Lost Brooklyn: The Buffalo Soldier’s House

February 21, 2017

This article by Dr. Tim Gilmore of jaxpsychogeo.com examines the history of one of the last surviving American Civil War era structures in urban Jacksonville.

Paul remembers when Old Mrs. Linder sat on her plastic deck chair on 328’s concrete porch early in the evening. Paul learned Brooklyn, selling papers, walking each block, and knocking on every door. Though he furrows his brow, presses his closed lips back against his teeth, he can’t remember much about Old Mrs. Linder. She was one more delicate old woman, paper-thin blue-black skin bulging with the veins in her arms and hands, who sat on her front porch early each evening in Brooklyn.

Each night waxes. Houses wane. Sighs caught in old crackerwood corners exhale when a house catches right in the night, exuding its long-clogged ghosts and inaccessible childhood memories.

“Here’s what you need to understand about houses and seasons,” says Les Paul Garner, whose mother Vivian named him for the guitarist and inventor whose early electric guitars helped create rock n’ roll and named Paul’s sister Brenda Lee for the singer who recorded the 1958 single “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

Paul stands in the deep yard behind the last Buffalo Soldier’s house and says, “Houses live their own lives, like the people who live in them do.”

It’s easy to assume 328 Chelsea, all 770 square feet, has nothing left to offer a Brooklyn mostly vanished. The house first appears on a municipal map in 1885, though it could’ve been built as early as the late 1860s. It stands like the past beaten repeatedly and left for dead long ago.

“A house can be boarded up for years,” Paul says, “and it seems uninhabitable. But all you have to do is live in the house and it returns to its human-shaped life.”

These houses fluctuate with the seasons. The floors sink and lean. The exterior shape of the old house holds, though the living space within lurches across its century with the land and the water that runs underneath it.

“You close up an old house,” Paul says. “The floors tilt. The doorjambs and windowsills swell. After years of its living alone, if you move in, slowly the house opens up. Anyone who’s ever moved into an old house after years of its abandonment knows what I mean.”

He pauses, a grin carries his whole kind face, he looks to the side, shakes his head, then nods toward the Last Buffalo Soldier’s House.

“When people move back into a house,” he says, “the house comes back to life.”

Article by Tim Gilmore of Jax Psycho Geo. Tim Gilmore is the author of Devil in the Baptist Church: Bob Gray's Unholy Trinity (2016), Central Georgia Schizophrenia (2016), The Mad Atlas of Virginia King (2015), Ghost Story / Love Song (2015), In Search of Eartha White (2014), The Ocean Highway at Night (2014), Stalking Ottis Toole: A Southern Gothic (2013), Doors in the Light and the Water: The Life and Collected Work of Empty Boat (2013), This Kind of City: Ghost Stories and Psychological Landscapes (2012) and Ghost Compost: Strange Little Stories, illustrated by Nick Dunkenstein (2013). He is the creator of Jax Psycho Geo (www.jaxpsychogeo.com). His two volumes of poetry are Horoscopes for Goblins: Poems, 2006-2009 and Flights of Crows: Poems, 2002-2006. His audio poetry album Waiting in the Lost Rooms is available at http://eat-magazine.bandcamp.com/album/waiting-in-the-lost-rooms. He teaches at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He is the organizer of the Jax by Jax literary arts festival. www.jaxbyjax.com

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