A feud about the land gives rise to wicked laughter at the Witch’s Castle in Oregon.
Folklore, legends, and ghost stories abound regarding the Witch’s Castle.
As with so many purportedly haunted locations in the Portland area, one must carefully sift through the lore in order to filter out the truths. Even then, it is sometimes difficult to paint a completely accurate portrait, and one is left with a dramatic narrative at best. But this is also what makes traveling to haunted locations so intriguing. Visitors are left to decide whether their own experiences and senses reflect paranormal activity. But what most ghost-hunting travelers do know is that they should expect the unexpected.
What is left is the eerie shell—roofless and covered with moss, clinging ivy, and graffiti. It has been called the Witch’s Castle for decades and has a reputation throughout the state of Oregon of being haunted. It is all that scary movies are made of—an odd, out-of-place structure; a bloody tale of former tenants; and the haunting of the land on which it resides.
One of the most accepted stories about the Witch’s Castle is that of an ongoing ghostly feud on the land that gives rise to wicked laughter, sinister whispers, screams of terror, and angry specters—phenomena that give many a hiker second thoughts about venturing down the trails after dark. Many have also claimed to see dark figures darting between the trees and behind the shrubbery and in and out of the old stone structure.
There have been reports of bright, glowing lights encircling the building before disappearing into the woods and even a few reports of full-bodied apparitions of young women and children. People I spoke with who have experienced what they feel is paranormal activity at the Witch’s Castle, however, do not stray from their accounts, and
I tend to believe them and that this consistency points to the spirits of the Balch family haunting their old homestead. I can assure you that, after dark, each noise, whether it is the falling of a leaf or the crack of a twig, is amplified around the Witch’s Castle. So whether the old stone building is haunted or not, it is not the most comfortable place to be when the sun goes down. I didn’t see a ghost during my visit, but that doesn’t mean they do not reside there—only that I was not in the right place at the right time. And, as we all know, history never dies.
If you enjoyed the story of the Witch’s Castle, check out Ghosthunting Oregon, a book by Donna Stewart in which shecovers more than 30 haunted places throughout the Beaver State, all of them open to the public.
John McSorley arrived in New York City from Liverpool in 1851 on the ship Colonist. In 1854 he opened a saloon at 15 East Seventh Street, naming it The Old House at Home. It was a place for Irish immigrant workingmen to feel at home while enjoying a beer with some cheese and crackers. By 1908 a storm had ripped the original sign down, and it was replaced with a new sign bearing a new name: McSorley’s Old Time Ale House. Later on, the word Time was removed from the name, and to this day the establishment is called McSorley’s Old Ale House.
In 1910, at the age of 83, John McSorley died in his apartment above the bar. His son Bill took over the business. By 1936, two years before his death, Bill sold the bar to its first non-McSorley owner, Daniel O’Connell. Only a year later, in 1939, O’Connell died, leaving the bar to his daughter, Dorothy O’Connell Kirwan. Dorothy promised her father she would not allow women in the bar, and she kept that promise. She appointed her husband, Harry Kirwan, as the manager. Dorothy entered the bar only on Sundays, after closing time. Eventually, ownership was passed along to the Kirwans’ son, Danny.
The next owner of McSorley’s was Matthew Maher. He and Harry Kirwin had met by chance when Harry was visiting Ireland in 1964. Harry’s car broke down, and along came Matthew Maher to save the day. In return, Harry promised Maher a job if he ever came to New York City. Later that year, Matthew Maher began his employment at McSorley’s as a waiter and bartender. Maher was promoted to night manager of the bar, and in 1977 he purchased the bar from Danny Kirwan.
McSorley’s has been the subject of a stage play, of poetry by e.e. cummings, and of artwork by John Sloan. Its list of notable guests ranges from Abraham Lincoln to Woody Guthrie and John Lennon. The very chair Lincoln sat in is up above the bar, in fact; a few feet away hangs one of the original “Wanted” posters for John Wilkes Booth. Amazingly, the first time women were allowed in McSorley’s was in 1969, following a lawsuit, although a ladies’ restroom was not installed until 1990. Today, McSorley’s is the fourth oldest bar in New York City. (The oldest is the Bridge Café, another entry in this book; it is believed to have opened in 1794.)
