PROFILE 2013: Strange Stories

Published 1:56 pm Thursday, February 28, 2013

Newspapers once focused on supernatural happenings


Sightings of the supernatural, accompanied by the roasting of marshmallows and the gentle chirping of crickets, make for good campfire stories, but in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, those stories made headlines in Lawrence County’s newspapers.

From mysterious women haunting local homes and strange apparitions floating on the water, to sinister houses and unidentified remains, these are just a few of the strange stories that made the news.

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The Fatal House

From The Ironton Register, Jan. 12, 1871

One Ironton Register reporter told a story of a house believed to have ill intentions for some of its residents.

Within the span of four or five years, several unusual deaths happened in a room of a long brick house on the corner of Sixth and Olive (now Park Avenue) streets.

A man named only as Razor was the first to die a mysterious death. He was said to have died simply of a “sore hand that was not thought dangerous.”

Next, a man named Ostenmyer hung himself in the same room. Then, a man named Joe Weitz died in the same room from injuries sustained from being run over by a wagon.

A few days before the article was written, another man, by the name of Jacob Coalhouse, also fell victim to the Fatal House.

It was said Coalhouse rose from bed to light a fire and then returned to bed. Later, his wife called for him. Not getting an answer, she went to his bed, where he was found dead.

“The feeling is getting current that it is unlucky to live there and that spirits from the other world have blasted the apartment,” the reporter wrote.


Ghosts About

From The Ironton Register, June 27, 1867

The Ironton Register reported on a few unusual sightings of a spirit who appeared to young women living in an East Ironton home. The sightings were always at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, leading the reporter of the article to call the specter “most unghostly.”

Yet those who saw the ghost were scared so severely that they never returned to the home.

The ghost was that of a young nude woman, blood dripping from gashes all over her body.

The first reported sighting of the spirit was by two women who saw the bloody ghost at the top of the stairs. A few days later the ghost appeared again at the same time and place. The women were so frightened the family moved from the home.

The next family that moved in also experienced sightings. The ghost appeared to another young woman in the home, once again at the same time and at the top of the stairs.

The woman was frightened but her friends ridiculed her so much that she dismissed the incident.

A few days later, the bloody woman appeared, scaring the young girl again, but this time she fell down the stairs.

It was said that she was almost literally scared to death.

The woman was taken from the home to recover from her shock and injuries. She never returned to the house.

The article concluded by saying, “It has been unexceptionably the case heretofore, that characters like the one above mentioned, and ghosts generally made their appearance in the night. There is talk sometimes of ghosts revisiting the glimpses of the moon, but of the sun — never.

“We sincerely suggest to those directly concerned in this affair to arrest the goblin the next time it appears, and prosecute it for vagrancy or immediately procure the passage of an ordinance, making it unlawful for ghosts to run at large.”


Letter to the editor

From The Ironton Register, Oct. 20, 1873

In a short letter to the editor, a farmer, identified only as “One Who Saw It,” wrote about a ghost who regularly visited a man and his family who lived in a house on the farm of Turner Kemp. The farmer also warned the Ironton Register that the ghost may pay the editor a visit as well.

Sometimes, the farmer penned, the ghost only visited the man’s wife. Other times, the ghost was seen by the entire family, as well as neighbors. The farmer himself said he, too, saw the spirit.

“Although I have been taught to disbelieve such things, I must confess that the evidence in this case is so strong that I am forced to admit it a fact,” he wrote.

“The first time I saw it, it was just in the dusk of the evening, as I was returning from the field. It started up from near the fence and flitted along, till it came to the house, and then disappeared rather suddenly.”

After his first encounter with the ghost, the farmer said he began to see it more, in broad daylight and after dark and with no particular schedule.

“I heard from a reliable source that it had been seen in the courthouse yard last Saturday evening. The last sighting of it was at a small house in East Ironton,” the farmer wrote.

“So. Mr. Editor, it may, someday, take a notion to walk into your sanctum.”


