Thirty-one Frights of Halloween

Tis the season to be frightened! At this time of the year when the veil between the two worlds is thin, one can’t help but be drawn to tales of ghosts, haunted houses, and the unexplained. Stories that we know can’t be true, but then again...the possibilities are chilling! After all, science may not be able to prove that ghosts exist, but they have yet to prove that they DON’T. So, in an effort to personalize your Halloween, here is a daily dose of spooky things that go bump in the night, and in the sky for that matter. Thirty-one frights of Halloween!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Mystery Lights of Ellettsville

On Union Valley Road, just outside of Ellettsville, Indiana, is the old Wampler Cemetery. This dilapidated cemetery, consisting of thirteen gravestones from the mid-1800’s, is the site of a curious phenomenon known as the “Mystery Lights.” Quite often, in the darkness of night, mysterious light orbs can be seen moving across the cemetery, bouncing from one ancient gravestone to the next. There is no rhyme or reason to their pattern, and no consistency in their glow. Regardless of whether there’s a full moon, new moon, or overcasted sky, the light orbs simply appear, dance about, then disappear.

There’s no questioning the fact that there are light orbs dancing around the cemetery. Too many people have seen and photographed the phenomenon. The mystery is what causes them. Car lights would be the obvious culprit, but light sightings were reported before the advent of the automobile. Then there’s the matter of geometry. The cemetery lies quite a few yards off a straight and level rural road. The simple act of driving along the road will not cause car lights to flash in the cemetery.

Science-minded people claim the lights are simply a trick of Mother Nature, like electrical atmospheric charges generated by the shifting and grinding of rocks deep below the earth’s surface, or the illumines residue of decaying organic matter also known as the will-o’-the-wisp or swamp gas. However, the cemetery doesn’t lie in a swamp. Of course an innocent critter could be to blame—fireflies, the white plumage of barn owls, or the flipped up tails of deer—but that would be insulting the intelligence of the witnesses.   

Then there’s my favorite explanation, that maybe, just maybe, the lights have a conscious and spiritual intent. Perhaps they are the lost souls of ones long since forgotten, dancing in the moonlight in remembrance of what their lives once were, lighting the way for those whose lives are yet to be, and warning others of what their lives are doomed to become. 

The residents of the area fondly view the Mystery Lights as their very own special enigma. For many years, locals and curious outsiders would flock to the area in hopes of catching a glimpse of this strange wonder. That is, until a cynical descendent of the Wampler family, who was not so romantic about such things, set out to determine the actual scientific cause of the so-called mystery lights.  After spending a night in the family cemetery, he concluded that a small piece of broken glass, embedded in a tree surrounding the site, was reflecting the light of the moon and thus creating the so called mystery lights.  Mystery solved!  Or was it?         

This supposed piece of glass has long since disappeared, the mystery lights have not.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Girl in the Window

Can spirits and ghosts be photographed? Many believe that yes, they can, if the conditions are right and the spirit is willing. After all, it has been proven that any type of camera, including digital and video, can capture images normally not seen by the naked eye, such as dust falling, normal light distortions, and nearly transparent haze. It stands to reason that if electro-magnetic spirit energies do exist, then cameras should be able to capture these images also. Spiritual photography has been around since 1861, and while there are hundreds of double-exposed, tampered, and ill-taken spook photos, there are quite a few “real” ghost pictures that simply can not be explained away or the image recreated.

In April of 1997, a photographer for the Indianapolis Star took a picture of the historic Nicholson House as it was being moved from its original location in Valley Mills to a safer, less urban location near Southport. Shortly after the picture appeared in the newspaper, the Star received numerous calls from readers who saw the distinct image of a little girl looking out the upper window of the old house, and were certain that it was the photograph of a ghost. Upon reflection, the photographer vaguely remembered seeing a little girl watching the movers from the window, but didn’t pay much attention to her at the time or even think to question why a young girl would be in a moving structure.

The girl in the picture appears to be around 6 or 8 years old, with blond hair, and wearing a simple blue dress. Stories quickly circulated that the little girl must be the ghost of someone who had died in the home. An investigation into the house’s history shows no record of that happening. However, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Perhaps during the period from 1870-1903, when the Nicholson family built and lived in the home, or later, when the Rand family and their descendants owned it from 1903-1970’s, an incident happened that was hidden from society. During both those periods, an unwed pregnancy could tarnish and ruin a family’s status, as would a deformed or simple-minded child with special needs. Most of these children were abandoned or secretly handed over to an older married relative in a distant town. In some cases, for whatever reason, a family would chose to hide the child away, raising it in a secure, secret room and away from the judgmental eyes of the community. Unfortunately, in these conditions most of the children didn’t live very long, succumbing to improper medical treatment, negligent, or something more sinister. Is the house hiding a family secret that is trying to make itself known?

