Paranormal Task Force. As a seeker of folklore and the unusual, I rummaged through Myspace to connect with the people involved in the project.
Tom Halstead. He had stuck out to me and I found him. On and off, I picked his brain and he responded warmly. There was no pomp and circumstance with him. What you see, is what you get.
Sometimes, initially, you underplay what type of impact you have on someone else. Perhaps you are just another face in many situations but that doesn’t always ring true.
He sent me a message about thinking I had toyed with him. Shocked, I attempted to reassure him that wasn’t the case. Yes, I was on the verge of leaving my then boyfriend. How do you explain it? I hadn’t felt emotionally tight for awhile.
I began to correspond with him often in mid 2009. Once I was freed from my proverbial chains, I began to pursue Tom a bit more. We exchanged numbers and eventually that lead to a visit.
When I first met Tom in the flesh, I could sense immediately that he was laid back. What a relief! His hug was warm and a child-like curiosity enveloped him.
He was creative and his gears constantly turned. His preferred medium was photography. In his arsenal, he had plenty of drop cloths and lights. My apartment became a makeshift studio. This was the first time I had really become a subject, a model.
Outside of my apartment, we embarked on some lush adventures. He wanted to examine the local haunts, quite literally.
Delaware road, located in Clarence Center, has long been rumored to be incredibly active. Stories of hooded figures, glowing lights and unusually cold temperatures plague this relatively small stretch of pavement. Of course we had to travel at night.
The smooth entrance to the road revealed an area pregnant with foliage and a mysterious mist that hung about the late fall air. Now, it isn’t recommended by the locals or law enforcement to walk the road. One reason being teenagers turn off their headlights in order to catch a glimpse of supernatural light. Even at a crawl, you’re still prone to commit manslaughter. Tom couldn’t visit often so we took a chance.
After multiple clicks, he motioned me over. His digital camera yielded a strange sight. A hale white mist daintily floated past me. My eyes were as big as saucers. “Well, take more! This is exciting.”
For the short time we lingered there, nothing else was gathered. We decided to visit my childhood friend, Shannon, that lived a stone’s throw away in Lockport. Our mission had just begun.
“Hey, its me. I’ve got Tom. Are you up for some company?”
We were given the “OK” and ascended the steps of the moldy building. Upon sitting down, Tom introduced himself and gushed over his recent discovery. “We were just on Delaware road and man, is that place crazy!” He held up his camera, displaying the back panel. “Check this out. Check out the white mist around Carissa.”
Shannon’s eyes widened and she lowered her voice, “Whoa. That’s freaky. Have you checked out Cold Springs yet? I’d be surprised if Carissa hasn’t taken you there.”
“Oh shit, yeah! You wanna go?” I grinned.
“Sure. Just gimme directions.” Tom put his camera in his case.
“Shan, you wanna come with?”
She agreed. Shannon is the kind of woman that exercised a great deal of caution. She still does. Her approach was ritualistic in most circumstances. Her motto is definitely “tread lightly”. Arm yourself with protection and if that doesn’t work, run like hell.
We got into Tommy’s car and tore into the night. The path to Cold Spring becomes rural. It feels ancient as if you could make out the figure of early inhabitants. The cemetery is one of the oldest in Lockport with idiosyncratic dips and turns in the earth. It gives the viewer a feeling of vertigo just pondering about a horse drawn hearse.
The ebony sky and caretaker’s house were an eerie sight to behold. As we pulled into the entrance, our hearts raced. Most graveyards are tranquil but this was menacing. A light switched on in the house. The canine alarms sounded. Tom pulled out as fast as we pulled in. We laughed as we gained some distance from the property.
Our second adventure involved the humble abode of the Hitchens’ family. Its located on Summit Street in the town of Lockport. A picturesque Federal style mansion, it was built by Francis Hitchens. Hitchens and his family hailed from Cornwall, England in the 1830s. They settled in Lockport, where he was noted for his contributions to the Erie Canal and abolitionist movement. He owned a glass factory. The family had a healthy income.
