Come on over for a game of Ghost in the Graveyard

Come on over for a game of Ghost in the Graveyard

Big news in the neighborhood.

I was walking home after dropping my daughter off at school one morning and absentmindedly looked across the street at a house that’s been on the market since August 2010.

Then I did a double take. Was there actually a “SOLD” sign out front?

This house has sat vacant and dark for a year and a half, other than a brief period when it was rented. In my mind, it was a magnet for Blog Photovandals and thieves — not to mention a drag on home values in the neighborhood.

The owner moved out West in the midst of the housing crash, and judging by the open-house traffic, buyers have been scarce.

But home sales are stronger this spring, up 19 percent in March over a year ago, according to figures from the Champaign County Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Service. Apparently this house got swept up in a buying trend.

As I stood gaping on the sidewalk, I blurted out to no one in particular, “It’s sold?” To my surprise, a voice answered, “Yes!” I hadn’t noticed the Realtor out front.

My first thought was gratitude that someone would finally be living there, and that the local housing market might be on the mend.

Then came the inevitable question: Who bought it?

To my relief, she said it was a young couple, who planned to live there rather than rent it out.

Before you landlords get all huffy, let me explain.

We live in an older section of town that’s a mixture of owner-occupied and rental housing — some with absentee landlords who bought property in this college town as an investment. Not all of them are the best property managers.

You know the signs: couch on the porch, doors hanging off the hinges, yard completely overgrown (wait, just remembered a little saying about people in glass houses).

I find it dismaying. In the absence of mountains or beaches, older neighborhoods are one of Champaign-Urbana’s gems.

I have nothing against renters or college students; I was both at one point in my life.

And we’ve had some great neighbors who were renters, mostly graduate students or young families of all stripes. One woman loved playing ball with my kids and practically let them adopt her cat.

But they tend to stay a year or two at most. And other tenants move in who aren’t always so friendly.

Then there were the neighbors who liked to have mega-parties at 3 in the morning, complete with cars parked all over the street, throbbing music and lots of people shouting (just to make sure my babies woke up). I honestly thought there was a big street brawl the first time I heard one, but apparently it was all in fun.

I don’t mind parties. On warm nights, with the windows open, we’re close enough to downtown that we can hear the music at local nightclubs.

But when you have a family, you want a family neighborhood. That is not a euphemism for a particular kind of family. We deliberately did not choose a suburban neighborhood because we wanted to be in an older, more diverse part of town — mature trees, homes with character, walking distance to school and work, the whole package.

We also want our children to be able to walk outside and find someone to play with, the way their friends do who live in more homogenous neighborhoods. But children have been a bit scarce on our block. Several families we befriended have moved away, and other homes have young singles or empty nesters.

Several years ago, when a nice young couple moved out of another nearby house, I secretly prayed that a family with kids would buy it. We ended up with wonderful neighbors who have a son who’s just a bit younger than our kids. Meanwhile, another friend moved in down the block with a boy who’s about the same age as our son.

Fairly regularly, especially when we have other kids over, they gather at our house for an impromptu game of Ghost in the Graveyard (also popularly known as Bloody Murder). Apparently nothing says fun like running around in the dark, hiding and scaring each other.

I love those nights and wish that our neighborhood was teeming with children all the time. Well, most of the time.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the new neighbors will bring along some kids — or at least won’t mind other children chasing each other through their yard on summer nights.


Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226 or, or follow her at

Photo: A 'sold' sign graces a house in our neighborhood that's been vacant for almost two years. I think a selling point was the friendly neighborhood cat. Julie Wurth/The News-Gazette





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Christine des Garennes wrote on April 24, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Yeah for neighborhood night games!

rachamim wrote on April 25, 2012 at 11:04 am

At one point we had planned on looking at this very house, until it sold only a few days before we were going to set up a viewing. Ironically, one of the factors in us moving away from this neighborhood--this STREET, actually--was that our neighbors' children were too noisy and disrespectful of our personal boundaries.

It's important to note that not everyone (and particularly not all neighborhood parents) has the same idea of what a good neighborhood should look like, even when they do live on the same block.

Julie Wurth wrote on April 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm
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That can be tricky. I've learned to be firm with kids about boundaries (keeping the play outside when necessary, being honest about whether it's a good time for them to come over, etc.). And I would expect others to do the same with my kids. It helps when you get along with the parents, too, and you have the same general values.

