Indiana Cemeteries: Mount Hope

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This past weekend, I visited Mount Hope Cemetery in Logansport, Indiana. The city is named for James Renick-Logan (“Captain Logan”), a scout (of debated background) who served under William Henry Harrison in the War of 1812. When it was incorporated in 1838, they chose the name Logan’s Port as the city was a port on the Wabash Erie Canal. The city’s slogan, “Where two rivers meet” speaks to the junction of the Eel and Wabash Rivers. Along with river transportation, the historic Michigan Road and several freight train routes run through Logansport

Logansport is home to a Dentzel Carousel, a national historic landmark. I remember riding the carousel as a young child, lifting my arm high to grab a brass ring. During this visit, I would not be grabbing brass rings, but visiting a (supposedly) haunted cemetery.

About the Cemetery

Mount Hope Cemetery is reportedly the third largest cemetery in Indiana with 200 acres. The cemetery came into existence in 1854, but also includes the 9th Street Cemetery which started in 1828.

I learned something very cool about this cemetery, but I’ll talk about that more in my next post!

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About The Haunting

According to very casual internet research, this cemetery may be haunted. Paranormal activity includes:

  • the sound of galloping horses
  • the sound of cannon fire (there are canons next to the war memorial, see above)
  • the sound of whistles (especially in response to your own whistling)
  • inscriptions in/on the mausoleums which read “Knock three times and they shall come.”

I did not witness anything (whomp whomp).

Cemetery Highlights

I wrap up this post with some photographic highlights from my visit. First, I was intrigued by this gate memorial. “In Christian funerary symbolism,” Douglas Keister writes in Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, “gates represent the passage from one realm to the next” (116). I love how the gate appears to be opening, welcoming William B. Lanchester to heaven.

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There were a number of treestones (see bottom right of picture below), but I unfortunately was enjoying them too much to get photos. I guess I will have to make another visit (no complaints here). Popular to the Midwest, treestones (or tree stumps) were very popular from the 1880s to about 1905 (Kiester 65). According to Kiester:

Where one treestone is seen, often many will be found, suggesting that their popularity may have been tied to particularly aggressive monument dealer in the area or a ready local supply of limestone, which was the carving material of choice. Treestones could also be ordered from Sears and Roebuck. (65)

While I’m not sure the reasoning for the treestones of Mount Hope, I did find that piece of history very interesting!

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I couldn’t help but notice this large and deep columbarium.

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The cemetery also had a number of beautiful mausoleums. I loved the beautiful gates!

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Thanks for coming along on my tour. Cannot wait to share more after my second visit.

Sources

City of Logansport Cemetery website

Johnston, Courtney. “These 8 Haunted Cemeteries in Indiana Are Not For the Faint of Heart.” Only in Your State, 20 July 2016. 

Keister, Douglas. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. Gibbs Smith, 2004.

Logansport – Cass County Chamber of Commerce website 

“Logansport, Indiana.” Wikipedia 

“Mount Hope Cemetery.” Hauntedplaces.org

 

 

The Haunted Hollow Tree of Indianapolis

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It’s me, coming up for air from the spooky newspaper archives with a story for my fellow Hoosiers.

Today we are taking a float down Pogue’s Run, an urban creek in Indianapolis that starts at the intersection of Elizabeth Street and Lennington Drive and empties into the White River south of the Kentucky Avenue Bridge (Wikipedia). Running two-and-a-half miles, the creek is named after George Pogue, a settler who mysteriously disappeared. “Every few decades,” according to Atlas Obscura, “when unclaimed human bones turn up, there’s speculation that they might be Pogue’s.” But, I’m not here to talk about that mystery.

In March 1889, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (page 3) shares the peculiar legend of a haunted hollow tree in Pogue’s Run Bottom (near the creek). There’s a tree nicknamed “Gallows Tree” and neighborhood children believe it is the home of a ghost. Legend tells of a body that was found hanging from the tree during the war:

“Soldiers who climbed the tree to cut down the body found a curiously concealed opening into the tree. It was instantly concluded that the hollow interior of the elm should be the place of sepulchure. The body was lowered into the hollow tree, but apparently it struck no bottom. Certainly it gave forth no sound in falling. It may have been that the dust and accumulation of rotted particles of the tree’s heart had made a soft, deep bed within so that no sound of the falling body came forth. Or was it possible that the spreading roots of the elm walled in a deep ‘cave of the winds’ or well? At any rate, nothing was heard when the body tumbled to its uncertain grave.” 

