By Patrick Murphy
The Legends about the House:
“He has blue lights in his house and blue lights in a big swimming pool…and a blue flood light in his backyard. The real story is that he had killed his wife at some time, whether by accident or intent, and keeps her body in a casket at the bottom of the swimming pool.”
“Did Skiles Test really keep his deceased wife in a glass-top coffin? Did he really have a live bear on his property? What about a pack of vicious dogs? Underground tunnels?”
“There was a rumor that the fence was electrified and if you touched it, you’d be shocked to death.”
“[W]e saw a blue haze off to the right just ahead of us. A few yards later we saw a building that was blocking part of the blue haze. We moved off the lane and went up alongside the building. It was a steep climb but when we reached the top we discovered the reason for the blue haze. There was a magnificent swimming pool with blue lights implanted under glass all around the pool. There were no other lights visible near the pool but not far from it, we saw more lights surrounding a house. We made our way toward the brightest part of the house which was made of all glass. The brightness was almost blinding but, as we neared the house, we all saw him at once and we stopped dead in our tracks. The man didn’t seem to be moving. He just sat there in front of an open glass casket. His hands were grasping the edge of the casket as if they were glued to it. His face was stern looking, yet sad, and beside him was a shotgun on one side and a dog on the other… All we heard as we ran was a door slam, a shotgun being fired, dogs barking and the sound of our feet breaking every twig in our path… I turned to see if anyone or thing was behind me and that’s when I tripped over something and fell. It suddenly became quiet. I looked up and saw this blue mist rolling toward me like fog. I clicked on my flashlight and saw what I had stumbled over. It was a small tombstone, however there was not just one tombstone, there were hundreds of them…I stumbled to my feet and tried to move but something had me…”
“It’s said that he loved his wife so much that after she died young, he placed her in a glass casket, and surrounded her with blue lights because blue was her favorite color.”
“The lights returned, after his death, if someone tried to enter the house…”
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 Test (or “Tess”) 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 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.)
Find a Grave: Edward Test Skiles (1889-1964)
Hamlett, Ryan. “A Room With a View: The House of Blue Lights.” HistoricIndianapolis.com (2013)
Wikipedia. “The House of Blue Lights.”