At the close of a grueling 2001 tax season, Jan’s brain cells desperately needed a breather. We decided to escape to Galena Illinois—an area known for its scenic hills, valleys, and bluffs. At one time it was home to more mansions per capita than any other city in America.
Following a sharp decline in the demand for lead at the close of the Civil War, Galena’s wealth and population plummeted and the mansions were abandoned. In the 1980s a number of the surviving old mansions were restored as Bed & Breakfast Inns. Jan and I had never experienced a B&B and decided to scratch it off our bucket list.
Spring is a popular season in Galena. With nothing available within the city limits, I located a vacancy on the outskirts of town and quickly booked the room. We were looking forward to enjoying a quiet, scenic and hopefully romantic getaway.
We pulled up to what looked like an ailing French Second Empire Victorian mansion. I double checked the address. Yep, this was the place. It was dark and a little sinister looking, nothing like the stately B&Bs we passed on our way through town. This place sat awkwardly by itself on a lifeless unkept lot. The mansard roof, dormers, and weathered siding reminded me of Norman Bate’s house in Psycho.
Better judgement would have had me drive off and find a hotel—but not this guy—no this guy walked up to door and rang the bell. A rather strange looking woman answered. Her unkempt hair and disheveled clothing should have raised a few red flags, but I was bound and determined to stay at a B&B and this was the last one available in all of Galena. We introduced ourselves and she invited us in.
We were surprised to learn that the owners were out of town and wouldn’t be back until the following morning. We were even more surprised when she told us we’d be the only guests in the house that night. I asked if she’d be available in case we needed something. “Oh no,” she replied, “I leave before dark.” Hmm…
After pointing out our room at the top of the stairs she vanished down a hallway.
We climbed the long staircase leading to our suite and had a look around. The shadowy, musty home was crammed with old Victorian furniture, heavy curtains, and knickknacks typical of the era. The silence of the old house was kind of creepy not to mention that the eerie wallpaper motif caused the hair on my arms to stand at attention. I thought, “Perfect, I booked a room at Hill House.”
Later that evening we decided to snoop around a bit and take a peek at the other suites. We found the room next to ours locked. Jan asked, “What do you think they have in there?”
“That’s probably where they keep the instruments of torture.” I replied. She failed to see my humor.
The setting had all the makings of a great horror flick and just like in most horror films, there always seems to be a shower scene—except this one involved a hot tub. About the time Jan got comfortable in the tub a strong thunderstorm rolled in and knocked out the electrical power. She yelped and came bolting out of the dark room.
I tried to make the best of the situation with a little romantic candlelight, but as the storm intensified loud and disorienting banging persuaded us to seek shelter downstairs. Upon opening the cellar door, Jan convinced me the main floor would suffice.
The wind shrieked like graveyard ghosts as it rushed pass the poorly fitted window frames. Our romantic getaway took a back seat to the heebie jeebies.
The storm lasted several hours—it was well past midnight by the time the dark secrets of the mansion were laid to rest and we made our way back upstairs. Exhausted from a long day, and even longer night, we drifted off to sleep.
The following morning we came downstairs to find the owners sipping coffee in the parlor. They greeted us and asked how our night was. Glancing sideways at each other we replied, “Interesting.”
While chatting over a gourmet breakfast, we discovered they were originally from France, and had recently made the decision to move back. Telling us how much they missed western Europe, they also confessed that the B&B wasn’t working out as planned. Gosh, I wonder why?
While reminiscing about this trip, I decided to visit the B&B’s website only to discover it no longer existed.
There are those who say it never did.