Over time, city development began to surround the tree, but the sounds of history could still be heard. Citizens could hear “mournful sounds of distress” when they walked by the tree. One day, a group of boys were playing with a ball when it knocked into the tree. The ball disappeared! To retrieve the ball, the boy hit the tree with a bat causing “horrible moans of pain.” The boys scattered.

One of the boys later returned to investigate, climbing high up the tree: “He was about to call out his discovery when a terrific blast from the cavern smote him and took away bis breath. There was mingled with the roar of the wind the rattle of voices and the moans of despair.” The boy barely escaped getting sucked into the tree, losing his hat in the process.

So what the heck? The article concludes with some theories: “Is it not possible that buried treasures lie under the tree, vainly seeking all these years to testify by these mysterious methods to its rich presence? Or is is the tortured spirit of the murdered man seeking rest and finding none?”

What do you think?

It Wasn’t Ghosts (Part I)

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Happy 2020! Now that I have a major life project out of the way (finally!), I can devote all my free time to GHOSTS! So expect more constant and consistent blog posts. I am excited to explore this spooky world with you all.

I have been digging in the newspaper archives and noticed a fun trend of debunked hauntings and some are funnier than others. For the next couple weeks or so, I’ll be sharing some of my favorites.

A Haunting Solved by A Tornado

A schoolhouse in Frankfort, Indiana was believed to be haunted by a man named Entrekin who fell from the three-story brick building (possible image of the school here). “At night,” the The Indianapolis News reports, “when the wind cries plaintively among the nooks and crannies of the old building.” The superstitious believed “Entrekin’s spirit comes out and stalks amid the columns on the top of the building and sings to the trembling ones who go hurrying by on the sidewalks below.”

A tornado ripped through the town in June of 1902 and caused damage to the iron ornaments on top of the building. Workmen, when fixing the damage, found the source of the ghost: “one of the tall pillars was capped with an odd-shaped galvanized iron piece, and it was formed to produce a whistling sound, which, when the wind blew in a certain direction, gave forth a series of soul-chilling weird sounds.”

Source: June 1902, The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana (pg. 7)

Spirits of a Different Kind

Witnesses saw odd lights in an old and isolated schoolhouse in Emerson, Man. Citizens assumed ghosts. The theory that it was spirits was not entirely wrong.

The lights were from nightly sessions of making moonshine (“and not the Sir Oliver Lodge variety”). “On the teacher’s platform,” The Star Press reports, “they [the police] found a huge still, with a capacity of forty-five to sixty-five gallons daily.”

Source: October 1921, The Star Press, Muncie, Indiana (pg. 21)

A Cemetery Ghost

People reported a flying ghost accompanied by “screeching noises” in an abandoned cemetery in North Manchester, Indiana.  An investigation by skeptics revealed the source:

[…] it was found that mischievous boys had stretched wires across the grounds from fence to fence from which was suspended a woman’s nightrobe. This was drawn back and forth by the little scamps, who howled delight whenever frightened people took to their heels.

Source: March 1902, Princeton Daily Clarion, Princeton, Indiana (pg. 3)

“The Spectacle Was Sickening”: The Rotary Jail and the Thrice Hanged Ghost

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I recently had the chance to finally visit the Rotary Jail Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The jail is the first rotating jail built in the United States and the only one that still turns. In the 19th Century, rotary jails popped up across the Midwestern United States. Jail cells shaped like wedges rotated on a platform, like a carousel, using a hand crank. Spinning the jail around allowed you to access single cells at a time through one

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The hand crank (right) that rotates the jail.

opening. The design was initially created by William H. Brown of Indianapolis’s  Haugh, Ketcham & Co., and the intention was “to produce a jail in which prisoners can be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between them and the jailer or guard” (Source). Rotary jails eventually closed (the last one remained in use until 1969) as the spinning mechanism caught limbs (and in one case, a head), breaking and crushing them.

The Rotary Jail Museum in Crawfordsville houses a two-story model attached to the once living quarters of the Sheriff and his family. The very informative–and excellent tour–is only $5 and one hour. I was also lucky enough to visit the museum after their Haunted Jail event, which explained the fake blood and skeletons!

This small Midwest museum is definitely worth the stop. Maybe you might see the ghost of John Coffee.

The Execution of John Coffee

In January of 1885, the beaten and burned bodies of James and Elizabeth McMullen were found in their home near Elmdale, Indiana (Montgomery County). John Coffee, 23 years old, was arrested for their murders. He confessed three separate times, went to trial, and was found guilty.* Coffee was sentenced to death by hanging.

