By Michelle Railey
It was known as the “House of Blue Lights” or the “Tess house.” It was located at 6700 Fall Creek Road at the corner of 71st Street and Johnson Road. It was a large house, with a pool, and a farm (and a pet cemetery, so that was true). It was illuminated in blue: bug lights and strings of fairy lights and flood lights and pool lights. There were blue-tinted greenhouse lights.
It was the home of Skiles E. Test, born in 1889, died in March of 1964. Sometime between the twentieth century’s two world wars, the legends of the House of Blue Lights, a haunted house, developed. Teens and uninvited guests roamed the yard, looking for dead wives, spectral lights; glass coffins, guns, and dogs and wolves; ghosts. So Skiles Test added a fence, which was uncommon in the area in the 1940s and 1950s.
This seemed to make the legend worse, not better. The fence was electric and “if you touched it, you would be shocked to death.” By the 1980s, there were at least twenty different variants of the legend of the “House of Blue Lights.”
Skiles Test did have animals on his land, at one time this included as many as 250 cats, plus many St. Bernard dogs. The cats were fed chicken and cottage cheese. They were pets, beloved, and buried in the yard. But not in glass caskets.
Skiles Test had three wives (not simultaneously), all of whom outlived him. There was no precious, dead wife buried in the pool or the living room or glass or in underground tunnels. He did not guard the burial place of a wife with a gun and a dog (or a wolf or both). He passed away, leaving behind the cats and the St. Bernards, the pool, the blue lights. He left behind heaps of broken crockery, bags of things, what the auction sheet referred to as “several hundred tons of junk.”
The Skiles Test auction attracted crowds that were estimated as including 30,000 to 50,000 people. There were only about 476,000 people even living in Indianapolis in 1960. A decent chunk of them must have gone to the auction.
Before the house was torn down, the local tv station (channel 13) broadcast a séance held at the “Tess” house as part of a Halloween special. One participant, Lee Folgers, told his tale like this: “We scrounged around and found a make-shift table and things to sit around it for those who were going to participate… In the beginning, our leader offered prayer to protect us from hostile spirits. He then instructed us to place our hands flat on the table, with our thumbs touching and our little fingers touching our neighbors’ little fingers. He told us that as he conducted the séance, he would periodically touch certain participants on the shoulder. That person was to leave the table and those left would ‘close the gap’ to their new neighbor. As we began and I emptied my mind, I remember having a vision of a man in a doorway across the table and to my left. I felt my voice lowering and sensed a sentence emanating from the man in my vision. He was saying, ‘come to me’. Just a request. Nothing threatening. But it shocked me and I suddenly came out of the trance. As I returned to the present, I became aware that the table I was sitting at was levitated and the lady from channel 13 and I were the only two still sitting there. The table came crashing to the floor and was broken.”
The house is gone now. The land is a nature park where people still find broken crockery, ruts that may or may not be pet tombs and underground tunnels. The legend is preserved on Wikipedia, by former employees and visitors, by a novel, and by local classroom projects.
It’s probable that the legend will evaporate completely: it’s more difficult to find a haunted house when the house is gone. Then again, there are those who say the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is haunted. There are those who find spirits in woods and will ‘o the wisps in cornfields. Maybe azure ghosts still roam the preserve where once stood the House of Blue Lights.
“The world is not only stranger than we suppose. It is stranger than we can suppose.” (J.B.S. Haldane)
Baker, Ronald L. Hoosier Folk Legends. (Bloomington, 1982)
Degh, Linda. “The House of Blue Lights.” Indiana Folklore: A Reader. Pp.179-195. (Bloomington, 1980.)
Hamlett, Ryan. “A Room With a View: The House of Blue Lights.” HistoricIndianapolis.com (2013)
Wikipedia. “The House of Blue Lights.”