The Mystery of the Haunted Mid Century Modern Home: The Importance of Being Frank

Helvetica typeface, 1957

Just think – I ended up in jail on charge of trespassing private property thanks to a nun.

Yes, a nun. Somewhat older.  Hard to say how old she was 55, 65 with her hair hidden behind her black veil. She had the cherubic round cheeks of the young nuns of my youth and that relentless, disarming cheerfulness that seems to be the hallmark of the sisters of the cloth. Or at the least the ones you see on TV and in the movies. Not that smart-ass Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act.

Back to how I ended up in a jail. A first since my high school days when I was jailed for illegal possession of marijuana. I’ve forgotten that, and believe it or not, that youthful indiscretion derailed my career for a while since it was a felony.

So I called this nun to the building I manage, the late and great Frank Sinatra’s Desert Palms home. It has a kidney-shaped pool overlooking the city. The one you see featured in movie videos, commercials and more. It’s one of our most popular properties in our portfolio, well worth the $27 million our company Staywell Investors LLC spent to buy it a decade ago.

We’ve never had a problem filling that property since the day we we closed on in it. Until now. Now it’s too popular – thanks to Frank Sinatra’s ghost.

Or at least that’s what my AirBnB renters believe. I’ve never met this ghost and I’m cynical guy. I stopped believing in Santa at age 4 after I saw my dad putting presents under the Christmas tree. No more cookies and milk for that guy.

My renters have said they have started hearing Frank sing in the middle of the night. A lot of his swing-era favorites – Come Fly with Me, etc. Accompanied by his signature cigarette. At first they thought it was somebody playing the record player. But that record player – a defunct Philco model 49-1401 radio/phonograph  – doesn’t work. I know. Arm is broken and there’s no needle.

The news quickly spread that Frank was singing nearly nightly in Desert Palms. An impersonator who knew Frank back in the day says it’s really Frank.

The problem is people are breaking in to hear this ghost sing. These break-ins affect our daytime rentals as police need to fill out reports and more..

So I called the ghost buster nun. Paid for her fly out to Desert Palms, put her up in the swankiest hotel. Told her she needed to get rid of this ghost.

She even stayed one night. Communed with the ghost.

She told me Frank is upset. Very upset.

“Upset about what?” I responded. “He’s singing happy songs, I hear. Come Fly with Me. Upbeat songs.”

“He’s upset they’re planning to tear down his childhood church in New Jersey,” she said.

I blew a gasket or two. “Frank is dead and upset about a demolition? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

That wasn’t all. Apparently, Frank – a guy I never met while he was alive – wants me to stop the demolition.

“He’s afraid that all those souls who are attending Mass there now will not go to Heaven,” she said, fingering her rosary. “He’s fearful they won’t attend another church. They will just stop going.”

“That’s my problem?”

It turns out that if I want to save my imperiled Desert Palms property I have to save that church in Jersey. I don’t even go to church anymore, I’ve forgotten how to say the Rosary, none of my family members go, let alone my circle of friends. Church is passe.

But I was desperate to stop the travesty of break-ins at Palm Springs. I went to Jersey, fastened  myself to a chain link fence surrounding the condemned church, threw myself in front of a bulldozer and got arrested. All to appease the ghost of Frank Sinatra.

The nun bailed me out long distance. “I’m sorry, I got it all wrong,” she said in her phone call to me. “Frank doesn’t care about that church-”.

I didn’t bother to hear the rest I was so angry. I hung up on her.

Mid Century Modern: Flashback Friday: Gottlieb Memorial Hospital

Gottlieb Memorial Hospital (courtesy Epstein Global)

This state-of-the-art medical facility addition was completed in 1961. Its entrance canopy was considered controversial at the time.

by Mary Beth Klatt

For this week’s walk down memory lane, we visit Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

Local construction and engineering firm A. Epstein and Sons Inc. was hired in 1959 to expand the general-treatment facility, then a 120-bed medical institution. Over the next six years, the company designed additional floors and enlarged ancillary services, nearly doubling the number of beds to 225.