Perhaps, the little girl isn’t a family member. The house was abandoned in the 1970’s, and remained vacant until the late 1990’s, when it was rescued by the Historical Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. During those years of neglect, the house suffered from deterioration and abuse, and became the site of break-ins, vandalism, and illicit activities. The girl could very possibly have been a missing child from that period, a victim of foul play or a runaway.

The little girl is not the only unexplained haunt at the Nicholson House. Since the ghostly picture was printed, other stories have surfaced. At one time the house was used as a tenement, and reputedly a resident hung himself in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Paranormal investigators to the house have observed a light fixture moving in circles on its own and uncontrollably spikes on their EMF detectors in an upstairs bedroom. Another story claims the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and that a group of slaves had burned to death in the basement after a fire broke out and they were unable to escape. Many visitors claim to have heard muffled screams and sensed the unnerving smell of burnt flesh in the basement. However, there is no evidence to show that the house was ever part of the Underground Railroad system. What other sinister secrets could the house be hiding?

The Nicholson House is now listed as one of the top 10 most haunted places in America, by Haunted America. The house is located just outside of Indianapolis on private property and is not open to the public. However, since it sits along a main road, a very discrete, respectful drive-by shouldn’t disturb the occupants as long as you don’t loiter around and gawk. Ghosts don’t like to be gawked at.

Monday, October 1, 2012

And Then There was Norma

For many years I worked at a locally-owned, community bank in Ellettsville, Indiana. The bank building isn’t particularly old or ornate, just a simple concrete block structure built around 40 years ago, but it does have the interesting history of beginning life as a grocery store before evolving from a bean seller to bean counter. Yet, at this not very old, somewhat but not really interesting building, odd and unexplained incidents do seem to happen on a regular basis, witnessed not just by the employees but also the customers. I used to tease my co-workers that the ghost of a crazed meat cutter, from the building’s grocery days, was haunting the bank in search of his next blue light meat special. But, I soon learned that my silly, made-up ghost was nothing compared to the “real” spirit many believe haunts the building. The fact that Norma*, who passed away in the late 1970’s, had once been an actually employee of the bank with many friends still working there, makes her sad, tragic story even that much more unnerving.
This is Norma’s story as explained to me by her family and friends, and deduced from newspaper accounts:

Norma was born and raised in a traditional, middle-class, religious family. Her life was surreally ordinary—she made good grades, was active in the small community, sang in the church choir, and married her childhood sweetheart.

Being young and practical, the couple put off having children until they were able to afford a proper home. Her husband pursued work in construction. Norma got a job as a teller at the local bank.   

Life was good. Things were going as planned, when tragedy struck. First she suffered the loss of her parents when they both suddenly took ill and died within months of each other. Later that same year, her beloved sister moved overseas and out of reach. And then, the most unthinkable happened—Norma’s husband, her great love, died young and unexpectedly. Norma, for the first time in her life, was completely alone.

Desperate to fill the aching void in her heart, Norma fell for the first man to show her kindness, a married co-worker with questionable motives. What began as a friendship quickly turned into an affair, then into obsession. Norma simply could not bear to be left alone. She hounded the man day and night pleading for his time and attentions. It was not long before the man’s wife found out about Norma and gave her husband an ultimatum: end the affair or else. “Or else” meant scandal, divorce, and being cut off from his wife’s considerable fortune. The husband chose his wife and Norma was once again left on her own.

Norma did not go easily. She cried, begged, and stalked her former lover, but to no avail. After one particularly nasty scene at work, Norma was fired, her bank accounts closed, and told never to return.

This final disgrace may have been what pushed Norma over the edge. She felt callously abandoned and betrayed. Even worst, she felt like a whore. She had mistaken sex for love and it had cost her everything. The shame and guilt of what she had done became too great for her to bear. In her mind there was only one way to end the pain. No one knows why she chose Drano®. Perhaps Norma was trying to cleanse her sins away, sanitize her soul. She had betrayed her few friends and shamed her family’s name. But, the greatest hurt of all was that she had betrayed her one true and now lost love. She deserved to suffer. She deserved to die.

It was a cold and snowy February night when Norma went out alone to her husband’s grave at the town cemetery. It pains me to image the scene: The tears, the apologies, perhaps even a kiss to her husband’s gravestone, before finally drinking the toxic cleaner. It was not a quick or easy death. The acid took its time slowly eating away at her stomach and esophagus. Alone in the cemetery, Norma must have suffered agonizing pain for hours before finally dying, her insides having been totally eaten away. Her body was found the next morning by children waiting for the school bus. Norma’s funeral was one of the largest the town had ever seen. She was laid to rest next to her husband. Finally, Norma had found peace. Or had she?

Ghostologists believe that the desperate, extreme act of suicide can damage the soul, trapping it in a mode of unresolved angst where the spirit can’t or won’t cross over to the other side. They become trapped between the two worlds, their ghostly beings wandering aimlessly among what was once familiar to them, searching for answers and redemption. Perhaps this is the case with Norma for she still seems to be very much among us, as a benign spirit.

It was the tellers who first noticed something was amiss. Adding machines would start calculating on their own, lights would turn on and off by themselves, and the security alarm would activate in the middle of the night when no one was there. There are police reports on file attesting to the security alerts and subsequent investigations.

When I worked at the bank as a computer operator, I believe that I actually saw Norma, even talked to her! It happened on an unexceptional morning. My primary responsibly was to perform daily computer updates and distribute the generated reports before the bank opened. Around 7:00am, as I was walking along the back area of the bank, I glanced up the center hallway and saw an attractive middle-aged woman working at the teller stations. I was then a relatively new employee and still not familiar with all the bank tellers and their work schedules. I waved and called out good morning, but she appeared not to hear me. After I finished delivering the reports, I headed up to the teller stations to introduce myself. The woman was still there organizing papers. I said hello again. This time she nodded, but did not look up from her work. That should have been my cue that she wasn’t interested in talking to me, but her snub made me feel self-conscious. I tried to explain who I was and way I was there, but the awkwardness of the situation made me nervous, causing me to talk faster and faster. Nonsensical words gushed out of my mouth. I couldn’t seem to stop rambling. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was really only a few minutes, I paused to take a much needed deep breath. It was then that the woman looked up at me and smiled. Never had I seen such sad, distant eyes. The air became instantly colder causing the hair on my arms to stand up. After an uncomfortable silence, I stuttered something to the effect of getting back to work, and quickly headed to the computer room. It was only after I sat down at my desk that I realized the woman had not spoken one word to me.  

The other bank employees started arriving for work at 8:00am. With the comfort of the familiar activity around me, my uneasiness disappeared and I became embarrassed. Surely the woman must have thought I was crazy. I went back up front to apologize, but the woman was gone. I asked the other tellers about her, only to be told that no one was ever scheduled to work at that hour. But someone had been there that morning. Insistently, I tried to describe the woman, but all I could remember were her eyes—her sad, distant eyes. My story was met with nervous giggles. Finally an older employee spoke up. “Oh, that was just Norma. She likes to keep things organized.”   

Mine is not the only close encounter with Norma. An evening bank employee reportedly quit her job over a similar situation. It was around 9:00pm. The only people in the bank at that hour were the night computer clerk and her four-year-old son, whom she had permission to bring with her to work. She was monitoring the nightly update when her son came running into the computer room excitedly. He told his mother about the nice lady he had met in the restroom. Instantly alarmed, she locked them both in the room and called security. No one else was supposed to be in the building at that time. A through search of the building yielded no results. This was not the first incidence that the employee had with Norma, but when the spirit reached out to her young son, it was too much. The employee quit that evening.

No one knows why the gentle spirit of Norma haunts the bank. Is her tragically lonely soul still desperately seeking the companionship she had lost in life? Or is she eternally driven to make amends for her disgraceful behavior? Perhaps it’s simply a case of what paranormalists call post-death amnesia—Norma doesn’t realized she is dead and thus continues to “live” her life as if nothing as happened—going to work day, after day, after day.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of her family and friends.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Big Tunnel

            It is consider a right of passage, a very dangerous act of misguided bravery that is still practiced today. On any given night, a group of young people will sneak to the entrance of the Big Tunnel, drink *suicides, and play a game of truth or dare. The daree is required to walk through this long, curved tunnel until they reached the bend at the center, a bend so sharp that even daylight can not be seen from either end. Here, the daree is expected to stand in one of the *dead man holes that line the walls of the tunnel and wait in the darkness until the stroke of midnight when they might see the light. Described as a small misshapen glow swinging back and forth in the distance, the light is reported to grow larger and larger as it journeys from one end of the tunnel to the other. It is a warning; a warning to quickly run for your life or seek immediate safety in a dead man hole for a train is coming, a very real freight train making its routine nightly run.

Since its conception in 1857, the Big Tunnel has been cursed with many deaths and unexplained events. Its construction through solid limestone rock proved hazardous and some men lost their lives during the process. Many of the tunnel builders were immigrants or vagabonds, and the deceased with no known family or identification papers are believed to have been buried in the surrounding woods. Are the ghostly wisps seen around the tunnel those unnamed souls trying to jump a ride home on the next train?

Rocks falling on the tracks from the rough-cut passage created a constant threat of derailments. There was a time when watchmen were hired to routinely walk the tunnel and remove rocks from the tracks, their only source of light being from a lantern. There is a story that one watchman was killed working in the tunnel when he was caught off guard by the early arrival of a train. Before he had time to reach safety in one of the dead man holes, he was sucked under the train and decapitated. Because of his inattentiveness, the watchman is now doomed to spend eternity warning of trains passing through the tunnel.  

During World War I, military guards were posted at each end of the tunnel as a security measure against sabotage. In April 1917, a national Guardsman was discovered outside the tunnel, shot and killed by an unknown assailant. The tunnel and surrounding area was searched, but no person or even evidence of another person having been in the area was found. The Guardsman’s partner, posted half a mile away at the other end of the tunnel, avowed his innocence, claiming he didn’t hear a shot or even the sounds of a fight. After a military trail, the Guardsman’s partner was found innocent. The case remains unsolved. Could it be the spirit of the murdered Guardsman, seen at the tunnel, looking for his unnamed killer and seeking justice?

