Skiles Test Nature Park39.868055, -86.048551
The urban legend of Skiles Test inspired Susan Neville’s In the House of Blue Lights.
6828 Fall Creek Road
Indianapolis, IN 46220
“Blue” in In the House of Blue Lights
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.
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 Meaning; Twilight in Arcadia; Iconography: A Writer’s Meditation; Butler’s Big Dance; Sailing 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 O’Connor 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 www.susan-neville.com.
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
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:
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.”