My mother and I visited McSorley’s Ale House in January 2010. The bar is within walking distance of Cooper University, which I am sure the students there greatly appreciate. The swinging wooden doors with their oval windows are worn along the edges from 156 years of use. Sawdust is strewn over the floor, and a coal-burning potbellied stove keeps the place warm and inviting.
I met with a bartender known as Pepe who has bartended at McSorley’s since 1973. At first I thought it odd to see a black plastic garbage bag suspended at his waist under his apron, but I soon realized how much sense it made as waterproofing, or beer proofing, for his trousers. Pepe’s real name is Steven Zwaryczuk. He’s not fazed by the reports of ghosts and other paranormal activity at McSorley’s. In fact, he laughingly pointed out two regular customers, Brian and Mark, as the most paranormal things to happen to him. Brian has been coming to McSorley’s since the early 1980s, when he was in the eighth grade. Back then, he said, he was the same height as he is now and weighed only about 20 pounds less. Mark was at the end of the bar where Mini, the cat, was curled up in the corner. I asked Pepe, “Was there ever a time when you were completely ‘creeped out’ by being here?” Without missing a beat, he pointed to Brian and replied: “Nothing has ever creeped me out, except him!”
Mark chimed in that a friend of his who once rented the apartment above the bar would occasionally hear tables and chairs moving, as well as distant voices, long after the bar was closed for the night. Pepe was kind enough to bring owner Matthew Maher down to the bar so I could interview him. Although Matthew has been living and working in New York City since 1964, he’s maintained a sweet Irish brogue. I asked him, “Have you had any ghostly experiences while working here?” and he chuckled and said, “Have ya got a year to spare?” Well, that certainly got my attention. Maher told me that McSorley’s is famous for always having at least one feline “on staff” at the bar. One night after closing, Maher was cleaning the kitchen. He returned to the bar area and saw the cat at the end of the bar purring and nuzzling up against an unseen hand that was petting it. According to Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg, tour guide for Ghosts of New York, whenever a cat is seen in the window of McSorley’s, Harry Houdini is present as the spirit inside the cat. Why Houdini, you ask? Dr. Schoenberg claims that the set of handcuffs secured to the footrail of the bar once belonged to Houdini.
Maher also pointed out the print depicting McSorley’s that hangs behind the bar. He said that when a local artist presented the print to him, Maher immediately commented, “Very nice! You even included one of the McSorley’s cats.” The artist, appearing confused, stood back and carefully examined the print. He told Maher that he never painted the cat and had no idea how it ended up in the finished print. The cat’s body is facing the entrance of McSorley’s, but its head is turned, looking over its shoulder toward the rear of the dining area. According to Ted Andrews in his book Animal Speak, cats represent mystery, magic, independence, and nighttime. In ancient Egypt, the cat was revered and usually represented the goddess Bast. Cats have been associated with witches as their “familiars.” In this respect, it is believed that the cat embodies the spirit of a former witch who crossed the line and did something worthy of punishment. That punishment is to incarnate as a cat and serve the needs of another witch for nine lives before being allowed to incarnate once more as a human. It’s interesting to note that cats are typically feminine in their energies and connections. McSorley’s did not allow women in the bar until 1970, yet the cats have been present all along.
Brian pointed out to me a dust-covered gas lamp that hangs in McSorley’s. On it are several turkey wishbones, also covered with dust. McSorley’s tradition calls for a soldier leaving for war to place a wishbone on the lamp, then remove it when he returns. Brian thinks this tradition started with World War I; other sources claim it started with the Civil War. Other than a soldier leaving or reclaiming his wishbone, no one is allowed to touch the gas lamp, not even to clean it. Brian said that the dusty wishbones still on the lamp serve as a memorial of sorts for the soldiers who placed them there before leaving for war and never returned.
