It’s called the John Lawson House, located near the New Hamburg train station in New York, and it’s impressive for a few reasons.
First, it’s a really old house, built in 1845. Second – and here’s the “Man Bites Dog” angle – several life-sized female mannequins can be found on the front porch, in different positions and wearing different clothes, each day. No has ever been spotted arranging the figures; they seem to retire in the house without notice at the Main Street Historic District, in which the house is one of six properties.
And, third, there’s even a haunting back story included. During a two-week cold snap in 1871, a train crashed only 200 feet from the house, instantly killing 22 people. Many speculate that the dolls are always pointing towards that crash site. The home was also one of a small handful that survived a massive fire on the block; the other historical house in the area has been abandoned long ago.
Everything about this place seems tailor-made to spark the spookier elements of your imagination. We are evolved to respond immediately to objects with a human likeness; 100,000 years ago objects didn’t look human unless they actually were human. Although we’ve learned to treat mannequins and dolls as mere objects, it isn’t hard to notice that spark of fellowship with these objects after a moment of “what if” consideration.
The John Lawson House mannequins often seem to be clutching a range of random objects, including books, towels, brushes, birdcages and overflowing cups of potpourri.
Well, this place is getting more and more attention. At some point, you have to think, enough tourists will keep a close enough eye to nab the person who’s setting up these scenes. Once you get past the idea these objects that look like women, complete with different hairstyles/wigs, are not autonomous beings – that someone is devoted to the illusion every day – your mind enters an entirely new realm of the bizarre.
If there ever was one, this smells like an art project to me.