This was the first public execution for Crawfordsville, Indiana. A scaffold was constructed and tested several times with a 150-pound sand bag. About 200 people purchased tickets to witness the hanging in the jail’s courtyard. On October 15, 1885, Coffee’s hanging and a horrific scene took placed. It took three attempts to hang Coffee; the rope broke the first two times. An article in the New York Times (October 17, 1885) describes the event (warning: graphic detail).

When the drop fell the rope broke and the body dropped to the ground. The neck was not broken, but blood oozed from the condemned man’s ears. He was carried up on the scaffold, and while the rope was being readjusted he recovered consciousness and begged to have the cap taken off that he might make another speech. This request was refused. When the drop again fell the rope broke a second time, but the body was caught before it fell to the ground. It was lifted up and held in the arms of the Deputy Sheriff while the rope was fixed the third time. When the drop fell again the rope held and Coffee strangled to death for 12 minutes. The spectacle was sickening.

The hanging was an embarrassment for Montgomery County. Prisoners in the jail pleaded to have the scaffold torn down, as they could see the threatening mechanism through the jail windows (Indiana Historical Bureau)†. The people of Crawfordsville would be haunted, both figuratively and literally, by the ghost of John Coffee.

The Ghost of John Coffee

Shortly after the execution, people began to see the ghost of John Coffee. Firstly, his ghost was seen near Elmdale (location of the murder) “prowling around.” One night, the ghost of John Coffee stopped a farmer as he needed a ride (vehicle not mentioned). He rode with the farmer about three miles, until the reached the ruins of the McMullen household. The ghost “hopped out and bounded away with the speed of a jack rabbit (Newport Hoosier State, October 28, 1885).

Apparently the ghost of John Coffee likes taking rides, because he reportedly hopped on a train, too. As the story goes, a train conductor named Dick Tracy saw the ghost of Coffee with a noose around his bloody neck. Tracy and brakeman were in the caboose, just leaving Crawfordsville. Coffee jumped on the front end and Tracy quickly locked the car’s door. Coffee then jumped on top of the roof and came through the cupola, finally taking a seat on the train. He rode the train for about thirty miles, while Tracy and the brakeman watched in fear. He eventually jumped off the train and quickly disappeared. Tracy decided that was his last ride (Jefferson Daily Evening News, November 11, 1885).

People still believe John Coffee haunts the Rotary Jail as every October the museum’s security systems indicate movement inside the jail and house at night (Indiana Historical Bureau). Allegedly, the Sheriff who decided not to pursue other accomplices in the Coffee case haunts the building.

I visited on the 17th of October; I must have missed Coffee and the Sheriff.

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*The tour guides mentioned that some believed John Coffee was innocent and/or worked with an accomplice(s). No one else was ever punished for the crime.

†The scaffold was used again.  I found one source saying it was used six months later for the hanging of John C. Henning.

A tour guide pointed out some similarities between this John Coffee and the John Coffey from Stephen King’s The Green Mile. The guide said King never heard of Crawfordsville, but The New York Times article (see above) never mentioned the city. So maybe King forgot he was inspired by a real life event? Hmmmmm. 

Sources

Indiana Historical Bureau, “Montgomery County Jail Machine.” The Indiana Historian (pdf). (This source also provides details on how a Rotary Jail works.)

Lighty, Chandler. “Haunted Hoosier History: John Coffee’s Ghost, Montgomery County,” Hoosier State Chronicles: Indiana’s Digital Newspaper Program. 

“Rotary Jail.” Atlas Obscura. 

“Rotary Jail.” Wikipedia.

“‘The Last Vestige of the Gloomy Structure’ Public Displays of Hangings in Indiana.” The History Engine.

The Hermit of Happy Hollow

Image of an entrance to a forested park.

Happy Hollow Park is a 81 acres of forested park in West Lafayette, Indiana. If you are lucky enough, you might spot a fox on your hike through the park. If you are luckier, you might hear the trees tell the story of The Hermit of Happy Hollow.

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A walking path plaque in Happy Hollow Park touches briefly on the life of Jennie Jahonica, The Hermit of Happy Hollow. She was known for simply wanting solitude.

With the little slithers of free time I have in my life, I try to learn more about Jennie Jahonica. Unfortunately, my research has only led me to sensationalized newspaper articles. Therefore, please take the following information with a grain of salt. I will share edits and updates when they become available.