I doubt Houdini is hanging around McSorley’s as a cat. However, the disembodied noises, the unseen admirer seen petting the cat on the bar, and the lengthy history of notable guests at the establishment certainly lend credence to assertions that the place is haunted. Personally, I did not capture any evidence of paranormal happenings. Rather, my mother and I were captured by the mouthwatering aroma of the burgers that landed on the table by the front window for a young couple having lunch. The motto of McSorley’s is “Be Good or Be Gone.” Apparently, someone is being good for an indefinite amount of time, as they’re not yet gone. Keep this in mind if you visit McSorley’s, and order an extra round of “light & dark” beer when you belly up to the bar.
Patti Starr, author of Ghosthunting Kentucky, investigates the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Join her on her adventure!
When I first got the call from Theresa, a former employee at Buffalo Trace, inviting us to investigate the distillery, I remembered that I had a student, Bobbie Vereeke, whose husband also worked there. Bobbie told me that her husband knew about the ghosts that haunt several of the buildings on the property. While she was a student in my ghosthunter course, Bobbie shared with me her unusual talent for automatic writing, in which a spirit takes control of her hand and writes out messages. I knew she would be a great asset to the investigation because she used that method to communicate with the spirits.
I organized a group of 40 ghosthunters from my organization to investigate the distillery. When we arrived on the property, we drove through the entrance into a beautiful, natural, and rustic setting. It wasn’t hard to imagine herds of buffalos grazing along the traces that lay before us as we circled around to the back of the original main house to the company parking lot below.
When we met our tour guide, she asked us if we wanted to know the history first or did we want to wait until after the investigation. I like to go into an investigation without being briefed about the place beforehand so that if a name or event is revealed to us, we will not be influenced by it until it is later validated through reliable sources. We opted not to get the history until after our investigation and went forth with our ghosthunt.
The guide led us up to the main house, called Stony Point Mansion, because that was where so many of the employees had experienced unexplainable and illogical activity. With our cameras, camcorders, audio recorders, and EMF meters in hand, we started our investigation, moving down the hall towards the back of the house. My EMF meter started to register a disturbance by beeping and flashing a red light. I wanted to electric dowse with the EMF meter, so I asked the invisible entity to stop making the meter go off by backing away. The meter came to an abrupt stop. I thanked the spirit and asked it if it would answer my questions by making the meter beep for “yes” and remain quiet for “no.” It beeped once to agree. This is a method I call electric dowsing. The tour guide was delighted to see this result. I asked if the spirit was a female, and the meter remained silent.
I asked if it was a male, and the meter immediately beeped twice for “yes.” Several gasps came from the group. I continued to ask yes and no questions in order to find out as much as I could about this personality that was coming through for us. When the session was over, I asked our guide if she had any idea who we might be communicating with. She replied, “All of the information that was validated through the meter matches that of a former president by the name of Colonel Blanton. When Blanton was 16 years old, he started to work at the distillery; by the time he was 24, he became president of the whiskey plant. His leadership allowed the company to survive the Great Depression, the Great Flood of 1937, and World War II. His love for people and the company inspired him to build a clubhouse so that employees could have a place for social and community functions. All the employees wanted to work hard and please Colonel Blanton.”
We left the first floor of the mansion and descended into the basement to see what else our instruments would reveal. This time, Bobbie Vereeke felt a strange urge to go into one of the back offices. She sat down at the desk with pen and pad and went into a mild trance so she could give in to the movement of her hand. Soon the writing began. It was amazing to see the words start to appear across her pad. After the session was over, she revealed that she had been in communications with a lady named Anna, a former employee of Colonel Blanton. She wanted to make sure all was well at the distillery. Her job had been to keep the place clean, “spic-and-span” were the words Bobbie wrote, and to keep the Colonel happy. Anna’s words read, “I worked here. I don’t have anywhere else to go. He was a great man, and I just want to please him.”
