Across Cemetery Street from Pine Grove Cemetery in Berwick, Pennsylvania, is what looks long ago to have been a combination chapel-undertaker’s-sexton’s house in an attractive style on the outgoing edge of stick style and on the incoming edge of Queen Anne style (figure 1).

Figure 1. Hell House. Berwick, PA. Photo: author.

At some point the structure came onto the market and it was bought and turned, as I see it, into a proper house. I could just see it being a club along the lines of London’s Hellfire Club. However that may be, the conversion was fantastic.

The skin of the structure, which in most markets would have been colorful in that Victorian way with greens, purples, yellows, and so on, has been painted jet black. It’s a shiny paint, so one can make out the clapboards and shingles well. The roof has black shingles, the mullions and frames of the windows are black, and the pièce de résistance is the anthracite gravel in the front under the statues which continues the jet black motif all the way through.

The doors, as though they are the doors to the hellmouth, are bright red, and padlocked to keep us out (or hell in).

Finally, there are three gargoyles à la Notre Dame perched on pedestals in the front yard. The two flanking dogs (figure 2 shows one of them) are apparently close cousins of Max the Garden Gargoyle from The Gargoyle Store.

Figure 2. Dog gargoyle. Hell House, Berwick, PA. Photo: author.

The central gargoyle (figure 3) is one of the monstrous ones that are more famous than the dogs, cats, bears and elephants on Notre Dame. But the image also lets us see the anthracite bed clearly and the stained glass windows of the old chapel with a central scene of the baptism of Jesus. In the pediment above is a spiderweb window.

Figure 3. Central gargoyle. Hell House, Berwick, PA. Photo: author.

I see the house as a product of ironic or tongue-in-cheek taste rather than (say) an earnest exploration of the goth lifestyle; but some will surely disagree. What I think is not up for debate is that this is nothing short of a wonder in a small town of modest prosperity in the stretch of U.S. Highway 11 along the Susquehanna in coal country. People who create things like Hell House make life far more interesting for all of us, and gratitude is the proper emotion to feel here.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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