When the first phase was completed in 1961, a marketing mailer touted the facility’s state-of-the-art technology: a heating and air conditioning system powered by radiant ceiling panels, remote-control television, a bedside-operated audio and visual nurses’ call system; “ … in general, the interiors are pleasing and designed for patient comfort.”

Read more here.

This story originally appeared in Hospitals & Health Networks, May 21, 2015:

The Mystery of the Haunted Mid Century Modern Home: It’s Not A Big Deal, part 2

Helvetica typeface, 1957

continued from Part 1:

“You’re a nun but not an exorcist?”

Apple stood at the entryway, confused. She stared at this woman who was the epitome of 1950s religious chic garb in her habit and veil. She had a roly poly face not unlike Santa’s. In fact, she could have been Mrs. Claus’ sister with those ruddy cheeks, twinkly eyes and grey hair peeking from her veil.

“That’s right,” she said, extending her hand. “I’m Sister Barbara from St. Ita’s. I’m not an exorcist but I have experience working with spirits. May I come in?”

Sister extended her business card with her name, title. And her specialty: Counselor to the Real and Spirit World.”

“Well, all right,” Apple said, warily. “Just for a little while. Just what order did you say you were with?”

“BVMs, Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Sister Barbara stepped into the vestibule, gazing at the vintage Sputnik chandelier overhead. Gazed at the 1950s abstract artwork on the wall. “Your home is so beautiful, I grew up in a house with similar chandelier,” she said in awe. “Your neighborhood reminds me of where I grew up.”

Apple ushered her into the living room. Sister sat on a the bright orange wave chaise. Sister Barbara stared at the vintage Zenith record player console. “We had one just like that when I was a little girl,” she gushed.

Apple sat across from sister. How could this woman dressed in black help her? She looked like she could fly right up and away like the Flying Nun, the television show.

“You are right to be suspicious. What is your name again?”

Sister repeated her name again. She told Apple about her work at St. Ita’s, working as a principal in the school, playing the church organ on Sundays. Her calling as a spiritual counselor of the other-worldly variety, how it evolved from calls to the rectory for an exorcist.

“Unfortunately, there is only one exorcist recognized by the archdiocese. One only for the entire Chicago area. He is very busy as you can imagine since he must cover so much territory and there a growing number of old houses possessed by spirits.

“I step into on occasion to help with the overflow on ad hoc basis. I help evaluate whether there is a genuine spiritual emergency.”

She paused, cleared her throat and tugged at her habit.

“I would say your house is possessed by friendly spirits. They mean well. You might not like to hear what I have to say about getting rid of your friendly spirits. My intuition and reading of these two spirits tells me you need to attend Mass every Sunday. Your ghosts will not go away until then. They’re concerned you are not headed toward Heaven.

“They themselves are in Purgatory, If you can commit to Sunday Mass for the rest of your earthly existence, they will leave you alone and they themselves will go to Heaven.”

“What?” Apple said. She stood up as if to get a glass of water and fainted.

Mid Century Moderne round up: Disney World and More

Butterfly House, 1957

Here’s this week’s round-up of Mid Century Modern homes and related news around the country.

 

The Secret Life of a Mid Century Modern Dollhouse: All That Glitters

Miniature Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman by Vitra

Hunca Munca was known for her penchant for shiny, bright objects. Anything and all that glitters.

She collected dollhouse-sized pie and cupcake tins, tiny bits of colored foil from Hershey kisses. Everyone knew and teased her about her hobby.

Until one day, her husband Tom Thumb, a mouse, spotted his wife wearing an unusual necklace.

He peered closely. “Why are you wearing a rosary?” he asked, one eyebrow raised.

“Is that what this is? Hunca Munca said, pawing the beads. “I had no idea. I just thought it was a pretty necklace. Looks like diamonds. You know, diamonds are a mouse’s best friend.”

Tom Thumb harrumped. Where did she get the rosary? Hunca replied nonchalantly: Barbie’s jewelry box.

“Well, you need to return that right away,” he snapped. “That doesn’t belong to you, somebody made that and sooner or later someone will notice it’s missing.”

Hunca Munca laughed. “I will return it, eventually,” she said. “It’s not like Barbie can pray. She’s just a doll.”