We left the basement and headed for another building, known as the Riverside house, opposite the boiler room. This house was built in 1792 and is the oldest recorded building still standing in Franklin County. The house is being renovated, but, at the time of our investigation, it was in a deteriorated condition. We were not allowed to go inside for fear of injury, so we stood at the doorway and took pictures of the shabby structure’s interior.
As we backed away from the house, I looked up and saw a face looking down at us from the second floor. I pointed my camera and took a shot but was not able to capture the face in the photo. Another member of my group took a shot and got a faint outline that appeared to be someone looking back at us. It was a good piece of evidence in the camera, but it just didn’t show up once we printed it out on paper.
It has been more than eight years since I did that investigation at Buffalo Trace, so I thought I would call to see if any of the employees were still experiencing any ghostly activity. After introducing myself and explaining the reason for my call, I was routed to Angela Traver, the public relations manager. Angela was attentive; once I asked her if she had experienced any type of paranormal activity, she was gracious enough to share her story with me.
Angela’s office is located in the sunroom of Stony Point Mansion. It was a wintry morning, still dark, when she arrived at her office. Soon after entering the room, she sat her computer case on the floor beside her desk so that she could remove her coat and scarf. As she bent down, she saw a tall, dark figure pass by on her right side. She jerked round and quickly reached for the light switch to see who else was in the room. Once the light was turned on, she could see that the room lay quiet before her with no sign of a dark figure. She recalled, “Knowing that Colonel Blanton was a tall thin man, and the fact that he died in this same room, made me think that maybe he was still making his rounds in the manor. I was okay with that thought and proceeded to get ready for the day’s business.”
On the last leg of our investigation, we entered the Buffalo Trace Gift Shop. The sales staff gathered around to tell us about the weird experiences they had had while working in the shop. Most of them agreed that the most common occurrence was the sound of footsteps above the gift shop. It sounded as if three or four men were walking around wearing heavy boots. The area above the shop was a storage space. No one was assigned to that area unless they were adding more items to storage. Sometimes, the employees would hear the sounds of objects being dragged across the floor. They said that sometimes it sounded as if the items in storage were being rearranged, even though there was no one on the second floor at that time.
Our group was anxious to get started upstairs. As we ascended the stairs, we were met with a blanket of hot, still air that took my breath away. It was roasting up there. I didn’t know how long we could last in such heat, so we started immediately gathering evidence. Bobbie held her notebook in her hand, and I took pictures as I recorded my requests of the spirits to speak. My husband, Chuck, took a picture of me just as I asked the spirits to come to me, and he captured the image of a spirit orb hovering over me. I glanced over at Bobbie and saw that she was starting to write. I went over to where she was standing and looked over her shoulder to see what information she was getting. It was hard to make out some of the words, but she later translated them for us. This is what she wrote: “Must be careful here. We know that it is hot, but you need to spend time . . . .” and the message stopped. Then it started back up again: “Four of us are here for work. The big man came to see us daily. He wants to make sure things are done right.” There was another break in the writing and then she continued again: “John, Amos, Fred, and Ralph.” Another pause: “There are secrets in this building. You can find them, but you must look carefully. I found them long ago and protected them. The stone walls are built to hide . . . .” There, the communication stopped.
By this time most of us were about to pass out from the heat. I knew it would not be good for any of us to remain there any longer, so we concluded our investigation and returned to the gift shop below. It was a super experience for all of us. The best part was hearing all the stories and experiences of the employees that helped validate the data that we collected while investigating the distillery.
Colonel Blanton passed away in 1959, after spending more than 55 years doing what he loved best, in the home he loved the most. During his time at the distillery, he went from being office boy to company president, and he was credited with preserving and enhancing one of Kentucky’s historic landmarks. It seems as though the Colonel has made Buffalo Trace Distillery a paranormal landmark as well.
In today’s post, Michael J. Varhola, coauthor of Ghosthunting Maryland, shares with us the story of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney.
