Dream Houses

And Other Structures that Are Only Sometimes There

Michael D. Winkle

Spooky, isn't it?Vance Randolph, in his Ozark Magic and Folklore, mentions that "Mrs. C. P. Mahnkey once saw clearly a little cabin on a ridge in the old McCann game park, near her home at Mincy, Missouri." She got a pair of binoculars and studied it, noting that smoke was rising from the chimney. By the next day, the cabin had vanished again. Her neighbors informed her that no cabin ever stood there to their knowledge. [1]

Richard T. Crowe, an expert in ghostly phenomena (particularly as it pertains to Chicago, Illinois) tells of a similar "Dream-House" located near the infamous Bachelor's Grove Cemetery:

"As if the thing were not mystery enough," Crowe went on, "old records show that there never has been a house there. But the ghost house appears on either side of the road, at different places. Witnesses always describe it in the same way: wooden columns, a porch swing, and a dim light glowing within." [2]

Crowe says that no one has ever reported entering the house, but that maybe those who do don't come out again! If so, Don Frosty of Michigan and his former girlfriend may have had more than one lucky escape.

Manton is a small town in northwestern Michigan just to the west of Highway 131, about twelve miles north of Cadillac. When Don Frosty was a teenager, he heard of a farmhouse on the east side of town that supposedly was not always there. "There were two old mining roads, and it was off one of them," he told Wisconsin writer Linda Godfrey. Frosty and his high school girlfriend visited the place multiple times, armed only with flashlights. It seemed to be an ordinary two-story farmhouse.

"I don't recall any furniture in it," he explained to Godfrey. "It was empty like an abandoned house with a wooden floor and no drapes on the windows. The windows were intact. But when we would go back there the next day, there was nothing. Just a field." The house has not been reported, apparently, in recent years. [3]

* * *

A number of Dream Houses seem to haunt the small English town of Bradfield St. George, near Bury St. Edmonds in Suffolk. After hosting a radio program about ghosts and hauntings in March 1934, Sir Ernest Bennett received a letter from a Miss Ruth Wynne, a teacher, who lived in the area in 1926. Miss Wynne and her fourteen year old pupil Miss Allington, taking a walk on a "dull, damp afternoon, I think in October '26," came upon a mildly interesting sight:

Exactly opposite us on the further side of the road and flanking it, we saw a high wall of greenish-yellow bricks. The road ran past us for a few yards, then curved away from us to the left. We walked along the road, following the brick wall round the bend, where we came upon tall, wrought-iron gates . . . Behind the wall and towering above it was a cluster of tall trees. From the gates, a drive led away among these trees to what was evidently a large house.

The only thing that struck Miss Wynne as odd at the time was that she had not heard of this large residence in the small hamlet. The following February or March, the teacher and her pupil took a walk along the same road and were astonished to find that both the wall (approximately three hundred meters long) and the mansion had vanished. They thought perhaps the house had been torn down, but as they came nearer they noticed a number of small ponds lying where the house had been. "It was obvious that they had been there a long time."

Miss Allington wrote to Sir Ernest in February of 1937, confirming the incident. Andrew MacKenzie made inquiries in the area and scoured the Suffolk Record Office for evidence that such a house ever existed. There was none. [4]

Wynne and Allington's experience was not unique. Around the year 1860, a man named Robert Palfrey was thatching a haystack near Kingshall Street when he happened to look across the road. There stood a house and garden that hadn't been there before. "The house had solid red bricks and the flower-beds were edged with the same red bricks planted slantwise and half buried." The warm June air turned unaccountably cold. Palfrey went home and returned with his relatives, but the house and garden had vanished. [5]

This story was provided to MacKenzie by the great-grandson of Palfrey, a "James Cobbold" (pseudonym). Cobbold himself used to make Saturday deliveries with a butcher named George Waylett. One day when Cobbold was twelve years old, they had just left Kingshall for Bradfield St. George:

[T]here was a loud swishing 'whoosh' as of air displacement, the air became very cold, the pony reared and bolted, and Mr. Waylett was thrown from the cart. In those fleeting moments Mr. Cobbold most distinctly saw a double-fronted, red-brick house roofed with pantiles, three-storeyed, of pronounced Georgian appearance. In front were flower-beds in full bloom. Mr. Cobbold managed to stop the pony and turned it round, since he feared for Mr. Waylett. Even as he did so, 'a kind of mist seemed to envelope the house, which I could still see, and the whole thing simply disappeared, it just went.'

Despite warnings from Waylett, young Cobbold ran into the field where the house had appeared. There was no sign of anything untoward amid the young wheat. The butcher admitted that this was his third sighting of the appearing-vanishing house. MacKenzie estimates that the year of this occurrence was 1908.

After writing of his and his ancestor's experiences in Amateur Gardening (December 20, 1975), "a young man from the village told Mr. Cobbold that his father had seen the same happening at least twice during the past ten years (1965-1975)." [6]

Folklorist Ruth E. St. Leger-Gordon writes of a phantom cottage that appears occasionally on a small estate near Haytor, in eastern Dartmoor. Sometime in the early 'sixties a woman visiting the area followed a public lane that passed a thatch of forest on the grounds. She remarked on a "charming cottage" to the owner of the estate. He assured her that no cottage existed there. The next evening she retraced her path and found no trace of the cottage.

"Some months later, a new bungalow was built in a clearing just opposite." A young woman living in the bungalow asked the owner of the land if he also owned the cottage in the woods, as she couldn't find a way down to it. The landowner, now puzzled, sought any record of a cottage in that area, to no avail. "Nor, after careful search, can he find any traces suggestive of old foundations." [7]

St. Leger-Gordon's book Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor was first published in 1965. In the 1972 reprint, she has more to say on the phantom cottage. An Ordnance Surveyor assigned to the area happened upon her book and sought out Ms. St. Leger-Gordon the very next day. "He told me that he had just been sent to survey in detail a small area in the Haytor district. Looking down on this terrain from a high vantage point to check his map, he noticed one cottage that he had apparently missed. Smoke was rising from the chimneys and clothes blowing on a line." As a surveyor, he could pinpoint the exact spot, and he did so. A thorough search of the area revealed no trace of any dwelling, however. He did find a woman walking her dog, and he asked her about the cottage. The woman admitted to having seen it once, and never again. [8]

There are many tales of people seeing/entering/spending the night in houses (or inns) that later proved to have burned down years before. These "Dream Houses" are a little different. Most of them cannot be revenants or "time echoes" of houses now demolished, because no house or cottage like the ones described ever existed at the sites in question. Some seem to move around, like the house in Chicago and possibly the house[s] in Bury St. Edmonds. Perhaps if they can lure no one in at one spot, they try "fishing" somewhere else. What would happen if you ventured into a Dream House? Would you end up in some strange parallel world?

All in all, I prefer the Holiday Inn.


1. Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic and Folklore. (New York: Dover Publications, 1964 [1947]), p. 217.

2. Steiger, Brad. Psychic City: Chicago. (New York: Doubleday, 1976), p. 88.

3. Godfrey, Linda. Weird Michigan. (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2006), p. 72.

4. MacKenzie, Andrew. Adventures in Time: Encounters with the Past. (London: The Athlone Press, 1997), pp. 71-75.

5. Ibid., p. 75.

6. Ibid., p. 75-76.

7. St. Leger-Gordon, Ruth E. Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor. (New York: Bell Publishing Co., 1972 [1965]), p. 100.

8. Ibid., p. 101.

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