During the dangerous depression era, another watchman, after reportedly rescuing a young woman from attackers, was found in the tunnel bludgeoned to death by his own lantern. Perhaps it is his light being seen, warning unsuspecting trespassers of the evils lurking within the tunnel.

Without a doubt, many people believe they have seen the light. Skeptics claim it is nothing more than the light of a train engine or passing cars, but those who have seen it swear that the light appears more like the flickering flame of a candle. Some even report seeing the ghostly figure of a man in uniform swinging a lit lantern as he makes his nightly rounds.

The tunnel is still in use and a very dangerous place. If you are foolish enough to venture into the darkness of the Big Tunnel, when you see the light, take heed. Jump back into one of the dead man holes, hold your breath, and realize the life and death fear of a train whizzing pass you from only a few feet away. When the train and fear have disappeared into the night, say a pray for the soul of the light bearer, before exiting the tunnel an older if not wiser person.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Watcher of the Stones

Browning Mountain looms over the ghost town of Elkinsville, a massive repository of old-growth woods, rare foliage, and Brown County history. At 930 feet tall, it is actually a hill, but a very steep hill, and the largest peak in the county. Browning Mountain is full of mysteries, most notably the odd circle of stones known as the Indiana Stonehenge, UFO and Bigfoot sightings, and a strange phantom known as the Watcher. At twilight, when the trees are bare, a giant human-like dark form has been seen roaming the mountain trails or on the edge of the summit looking out over the valley. He is believed to be an ancient Indian spirit, a watcher and protector of the curious stonehenge that crowns the mountain. Any attempts to quarry the stones have been meet with freak accidents and unexplained equipment failures. Stories of those who dared to deface the stones are filled with mysterious tragedies and death. If you must visit the stone circle, enter it with reverence, thank the Watcher for his service, and leave the sacred site undisturbed. For this show of respect, the curse will not follow you.

Who erected the stone circle and why, remains a mystery. It is believed that long before white men and the Miami Indians settled the area, an ancient tribe of people lived there and built the site. How they managed this feat, we do not know. The blocks are a non-native Keokuk limestone, weighing many tons, and apparently hand-hewed. The nearest source of Keokuk limestone is around Edwardsville, in Floyd County, approximately 85 miles away from Browning Mountain. Many scientists from all over the world have researched the site and have yet to come up with a plausible explanation on how the stones got there.

Ancient mysteries aside, there definitely is an odd aura around the stone circle, causing many spiritualists, dowers, and pseudosciencitists to believe that it is built on an intersection of ley lines, invisible lines of energy that are believed to crisscross all over the earth. The air within the circle is strangely still and silent. Animals and birds seem to fear and avoid this site as if driven away by some unknown energy. In addition to the Watcher, many anomalies have been seen in this area such as orbs, mysterious mists, and glowing lines. Those who have visited the site claim that the stones sing, for often a strange vibrating or ringing sound is heard echoing throughout the sacred area.

Here is just one of the many paranormal adventures reported at Browning Mountain:

Just off the dead-end of Elkinsville road, a young man and his friend followed an old unmarked sunken trail that wove up into Browning Mountain. After hiking the steep trail for nearly 25 minutes, they reached a flat summit. Here, they paused to peer through the dense, old-growth woods and marveled at the spectacular view of Brown County’s beautiful rolling hills, when suddenly they felt a strong presence around them, a presence that was not welcoming. With great apprehension, they resumed hiking over to the western edge of the summit, to the site of the mysterious stone circle.

The circle consists of many large light-colored square blocks. At one end, is an especially distinctive stone, known as the altar where many believe blood sacrifices may have occurred. Initially, the young men were disgusted by all the graffiti on the stones and surrounding trees, until they realized that it was a vast collection of graffiti, left by generations of hikers, some dating back to over 200 years ago! As they were musing over what appeared to be a stone grave marker with the etching “Here lies John Baurle, Born 7/31/47, Died 9/14/52,” they were suddenly hit by a strong cold blast of wind and an heard an eerie ringing in their ears. Shivering, they looked up and were startled to see an old Indian man sitting quietly at the base of a tree just outside the circle. They had not heard the old man hike up the trail and had no idea how long he had been sitting there. Tenatively, they called out hello. The old man didn’t reply, but shook his head and looked up at the sky. Thinking he didn’t hear them, they called out hello again. The old man continued staring at the sky without response. Feeling uneasy and intrusive, the young men muttered a nervous apology and quickly walked out of the circle. Turning away from the sky, the old Indian man watched them for a moment and then said, “Looks like rain.”

Startled, the young men stopped and automatically looked up. The sky was clear and sunny, just as forecasted. Puzzled, they both turned and stared at him. The old Indian man smirked and said again, “Looks like rain.”