Innumerable vessels have passed through Baltimore harbor over the more than three centuries that the city has served as one of the most important ports in North America. Some of these have come to stay for good and, like historic buildings, have been restored and made ready for visitors at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Also like historic buildings, a great many of them—all storied vessels and in several cases veterans of combat in foreign seas or other harrowing action—have ghost stories associated with them. And many of them, even those that are not “officially” occupied by ghosts, participate in “haunted ship” events around Halloween.
Launched in 1936, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney is notable as being the last ship afloat that fought at Pearl Harbor during the surprise Japanese attack on Hawaii in 1941. That alone would warrant it having a few ghosts aboard, but its period of active service continued for many more years, and the vessel was not decommissioned until 1986. USCGC Taney also served as a command ship at the Battle of Okinawa and as a fleet escort in the Atlantic and Mediterranean during World War II, interdicted enemy supplies during the Vietnam War, patrolled in support of drug interdiction and fisheries protection, and joined in the search for lost aviator Amelia Earhart.
In chatting with people who work around the Inner Harbor, we learned that after USS Constellation, USCGC Taney is the local vessel with the greatest reputation for being haunted. Many staff of the vessel and visitors alike—especially those participating in overnight programs—have reported constantly catching movement out of the corners of their eyes when aboard and seeing spectral forms gliding across its decks and past its open hatchways.
Nestled deep in the Everglades among the Ten Thousand Islands along the southwestern Gulf coast of Florida is the tiny village of Chokoloskee. It is at the end of the road—literally. You can’t get any farther south except by boat. And at the end of the one main road in Chokoloskee is the Smallwood General Store, sitting on stilts, the waters of the Gulf lapping against its pilings as they have for over a hundred years. It was here on the shore next to Smallwood’s that Ed Watson met his demise in 1910.
Ed Watson had come to the area several years before and was farming very successfully on forty acres a few miles south on the Chatham River. He was a quiet, angry man who kept to himself, but was often in trouble with the law because of his violent temper. He had many enemies in the neighborhood.
Because he was so standoffish, he was cloaked in mystery. No one knew much about him. Folks wondered how he was able to do so well with his farm in such a hostile environment, until disemboweled bodies began showing up in the waters around Watson’s farm.
Someone finally figured out that he had been hiring migrant workers and then killing them instead of paying them, disposing of their bodies by burying them on his farm or feeding them to the alligators.
The local sheriff formed a posse and proceeded to Watson’s place to arrest him. Watson wasn’t home, but the posse found a mass grave with dozen of bodies and body parts. Back at Smallwood’s, the posse waited for Watson to show up. Because of the gruesomeness of the apparent murders, they dispensed with normal legal proceedings and shot him dead as soon as he appeared.
Many of the locals think Smallwood’s is haunted by Ed Watson and that it’s not safe to go among the pilings under the store. Maybe that’s true, but there is no doubt that Watson’s old place is filled with the ghosts of his murder victims. Many people have tried to make a go of the farm, but very little ever grew there after Watson died, and everyone has been overwhelmed by the ghosts. After many years, an old woman moved into Watson’s house. She, too, encountered the phantoms, and one night, while trying to fend them off with a lighted knot torch, burned the place to the ground. Since then, snakes and vegetation have reclaimed the farm and the house.
Ed Watson may or may not be around, but the ghosts of his many victims still certainly occupy that forty acres on the Chatham River a few miles south of the Smallwood General Store in Chokoloskee.
In his book Ghosthunting Florida, author Dave Lapham visits more than 30 legendary haunted places in the Sunshine State, all of which are open to the public so visitors can test their own ghost hunting skills.
John B. Kachuba, author of Ghosthunting Illinois recommends a visit to these three Abraham Lincoln historic sites in Springfield, Illinois. The sites are said to be haunted. And what better place for a ghosthunter to lay his or her weary head than at the haunted and beautiful Inn at 835?