Levi’s Ghost

From The Ironton Register, Dec. 2, 1884

A late-night visit from a mysterious woman left one Ironton man shaking in his nightclothes.

A story in the Ironton Register told the strange tale of Levi Adams, a night watchman trying to rest his weary bones in his bunk at the office of Davis’ livery stable.

A knock on the office door woke Adams and he went to investigate.

A woman, “nicely dressed, had on a gold watch and chain, wore a fine cloak, and bore every evidence of respectability,” was waiting at the door. She needed Adams to lend her a lamp so she could see in the dark.

Adams followed her around the stable while the woman felt along the brick wall.

“Twelve years ago, a man who hired a horse and buggy at this stable concealed some rare valuables behind a brick in this wall,” the woman was to have said. “They are here yet, wrapped in a blue silk handkerchief, and the brick is marked with a X made with a shoe buttoner. You were here then.”

Adams tried to deny the fact that he had been employed at the stable, but the woman seemed to know he had been there for 14 years.

The article concluded, saying, “Levi felt very uncomfortable and told the woman he would not stay there any longer, and so the strange visitor left, saying, however, that she would be back again, and solemnly warning Levi that silence on his part would prove advisable. But Levi hopes she won’t return.”


Ironton Woman’s Spirit Appeared

From the Semi-Weekly Irontonian, Nov. 8, 1907

In 1907, the spirit of an Ironton woman was said to appear at the baptism of an infant. If that wasn’t strange enough, the baptism wasn’t even performed in Ironton, but in Michigan.

Tom J. Finley, of St. Louis, Mo., originally from Lawrence County, told his story to the Michigan Daily Star of seeing his dead aunt Mary Hamilton at the baptism.

Not only did Finley see his departed aunt, but he also claimed the spirit spoke to him.

“Tom,” the ghost said. “We can’t realize that we were once innocent little babes like that, can we?”

Finley said he even introduced his aunt to those in attendance and she shook hands with everyone, “demonstrating a most beautiful demonstration.”

In his letter to the Daily Star, Finley concluded by saying, “Verily friends, there are stranger things in Heaven and Earth than we know of, all tending to establish the fact that there is only a thin veil between us.”


A skeleton: Ghastly find of excavators

From The Ironton Register, July 21, 1887

On a Saturday afternoon, in July 1887, workmen excavating dirt were startled by the discovery of human bones and a tattered boot, buried 12 feet below the surface.

“Bystanders viewed with peculiar emotions the fleshless fragments of a human form, and physicians in the neighborhood were called to confirm the opinion of all who saw them, that part of a human skeleton had been found,” the article said.

Rather than a tale of the supernatural, the story of the bones was explained days later by a local named only as Dr. Cory in the article, who at one time had a stable over the spot where the bones were found, near Third and Center streets.

Dr. Cory was a former postmaster of Ironton and also owned a small drug store near the site of where the bones were found. That was about 25 years prior to the discovery.

Dr. Cory explained that he found a corpse on the bank of the Ohio River, an unrecognizable man who had drowned in the river. Cory and a township trustee named E.J. Folwell carried the body up from near the East Ironton landing and buried it on a lot on upper Second Street, property owned by John McMahon.

“We had a great time keeping the matter quiet, but we succeeded quite admirably,” Cory said.

After the body was fully decomposed, Cory dug up the bones and put them in a box in his stable.

“Lots of people saw me digging, but thought I was doing yard work,” Cory said.

While the bones were kept in the stable, Cory said a man named Azro gave lectures on the skeleton, frightening local boys with the skull and a lighted candle.

The property was sold, but some of the bones remained in a box in the stable. A man named Ed Bixby recalled playing in the loft of stable with Will Gonder. Gonder would shout, “Look out now! He’ll catch you,” which sent Bixby up the ladder in terror.

Cory said he took the skull when he moved, but never took the rest.

The Gonder family had buried them, where they remained undisturbed until the excavators’ discovery. The bones were returned to the dirt near where they were found.

