A haunted house that speaks to our reality

Today’s blogging challenge is to review a book or a movie and then relate it to your “niche.”

Crown Hill is Christina Abt’s first novel. Published in 2014, this is the fictionalized story  of Christina’s home, an old farmhouse in Eden, New York, that, according to local legend, was haunted by a woman who suffered in her life and who was unable to pass from this world to the next. 

In the novel, the woman’s name was Mary Southwicke. Her story takes place in the 1880s. Mary’s husband, Owen, was a controlling man who expected his wife to bake fresh bread every day and to have his meals on the table at times prescribed by him. He beat her and terrified her if the meal was late, even by a single minute. Mary lived with no hope because, at that time, there was no escaping an abusive relationship. Mary died under suspicious circumstances, and the rest of the novel dealt with future generations of people who lived at Crown Hill trying to piece together the horrifying set of circumstances that led both to Mary’s death and to her haunting the house. 

I found this novel to be well written, interesting, and with characters who brought the book to life. I would have to say that the most fascinating characters were the house itself and the ghost of the trapped Mary. The house had a voice and a story. Within its walls, there were secrets, heartache, and pain.

Eventually people learned the truth of Mary’s tortured life. And this is where fiction collides with reality. Mary’s painful life, lived in shadows of fear, has been replayed over and over again. But with the passage of years, the stories are being told and people are listening. 

Over the past few years, I have been writing articles about domestic violence. I have interviewed a number of people, from survivors of domestic violence to advocates for victims. They tell me that, like Mary Southwicke, the victims often feel shame and humiliation. They blame themselves for the abuse that they suffer.

So, today, my niche is journalism. I am currently working on an article about a new place that offers hope for domestic violence victims. On the grounds of Trinity United Methodist Church, there sits a currently unused parsonage that will become the future permanent home of the Grand Island Family Justice Center. 

Mary Southwicke’s world was full of shadows and sadness. In the nineteenth century, no one talked about domestic violence. In the twenty-first century, domestic violence often occurs behind closed doors. It occurs in apartments and in small homes. And it occurs in mansions. Victims can be affluent and they can be well-educated. And they are still victims.

The statistics are stark. One in three girls between the ages of 15 and 24, one in four women, and one in seven boys and men will become domestic violence victims. 

Mary Travers Murphy has personally seen the results of domestic violence. Her friend and co-worker from the days when she was a television reporter, Aasiya Hassan, was brutally murdered by her abusive husband. Not long afterward, Angela Moss, a nurse at an Orchard Park nursing home, was killed by a former boyfriend. Death followed upon death, which stirred Mary Tavers Murphy into action. And action for Travers Murphy was the establishment of a satellite office of the Family Justice Center in Orchard Park, the home of both Assiya Hassan and Angela Moss.
“The Family Justice model is dedicated to the victims of domestic violence and their children. they took anything and everything that one needs and they put it in one place.”

Once the victims walk through the purple doors, they find instant access to all of their needs, which, Mary Travers Murphy said, includes forensic medical, a nurse, someone from the district attorney’s office, police, and domestic violence advocates. Advocates help victims get orders of protection via videoconferencing with the court. There are even therapy dogs available for comfort, thanks to the SPCA Paws for Love program.

On the second anniversary of Assiya Hassan’s death in February 2011, the Orchard Park branch of the Family Justice Center was opened and dedicated to Assiya Hassan, Angela Moss, and to all victims who had been lost. It was dedicated to the survivors, too, who were given new hope at a place where they could be supported and given hope for a safe future. Where they could feel that they were not alone.

And, on Grand Island, hope comes, in the form of an old parsonage, donated by Pastor Kevin Slough and the members of Trinity United Methodist Church. People and groups who are interested are encouraged to adopt rooms. A grand opening is anticipated for some time in the spring.

“We are putting skin in the game,” Mary said of all of the volunteer efforts to create beautiful spaces for the domestic violence victims to start on their path away from closed doors and muffled screams to safety and freedom from fear. “We are giving a message to people who are still trapped behind closed doors.”

But back to the other Mary, the one who began this story. Mary Southwicke. She died under suspicious circumstances, abused and ashamed. People remembered her fondly for her gorgeous gardens and for the foods that she baked. But the violence that she endured at the hands of her controlling and vicious husband was something that would not be spoken out loud for more than a century to come. 

Although a character in a novel, Mary Southwicke and the house that was her only witness had stories to tell that are as real in the twenty-first century as they were in the nineteenth century. But now, the stories are coming out of the shadows, and help and hope are available.

6 thoughts on “A haunted house that speaks to our reality”

  1. pamtheamericandogrunner

    Do you ever wish you can come back after you die to haunt those who did you wrong? Or do you know deep down you will? Believe it or not, I am hoping I will be just like the woman the story and never truly leave but to bring justice in the afterlife if you will! I wonder if all the evil in the world is from the ghosts who haunt and are bringing revenge?!?!?!?

  2. And how to you bring justice? By terrifying those who terrified you in thie life? Will that improve the world, make it a better place? What about promoting justice with the new generation, helping for example children succeed in their literacy skills for example?…Revenge is not enough! Show your heart in a better light and help a child find happiness in this world!!!

  3. loved your review and the backstory behind it as well (so sad that this is still part of our reality today).. but so glad that the victims today can make their voices heard (or have others, like you and hopefully me too, be their voices) and get help

  4. Julie Jordan Scott

    She sounds so real. I would love to read this book. Have you read "Where the Crawdads Sing?" I'm reading it for book club… it is so interesting.

  5. What a great review! There is so much domestic violence today and the violence that also bothers me is parental abuse with their own children. Two of my grandchildren suffered this and while it still haunts them, they both have taken the right path and become beautiful, helpful and loving. When my granddaughter was about 11 or 12 she told me if she ever has children she know how not to treat them. She is the most loving and caring mommy to her 16 month old daughter.

  6. There is never enough light shining on domestic violence. This sounds like a great and disturbing book. Thank you for such a thorough review and the other details as well.

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