Jennie Jahonica was born in Huff, Holland. She started working in the fields around the age of ten and, for the next eleven years, “worked as hard as any man” (Indianapolis Journal) She married a man named Kineff (last name) and they had a child. He died when the baby was only a few months old. Around 1850, she came to America with her brother and settled on a farm near Chicago, IL. She met and married a man with the last name Jahonica. He unfortunately died shortly after they were married. She then moved to Lafayette with her daughter where they found work on a farm.

Then, as the Indianapolis Journal describes, “came the tragedy that blasted her life and caused her to withdraw from her friends and associates to seek peace of mind the lonely ravine.” Jennie’s daughter died in 1875. Heartbroken, she moved into a deserted structure (allegedly made of mud and straw) in Happy Hollow. She lived there for four years until a fire destroyed her home. She made due with what she had until the women of German Reformed Church (some sources say Holland Reformed Church) built her a new home. When her health began failing, she moved into the county asylum. She eventually ended up at the County Farm (also called the Infirmary in some sources). She died December 22, 1903.

Some other interesting tidbits I came across:

  • “Children spoke of her as a witch and she was believed by the superstitious to have mysterious powers of working good and evil.” (Indianapolis Journal, December 23, 1903).
  • “She visited nobody and desired no visitors. She regarded all comers as intruders.” (The South Bend Tribune, December 23, 1903)
  • “No favored Swiss scene could be more enchanting than Miss Janeke’s medieval abode with her cow, chickens, bees, grapevines and fruit trees, isolated from the distraction of a civilized world. Her attire was of the traditional Dutch linsey and wooden shoes.” (The Indianapolis News, August 14, 1952)
  • During the summer of 1896, a new streetcar line began construction through Happy Hollow (connecting Lafayette and State Soldiers Home). This would disrupt her home, so “the hermitess protested” but “eventually reconciled to it.” (The Indianapolis News, August 14, 1952)

Where does my research go next? I would love to find out more about Jennie Jahonica’s life beyond the headlines. I would also like to find out where she is buried. Unless, as in life, she wanted to be buried away from and unbothered by the public.

Learn more about another Hoosier “hermit” in my post about Diana of the Dunes.

Sources

Guthrie, Wayne”Ringside in Hoosierland: ‘Happy Hollow’ Had Unhappy Recluse.”The Indianapolis News, 14 August 14 1952, p. 10.

“Hermit of Happy Hollow Dead” The South Bend Tribune,  23 December 1903, p. 2.

“Happy Hollow Hermit Died at Infirmary.” The Indianapolis Journal, 23 December 1903 p. 3.

Forever Haunted by Angelfire: A 90s Ghost Story

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This is Indiana

When I was young (maybe 12ish), I wrote down everything concerning the occult in a black-paged notebook with Gelly Roll pens. I kept a dictionary in the back with all the new terms I learned. I wrote down every haunted location, glued every ghost photo, and copied down interesting quotes on the occult into my small spiral notebook. While the library provided me a plethora of literature on all things spooky, I spent most hours doing internet research. I read online forums, About.com, and many sites hosted by Angelfire. Angelfire launched 22 years ago and (at least when I was using it) provided users free web-hosting. These websites were a wild 90s ride with crazy backgrounds, colorful fonts, annoying banner ads, guestbooks, visit counters, and much more.

(insert dial up noise)

I was mostly intrigued by websites about haunted places in Indiana (my home state). I would fill my notebook with places I hoped to explore someday. Although I could not drive yet, I could visit these haunted locations from the comfort of my father’s computer chair. Further, I was happy to know there were other people out there just as weird as me.

Many friends tell me that they too loved these sites and would visit these haunted locations with their friends on weekend nights. There is not much else to do in Indiana when you are a teenager, after all. You cannot help but think that teenagers had a hand in creating and circulating some of the legends on these websites.

When the weather is warmer, I plan on visiting some of these haunted locations. 12-year-old me will be very pleased.

Below are some more screenshots of my favorite Indiana-specific websites. These websites are still online today.  I recommend proceeding with caution, because some of these websites have pop-ups and you never know about viruses (or whatever).

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The Force – I recommend not visiting this site if you don’t want sketchy pop-ups.
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Haunted Fort Wayne
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The Shadowlands – I’m not sure if this is Angelfire or not, but same 90s vibe.

For the past few weeks, I have been sharing my favorite stories from these Angelfire sites on my Instagram as part of #humpdayhaunts. I have posted them below for your reading pleasure. Please excuse any errors as I am usually typing these with my dumb thumbs.