Abraham Lincoln Home
426 South Seventh Street, Springfield, IL 62701
The Lincoln Home looks exactly as the Lincolns left it when they departed Springfield in 1861, heading for Washington, D.C. Period furnishings recreate the everyday life of the family. Several blocks of reconstructed buildings surround the house, giving the visitor the sense of stepping back in time to Lincoln’s day.
Opening hours : 8:30am-5:00pm, daily, except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day, when the park is closed. For more information visit the website.
Abraham Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery 1441 Monument Avenue, Springfield, IL 62702
Oak Ridge Cemetery is located at the end of Monument Avenue. It’s easy to find since there is plenty of street signage marking the way. It’s impossible to miss the tomb once you’ve entered Oak Ridge. Follow the signs to the parking lot and walk a hundred yards or so to the tomb.
The tomb is open daily from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. For more information about the tomb and Oak Ridge Cemetery visit the website.
Old State Capitol
Fifth and Adams Streets, Springfield, IL 62701
The Old State Capitol is easily accessed from either Fifth or Sixth Street. Its red dome is a distinctive landmark. An underground parking garage is below the capitol.
After touring the capitol building, it’s a short walk to the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices and the Illinois State Historical Library. For opening hours and more information visit the website of the Old State Capitol.
Where to stay when visiting the Abraham Lincoln historic sites in Springfield, Illinois?
The Inn at 835
835 South Second Street, Springfield, IL 62704
What better place for a ghosthunter to lay his or her weary head than at the haunted and beautiful Inn at 835? It’s conveniently located in the center of the city, close to many other historic sites, some of them haunted. Innkeeper Court Conn can direct you.
For more information and reservations visit their website.
Today, Michael O. Varhola, author of Ghosthunting Maryland, reports on his visit to the Piney Point Lighthouse.
Located along the banks of the lower Potomac River near its approach to the Chesapeake Bay in St. Mary’s County, Piney Point Lighthouse is a conical stone tower with a detached keeper’s house that became operational in 1836. It has sometimes been called the “Lighthouse of Presidents” because of the several U.S. presidents—including James Monroe, Franklin Pierce, Theodore Roosevelt—who fished and relaxed on or near its grounds during vacations from the White House. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1964 and it and the keeper’s house were subsequently incorporated into a little historic complex that includes an adjacent building containing the Potomac River Maritime Exhibit.
Over the years, people have reported various sorts of paranormal phenomena at the place, and, while somewhat off the beaten track, it has received some attention from ghosthunters (e.g., the D.C. Hauntings paranormal group conducted an investigation at the site but declined to share their results). Workers at the site have reported numerous strange phenomena, including hearing people speak to them when no one else was present.
When I visited the site, I took numerous pictures both inside and outside the lighthouse and walked around the exterior of the tower with my microcassette recorder to see whether I could capture any EVPs. While a subsequent review of my tape did not reveal anything definite, something strange happened while I was recording it: As I walked around the tower, it suddenly struck me that something I couldn’t see was touching and raising up the hair on the back of my hand!
About the author: Michael Varhola is a writer who has authored or coauthored 34 books and games—including the swords-and-sorcery novel Swords of Kos: Necropolis and two fantasy writers guides. He has also published more than 120 games and related publications. He is the founder of the game company Skirmisher Publishing LLC, editor in chief of d-Infinity game magazine, and editor of the America’s Haunted Road Trip series of ghosthunting travel guides. He has edited, published, or written for numerous publications, including The New York Times. He also has an active online presence, notably through Facebook and a variety of other blogs, forums, and sites. He lives in the Texas Hill Country.
Cedar Key is a really cool place. Old Crackers say that Cedar Key is like Key West was fifty years ago. I don’t know, but I do know that, although I really love Key West, I’m always enchanted by Cedar Key, where Sue and I go often to rejuvenate. No laptops. No cell phones. We don’t even watch TV when we’re there. Just the two of us on a laidback island where time doesn’t mean much, and what is happening in Washington or Wall Street doesn’t have much relevance.
