When I wrote The Looking-Glass Portrait, I knew exactly what the inspiration was: the house. I detailed the background here via a link to my blog here. The story kind of came to me separately -- and remember, it started 20+ years before it ended -- but the house was the focus when I structured the plot.
This certainly is no great revelation: the gothic genre began with The Castle of Otranto, so the tradition has been there from the beginning. As we've seen here on BookLikes with buddy reads of Jamaica Inn and Ammie, Come Home, houses and other dwelling places continue to be integral to the genre. There are ghosts, but they are connected to houses.
Sometimes the houses end up destroyed, as happened to Manderley, in Rebecca. But even then, even in its destruction, Manderley exercised its power over the second Mrs. de Winter.
The house in Edison Park, Illinois that served as the model for LGP, is still there. Another house I'd love to put into a gothic romance is long gone. I was told it, like Manderley, burned to the ground 25 or more years ago.
My paternal grandparents also lived in Edison Park, but they moved from there to Roselle, Illinois, a western suburb in DuPage County, in the very early 1950s. So early in the 1950s that I have no real memories of their home on Owen Avenue at all. They lived in Roselle until 1966, however, so I have clear recollections of that house.
The original house was small, just one bedroom, one bath, kitchen, and a big living/dining room. The latter had an open, beamed ceiling.
There was a big open covered porch, and another closed-in porch that led to the dining room. French doors opened from the single bedroom onto the porch, too.
I don't remember the front door at all.
Shortly after moving into the house, my grandparents began installing a fireplace, a mammoth fieldstone structure that replaced the front door. My dad, my grandfather, and my dad's cousin Bob built the fireplace, cementing stones from the yard of the 2-acre property in place.
When the fireplace was finished, my grandmother hung Bells of Sarna from the huge wooden mantel. I loved those bells; I would be allowed to jingle them once or twice each time we visited. I have no idea what happened to them, but years ago I purchased a strand of my own. They hang in my living room now.
I don't have many photos of the interior of the house, and the few I have of the exterior are from my grandparents' earliest occupancy. Along with the fireplace, they built a larger addition on the east end of the house with two large bedrooms, a shower bath, basement and attic. I "borrowed" the pull-down stairs to the attic for LGP, since the Edison Park house didn't have any.
The house sat at the top of a low hill, with a long, winding gravel driveway down to the road, Forest Avenue.
I loved the trees, mostly oaks and shagbark hickories. There was one crabapple tree. The old horse-drawn plow was rusted and stuck in the hard clay ground, but I thought it was fabulous, a romantic relic.
Though I can't find it in these photos, there was a huge pink granite boulder somewhere in the yard. It was absolutely enormous, to my two- or three-year-old self. Best of all, however, it had a "saddle" on the top, a naturally broken out dip that was perfect for a little girl of the suburbs to imagine, there in that big open yard, that she had a horse.
There were other people in the neighborhood who did have horses, though I didn't see them often. Years later, when I was in high school and bored with being around the family members, I'd go for long walks to catch a glimpse of a horse here or there, or to visit the dogs at the two collie kennels a street or two over. One of the fences keeping the dogs in bore a sign identifying the owners as The Pettigrews. Yeah, I stole the name, too.
But that big pink rock was so special. As I grew up, I was eventually able to climb onto it myself, and then even jump over it. Yet in my memory it remained gigantic.
I'm not sure when it was, but I was visiting the family years ago and decided to take a drive out to Roselle to see the place. My dad had told me the house had burned down, but I still wanted to go out there. It was winter; there was snow on the ground, I remember that much. And there was a new house at the top of the hill. But at the bottom of the driveway, half covered by snow plowed off the road, was the big pink rock.
And it was so, so, so much smaller than I remembered!
A couple of years ago, while I was doing the online research of old family houses, I swooped down on a Google Maps street view and went digitally driving down Forest Avenue to see what I could see.
Is that the big pink rock? Or what's left of it? I don't know. But I like to think it is.
P.S. When my grandparents sold the house in 1966, the following ad appeared in the local newspaper: