Old Favorites: The Wicked Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House

It’s October, and everybody knows what THAT means…Halloween is here!   Almost everyone is talking about costumes or pumpkins or ghosts.  Bella breaks out her black cape and witch’s hat, and sits on top of a display of Halloween books.  Most of our other book displays contain the words “wicked”, “haunted”, “eerie” or “spooky” and the library is filled with ghosts and witches and vampires…oh my!

This month our Tuesday “Old Favorite” selections are going to be books that scared me as a kid.  (I won’t review the one that gave me nightmares for years, because it really isn’t that scary to anyone except me.) But hang on to your bats…er, hats…if you choose to read one of these books, and prepare for a chilling, thrilling read!

I originally read The Wicked Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase in fifth grade. Every kid in my class was daring every other kid to read it and NOT be scared. It was impossible.

* * *

Maureen Swanson is a bully. She slaps other kids, lies about everything and has to stay after school almost every day of the week for her misdeeds. All the other kids call her Stinky, and won’t walk home with her.  That’s okay with Maureen though.  She likes walking home alone, past the Old Messerman place every day–staring at the pigeons sitting on the roof line of the boarded up old mansion, pretending she’s Maureen Messerman, and trying to open the old rusty gate set in the brick wall.

But one day, when Maureen’s on the run from Mrs. Moody (who she squirted with a hose) she finds a hole in the wall around the Messerman estate. She slips through and finds herself in an overgrown garden. In the center of the garden is a run-down old gazebo. Maureen follows the sound of a woodpecker, and finds a statue of a little man. When he  suddenly steps off his pedestal and starts talking, most people would run! Maureen, though, argues with him. Although she probably should have listened, Maureen doesn’t let a magical statue distract her. Her aim is to explore the old mansion. She leaves the little man behind and finds her way inside the house.

Going up the musty, cobwebbed staircase, she finds paintings of the seven Messerman sisters.  Maureen, of course, isn’t impressed. Instead, she insults each sister’s painted form. But then there’s a strange rustling sound, and the ladies in the pictures change positions. At first, Maureen thinks she’s imagining it, but when she touches one of the paintings, she feels silk in the frame, not painted canvas!

Maureen flees from the house, but she’s soon being followed by seven sisters who are meaner and nastier than she could ever have imagined. Is  Maureen fated to become the eighth Messerman sister? Or can she escape the wicked, wicked ladies in the haunted house?

* * *

The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House is a fairly short book (only 128 pages), but it’s quite scary. Even if you don’t like Maureen at the beginning, she doesn’t deserve the horror of the seven sisters she has after her. I also love the way it’s written; Maureen is never quite sure what’s going on, but the reader can certainly picture it!

Originally published in 1967 as The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden, this book was saved from obscurity when it was republished in 2003 with new illustrations by Peter Sis. Even though I like the new version, the illustrations in the original were much more atmospheric, and fit the feeling of the story better. (Just look at the second cover above…that owl is awesomely creepy!)

Try this hair-raising tale for Halloween. Just remember, next time you’re in a haunted house, don’t insult any painting you happen to see. You never know who will be listening, and what might take offense…



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