Once Upon a Shotgun

I like driving or bicycling through Abita Springs, the town where I live. I like to imagine living in old places, either now or in the past. Somehow, my life would be happier, more carefree, more chic if I lived in such a house as in the picture above.

It’s a shotgun house. Theoretically one could shoot a shotgun inside the front door and the shot would exit the back door without hitting anyone. Narrow houses like this were common in these parts. I think in the days before air conditioning, a house like this allowed for breezes to blow in and out more readily.

When Abita Springs was in its heyday in the early 1900s, houses such as these may have served an individual family or may have had a room for guests. The little town was known as a place for healthy living and relaxation. Some houses would have rented rooms for guests escaping a New Orleans summer. Or, I have heard, some homes were turned into small hospitals, housing yellow fever and tuberculosis patients, mainly from the city, seeking a rest cure in the country.

Although it’s not the house in the picture, there’s a house in town that was specifically set aside for tuberculosis patients. Nowadays, a baker owns the building, where Miss Jan turns out specialty cakes for weddings, birthdays, and the like. She says, without much fanfare, that the former rest home has a ghost.

Miss Jan doesn’t like to give undue attention to the ghost. She prefers to go about her business, without minding the spirit world. Occasionally she has knocks on the door in predawn hours as she preps cakes and breads for the day’s work. Or, a shove on the shoulder by an unseen hand has been known to occur. But, on the whole, the spirit doesn’t bother her much. The priest, who pastors next door, has prayed over the house, and he seems to have produced a calming effect upon the sprite.

Tuberculosis, also known as consumption, was a cruel disease. It still is in mostly undeveloped countries. Sufferers, until the advent of modern antibiotics, almost always died a slow and painful death as their lungs filled with liquid and blood. It almost always featured a wet cough and then, eventually bloody coughs, that resulted in respiratory failure.

I suppose our ghost in Abita Springs died from tuberculosis. I can imagine a ghost would want to visit the living once in a while. Perhaps, the spirit knocks on the door seeking solace for a lost life.

So, that’s where my mind went today as I looked at shotgun houses in the historic district of Abita Springs. Life in the early 1900s wasn’t all lemonade and lightness in the sweet bye and bye. There was death, too, often in an old shotgun house.

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