“The rosary is the greatest weapon against evil! It  will convert the souls in the Soviet Union!” Tom Thumb roared, surprising enough himself.

“Well, I had no idea you felt this way,” his wife said, taken aback. “When did you convert to Catholicism?”

Tom Thumb said he hadn’t, it was something he had heard the people in the household say while they prayed in the living room. They were deeply worried about the Soviet Union detonating a nuclear bomb on the U.S. Everyone worried about it.

“It why people drink and smoke so much,” he observed. “They’re worried about what the Commies in the USSR are going to do to the U.S.”

“Praying will make a difference?

“I guess,” Tom Thumb said, shrugging his shoulders. He lit his corncob pipe, settled into his miniature Eames lounge chair & ottoman by the fireplace, the chair he was borrowing from the dollhouse .

A few minutes passed.

“I wish we could pray,” Hunca Munca said somberly.

“Well, we can starting right now,” he said, reaching for the rosary around his wife’s neck.

The delicate thing broke, Hunca Munca gasped and burst into tears.

“You broke my necklace. How can I return it now? We’re certainly going to get bombed by the Soviets now!”

“Not if we can help it. We must pray!”

Just then a nearby village siren began to wail, warning of an impending air attack.

The Mid Century Moderne Weekly: A Round Up

1955 home, Michigan City, Indiana

This is a weekly round-up of all things Mid Century Modern in the news. Houses that have been renovated, demolished. Interesting news about furnishings, the real deal or reproductions. Occasionally related articles that I’ve written (I specialize in writing about historic preservation and architecture).

Here’s the first round-up of news in no particular order:

That’s it. Let me know what you think in the comments.

The Mystery of the Haunted Mid Century Modern Home: It’s Not a Big Deal

1955 cigarette ad

Apple and Forest Graham were the least likely couple on earth to call an exorcist.

Born in the late 80s, they never attended church ever. They were baptized, their parents had been Catholic at one point. They think, but they’re not sure. Both Apple and Forest never even really read the Bible – Forest didn’t know that Sampson and Delilah was a Biblical story – he thought it originated in Hollywood.

But these two knew a thing or two about the Exorcist. They had seen the original 1970s movie at college and then the remake.

These two became convinced they needed an exorcist soon after they moved into their suburban Mid-Century Modern home. They were so excited to be owners of this 1955 International Style house – a unique residence in a sea of ranch homes.

But the ranch homes were slowly disappearing as the McMansions encroached. In fact, two weeks after the Grahams moved in, demolition began on a ranch house next door.

They could hear the jack hammers and the rumble of the backward bobbling bobcats as they unpacked their boxes.

Nearly immediately they noticed cigarette smoke in their home. It was as if someone were in their home lighting up. It would suddenly start, stop with no trace of a smell. Nearly every day that happened. Sometime was distinctly pipe smoke – that was most often in the garage, sometimes in the living room or even the carport. The cigarette smoke tended to be in the guest room, kitchen, master bedroom and the basement.

The sudden cigarette smoke was at first annoying. They told construction workers not to smoke near their home. They complied.

It was clear that the construction workers were not the problem when the smoke continued late at night and on weekends.

When Apple shared the odd incidents with a friend at work. “Maybe you have a couple of chain-smoking ghosts in your home, “ she laughed. “You might need to call an exorcist.”

Apple froze and immediately texted her her husband at work, “Our house is HAUNTED!”

She was hysterical. Forest had to call her and calm her down. “Our house is not haunted,” he said encouragingly. “It’s not that old. Ghosts only haunt Victorians and older houses. It’s not a big deal.”

Yet it became clear these chain-smoking ghosts were a big deal. The cigarette and pipe smoking needed to stop immediately. The Grahams were trying to have a baby and second-hand smoke – even of the ghostly variety – was not helping their plans.

So Apple called the local Catholic Church for an exorcist. She left a voicemail. She instantly felt silly. Who would believe her?

But an hour later, a nun in a veil and a habit rang the doorbell.

“You called,” she said calmly when Apple answered the door. “I’m not an exorcist, but i think I can help.”

End of Part One

(Part Two will appear in two weeks. )