by Jeremy D. Wells
(Note: This story originally ran in the June 25 issue of the Scioto Voice Newspaper.)
The Ohio River Valley is a region steeped in history and tradition, as well as myth, legend and mystery. From the Loveland Frog to Cornstalk’s curse, these stories connect us to place and to events, and help define who we are as residents of Appalachian southern Ohio. In this series we’ll be examining those stories. The ghost stories. The big cat sightings. The UFOs and Mothman and Bigfoot reports. The conspiracies and curses. We’ll be focusing on the immediate area in and around Scioto County; things close to home, or within a short day trip’s distance.
We’ll also be soliciting your input to expand on our stories. If you, or your parents or grandparents, have stories about hauntings, black panthers, or other interesting encounters, we want to hear about them. If you have photos of big cats, the Dunkinsville Angel image or anything else interesting, we want to see them. If you have a Devil Monkey or Bigfoot on your land, well, you should probably call in someone else to investigate. But let us know about it too!
River City Ghosts
Chris Woodyard, author of the popular Haunted Ohio series of books, once told me that she didn’t have as many ghost stories from river cities because they tended to be a little suspicious of outsiders. But a quick perusal of archived newspapers show that while they may be suspicious of outsiders, they weren’t always bashful about sharing their experiences with writers and journalist in the past. Often times these old news stories have to be taken with a grain of salt, though, as with the obviously dramatic tale from the March 2, 1897 issue of The Daily Times that conjures more codger than spectre as it describes the spirit of a deceased school teacher who “condemn(s) it all” as he looks around at the changes over the last 40 years before retreating back to his resting place in Greenlawn Cemetery. Others, however, aren’t so obviously fabricated. Take, for instance, the 1899 sightings of a ghostly child that had folks gathering at the end of Waller Street, in what was then referred to as Slabtown, hoping to catch a glimpse. As the Friday, May 5 edition of the paper explained, the ghost was believed to be that of a little girl who disappeared after a visit with her “old Aunt Bibbee, on Goose Island’. According to the story, “Charles Kirkendall, the barber, and John Minor claim to have seen the ghost at close quarters” and described it as resembling “a big bunch of mist” but with distinct facial features and eyes. When the duo approached it, however, they claimed that it “seemed to scatter and disappear”, gradually fading from view. The May 6 issue of the Portsmouth Blade, however, described the “phantom” as an adult male, possibly the “late Andrew Drennan”. The Blade’s description of events included the presence of ghostly noises, like the sound of oars splashing water and of a boat being drawn up onto the beach, as well as “queer, choking, gurgling sounds… as of someone drowning”, leading to speculation that the ghost was actually that of an unknown drowning victim. However, like the little girl, this spirit had a habit of fading from sight when confronted. The Waller Street spectre, or another, seemed to be back a few years later, as the Monday, July 8, 1901 issue of The Daily Times related the claims of Pearl Judd and Ross Guthrey who “claim(ed) to have seen a strange object along the river bank at the foot of Waller Street” at around 5 o’clock the evening before (Sunday). According to the witnesses they were walking in the direction of the river “when suddenly a white object arose before their eyes”, growing in size as they continued to stare at it. They claimed this though, instead of looking like a young girl in the previous sighting, had the appearance of a “man garbed in white”. However, like with the vision sighted by Messrs Kirkendall and Minor, this spirit too disappeared as they moved in for a closer view. Despite circling the sawmill in hopes it might reappear the duo was unable to spot it again. Interestingly, in this case the Times noted that while Guthrey was “superstitious” and believed they had seen a ghost, Judd remained unconvinced of what he had witnessed.
Other local spirit reports include the May 29, 1901 report (The Daily Times) of a Mrs. Joe Sisler who vacated her “Basham property, near the Wait’s Cabinet Works” after only a week, convinced that “ghosts inhabited the house” after experiencing a number of odd incidents, including being awakened by noises, having sheets “fly from the beds” chairs rock of their own accord and windows rattled, culminating with Sisler’s sighting of the ghost which “addressed her and then disappeared as mysteriously as it came.” Despite having previously “scoffed at the very idea” of ghosts, Sisler took no chances and moved her family back to their previous home on Bond Street.
The Daily Times also reported a spate of ghost sightings in September of 1905. The first, from September 18, reports a ghost haunting the area outside the home of the late Leander Noel, leaving his widow “almost in a state of collapse” with tricks that included pelting the home with pebbles and rocks at night. The September 26 issue told the story of the East Ninth Street ghost which “sets boards to walking”, sending them “careen(ing) against the rear of a house with such force as to awaken the neighborhood from its midnight slumbers.” This haunting, which began during a renovation of the boarding house of Mrs. Alice Wymer, would fit the image of spectres upset by changes to their environment championed by many modern ghost hunters. Mrs. Wymer, however, blamed it on opportunistic troublemakers taking advantage of the renovations and attempting to ruin her business by leading “the credulous (to) believe her house is haunted”.
Reports of this sort continued throughout the early years of the 20th century, with the June 4, 1910 edition of The Daily Times reporting that the “Woman in black (was) again visible” at the 71 East Fourth Street home of Mrs. George Turvey. The story relates how, having seen the spectre the previous evening a large crowd gathered at the home, hoping to catch another glimpse. However the spirit chose not to reveal itself until around 9:30, about a half an hour after the bulk of those assembled had departed for the evening, when Mrs. Turvey, Mrs. Williams, and Mrs. William’s daughter saw the ghost suspended in the air over the home of Mrs. Gertrude Carter, just south of the Turvey residence, causing the younger Williams to explode into hysterics.
A more lighthearted spirit was reported in the December 28, 1912 issue, describing a Christmas evening visitation by a spirit that chose that night to begin playing on the organ in the family home of Mr. Charles Terrell, at 1401 High Street. Despite looking for pranksters, they were unable to locate any, and when they tried to press the keys of the organ themselves, they were unable to produce any sound, but continued to hear the sounds of the ghostly organ music, even after beginning to disassemble the organ. “All told,” the Daily Times noted, “eight different persons have heard the organ play (besides the Terrell family), and none can offer any explanation for it.”
So, as a quick perusal of the archives show us, the history of ghost stories from this area is a rich one. What stories have you heard? What legends are you curious about?