My friend Rosemary Norman and her husband feel the same way. Maybe we should have a “Pencil Head” thing like Key West enthusiasts have their “Parrot Head,” since not so long ago Cedar Key was a major producer of pencils. Anyway, Rosemary, who is the founder of West Florida Ghost Researchers and an unusually sensitive person, has been to Cedar Key so many times and has had so many experiences, that she deserves to be named “Chief Ticonderoga.”
On her first visit to Cedar Key—she and her husband had just discovered the island—Rosemary woke early on Sunday morning and decided to go for a walk. The weather was balmy with a gentle breeze blowing off the Gulf. Few people were about, and she was enjoying the morning. She walked down Second Street intending to turn right on A Street and walk around the pier. As she strolled along, she saw an attractive couple seated at a table across the street at the Island Hotel. The woman was wearing a beautiful, lavender dress and hat, the man a suit with a high celluloid collar. Both were nicely attired, but Rosemary thought it odd that their clothes looked as if they were from the Gay Nineties. Oh well, perhaps they were here dressed for a period event.
She waved to the couple. The lady smiled at her and raised her tea cup. Rosemary went on. After swinging around the pier, she decided that she’d go back up Second Street and down Third Street just to see the sights.
This time as she passed the Island Hotel, she saw no one. There was no table in front or any room for one, only dirt and broken concrete. Curious, she crossed the street and went into the hotel. No breakfast was being served; the dining room was closed. The receptionist sat half asleep at the desk. There was no activity at all. It was then that she realized she’d seen ghosts.
Rosemary and her husband have been back many times, and she has yet to see the lady in lavender. Still, she has always been satisfied. The island is so haunted, she has no problem running into spirits.
In his book Ghosthunting Florida, author Dave Lapham visits more than 30 legendary haunted places in the Sunshine State, all of which are open to the public so visitors can test their own ghost hunting skills.
When self-taught lawyer Abraham Lincoln rode his horse into Springfield, Illinois, in 1837, all his meager belongings were packed into two saddlebags. Five years later, the rising young attorney married Mary Todd, a well-educated woman from a prominent Kentucky family, and in 1844 the Lincolns paid $1,500 for a Greek-Revival cottage at the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets. For the next 17 years, the house—considerably enlarged by Lincoln— sheltered the growing family. Three of his four children were born there, and one of them, Edward, died in the house at the age of 4.
On February 11, 1861, the Lincolns left Springfield by train, headed for Washington, D.C., where Lincoln would be sworn in as the 16th President of the United States. He never again saw his Springfield home, but in 1865 his somber funeral cortege passed by the house, decked out in black-and-white bunting, as it made its way to Oak Ridge Cemetery, where the murdered president was laid to rest.
Visitors to the Lincoln Home in Springfield Report Seeing a Tall, Thin Apparition with a Little Boy
Since then, some visitors to the Lincoln home have reported seeing a tall, thin apparition with a little boy, perhaps Abe and little Edward. Most visitors who experience a paranormal event in the house, however, say that it is the ghost of Mary Todd Lincoln who lingers there, in the place where she lived the happiest years of her adult life.
Abraham Lincoln was no stranger to events that some might call supernatural. He once related such an event to a few friends, one of them being Noah Brooks. After Lincoln’s assassination, Brooks told the story to the readers of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, recounting the story “as nearly as possible in his own words”:
“It was just after my election in 1860. . . I was well tired out, and went home to rest, throwing myself down on a lounge in my chamber. Opposite where I lay was a bureau, with a swinging glass upon it—[and here he got up and placed furniture to illustrate the position]—and, looking in that glass, I saw myself reflected, nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed, had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished. On lying down again I saw it a second time—plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler, say five shades, than the other. I got up and the thing melted away, and I went off and, in the excitement of the hour, forgot all about it—nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang, as though something uncomfortable had happened. When I went home I told my wife about it, and a few days after I tried the experiment again, when [with a laugh], sure enough, the thing came again; but I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was worried about it somewhat. She thought it was ‘a sign’ that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term.”
