Since I was little, I have been fascinated by places I am not supposed to go. I chalk this up to not being allowed to really go too many places, and never, ever being allowed to play in the FRONT yard. (Only the back, and if we rode our bikes around the house, we had to keep riding and not stop in front or someone might snatch us up!) :) My brother and I would sneak off into the woods and build forts or go fishing down at Pottsburg Creek while the adults were preoccupied, and once we got older we got a little more adventurous. We actually ventured a whole two blocks away one time (!) and found the most magical place we never knew existed... what was known since as the "Chinese Haunted Mansion".
This place was a real treat for any kid with a sense of adventure or that liked to get the crap scared out of them. It was a huge abandoned home, and the story was that a rich old doctor and his wife had lived there. I'd believe it. By the time we found it, it had been sitting behind vine-covered wrought iron gates and hidden from the world for years. The swimming pool was full of sludge. The bird baths were dried up and covered in weeds, and the interior of the house, or what we actually saw of it, was covered in dust, but almost otherwise untouched. It was a three-story house and we found a broken window on the second floor and climbed in one afternoon. We explored the whole floor, but couldn't access the upstairs or downstairs with no flashlight. We vowed this would be our secret hangout spot, the place we'd take off to if anyone was mad at us and we had to hide. We would "move in" and this would be our "fort" from then on. We made it back there once more to explore and my brother said something or someone touched his leg when he entered the basement. We sprinted the two blocks back home and never looked back. A few years later I was taking photography classes in high school and one of our black and white assignments was architecture. I went by after school one day to do my "homework", and there was no more Chinese Haunted Mansion. They tore it down, and there are now three big brick homes where this giant place of lore once stood.
I was bummed!!!
Many years have passed and I still can't stay out of places I'm not supposed to go in. Everyone in Jacksonville has heard of this place, and anybody with a set of balls about them has probably been inside with a daring group of friends. But, I've never seen anyone seriously shoot anything here. The property has been bought and sold numerous times over the years since Annie Lytle Elementary, aka "School Four", stopped functioning as a public school and started serving as a hotel for bums and a canvas for graffiti artists. Threats of demolishing the structure have been heard time and time again, and we were convinced it was going to be torn down during construction on I95 and I10, but alas, it still stands... as my perfect playground. Here's to hoping it stays around to amuse me a little longer.
A sneak peek... more soon.