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Welcome back to #humpdayhaunts. I got another one for the Haunted Indiana a la Angelfire series AND it is a doooooozy. In Fort Wayne (Allen County), there's a place called Devil's Hollow (this is already getting good). 1️⃣ One legend says the ghost of an elderly woman haunts the location. She lived off the grid, but was still bothered by local teenagers who would spy on her, break her property, and generally harass her. As all stories like this go…she was rumored to be a witch. Allegedly, the teens set fire to the house one night (or it was an accident from a discarded cigarette butt) and she perished in the fire. Her ghost still haunts the property at midnight, sometimes chasing away trespassers. 2️⃣ Another legend says you will see a ghost lantern. The story goes that during WWII, a mother and father waited for their son to return from war. The mother left a lantern burning every night in the window to help guide her son home. He never made it home as he died in battle. The mother still burned the lantern until she died. Her husband continued to the burn the lantern in his wife's memory until he also died. Supposedly the house still stands and you can still see the lantern in the window glowing at night. 👻 Other ghosts include a headless horseman. Also, the site says "There have been police reports and arrests made from cults going up there and sacrificing goats and pigs and various other satanic ceremonies occurring" (🙄 OK). There's a cemetery in the woods behind Devil's Hollow. If you stand in the middle of the cemetery and hear dead quiet, you will die instantly. #ghost #indiana #hoosier #halloween #paranormal #supernatural #haunted #scary #urbanlegend #folklore #ghoststory #history

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#humpdayhaunts 👻👻👻 I got another one for the Haunted Indiana a la Angelfire series. Today we are in Bremen in Marshall County. First stop: Little Egypt Cemetery. When you are driving around the cemetery, you might notice hand prints appear on your windshield. ✋🤚This cemetery has some apparitions, including a phantom farmer that will run after you. There is a baby's tombstone and if you throw a nickel at it, you will hear crying. Be careful leaving too: "depending on how far back in the woods you go, upon your way out, you will see a set of headlights following you out of the cemetery. It appears that they have just come out of the woods. They will follow you until you are completely out, and a ways down the road." Maybe when you leave, you can go right down the road to our second stop: the haunted TROLL BRIDGE. Supposedly, people have seen a tall dark shadow on the bridge (like 7 or 8 feet tall). Some people said this ghost/creature chased them. Others say it threw objects at their car. Be careful visiting the site though. The website (http://thisisindiana.angelfire.com/indianahauntings.htm) says: "WARNING: Do NOT go out here, stay off this bridge, this thing is not good and you will be terrified. I strongly suggest the unstable mind stay out of here too, unless you are up for psychological damage. The local residents do not appreciate investigators. Have also been encounters with an angry resident that drives a red jeep and chases you down, and threatening he would kill you if you came back. Please for your own safety do not go here. This guy is a real lunatic." I've always thought living people were scarier than ghosts! #ghost #indiana #hoosier #halloween #paranormal #supernatural #haunted #scary #urbanlegend #folklore #ghoststory

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Welcome to a (day late) #humpdayhaunts! I got another haunted Indiana cemetery for you to continue my Angelfire series, b/c I love some ridiculous folklore and urban legends. If you are not familiar with what I'm talking about…You see, back in the Angelfire days 💾, there were a couple of websites that listed haunted places in Indiana. They had black backgrounds, white/yellow font, and the best clip art. It's all very 90s. These sites also had the most hilarious instructions at some of these locations (park your car, walk 10 steps east, then 10 steps north, and you'll see a glowing face, blah blah). 👻 Anyway, let's go to the next haunted location: Jerome Cemetery in Jerome, Indiana (Howard County). This hidden cemetery is on the east bank of Wildcat Creek. According to This is Indiana: "If you drive along the graves through the old fence, stop and turn your car of on the bridge and then get out of the car you will see a flashing light blinking from inside your car." I don't know, maybe you left your inside lights on? Anyway. If you walk down the creek you might hear the sound of drum beats and other strange noises. If you are unlucky, you might meet the man with the black cape and his two large black dogs (black dogs are very ominous in folklore). The website says the dogs might be demons (OK). Also, there's a haunted bridge near the cemetery. The site states: "There use to be a Satanists church in Jerome where they would perform human sacrifices underneath this bridge. It is said that they were sought out by a group of Christians and killed, along with burning down the Satanists church." I think some teens read The Exorcist while drinking Boone's Farm or something and made that little story up. 🙄🙄🙄#history #folklore #hoosier #indiana #ghost #haunted #paranormal #urbanlegend #halloween #supernatural

