Categories
Mysterious America

The Lafayette Avenue Ghost

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

In the winter of 1907-1908, a black-shrouded ghost startled residents of Mattoon’s west side. It began in December 1907 (formerly a time of year when ghost stories were popular) when residents noticed a diminutive figure dressed head-to-toe in a woman’s dress or gown, face covered with a hood, appear on the south side of Lafayette Avenue near 23rd Street around 7:00 p.m.

At least three times a week for several weeks, the figure walked west to 24th Street and back before vanishing as mysteriously as it appeared. Then, as now, this was a sparsely-populated neighborhood north of the Peoria, Decatur, & Evansville Railroad.

In the Journal Gazette, one man described being followed by the ghost, which emerged from the shadows behind a tree late at night. “I walked about fifty feet past Twenty-third street on the south of side of Lafayette avenue, when the ghost, or whatever it is, stepped out from the shadow of a tree and followed close after me as far as Twenty-fourth street, where it turned around and went back again,” he said. Others who were followed claimed the ghost never came within 20 feet.

Categories
Mysterious America

America’s Haunted Houses

These storied homes are valued for their architecture or their role in historical events, but many visitors and residents report that something otherworldly lingers…

Lizzie Borden House

The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast Museum in Fall River, Massachusetts was the scene of a gruesome unsolved double murder, perhaps among the most infamous in the U.S. Thirty-two-year-old Lizzy Borden became the chief suspect, but she was acquitted at trial. Today it’s open for tours and overnight stays.

The Franklin Castle

Built between 1881-1883, Franklin Castle (or the Tiedemann House as it is more properly known) is located in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. It is rumored to be home to more than a few tortured souls left over from a series of gruesome murders – but are any of those stories true? Only a few people have been allowed inside its wrought iron gates to know for sure.

Categories
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”. 

Categories
Mysterious America

Decades-Old Mystery Hangs Over Rush Rhees Library

At least one University of Rochester employee refuses to stay dead, according to this 88-year-old campus legend. But was he–or his accidental death–real?

Established in 1850 as an independent offshoot of Baptist-born Madison University, the University of Rochester grew to become a mid-sized research university along the Genesee River in Rochester, New York. Benjamin Rush Rhees, a Baptist minister and namesake of Rush Rhees Library, was the University of Rochester’s third president, serving from 1900 to 1935. His long and steady leadership oversaw the university’s growth into a modern institution.

Rush Rhees Library was constructed between 1927 and 1930 in neoclassical style, and its tower, which contains a carillon featuring 50 Dutch bells, stands 186 feet high. The library’s impressive collection contains over three million books, as well as beautiful neoclassical artwork and sculptures. But does something otherworldly flicker through its halls?

The ghost story at Rush Rhees Library is as old as the library itself. In 1929, during construction of the central library tower, a Sicilian immigrant and laborer named Pete Nicosia fell 150 feet to his death. James Conroy, his foreman, supposedly signed Nicosia’s death certificate and made burial arrangements, or so the legend goes. Since then, Nicosia’s disembodied spirit has materialized before bewildered and unsuspecting students.

Categories
Mysterious America

The Highlander's Legend and Weeping Woman of Ticonderoga

Two colonial-era ghost stories, one of which sparked an international legend, make Fort Ticonderoga one of Lake Champlain’s most haunted places.

Originally called Fort Carillon by the French, Fort Ticonderoga is a stone star fort near the southern end of Lake Champlain at the New York/Vermont border. French engineer Michel Chartier de Lotbinière, Marquis de Lotbinière constructed the fort between 1755 and 1757 during the French and Indian War. The French and Indian War was part of the larger Seven Years’ War between France and Great Britain.

In 1758, the British launched an invasion of what was then the French colony of Canada. Fort Carillon was key to French defenses on the shore of Lake Champlain. Today, visitors to Fort Ticonderoga are likely to overlook the secluded battlefield about three-quarters of a mile west of the citadel, but for seven hours on July 8, 1758, it was the scene of the bloodiest battle in the French and Indian War.

British General James Abercrombie took a force of 6,000 British regulars and 12,000 colonial volunteers, rangers, and American Indians to lay siege to Fort Carillon. The French, under General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and the Chevalier de Levis, numbering about 3,600, dug entrenchments and erected breastworks on a hill west of the fort. Abercrombie ordered poorly coordinated frontal attacks on the French lines. The slaughter resulted in 800-1,000 British killed and 1,500 wounded to the French’s 104 killed and 273 wounded.

Categories
Mysterious America

Do Civil War Ghosts Wander Richmond's Belle Isle?

An old Civil War prison camp is enough to fuel ghost stories, but several abandoned structures also contribute to Belle Isle’s mysteries.

It’s not often local folklore and urban exploration collide at a city park, but Belle Isle in Richmond, Virginia has a lot to offer curious visitors. Picturesque bike paths and hiking trails past long abandoned structures fuel visitors’ imaginations, and stories of wandering ghosts in blue have been shared for decades. Is there any truth to these tales?

Traces of human activity on Belle Isle date back hundreds of years, starting with American Indians who found the island in the James River ideal for fishing. Captain John Smith explored it in 1607, and locals called it ‘Broad Rock Island’. Following in his footsteps, the area’s first White settlers carried on the Indians’ activities by building a fishery.

Other industry soon followed with an iron and nail factory in 1814 and a granite quarry. By the 1860s, this industry had attracted a small community, but their idyllic life was interrupted by war. When Virginia seceded in 1861, the Confederate government found Belle Isle an ideal place for a prisoner of war camp. Rushing water on all sides discouraged escape, as did the artillery pieces pointed at the camp.

Categories
Mysterious America

The Falling Ghosts of Carlyle House Historic Park

From colonial aristocratic manor to dilapidated squatter’s nest to historic landmark, Carlyle House has survived centuries, but eyewitnesses claim something otherworldly has survived with it.

A Colonial Era ruin uncovered after decades hidden behind an antebellum hotel should be enough to ignite storytellers’ imaginations, but it’s reports of numerous apparitions that make Carlyle House in Alexandria, Virginia a mandatory stop on any local ghost tour. Built by Scottish merchant John Carlyle on premier lots along the Potomac River from 1751 to 1753, this mid-Georgian stone manor is older than our country. History was made in its parlor.

John Carlyle (1720-1780) began his career as an apprentice to an English merchant, but soon made his own fortune in the British colonies. He married Sarah Fairfax, daughter of William Fairfax, who was a cousin to the largest land owner in Virginia. Carlyle himself became quite wealthy, with three plantations, dozens of slaves, and several business interests.

In the French and Indian War, British General Edward Braddock used Carlyle House as his headquarters before he embarked on his ill-fated campaign into western Pennsylvania. During a conference with colonial governors at the house, Braddock and the governors clashed over British demands for the colonies to fund his campaign, an early source of tension that later led to the Revolutionary War.