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A nightmare on Oakwood 

This year, one of Raleigh's historic neighborhoods got a little scary.

The battle between Marsha Gordon and Louis Cherry, who are building a contemporary home in Historic Oakwood, and their neighbor, Gail Wiesner, spawned cryptic warnings and bitter threats. Some were even delivered by notes tied to rocks. But in February, when the tension among the preservationists was rising, an email sent to the 650 members of the neighborhood listserv helped to defuse the situation.

"GREAT NEWS: 250 DAYS UNTIL HALLOWEEN," it said. "I have great plans for this Halloween. However I do have a WIFE, so I feel that my plans will get watered down. If anybody is willing to take her shopping during Halloween I will foot the bill (like to Italy or Japan). PS it seems Oakwood is getting scary a little earlier this year, LOL."

The sender emerged again in July, responding to a particularly longwinded conversation about the district's rodents: "Do you think you guys can allow the rats to live for 100 more days because they are creatures of the dark and their master will be at my house on October 31. PS please don't send them to my house until the 31, my wife can only take so much."

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS WILLIAMS
  • Illustration by Chris Williams

The sender was Jesse Jones, who owns 504 Oakwood Avenue along with his tolerant wife, Sue Jones. For the last six years, they've dressed their cocktail olive-colored neoclassical revival—known 'round here as the Oakwood Halloween House—with ferocious wolves, skin-sloughing zombies and scads of tombstones. On Halloween night, more than a dozen volunteers, many of them Oakwood residents, will hide behind boxwoods or inside coffins to startle unsuspecting passersby. It's one neighborhood spectacle most everyone can embrace.

Jones calls his hobby "Operation Scare Them Little Ones." He estimates that he spooked more than 2,500 visitors last year. The house has become so popular that, on Halloween, police will patrol the corner of Oakwood Avenue and East Street, helping throngs of frightened children through the intersection and nudging along rubberneckers who stop in the middle of the road. Jones will be prowling his roof, dressed in a wolf costume made by the same outfitters who create zombies on AMC's The Walking Dead.

A few blocks away, another historic home is keeping up with the Joneses when it comes to creepiness. The Mordecai House, built in 1785 by Joel Lane for his son, Henry, is the oldest home in Raleigh still resting on its original foundation—meaning no ghosts have gotten lost in transit.

Jim Hall of Haunted North Carolina believes the plantation house may be possessed by the spirit of Mary Willis Mordecai Turk, a descendant of Moses Mordecai who lived from 1858 to 1937 (the Mordecai graves can be found nearby in Oakwood Cemetery). Turk has apparently returned to the land of the living to tip over photographs and frighten visitors in the home's first-floor drawing room.

The paranormal activity was enough to earn the house a slot on the reality television show Ghost Hunters in 2005. Chandra Millikin, Mordecai's museum educator, hoped The Atlantic Paranormal Society would explain why the piano in the parlor sometimes seems to play itself. Unfortunately, the entire investigative crew came down with a mysterious illness (spooky!) and aborted the mission before delivering any results.

On Saturday, Oct. 25, the National Society for Paranormal Investigations and Research will pick up where Ghost Hunters left off, visiting the Mordecai House and hosting a Q&A session as part of the Haunted Mordecai Festival. The event is free and open to the public, so don't be surprised if you run into Sue and Jesse Jones, informing you that there are only six days left until Halloween.

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  • One Oakwood resident pulls out all the stops at Halloween—plus, the haunted Mordecai House

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