At that moment, they heard a booming crash of thunder. Wide-eyed, the young men watched as seemly out of nowhere dark clouds rolled across the sky. Hastily, they turned to thank the old man, but he was gone, vanished into thin air. And, then it started to rain.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Curses and The Witches Castle

It seemed like a sure thing. A river port town located along the bank of a small cove just east of the hazardous Falls of the Ohio¹. James Noble Wood, the founder of Utica, Indiana, did everything he could to bring his vision to life, even acting as the first ferryman in the area. But despite all of his hard work, the town never became more than just a quick ferry crossing to and from the more popular “Settlement” of Louisville located across the river on the Kentucky Shore. It didn’t make sense. Utica had many things to offer: location, natural resources, a secure cove, and a beautiful shoreline. Yet, there was a disconcerting aura surrounding the area, a foreboding that seemed to drive potential commerce away. Even Utica’s beautiful Quarry Bluff had an eerie and remorseful feel about it.

There were rumors that the town was cursed. Wood was suspected of stealing the land on which he developed the modest town from three old spinster sisters of Métis² descent. In the Treaty of Paris, the British had ceded the Native American territory to the United States without informing the native land owners. Wood claimed the land in compensation for his military service and evicted the sisters. They did not go easily. A standoff ensued. After days of threats and gun fire, Wood assembly a vigilante party and stormed the house. The three sisters were disarmed and physically dragged from their home kicking and screaming. After being securely tied up, they were thrown on a makeshift raft and sent down the river towards the Falls of the Ohio and to their certain deaths. The eye-witness reports are distributing. Bloody, beaten, and trapped on the raft, town folk recalled watching the sisters struggling and wailing helplessly, when, without warning, all three sisters suddenly froze, their bodies becoming unnaturally stiff. Minutes passed and those on the shore wondered if rigor mortis was sitting in, the sisters having died from the shock of the ordeal. But then, a most unnerving, quite frightening thing happened. The sisters, moving as if they were one, slowly lifted their heads in unison and glared intently at the vigilantes and gawking town folk, their eyes unnaturally wide and full of hate. Then suddenly, as if possessed, their bodies started shaking with rage and the sisters, raving manically, spewed curses and obscenities at the witnesses on the shore, damning them all and their descendants. For over one hour the townspeople morbidly watched as the raft slowly floated out of sight, the sister’s curses fading in the distance until they were heard no more.

Perhaps it was horrendous, unconvicted crimes of the vigilantes or unease over the sisters’ wrath that dissuaded most businesses from locating in Utica, but it was the construction of the McAlpine Locks and Dam in 1830 that finally devastated the struggling town and solidified the legend of the sister’s curse. The bypass canal built around the Falls of Ohio redirected water traffic away from Utica, turning it into a virtual ghost town.

Years after the construction of the dam, another family of three sisters settled in Utica. They lived on the outskirts of town, in a curious castle-like stone shack built on an isolated, wooded hill overlooking the Ohio river. The town folk considered them unfriendly for the sisters rudely shunned their neighbors and made no attempt to interact with the community. And the sisters were strange, very strange. They rarely ventured out during the day, preferring to forage through the woods late at night, their lantern lights seen floating eerily among the trees. Baskets filled with odd roots, geodes, and animal bones were piled up on their front porch, and repugnant smells issued from the chimney. “No Trespassing” signs were posted around the perimeter of the property and warning shots would be fired at all unwelcome guests. It was rumored that the sisters were witches, and the townspeople did their best to avoid them. That is, until children started disappearing—five children within a month’s time. Suspicion soon fell on the witches, and a raid of their house unveiled a grisly scene. What appeared to be human skins were hanging on a makeshift clothesline across the back of the main room. Tossed in the corners were piles of small human bones. And, stewing in the pot over the fireplace was what appeared to be a child’s heart. Tried on the spot, the three sisters were found guilty of cannibalism and witchcraft, hung until dead, and their house burned to the ground.

In the 1950’s, the witch’s castle was rebuilt as a tourist home called Mistletoe Falls. But the business was beseiged, some say cursed, with a multitude of problems. After an unexplained fire burned the structure to the ground, the castle was abandoned.

Today, all that remains of the witch’s castle is the foundation, the fireplace, one wall, and a filled-in basement. One of the shacks behind the ruins is still pretty much intact, consisting of two windows, two doors, and a fireplace. Many paranormal investigators and sightseers to the castle have reported hearing and even recording auditable voices and strange noises. Faces of children also have been seen peering out of the shack’s windows. The most active sightings are of a young faceless girl, around 8 or 9 years old, with long black hair and wearing a white dress, seen wandering aimlessly around the ruins and woods.

