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Mysterious America

Twin Haunted Mansions of Marian University

Since acquiring the Allison and Wheeler-Stokely mansions, rumors persist at this Catholic university that both former estates have an active spiritual life, and not of the religious variety.

Marian University in Indianapolis, Indiana was established in 1851 by the Sisters of St. Francis as St. Francis Normal in Oldenburg, Indiana. In 1936, it merged with Immaculate Conception Junior College to become Marian College. The Sisters of St. Francis purchased Riverdale, the former James A. Allison estate in Indianapolis, and moved in. Marian College officially opened on September 15, 1937. Its name changed to Marian University in 2009. Since occupying the Allison Mansion, and in 1963, the Wheeler-Stokely Mansion, rumors persist that both former estates have an active spiritual life, and not of the religious variety.

Built for automotive mogul James Asbury Allison (1872-1928) between 1911 and 1914, this Art & Crafts Country-style mansion quickly gained a reputation as a “house of wonders”. It was revolutionary at the time for integrating the latest advancements, including intercoms, automatic lighted closets, an indoor swimming pool, and even an electric elevator. Allison co-founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, co-founded the Prest-O-Lite Company, and founded the Allison Engineering Company.

Architect Herbert Bass designed the mansion’s exterior, but Allison fired him before completion and hired Philadelphia architect William Price (1861-1916) to design the interior.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenberg purchased Allison’s estate at 3200 Cold Spring Road in 1936 and moved their school there, renaming it Marian College. It served as their main administration building, library, and living quarters for decades. Allison had previously worked with the Sisters of St. Francis to open a hospital in Miami Beach, Florida. After his death in 1928, rumors spread that his ethereal form remained at his beloved Indianapolis estate, which he called “Riverdale”. 

This unusual activity has led some to call Allison Mansion the most haunted house in Indianapolis. Besides missing items, re-arranged books, and disembodied voices, all of which are attributed to James Allison himself, others have reported seeing the ghost of a young girl who allegedly drowned in the indoor pool. According to James A. Willis, author of Haunted Indiana (2012), the child was an infant who fell in and drowned, and visitors report hearing her cries.

Built in 1911 for Frank H. Wheeler (1863-1921), co-owner of the Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company and another co-founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Wheeler-Stokely Mansion is an impressive example of an Arts & Crafts-style home. Unlike the neighboring Allison Mansion, William Price of Price & McLanahan designed both its exterior and interior. Its distinctive green terracotta-style roof was built using decorative glazed Mercer tile from the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Wheeler was so wealthy, he built a 320-foot long colonnade leading from the mansion so he could walk his dog during snowy or rainy weather.

A man named Monty Williams purchased the estate, known as “Hawkeye”, in 1927 and remodeled the grounds, most noticeably removing the lagoon. William Burnett Stokely, Jr., owner of the Stokely-Van Camp canning and food packaging company, purchased it in 1937 and lived there until 1963, when he sold it to Marian University. It originally housed the university’s music department, but today it is home to the Office of Undergraduate Admission and Office of International Admission.

Like the Allison Mansion, the Wheeler-Stokely Mansion is rumored to be haunted. According to a 1990 article in university publication The Carbon, Frank Wheeler committed suicide in 1921 after diabetes-induced gangrene infected his legs. Since then, eyewitnesses have reported strange activity. An assistant professor of music named Sara Reid and one of her students both witnessed the apparition of a man appear in one of the rehearsal rooms. In another bizarre incident, campus security officers making their rounds through the mansion after hours called in a K-9 dog to investigate a potential trespasser after hearing the sound of keys jingling and a door slam. The dog stopped at the stairs to the third floor and refused to ascend.

Allison Mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 followed by the Wheeler-Stokely Mansion in 2004. Both majestic manors add uniqueness to Marian University’s campus, a legacy that lives on in their legends and lore.

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