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The next few #humpdayhaunts will be focused on random and obscure haunted locations in Indiana a la Angelfire. The first location is Bass Lake Cemetery in Bass Lake (Starke County). There's one particular tombstone in the cemetery with a lot of legends attached to it. Supposedly, the grass around the tombstone turns bloody red at night. If you hold a lighter close to the image of the man on the tombstone, his face will change into a devil with horns and a beard. The face also starts laughing. Note: this doesn't work during the day or when using a flashlight. There is also a wild creature resembling a werewolf that charges at cars. This is probably not 100% accurate is what I'm going to say. 👻 Let's stay a bit longer in Bass Lake and visit the old haunted hospital. Only the basement and some of the foundation remains, along with a ghost janitor that appears next to the furnace. Some have reported odd noises coming from the basement. #history #indiana #ghost #haunted #halloween #scarystory #urbanlegend #folklore #monster #paranormal #supernatural || FYI: The blog is coming back to life this week! Wooooooo BOOOO! 👻👻👻

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Join the fun by following me on Instagram! OR, tell me in the comments about your experience with spooky Angelfire websites (or Tripod or GeoCities).

Here’s 90s Ashley signing off! 

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A Hoosier Ghost Story with a Pun

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I have been thoroughly engrossed with the 1980 book Indiana Folklore: A Reader from Indiana University Press (edited by Linda Dégh). In this book, I came across the most suspenseful ghost story and just had to share it.

Three teenage boys stumbled across a haunted house on their way to another friend’s giphy (5)house. The boys began poking fun at each other, saying the other two were not brave enough to go inside. Eventually, after the teasing had died down, they agreed to spend the night in the haunted house together. The next night, the boys packed a lantern, bed-rolls, soft drinks, and a riffle and walked towards the house.

While making themselves (somewhat) comfortable in the haunted house, they heard a noise downstairs. The sound was a loud scratching noise, like something was being dragged across a cement floor.

The teenagers headed downstairs with their rifle and lantern. They heard the noise coming from the furthest corner of the room. The boy with the lantern turned his light towards the sound and saw a coffin, standing and scooting itself unassisted across the floor. The coffin kept getting closer and closer. And closer. The coffin after some time was three feet away from the boys. One of the boys decided to stop this scary coffin.

Can you guess how he stopped the coffin? 

Well, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a Smith Brothers cough drop and took it; and he stopped that COFFIN for the time being, so the boys were saved. 

Get it? 🙂


Italics are direct quotes (because I didn’t want to ruin the pun) and the story was shared in the chapter “The Walking Coffin” by William M. Clements. // Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

The Chain on the Tombstone

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Today I wanted to share another piece of Indiana folklore: the chain on the tombstone.

In Bonds Chapel Cemetery (Orange County, Indiana) sits a gravestone that reads “Floyd E. Pruett, 1894-1920.” On the side of the stone is the ghostly appearance of a chain. Many argue the chain developed over time and the number of links continue to grow in number. The chain has been the topic of speculation for quite some time.

Folklore scholar William M. Clements interviewed Terry, an “expert” on this tombstone, in 1968. Terry explained the tombstone’s unusual appearance.

Well, the tombstone itself isn’t unusual. I mean, it’s a small tombstone; but when you get up close, you can see what appears to be a chain. And small links of a chain look maybe engraved in the tombstone to form a cross […] sometimes there’ll be seven or eight; sometimes there’ll be up to fifteen or sixteen. And, well nobody knows why it changes. Some people think maybe it’s the weather and something in the stone itself; and other people just think it’s psy…(whistle) supernatural. (from Indiana Folklore: A Reader, 1980)

A chain, huh? According to S.E. Schlosser (Spooky Indiana, 2012), legend says Pruett died by a cursed chain. He had killed his wife with a logger chain (he was a logger) and, before her dying breathe, she put a curse on her husband. A few days later, a chain broke loose from a timber wagon, whipped in the air, and snapped the man’s neck. Some legends say it was the same chain he used to kills his wife. If you touch the chain today, you will be killed by a chain. This is just one of many versions of the story, though.

For example, a more romantic version has been posted on hauntedplaces.org. A user writes:

He was killed in battle, and his girlfriend stood across the road, watching his burial from afar. Some say her ghost to this day still awaits his return. The chain is said to grow [edited from groe] one link longer every year, symbolizing her growing love for him, and it is said to glow at night. An apparition in a black dress can be seen standing on the other side of the road.

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Image Source: Angelfire

But, Clements interviewed a grocer who remembered Pruett died from tuberculosis, and that the mysterious chain was probably the result of a rusty chain that had come in contact with the stone in the quarry. Another informant gave a similar explanation for the chain mark and Pruett’s death.