Utica, a town born out of violence, seems unable to wash away its bloodstained curse. In 1992, a horrific crime occurred, the result of years of sexual abuse and neglect, mistaken jealousy, and a pathological lust for violence. Four teenage girls lured 12-year-old Shanda Sharer to the witch’s castle at midnight on the pretense that another friend was in desperate trouble. There, they cold-heartedly beat and terrorized the girl. Hours later they took Shanda to another remote location and continued brutalizing her. Three more hours later, they took her to another location, drenched her with gasoline, and burned Shanda alive. Her remains were found the next morning, still smouldering. The four teenage girls, who had a history of stalking Shanda, were quickly apprehended and convicted. Shanda’s murder remains one of the most recent horrendous crimes in Indiana history, and a textbook case on the effects of child abuse and social neglect.

The ghost of Shanda Sharer does not haunt the witch’s castle. Despite the brutality of her murder, she seems at rest. Yet the emotional imprint of what happened that terrible night remains. Witches, curses, and ghosts aside, perhaps the greatest haunt at the witch’s castle is sensing the unimaginable horror and suffering of a 12-year-old child at the hand of her supposed new friends.


¹The “Falls” were originally a series of rapids that caused the Ohio River to drop 26 feet over a distance of two and a half miles. At one time, this was the only navigational hazard over the 981- mile-length river, formed by rock outcrops. Today, much of the original falls have been flooded behind the McAlpine Dam. In 1990, a section of the falls area in Indiana became the “Falls of the Ohio State Park.” It contains 390-million-year-old fossil beds that are among the largest, naturally exposed Devonian fossil beds in the world.

²The Métis are a People of mixed North American Indian and Indo-European descent. The term Métis' is a French slang word that refers to a person of half-breed, mongrel, cross-bred, mestizo, or metif blood. The Jesuit Father Vivier in 1750 first introduced the derogatory term. He believed the very existence of being Métis was against the Laws of God and commonly referred to them as illegal runners of the forests.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Murder at the Monon Station

      A furious spring storm screamed and raged through the little town of Gosport on the night of April 30, 1867. The bloodcurdling wind whipped around the small buildings, rocking windows and doors as townspeople sought sanctuary in their homes and prayed that the structures would hold.

     Jimmy Johns, a local station agent, was working at the Gosport Monon Station waiting on the evening train to pass before going home. The storm had knocked down the telegraph line, and he had no idea when to expect the already delayed train. It was not uncommon for the station agent to spend the night at the station. Jimmy lay down on a cot and waited.

     On the morning of May 1, 1867, while the townspeople were surveying the storm damage, the brutally mangled body of Jimmy Johns was found at the station. It had been a horrific death. The sheriff described the scene as having the appearance of a slaughter house. The floors, walls, and ceiling were spattered with blood and the room gave every indication of a life and death contest. Jimmy Johns had been a strong young man, 27 years old, and it appeared that his determined attacker had no easy job in killing him.

     But why kill Jimmy? He was a nice local boy with a young wife and children. Described as quiet, trustworthy, and always willing to help his neighbors, Jimmy was loved by all and had no known enemies. The station house yielded no alterative motives. Gosport served mostly as a rural rest stop on the Monon line and didn’t hold mail or railroad receipts. So why would someone venture out into a torrential downpour just to kill an innocent man for no apparent reason?

     Stranger still, even though the station house was located a little ways east of the town line, it seemed incredible that no one had heard what must have been a very loud and violent struggle. But then, as talk spread, memories of the previous evening came back to haunt the townspeople. Screaming, raging, bloodcurdling—not adjectives typically used to describe stormy weather. However, everyone who had experienced the storm agreed that the wind was screaming—at least they thought it was the wind.

     Overwhelmed with guilt, the townspeople demanded immediate justice. Unfortunately, morbid onlookers had tramped through the station before a proper investigation could be made. Under pressure, the sheriff arrested the last man to admit seeing Jimmy alive, Willis McMininny, the town drayman. Never mind that Willis had left town on the afternoon train before the storm and murder occurred. Nor that he had hurried back upon hearing of the murder of his co-worker. Some discarded items found in Willis’ home were identified as having once belonged to Jimmy. The sheriff called it motive, and Willis McMininny was charged with the murder of Jimmy Johns.

     Fearing vigilante justice, Willis was taken into custody and secretly delivered under heavy escort to the town of Spencer, located about 30 miles away from Gosport. After a speedy trail, Willis McMininny was found guilty of murder. Curiously, he was not given the death penalty but was sentenced to life in prison. Even more curious, he only served nine years in prison before being given a pardon by the governor. He never returned to Gosport and no one knows what became of him.

     It is believed that conviction of the guilty will appease the murdered soul. Perhaps Willis McMininny was innocent, as many historians believe, for the spirit of Jimmy Johns is not at rest. Strange events started occurring around the Monon station immediately after the murder. The bloodstains could not be washed or painted away, and station agents refused to use the building. Eventually the station was shut down due to neglect, but up until 1976 when the building was finally demolished, nasty brown spots of what appeared to be dried blood could still be seen splattered a crossed the walls and floor. Perhaps stranger still, after the murder, the shadowy figure of a man was reported roaming around the station area. The figure was never caught and sightings of the shadow are still seen around the vacant site.