I hope you find a neighborhood that fits you!

Mike Zeidler wrote on April 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm

You seem like a nice person, so I'd like to point out that yes, it is incredibly rude to ask the neighbors when they're having children.  What if they can't have kids for medical reason? What if they just would rather enjoy their free time and incomes?

"When you have a family, you want a family neighborhood" - Children do not a family make. 

We don't have any kids, nor do we want any, but my wife is singlehandedly trying to pull this neighborhood together through a variety of block parties and fun family and kid friendly activities.  She is a bleedin' saint and if a lack of children somehow makes us less desirable neighbors despite our massive community involvment, perhaps yours is not the neighborhood we want to be a part of either.

Julie Wurth wrote on April 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm
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Thanks for the comment. The headline was meant to be tongue-in-cheek -- I'd never ask someone that! :)

And of course we love our neighbors who don't have children. We'd just like to see a few more kids around for our children to play with. My comments about a family neighborhood were mostly directly at the students and renters who come and go and don't really get invested in the neighborhood. As I pointed out, we did become friends with many of them, too, but they tend to move away fairly quickly.

I applaud your wife's efforts to bring the neighborhood together! I was just talking with one of our friends who lives nearby about a block party this summer. And we have some great neighbors who host a July 4 party every year just to get the block together, which has really helped us get to know other neighbors even better (with or without children).




rachamim wrote on April 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm

You probably did not intend for this conversation to become quite so contentious, but indeed it seems that you are backing off from the original sentiments of the post. To me, it reads that what you are looking for in a neighborhood (or neighbor, even!) is the ideal for YOU (homogeneity). As someone with a child, I do find this incredibly polarizing and frankly the entire thing does read as a euphemism for that particular kind of family that you alluded to but are not trying to implicate yourself in wanting.

I am glad that we did find a neighborhood that suits us; I think that it helps to live in a neighborhood that accepts hetereogenity in all regards as a fact of city dwelling.

HouseTalkN wrote on April 30, 2012 at 9:04 pm
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It has been a great spring to see so many "Sold" signs. It is always exciting to meet the new neighbors! 

Clearly, your headline was "tongue in cheek" and you were very clear: "But when you have a family, you want a family neighborhood. That is not a euphemism for a particular kind of family. We deliberately did not choose a suburban neighborhood because we wanted to be in an older, more diverse part of town — mature trees, homes with character, walking distance to school and work, the whole package."

Thank you for sharing YOUR perspective. It is lovely and I would be thrilled to be your neighbor.



Local wrote on May 01, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Considering this article came out during National Infertility Awareness Week ( the headline is offensive, in poor taste, and represents irresponsible journalism. Backpedaling (“it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek”) after the fact is not an acceptable response. The headline should be changed, an apology issued, and perhaps sensitivity training offered to NG “journalists”. Was this the same headline used for the print version of this article?

Julie Wurth wrote on May 01, 2012 at 2:05 pm
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have changed the headline back to the one that was originally in the print version. I thought it was clear it was NOT something you'd ask a new neighbor, but obviously I didn't think it through. I'm sorry for any hurt it caused.

Without getting too personal, suffice it to say we have dealt with this issue ourselves, and the last thing I'd want to do is bring pain to anyone struggling with infertility.

Jen C wrote on May 01, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Yes, and everyone knew it was National Infertility Week...seriously?  How about we have a "National Bitter and Bored week" for those who don't have a sense of humor or better things to do with their time. Don't you think your response was a bit harsh?  I mean, this is an article about what SHE wants in a family isn't a way to dig into the hearts of people who can't have children.  The title was an obvious "tongue in cheek"....only someone like myself would actually ask that question!  AND, as a person who has fertility issues, I wouldn't be offended at all if someone asked me if I was planning a family. Cut her some is a light hearted story about HER version of happiness in HER neighborhood...If you really need something to do...I hear they are bringing the Chief back!  Go get em!

Marty wrote on May 01, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Is it wrong to ask the new neighbors when they plan to have children?


Yes, it's none of your business.

BeT wrote on May 26, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Wow, it's sad to think one can't have this sort of piece without someone taking offense!

Having seen "Avenue Q" last weekend, my thought is -- we all have our sensitivities as well as our unintended offenses. I think it would be a better world if we don't feel compelled to speak up over slight offenses. (Save it for more serious ones!) Just a thought ..