Clements concluded that “a legend has been created among the youth of several southern Indiana counties in order to explain a physical phenomenon as well as to provide a supernatural ‘thrill’ as an escape from boredom” (264).

Pruett most definitely died of usual circumstances and was unfortunately given an unusual gravestone. How did the story start? I don’t know. It is interesting to see the various explanations for the chain, from the believable to the wild. But, let us remember to see past the legend and acknowledge he is a person. 

Want to hear more locals (of the past) tell their version of the story? Read more here.

Update. There’s a similar story about a Carl Pruitt in Kentucky. Same last name but different spelling. Weird right?

Sources

Clements, William M.. “The Chain on the Tombstone.” Indiana Folklore: A Reader, edited by Linda Degh, Indiana University Press, 1980, 258-264.

Hauntedplaces.org

The Hoosier Bloody Mary

ryan-holloway-168913What version of Bloody Mary were you told as a child? There’s Mary. There’s a mirror. There’s the risk of a bloody end. But, what words did you utter (and how many times)? What origin story were you told? Who was the real Bloody Mary? Mary Worth? Mary Weatherby? Mary Worthington? Mary Lou? 

The ritual and biography of Bloody Mary has variations, and my favorite origin story begins at a farm in Lake County, Indiana with a young girl named Mary Whales.


Sometime during the 19th Century, there lived a belligerent farmer named Old Man Whales. Old Man Whales supplemented his farm income by catching and selling runaway slaves. An evil man, he only loved himself and his wife Virginia.

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This story is adapted from S.E. Schlosser’s Spooky Indiana. This is my favorite book on Indiana folklore and hauntings. Highly recommend: beautiful writing style and illustrations.

After the Civil War, Old Man Whales’ life crumbled around him. He lost income from his nefarious business and his wife died during childbirth.

But, Virginia left a beautiful gift on this earth: Mary.

Old Man Whales hated Mary. She represented the cause of Virginia’s death. Mary, in blond curls and dressed in dirty rags, was kind and hardworking. While her dad drank himself to sleep, she did most of the housekeeping and chores. The only thing that brought her happiness were books. Books allowed her to escape that small farm in Lake County.

One night, Old Man Whales came home especially drunk and angry. He marched into Mary’s room while she slept and stabbed her to death with the same knife he used to slaughter pigs. Her screams could not save her. He left her bloody body in the bed with her head nearly severed. He went to bed, proud of his work.

The next morning, Old Man Whales took her body and buried her in the basement. He thought it was the last he would see of his daughter. As these things go, it would not be.

Two nights later, Old Man Whales entered the house after doing his evening chores. Standing in the kitchen was Mary, smiling through a “knife-split mouth.” Her head dangled off her neck and pool of blood surrounded her feet. “Ffffaaaatttthhherrr…” she hissed, running towards him. He ran out of the house and spent the night in the barn.

The next day, Old Man Whales returned to the house and saw no signs of last night’s bloody incident. He blamed the alcohol and went about his life. A week later, as he read the newspaper next to the fire, Mary appeared again. She sat across the room from him, with her dress covered in blood and head moving about. She flew towards him, clutching knitting needles like knives. Old Man Whales ran out of the house and into the barn. He looked at his back and his shirt was bloody with knife-like gashes.

thomas-shellberg-31280For days, Old Man Whales slept in the barn, but finally convinced himself that the image of his murdered daughter was just the whiskey. He decided to go back into the house one morning, clean up, and head into town.

When he looked into the mirror to start shaving, a face was peering back at him. Flesh fell from her pale face and through her sharp teeth Mary said, “Ffffaaaatttthhherrr.” Using her long nails she reached through the mirror and slapped Old Man Whales twice across the face. He fled again to the barn.

Old Man Whales thought he was safe in the barn, but heard a voice behind him: “”Ffffaaaatttthhherrr.” After he turned, she pointed to a noose hanging in the rafters. He began to climb up the ladder. The noose looked so welcoming…

The House of Blue Lights

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Misunderstood people are sometimes feared to the point of folklore legacy. We cling to myth to avoid confronting the other, creating monsters that aren’t really there. So much of my own childhood lore was attached to that neighbor that seemed “off.” For example, “Old Man Bill,” that lived down the street of my childhood home, was rumored to have chased dogs and children out of his yard with a butcher knife. I could, like Kevin McCallister, approach this eccentric man and dig deep into his own personal loss. But, I was always told to stay away from strangers and the alleged tales of his violence helped in doing so.