     Haunted or not, there’s one thing that Gosportians do agree on—every spring, when the wind has whipped itself up into a furious storm, the eerie bloodcurdling screams of Jimmy Johns can still be heard crying, “Why? Why?”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

An Inconvenient Haunt

Tucked away in the beautiful hills and valleys of Brown County, among other forgotten places named Gnaw Bone, Weed Patch Hill, and Bugger Holler, and inconveniently located near the dead-end of a curving, dipping rural road that literally drops off at the edge of Salt Creek, you will find Story, a beautifully preserved 19th century village that somehow survived the forestry conservation movement, the Great Depression, and the creation of Lake Monroe.

The Village of Story has a curious storybook beginning. The land was part of the Ten O’clock Treaty, a trust from the Miami Indians of three million acres of land given to the white man for settlement. The boundary line was marked by a shadow cast at each September 30, running from Raccoon Creek on the Wabash River near Montezuma to Seymour. The line passes right through the heart of Story and is denoted by a carved limestone monument in the center of the village. In 1851, Dr. George Story obtained a land grant from President Fillmore, causing the President to utter this famous quote, “only an idiot would live out there.” Undetered, the strong-minded doctor proceeded to build his small village in the inconvenient location. Despite all odds, Story became one of the largest settlement in the area, boasting two general stores, a nondenominational church, one-room schoolhouse, grain mill, sawmill, slaughterhouse, blacksmith’s forge, and post office. After the Great Depression, when many people abandoned Story and the other hilly communities of Brown County, the village developed a new dubious reputation as a producer and seller of illegal bathtub gin. In the 1960’s, after the flooding of Lake Monroe cut off Story’s access to the bustling City of Bloomington, the village dwindled, it’s only attraction being the remaining general store which sold Moon Pies, Nehi sodas, and leaded gasoline. In 1978, on the brink of collapse, Story was rescued, and in its present incarnation, the whole village now serves as a top-rated bed and breakfast.

With such a vast and colorful history, one can’t help but ask, is Story haunted? But of course! Story is home to many ghosts, most notably, the Blue Lady. Over the years, many guests, employees, and paranormal investigators have reported experiencing unexplained events. The Inn has a huge collection of guest books filled with personal handwritten accounts of ghost sightings by visitors from all over the world. Below is my own personal paranormal experiences at Story. 

It was a cool, soft November evening. The beautiful colors of autumn had long since faded and the gnarled, bare trees stood in stark eerie contrast against the blush colored sky.

It was the off-season, and my husband and I had the inn all to ourselves (the owners live in a different building). No television or cell phone reception, just us and the spirits that call Story home.

We roamed through the rescued remains of Story which consists of the General Store and Inn, old Barn, School House, Tavern, Treaty House, Doc Story’s and Alra Wheeler Homesteads, Carriage House, Grain Mill, the old sauna, and scattered old cottages. While we had permission to explore the now deserted village, there was an uncomfortable sense of trespassing. We felt like strangers treading in a bygone century that was not necessarily welcoming. Perhaps it was the many accounts of ghost sightings, but we definitely had a feeling of being watched and followed.

We made careful investigation of the old Barn, rumored to be haunted by a young boy who, driven by the despairs of the Great Depression, had hung himself. The sounds of crying, unexplained drops in temperature, and curious gray wisps have been reported. However, for us the barn proved disappointingly benign and uninteresting. Like the rest of Story, this ghost seemed to have shut down and left for the off-season.

Doc Story’s homestead proved more interesting. Built on the highest point in the village, the shadows cased on the old-paned front windows gave them the eerie appearance of following our every move. Many odd occurrences, attributed to the ghost of Doc Story, have happened at the homestead. Known for his love of the ladies, and having been married many times, the doctor seems drawn to the female visitors, following and pinching them. Lights also have been turned on and off, and doors opened and closed without anyone being near them. When we explored the shut-down building, we found the interior temperature uncomfortably cold, and heard undeniable creaking sounds as if someone was following us—but there was no one else in the building!

As twilight faded into night, a fog rolled in, distorting our view and causing us to envision the spirits of animals, families, and moonshiners from long ago. This obviously was a figment of our over-active imaginations, an optical illusion—or was it? Feeling unnerved, we decided it was time to turn in for the night.

We were staying in the Blue Lady’s room, home of Story’s most engaging ghost. The Blue Lady is not shy, often appearing as a blue hazy figure or heard rustling about the inn. She also apparently likes to smoke cherry tobacco, for that aroma often heralds her presence. No one knows who the Blue Lady is or why she decided to take up residence at the inn. The owners believe she might possibility be one of Doc Story’s wives. A portrait found in one of the buildings of a lady dressed in dark, nineteenth-century clothing was christen the Blue Lady and now hangs on the wall behind the service desk. On more than one occasion, when people have casually commented on the woman’s stern appearance and lack of beauty, strange things have happened. The credit card machine stops working, lights go out, or the picture will suddenly crash to the floor. Determined to have a good night’s sleep, we paid our respects to the portrait before ascending the slanted old staircase to our room on the second floor.

