On the corner of Mulberry and Southeast in downtown Evansville, right across the street from the much more imposing First Presbyterian Church, sits the humble Penny Lane Coffeehouse. Constructed all the way back in 1886, the small Italianate brick structure has served many purposes over the past 137 years; drugstore, sundries shop, and consignment store just to name a few. These days, many people who frequent the area know Penny Lane for its fine espressos and breakfast sandwiches. What most don’t know, however, is that the building has a history of paranormal activity.

            It’s just one of the many places that Rocky Brown has investigated as part of his upcoming book, Haunted Evansville.

            For context, Rocky Brown is an author who has been interested in the otherworldly from the moment he learned to read. “I took to reading really young. I didn’t have any siblings or anything like that,” he said when asked about his background. “I was a four-year-old kid reading Goosebumps books, and then Stephen King later on. It was just something to do.”

            Eventually, Brown’s interest in spooky literature evolved into a desire to write his own works. As any aspiring writer will know, the beginning wasn’t easy. He sent samples of his writing to countless publishers and got pretty used to hearing the word “no”. Eventually, however, his perseverance paid off, and he got a call from a publisher who liked his material and wanted him to write for them. Haunted Evansville is part of Brown’s recent three-book deal with another publisher, The History Press.

            The locations in Brown’s upcoming book include well-known spots like the Reitz Home, as well as more obscure places like the former David J. Mackey house, the latter of which Brown himself has a personal connection to. After all, he lived there for a time once the house was divided into apartments. “I can remember going to bed and finding things rearranged when I woke up the next morning. That was pretty weird, considering I lived by myself at the time.” According to newspaper archives, David J. Mackey was a prominent Evansville businessman in the late 1800s who outlived many of his family members. He became so stricken with grief and loneliness in his later years that he was committed to Evansville State Hospital, which was an insane asylum at the time. If Brown’s experiences are anything to go off of, perhaps Mackey may not have wanted to leave his home after all.

While writers can sometimes find themselves lacking motivation to finish a big project, Brown is seasoned enough to know how to stay on track. “I write every day,” he said. “Even if it’s just a paragraph, I’ll write that one paragraph. As long as you’re pushing ahead, that’s what’s important. You gotta keep momentum, because if you don’t, it becomes something you dread having to do.”

            Still, piecing together a work that’s over a hundred pages long is not an easy task, and Haunted Evansville has proven to be no exception. Due to the relative obscurity of the subject matter, information can be hard to find – and those who have it aren’t always willing to give it up. In one instance, Brown had to get creative when gathering info for one of the historic neighborhoods he wanted to feature in the book; he could not go there himself because one of the guides who gave tours of the neighborhood wasn’t happy with him. Supposedly, that particular tour guide had actually wanted to pitch the same book idea to the same publisher, but Brown “beat them to the punch.” Upon learning of this, the tour guide refused to talk to him, and so he asked his assistant to go on the tour in his place and take notes.

            Unfortunately, the troubles didn’t end there. Brown secured a working relationship with one of Evansville’s libraries, mainly so that they could provide him with archived photos of the locations the book discusses. At first, the staff at the library were very helpful and exchanged emails with him in a timely fashion. However, the responses became slower over time, to the point where the book’s publish date had to be set back by several months. In fact, as of this writing, the only things Brown needs for his book are photos, which have proven even harder to obtain now that he no longer lives in Evansville.

            Luckily, not all aspects of the research process have been so rocky – pun intended. Brown and his assistant were able to interview many knowledgeable and willing people who are associated with the properties the upcoming book focuses on. One of those people is Vanessa Urban, a current resident of Penny Lane Coffeehouse’s upstairs apartments. After living there for over a year, she wasn’t surprised to find out that her home is thought to be haunted.

            “The lighting in this place is always acting up,” she said. “It wasn’t working the other day, and after only one pull, the brand new light chain snapped completely off. I’m not much of a believer in ghosts, but if one does live with me, they sure do like the dark.”

            While the world of the paranormal will always have its skeptics, Brown is passionate about the subject and he’s confident in his work. He urges all aspiring writers to have faith in their own material, regardless of what they write. “Keep everything that you’ve got, even if it’s just a chapter from a throwaway thing that you don’t ever want to finish,” he said, chuckling. “Treat it like yesterday’s ham sandwich. Even if it sucks, you should still hang onto it. Look at it from time to time, and ask yourself how hungry you are.”

Haunted Evansville is part of the Haunted America series, a collection of books published by The History Press that focuses on the paranormal history of several American cities. The book is currently scheduled to be released by the end of 2023.

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