By Rick Hinton
An urban legend took hold about Skiles Test and his House of Blue Lights. The main ingredient to any lore is that of the bizarre. In Skiles’ case it was either after his wife’s death, a proposed covenant between the two that he’d never bury her body, or that of a tormented man mourning her death. A glass coffin was a final embellishment.
Initially, Skiles entertained the stories. I believe he liked the attention. He would chat with visitors, often giving them a tour. However, years of this took a toll, becoming quite negative: hordes of adrenaline seekers peering into his windows at all hours, looking for the holy grail glass coffin; vandalism and damage to the outbuildings and animals; dips in the pool. Skiles once found a teenage boy in his kitchen drinking a Coke from his refrigerator! He had a fence erected on the lower section at Fall Creek Road, but that only slowed down daytime visitors. At night, they continued to come. Skiles spent many a night away from the property just to get away from it all.
Skiles died in March 1964 and was buried in the family plot at Crown Hill Cemetery. You’d think this would put the brakes on the stories. It didn’t! Curiosity seekers continued to come, including to the most famous estate auction that Indianapolis had seen up to that point. In May 1964, over a three-day period, some 50,000 people gathered in the cow pasture on the east side of the north drive to take it all in: diamond rings and jewelry; vehicles, furniture and oriental rugs; a grand piano and old magazines. And items that perpetuated Skiles’ eccentricities as a master hoarder: cases of aspirin, ketchup, mustard, canned food, Pepto-Bismol, nails, plumbing and electrical parts. And small animal coffins. Skiles loved his critters. Upon their death he would photograph them lying in state and then have them buried with small grave markers. This was before Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery. Pam Short’s father, Paul Hopper, did electrical and plumbing work for Skiles in the 1960s, often referring to him as the “Cat Man.” The photos of what I assume are deceased cats (and a few squirrels) went into a photo album. Who eventually acquired these albums is anyone’s guess but they did exist. As far as what happened to the St. Bernards… only Skiles knows? A lot of items were found stored in the tunnels about the property. Entrances and exits have been filled in but I imagine the tunnels themselves are still there.
The Test auction put auctioneer Earl Cornwell (Earl’s Auction Co.) on the map. It was a flurry of activity for those three days, however, the most sought-after item seemed to be the glass coffin. There wasn’t one, they were told. There was no dead wife. All three of Skiles’ wives survived him. No body, no strange occurrences, only overactive imaginations and a constant parade of trespassing. Welcome to urban myths!
Skiles left 80 acres to the city of Indianapolis to be turned into a nature park. It’s known today as Skiles Test Nature Park, the very ground where the former house, pool and farm once resided. Scott Bee worked for a private security firm that patrolled the property in the 1970s. He may very well have been on duty the night I made my approach. He says the dogs I heard were most likely from a house behind the Test property. He also states that the parks department allowed a few of their employees to stay in the house on occasion. The house, pool and other buildings were razed in 1978.
Mike Ahern, former WISH-TV news anchor, toured the house for a feature before its demolition. He declared, “The House of Blue Lights was a rite of passage for Indianapolis teenagers.” Much like visits to the Haunted Bridges of Avon and Danville, Riverside Amusement Park and the Tee Pee Restaurant. And for those that actually rubbed shoulders with Skiles Test in their youth, Gary Ledbetter and countless others, it’s become a precious memory.
Folks still claim the Skiles Test Nature Park hilltop will on occasion resonate with an eerie blue glow.