By Rick Hinton
John and Dana Christenson decided to purchase the former funeral home at 158 N. Main St. in Bargersville despite the “weirdness” of the initial walk-through. The building was perfect for their envisioned antique shop, and they wanted to stay in a small town. Dana grew up in Bargersville; John arrived in the mid 1990s. (How they met is another story.)
Converting the old funeral home into Pump House Antiques became a clear exercise in patience — and then acceptance of other occupants they hadn’t anticipated.
“There have been lots of interesting things since we’ve been here,” John said. “It’s calmed down a lot. We get along with them.”
John remodeling the space to transform a different past into an antiquing destination, diving in every evening after work. There was water damage to attend to, walls to take out, new carpeting to install and items to remove from the former business. John says he’d enter the building and start working, never considering the funeral home or the noises associated with a settling building. Renovations are said to bring the “spooks out of the woodwork,” but he wasn’t thinking about that … at least not right away. But he experienced strange moments.
“When we first opened, everyone smelled flowers,” John said. “This was before we carried candles.”
And there’s also the cigarette odor … but no one smokes in Pump House! Is it a lingering effect from years past, when smoking wasn’t so regulated? Imagining a funeral home in those days, I picture a thick cloud of smoke in the family break room to comfort feelings of despair and sadness. John agrees.
“It doesn’t happen as much anymore, but when it did it wasn’t a stale smell, but like someone standing right next to you,” he said.
Working alone in the evening, John once saw someone staring inside through the window (impossible because of a hedgerow). He’s not the only one to witness this, either. When he removed the original funeral organ, just within that window view, the apparition disappeared.
“Looking back now, I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of (the organ),” he said.
Other things over their short tenure:
ï In the front office, the old-style ring of a landline phone occasionally sounds. But there is no phone in the front office!
ï John used to hear bongo drums the first year they owned the property (not so much anymore).
ï One evening, John experienced a PA speaker sailing through the air past his head. The support screws were still in the wall. The speaker had been mounted on the other side of a ceiling beam, so it had to have flipped under the overhang to achieve that trajectory. “It’s the only time I felt anything there was malicious in nature,” he said.
ï An “intuitive” visited once and said the building had a large amount of people in it. “They were talking everywhere!” she claimed. With a funeral home, look at the progression of people who passed within its walls, most in sorrow and despair. My wife, Laura, felt overwhelming sadness when she entered the building.
ï John’s parents, former antique entrepreneurs from Minnesota, live in an apartment at the back of the building. The space once housed the embalming room and stored caskets as well as bodies. There was a reported “cold” spot in the hallway to the back bedroom; there were noises. John’s parents verbally rebuked whatever was there, and for now it hasn’t returned. I suppose it has gotten to know them and the building’s other occupants.
“It’s pretty low key here now,” John said.
Still, while Laura and I toured this stretch of the building, the hallway light suddenly blew out … strange!
Antique shops are known as a harbinger for attachments; people come and go, yet their prized possessions remain. Does a part of them stay within these objects, waiting for a new home? We bought an antique elephant night light, which now has a place of prominence in our home. Let’s see what happens.
Our audio recordings returned inconclusive results, with too much background noise music and patrons. For those spirits, gaining comfort with the current occupants, there are moments when it’s not necessary to hide in the shadows.
According to John, “About 6 months ago on a weekend, we were getting ready to close and heard two ladies talking. There were no cars in the parking lot. We didn’t want to rush them, so we waited … and waited. Finally, I walked through the building. There were no ladies there!”
Pump House Antiques will host a spring open house on Saturday, April 14, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Check it out for great vintage finds, and enjoy a slice of (haunted?) history.