That mirror is not in the Springfield house and is lost to history, as are many of the personal items owned by the Lincolns during that time. Lincoln sold most of his furniture when he moved to Washington, and a good portion of it ended up with owners in Chicago, where it was destroyed in the 1871 fire that almost obliterated that city.
The park employees are reticent to speak about the ghosts. However, Shirlie Laughlin, an employee at the Abraham Lincoln Home, told of her experiences there in a 1998 interview with a reporter from Arlington Heights’s Daily Herald:
“I was rearranging the furniture in Mary Todd Lincoln’s bedroom not long ago, trying to decide whether to move a small chair into another room. Something—someone—kept touching me on the shoulder. I kept looking around, but no one was there. I left that chair right where it was.”
Shirlie also reported seeing the rocker in the parlor move and said that she could feel “wind rushing down the hall,” despite the fact that all the windows in the house are kept tightly shut.
Perhaps if someone can persuade the National Park Service to have a more open mind about the world of the paranormal, we will be able to determine whether it is old Abe, Mary, Edward, or all three who haunt the Lincoln home. Until that time, visitors to the home will just have to try to figure out the mystery for themselves.
One of the monuments at Druid Ridge Cemetery at which people have reported experiencing various paranormal phenomena—including sensing a spiritual presence, seeing apparitions, and capturing mists and orbs in photographs—is the Marburg family mausoleum, in front of which is a bronze figure of Icarus.
The base of this statue is fitted with a plaque dedicating it to Theodore Marburg Jr., which mentions his service with the British Royal Flying Corps during World War I and includes some rather strange verbiage about the need for an American presence in Europe. It also indicates that Theodore was born in 1893 and died in 1922, begging the question of how he might have died not during the war but a mere four years after it ended.
Investigation after our return from the site revealed the strange, convoluted, almost gothic history of the Marburg family in general and the macabre events surrounding the death of Theodore in particular. A brief review of Theodore’s life during and after the war would certainly suggest he was an almost classically tormented soul, and it was not hard to believe he might haunt the final resting place of his remains.
When the Great War began, Theodore was a student at Oxford, in England, and in the furor to stop the German advance across Europe he joined the British Royal Flying Corps—despite the fact that Americans were prohibited from serving in foreign military organizations and that his father was a career diplomat and a friend of former President William Howard Taft.
In 1916, Theodore’s plane crashed while flying a frontline mission and, as a result of the injuries he sustained, he had to have his left leg amputated. During his convalescence, he met and married a Belgian baroness who was a divorcee and the mother of a 3-year-old girl. The baroness also had a background that was, suffice it to say, a bit questionable.
Not much about the couple’s life together is known, but two years later, when Theodore became a partner in a cattle ranch in New Mexico, the baroness refused to go with him. In an exception to the norms of the era, he claimed abandonment and they were divorced shortly thereafter.
In early January 1922, Theodore was married again, this time to a woman 10 years his junior. She was not with him at his ranch when he put an automatic pistol to his head seven weeks later and shot himself. It took him a week to die, during which the doctors had to remove his eyes. His wife arrived from Baltimore after he had expired.
There is a lot that is not known about the mounting tragedies that afflicted Theodore in life, but it is not too hard to imagine that his tormented spirit might still linger on our own sphere after his earthly troubles were brought to an end. But, as it turns out, a number of the other Marburgs have weird stories, as well, and it is easy to conceive of any number of them lingering on as ghosts. These include Theodore Marburg Sr., a man who cultivated a reputation as a peacemaker but urged the United States to enter World War I, and his sister, an increasingly desperate spinster who at one point unsuccessfully offered a European tour guide $200,000 to marry her (he declined, opting for her niece instead). Any of them—maybe all of them—might be among the spirits that continue to linger among the sepulchers and monuments of Druid Ridge Cemetery.