We had to get back to Columbus this morning, which meant we arose before the crack of dawn and were treated to a view of the Greenbrier in the wee hours. With wisps of fog shrouding parts of the grounds, absolute, not a whisper to be heard silence, and no living soul out and about, the Greenbrier assumed an almost mystical dimension that made you almost expect to encounter the ghost of Dwight D. Eisenhower. But no ghosts appeared, so we loaded up the car and headed out toward I-64 West.
In our case, the destination was the Sorrel Weed house, which has been featured on those ghost-hunting shows where every scene shows guys in dim red lighting overreacting to sounds and smells and chills. It’s a creep old house, all right, with a creepy past. It’s built on the location of an old British fort, and remains of soldiers have been found beneath its basement. A doctor performed unsuccessful surgeries in the basement before the Civil War. Children died there, and a love triangle involving husband, wife, and servant ended with the wife throwing herself off a third-floor balcony to land head first onto the slate courtyard and the servant hanging herself from the rafters of the carriage house.
Alas, the apparitions were quiet last night.
We watched a video of the house’s history and appearances on the ghost-hunting shows, saw a few of the upstairs rooms, were trained on using EMF devices that are supposed to detect paranormal activity, and then were set free to roam the basement and the upper floor of the carriage house in search of spooks. It actually was pretty hilarious to see people crowding into dark rooms, carefully holding their Ghostbusters-like devices and wondering if they would get a reading or feel a chill. Then, they would be momentarily blinded when one of the true believers on the tour took a flash photograph.
And there were some true believers in our tour group, earnestly speaking to the air or insisting they had captured “energy spheres” on their cell phone cameras. They seemed thrilled by their ghost-hunting adventure. Me? I thought the house was interesting.
It was the summer of 1976. I had just finished my freshman year of college and was working at the Alpine Village resort in Lake George, New York with a bunch of other high school and college kids — along with one 30-something guy named Jerry, a Vietnam War vet who captained the Alpine Village boat and who was focused with laser-like intensity on achieving meaningful dalliances with every unescorted mother bringing her two kids up for a week-long stay at the resort.
Jerry’s family owned a house that was located nearby. It was the old family homestead, a sprawling, century-old house back in the woods that was still fully furnished, although no one lived there. It was a convenient place for Jerry to take those lonely young mothers.
One night Jerry invited the lot of us to the house for a clambake and sleepover. The house was like a scene from Arsenic and Old Lace or a Vincent Price movie, complete with creaky floorboards, odd family memorabilia, portraits of long-dead relatives whose eyes seemed to follow you when you moved, dusty drapery, and unexpected alcoves where you might be startled by your reflection in a mirror as you passed by or the sight of a stuffed raccoon. It was a creepy place, and Jerry told us without much elaboration that family lore had it that the place was haunted by at least two ghosts — a weeping woman who had died during childbirth in one of the upstairs bedrooms, and a boy who had been killed by a fall into a well out back.
We chuckled at the story, gobbled our clams and burgers, and drank more beer than a responsible person should.
That night, I awoke after I thought I heard an odd noise. It was black as pitch, and the wind was blowing. I stuck my out of the bedroom door and out of the corner of my eye noticed some movement down at the end of the upstairs hallway. I didn’t have my glasses on, but something seemed to be moving down there. The floorboards creaked, I suddenly felt cold, and the hairs on my arms stood on end — then I retreated to the room, shut the door, and got back into bed, soon to fall into alcohol-assisted slumber without further incident.
The next morning I explored the other end of the hallway. There was a mirror and window, and a table with some old framed photographs. Perhaps I saw myself in the mirror, or curtains blowing in the early morning breeze? I’m not sure.
I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did I think one of the items would be spending the night in a castle — a real, honest-to-God, moat and drawbridge, turrets and keeps castle.
It turns out that it’s not that tough to do. There are a number of castles in Ireland, Scotland, Spain, and other European countries where you can spend a night, for a price. And some of them apparently come complete with ghosts dressed in period costumes, at no extra charge. Consider Parador de Cardona, pictured with this post, where construction began in 1020 — 1020! — and Room 712 is reportedly haunted by a leotard-wearing spirit.
How cool would it be to be sitting before a roaring fire in a castle’s great room, sipping a fine ale or perhaps a good, hearty mead as you admire the tapestry covering the stone walls and the vaulted wooden ceilings far overhead, and then seeing some knightly apparition drifting past?
Who doesn’t remember sitting by a campfire as a kid, seeing the reflections of the flames dance across the faces of your fellow campers, and felling that delicious chill flash up your spine as you heard a particularly creepy ghost story?
Ohio has its share of such stories, ranging from a haunted carousel horse to the ghost funeral train of Abraham Lincoln rolling through Urbana to the spirits who roam the halls of the Buxton Inn in Granville to the weeping Woman in Gray who mysteriously appears to visit the grave of a Confederate soldier who is buried in the Camp Chase Civil War prison camp cemetery here in Franklin County.
Of all the stories, I think the creepiest is the tale of the Dark Angel of Maple Grove Cemetery — a large stone angel protecting a grave that was inhabited by evil spirits, flew across the countryside slaughtering livestock, and then returned, blood-smeared and distraught, to the grave by morning. Sadly, the true story simply seems to be one of a vandalized grave.
The Buckeye State not only is home to tales of the supernatural, but also to an organization called The Ghosts of Ohio that will investigate and debunk those tales. Its website is worth a visit, and its roster of spooky stories provides lots of good ideas for some of those campfire tales that might be recounted come Halloween night.