Skiles Test Nature Park39.868055, -86.048551

Susan Neville

The urban legend of Skiles Test inspired Susan Neville’s In the House of Blue Lights.


Susan Neville
b. 1951

Literary Inspiration


Published 1998


6828 Fall Creek Road
Indianapolis, IN 46220

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“Blue” in In the House of Blue Lights

Susan Neville

Some of this my grandfather told me. He was eccentric, and I suppose he thought that if he made it all seem understandable to me I would pass the story along to my friends and they would tell their friends and so on. It makes sense, it’s nothing, he hoped I’d say to every teenage boy in the city. She was an ordinary woman, not a ghost. He had no idea that as a ghost was to a boy, a boy was to me. I was terrified of them. He had no idea that I never mentioned I even knew the strange man who lived in the house of blue lights, let alone that he was my grandfather. It was part of growing up in my city to climb the iron fence to his house, looking for the ghost in the blue glass coffin or, eventually, the large white dog.


As a teenager growing up on the northeast side of Indianapolis, I heard both the phrase “The House of Blue Lights” as well as stories about lovers’ lanes and brave boys who climbed over the fence to get close to it. Most of the “parking” sites for making out in northeast Washington and Lawrence townships were of course close to Fall Creek and Geist—dark, almost rural sites. And with that darkness came the fear that at any moment a policeman might drive by and shine a flashlight in your car. An area of the city that filled with mystery and risk had to have its own urban legend, and “The House of Blue Lights” fit the bill. I never saw it, actually. The story was just part of the mystery of being young. When I thought about it as an adult writer, I did research into both the legend and the truth, and this story tries to fill in the hidden places between them.

—Susan Neville

Skiles Test inherited his family’s home and 81-acre farm in 1901 upon the passing of his father, Charles Test. Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, urban legends began to spread throughout the city alleging that Skiles Test kept the body of his deceased wife displayed in a glass coffin surrounded by blue lights and that the property was home to a haunted pet cemetery. As a result, it was common for trespassers to climb the fence, trying to catch a glimpse of ghosts or the infamous blue lights.

Upon his death in 1964, Skiles Test willed the large property to the city of Indianapolis for use as a park.

Susan Neville is the author of six works of creative nonfiction: Fabrication: Essays on Making Things and Making MeaningTwilight in ArcadiaIconography: A Writer’s MeditationButler’s Big DanceSailing the Inland Sea; and Light. Her collections of short fiction and hybrid fiction include The Town of Whispering Dolls, winner of the Catherine Doctorow Prize for Innovative Fiction; In the House of Blue Lights, winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize; Invention of Flight, winner of the Flannery OConnor Award for Short Fiction; and Indiana Winter. Neville lives in Indianapolis and teaches writing at Butler University and in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. Learn more about Susan at


Indianapolis is a place that inspires creativity. This is one of a dozen original pieces of visual and performing art created by Hoosier artists inspired by Bookmark Indy authors.

ElizaBeth Guipe Hall

In the House of Blue Lights
Encaustic collage
Elizabeth’s Instagram

Photographs, plat maps and text from Susan Neville’s In the House of Blue Lights are juxtaposed and overlap within artist Elizabeth Guipe Hall’s work inspired by the novel. Hall’s process, which she calls encaustic collage, captures the layers of content in molten beeswax, which, like an urban legend, leaves them eternally suspended in both space and time. 

skiles test nature park

6828 Fall Creek Road
Indianapolis, IN 46220


Closest IndyGo Stop:

Shadeland Avenue & Fall Creek Road (Route 4) 


How to Plan a Trip on IndyGo:  

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The podcast Naptown, Season One: Dan Wakefield with host Susan Neville features interviews between Susan and Dan. Listen here.

Tune in to part 1 of Words and Music from WQRT and Big Car as they explore the life and work of Indiana writers. Susan Neville, Adrian Matejka, Kevin McKelvey, and Jim Walker discuss the beauty and challenges of Indiana through the lens of William Gass’s 1968 story, “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country.”

Report Back.

Read the location passage. What questions would you ask the author? What would help you understand the author's viewpoint?

Added TEXTure.

Writing is about more than just words. Look around to discover what textures are most prevalent in this place. Do a texture rubbing using a piece of paper and a crayon or pencil.

In the Margins.

What inspires you most about this place? Draw a quick doodle of it in the margin of one of your books.

Found sound.

Walk around the location and record the sounds of surroundings. Did what you hear depend on what time you visited?

Backward / Forward.

Cities change—what did your location look like in 1920? What will it look like in 2120?


Find another perspective by walking to a different spot around this location. Do you notice anything new? Which of your five senses notices a change first?

Strike a Prose.

Write a short passage describing how this place inspires you.

Love Letter / BreakUp Letter.

Think about your relationship with the place you’re visiting or perhaps with your own neighborhood. Is it time to commit? Or time to let go? Write a letter as if you’re speaking directly to the place you have in mind.

Field Notes.

Explore your stream of consciousness by writing down every thought that enters your mind.