We turned on the blue glass antique lamp, a beacon that is believed to summon the Blue Lady. In this soft-lit atmosphere, we spent the evening reading ghost stories from the many guest books found in the room and drinking the complementary bottle of wine left for us. Needless to say, the stories were quite exciting, and we decided to try and contact the Blue Lady ourselves, as others had in the past, with an Ouija Board. We lit a white candle, said a protective prayer, and then invited the Blue Lady to contact us. After a short period of time, in response to a question, the planchette moved! This was not a trick or hallucination. The planchette definitely moved! The Blue Lady had made her presence known.

We inquired about her history. We learned she was one of Doc Story’s wives, but were unable to make sense of the name she gave us. We also asked and received responses to a few personal questions, many of which have since proven to be true. In closing, we asked if she had a final message for us. Slowly the planchette moved to the letters—b-e-h-a-p-p-y-a-l-w-a-y-s—before moving off the board and falling to the floor. That was the end of our encounter. We thanked the Blue Lady, blew out the candle, and contemplately went to bed. 

I was awakened by the sound of soothing music, what sounded like a waltz. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was . Who would be playing music at this hour? Startled, I realized the answer was no one—because no one else was supposed to be in the inn! I quickly shook my husband awake and he too heard the music. Against our better judgment, we decided to carefully check the building for other occupants and seek out the source of the sound. It took only a few minutes to confirm that we were indeed alone, and yet the music kept playing. More curious than frightened, we tried to locate its source. However, after an hour of searching, we couldn’t seem to discern were the sound was coming from. It was as if the music was playing all around us, following us. We finally gave up, went back to bed, and allowed ourselves to be lured to sleep. As I drifted off, I thought I detected the faint aroma of cherry tobacco.

That morning, we awoke to silence and a hot muggy room. Sometime during the night the music had stopped playing and the heat had somehow come on, causing the dresser mirror to fog over. Written in the condensation were the words, “be happy always.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Crooked Window House

I discovered this picture on the internet. It is of the old “Crooked Window House” that used to stand abandoned along Highway 46, just outside of Ellettsville, Indiana. As a life-long resident of the area, I had always been fascinated by the foreboding structure. What was its history? Why a crooked window? Is it haunted? I had even considered sneaking into the house, but before I could drum up the courage it was demolished. Gone, but not forgotten, for every time I drove pasted the vacant site, memories of that creepy crooked window would come back to taunt me. I simply had to find out the story behind this house. What I discovered was a rhyme.

One, two, “White Johnny’s” coming for you.

Three, four, he’s at the door.

Five, six, he’ll beat you with a stick.

Seven, eight, because it’s YOU he hates!

It appears that this rhyme is based on an actual person. Back in the 1940’s, a strange family of albinos lived in what was known as the Crooked Window House. Suspicious-minded and sensitive to the sun, they shunned visitors and rarely ventured outdoors. Passersby would hear them raging at each other and the sound of items being smashed against the walls. At night, the young daughter could be seen running manically through the fields. The 16-year-old son, Johnny, seemed especially deranged. Nearly 7- foot-tall and muscular, the massive teen would stalk the highway at night, screaming obscenities at the cars passing by and assaulting them with large stones. It was rumored that the boy was completely insane and dangerous. No one knew how dangerous, until one day a traveling salesman stopped by the home and noticed a putrid smell emitting from the house. When the sheriff was called in to investigate he discovered a horrific scene. The father was discovered dead on the kitchen floor, his throat slit, lying in a pool of blood and maggots. The maudlin remains of the mother were found in the bathtub, the victim of a brutal drowning. Most disturbing of all, the young daughter was found pummeled to death, her body crammed into a fresh gaping hole punched through the wall. Suspicion immediately fell upon the deranged son Johnny who was missing from the home. A posse made a long and intensive search of the surrounding counties, but Johnny was never seen again. For over 50 years, the house stood abandoned and decaying along the rural highway until it was finally demolished. But to this day, locals swear that on especially stormy nights, bloodcurdling screams can be heard echoing around the vacant site and the ghostly images of the murdered family seen rampaging across the field.

Ghosts and bloodcurdling screams aside, perhaps the most common haunt at the vacant site is the house itself. Nearly every person I interviewed initially refused to believe that the house had been demolished claiming to have just seen it the day before! Even after being shown the vacant site, I have later received indignant calls from people swearing they had seen the house yet AGAIN and that I was playing tricks. Not that I can blame them for even though I know for a fact that the house is gone, there have been times that I’ve had the surreal sensation of driving by the house, even catching a glimpse of the crooked window from the corner of my eye. A sensation so strong that I have actually turned around to revisit the site only to discover an overgrown, vacant lot.

(Photo by Justin Makler)