But then there were the games. “I dare you to run to Old Man Bill’s yard and stick your toe in the grass.” “No…I dare you to knock on his door.” No one wanted those games to end and we looked forward to taunting younger children with the same tale and dares.

When do these tales go to far? When do these dares become harassment? How do our fears rewrite history? Where does fact end and fiction begin?

The House of Blue Lights

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Skiles Edward Test

Growing up in the Indianapolis area, the story of The House of Blue Lights was an important part of my paranormal history.

The story begins with the tragic death of a millionaire’s wife. While the versions of the story differ from one storyteller to the next, I was told he kept her in a glass coffin in his mansion, surrounding her with blue (her favorite color) Christmas lights. Some legends say the lights were around the pool and other areas of his property. Some say you can see a woman walking the property at night, catching glimpses of her in one of the blue lights (the USC Digital Folklore Archives interviewed someone about this very story).

This man behind the blue lights was Skiles Edward Test.

Skiles Edward Test was born on October 19, 1889 and died on March 18, 1964. His father, Charles Test, made his fortune as president of Indianapolis Chain Works. Historic Indianapolis describes his childhood:

Skiles grew up, along with brother Donald and sister Dorothy, in the mansion their father Charles built at 795 Middle Drive in Woodruff Place on the near east side. The mansion still sits on a giant lot, its heavily wooded garden obscuring the carriage house set back from the street. Nearby Arsenal Technical High School wouldn’t open until 1912, so young Skiles attended Manual Training High School, located at 525 South Meridian before it was relocated to Madison Avenue in 1953. Skiles was a permanent fixture on the Honor Roll and finished in 3 1/2 years, graduating in 1908. If he had intended on going to college, he never got an opportunity. Charles Test passed away in a Wisconsin sanitarium of Bright’s Disease in 1910, leaving the eldest child, Skiles, to head the family.

In 1913, Skiles and his new wife, Josephine Benges, moved onto a large wooded and secluded property. His property was remarkable and had a full farm, large pool, small rail system, and it’s own working power plant. He definitely found interesting ways to spend his inheritance, but made sure to share it with his family and community.

According to Find a Grave:

The Skiles estate included two complete power plants and a cat and dog cemetery with headstones. Mr. Test loved animals and refused to turn away strays. At one time he reportedly had 150 cats and 15 St. Bernard dogs on his estate. After his death, albums of photographs of dogs, cats, squirrels and other animals lying in state in small caskets were found among his possessions. In spite of his reputation for eccentricity, Mr. Test was a friendly and generous man who supported many charities. He donated a large tract of land to the Lawrence Township School District that is now the site of Skiles Test Elementary School and a nearby nature preserve. A large portrait of Mr. Test is displayed in the lobby of the school.

He also, along with his siblings, constructed a building on the Monument Circle of downtown Indianapolis in his father’s honor (complete with Indianapolis’s first parking garage).

***

The tale of The House of Blue Lights popped up sometime between the two world wars. Author and former farmhand of Skiles, Garry Ledbetter, says closer to WWII. One explanation for these blue lights, according to Historic Indianapolis, was that “Skiles loved the color blue.  He put up blue lights each Christmas and hung blue bug-zapping lights around his enormous swimming pool.” And, his wife wasn’t even dead. But the story took hold and curious trespassers wanted a peek at the coffin. Historic Indianapolis describes these nightly visitors:

Throughout the Fifties and into the Sixties, the trespassers and vandals became increasingly bold. Skiles found a group of teens swimming in his pool and took their clothes and keys, only to be sued by one boy’s father. Trespassers released dogs from their pens and started fires in outbuildings.  Skiles found a teen in his kitchen drinking a Coke he’d taken from the fridge. For a while, he took to sleeping in the multi-story pool house, its cinder-block construction being more fire-proof than the house. Plagued with stress-related ulcers, Skiles began to leave each night and stayed at his girlfriend’s house, so as to not be tormented by the nonstop onslaught of lookie-loos.

It seemed that the stories of trespassing became lore. I once heard that a trespasser put one of Skiles’s cats in a cage with an aggressive dog.

***

The House of Blue Lights is a reminder that we must enjoy the tales we hear, but with a critical mind. We can become the “monster” if we get too caught up in the mystery, missing the opportunity to learn the other’s truth and wisdom.

The property and surrounding structures have been torn down since, but some still report flickering blue lights. I like to think that its just Skiles messing with us.


For more information, you might check out houseofbluelights.com.

Also, Skiles is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, a place I visited in a past post.