“That’s the history of the bones,” Cory said. “I hadn’t thought of them until this morning for many, many years, and indeed, you are the first person besides Folwell who ever knew where I got them.”


The ghost who did not appear

From the Semi-Weekly Irontonian, Aug. 23, 1907

In what seemed to be a highly anticipated event, hundreds of people gathered inside and out of the old log home of Mrs. Martha Price on Quincy Street to catch a glimpse of a ghost said to haunt the home.

The rain was falling heavily, but local experts said weather of the sort would not keep the spirit from attending the meeting, “for ghosts are said to be partial to wet, dark, nights”

The Rev. Kier, a former slave and leader of the Rescue Mission Church, said he had seen the ghost and called it a “spirit messenger.” Price and her mother, as well as others, had also reported seeing the mysterious spirit.

Kier said, “that the spirit came right out of the floor Tuesday night, in the center of the room where there was not even a hole or crack. At first it could scarcely be seen, but it gradually assumed the shape of a human form without visible hands or feet. He said that just before the head could be formed on the neck of the spirit being, someone made a noise and the form vanished as suddenly as it came. He said that just before the ghost disappeared, someone behind him gave him a push and he put his hand before him to prevent his falling too suddenly against the strange visitor, but lo and behold, his hand shot past the white form as if there was nothing there.”

Kier and his flock met at the Price home for singing and a prayer service and in hopes of communicating with the ghost. People piled into the rooms of the home, skeptical of the haunting.

“Five hundred people, some in automobiles, some in buggies, but the majority of them on foot, were in the neighborhood of the haunted house shortly before 8:00, the hour set for the meeting of the Rescue Mission workers to begin. The crowd began to assemble shortly after supper and by the time the rain set in, which drove the majority of them to seek shelter and for the time being, give up hopes of seeing the ghost, the street was blocked with people and it required the combined efforts of Officers Higgins and Tate to keep the more venturesome and unbelieving from forcing open the doors of the house and seeing for themselves what there was in the stories current concerning the strange sights to be seen therein.”

The ghost wasn’t seen by anyone that night and the reporter gave his own conjecture as to why.

“The crowd in the front room and those standing in the rain on the outside looking into the windows kept up such a racket that no ghost with a grain of self respect would ever think of showing itself.”

Despite the ghost’s absences, Kier said he would continue to meet with his congregation at the house, “until he can see the ghost again and have a talk with it and find out if possible what its reason is for coming back to earth.”

Two years later, the newspaper reported the log home was being torn down, with the logs to be used to build other homes.

A man named John McDowell supervised the project was said to have done the work “without fear. But then, he is working during the day, and spooks never appear until after the shades of night have fallen.”

The article went on to say, “It remains to be seen what revenge the ghosts will take on McDowell for his disturbing their place of meeting.”


Another Ghost

From the Semi-Weekly Irontonian, Aug. 23, 1907

“Are the ghosts holding convention in Ironton or are so many things happening here just by accident?”

That was the question posed to newspaper readers after Ironton residents Frank Brown and Mr. and Mrs. Chas. Winkle saw a mysterious visitor on the Ohio River bank hear the former Palace Hotel site.

Just days before, a man named Wilburn Hall reported seeing a ghost in the Klondike building on South Third Street. Other sightings were reported in the neighborhood of Seventh and Quincy streets.

Brown’s ghost, he reported, was a man dressed all in white, and had been first seen by his neighbors, the Winkles.

Brown said the Winkles were so frightened at what they saw that they called him to take a look.

“When (Brown) started over to get a closer view of it, it disappeared as mysteriously as it had come,” the report said.

There was some conjecture of who the spirit may have been.

Some thought the ghost was the spirit of a man form West Virginia who went to sleep on the train tracks in front of the depot and, while waiting for the train, he was run over and killed.

Another man, reported as mean for even suggesting his idea, said the ghost was the spirit of Engineer Potter, coming back to haunt the members of the Board of Public Service.