After the family passed on and the descendants scattered, the mansion was owned several times. Stories began to circulate. The most common was a slave girl and a Civil War soldier. People reported their likeness peering through a window or lingering on the steps. A recent owner vehemently denied the allegations and rarely answered inquiries. However, for a short time, the hungry public was able to satisfy its lust. We were permitted entry.
A local ghost hunting group opened it, complete with waivers and cheap trinkets. Tommy and I were itching to examine it. One night, we set out to do just that.
About a dozen people stepped inside to be greeted by a derelict interior adorned with old photographs and excerpts on the history. It seemed a bit claustrophobic.
The floors weren’t guaranteed safe thus the waivers were signed. This was an “examine at your own risk” type of establishment. Who cared?
Tom and I made our way through without the ghost hunters. He snapped random photos. I felt like I had crossed this off of my bucket list. What a marvel and profound piece of Niagara County history.
There was a single significant staircase leading to the top floor. We climbed it. What a sham. This was decked out to be a Halloween house full of old dolls, stained tubs and screwy decorations.
“Tom, how cheap. All of this isn’t necessary. I’d like to see this house unadulterated.”
“Yeah. It looks like shit. The ghost hunters are a joke too.”
A bit dismayed by the surrounding rooms, I was about to head downstairs but I stopped cold. “I can’t go down.”
“You have to. This place is about to close for the night and other people need to get down too.”
“No. This doesn’t feel right. I feel as if something awful happened here.”
For about 10 minutes, I halted my steps and refused to leave. When I could move, we walked down together. For the hell of it, Tom snapped a couple of photos at the spot where I was having issues. We left right as the cops greeted everyone. That was the last night it was opened.
We were disappointed. The place was (gasp!) normal.Yes, Norman Bates could have lived there with dear old Mum, chatting up local girls and hiding them in trunks. It had a non threatening, much lived in vibe except for that damned staircase!
Tom spent the time editing photos and meeting my family. They all loved him. He was easy to please. He loved biscuits and gravy, down to earth chit chat. My parents asked him about what he had seen and where he came from. They, too, enjoyed COTG.
It was easy to care for him. He was full of wonder and thoughtful. On his second trip, he gave me a ring (which I still have). We were an item.
When I would call, he often introduced me to his friends and family. They, too, were good ol’ folk. It reminded me of my little town on the canal, Pendleton.
Tom loved inside jokes.
“She goes in, he stays in. Her husband doesn’t know. I don’t know what kind of rock he’s living under, man.”
“They’re together so much and they fight so much as friends, they should ditch their girls and just admit they like each other.”
Like most good things, we came to an end as an item. We were definitely better suited as friends. Looking back, perhaps I was a bit careless while severing that type of bond. What does an early twenty something know about tact? Not much unfortunately.
The wound healed. Tom was a ladies magnet. I mean, gorgeous girls. Like bees to honey, if it didn’t work out eventually another did. Yet, he wasn’t macho or abusive, just a sweet guy.
We stayed in touch on a fairly regular basis. After all, I felt like I had extended family in Missouri which I have yet to meet.
One day, seemingly out of the blue, his friend Steve said Tom had a massive stroke and it was looking grim. He had it after he wrapped a day of filming for a documentary. After several hours, his family concluded there was no turning back. Some of his organs were donated and the rest of his remains were cremated.
That was one of the worst days of my life, losing him. I was denial, like so many others. Maybe he was still alive?
In a frantic mess, I called my mother.
“He isn’t really gone, is he?”
“Um, its not looking good. Maybe you would want to come stay with us tonight.”
My eyes were blood shot for a couple of days. I tend to take it very hard for some time then a lever in my brain clicks to tell me “no turning back”. I slowly accept the absence of that force on life’s physical plain.
We’ll always miss Tom. He can’t be replaced. Lord knows we wouldn’t want to.
Maybe someday he’ll get that bench he deserves.
RIP, my friend.