‘Haunted Ohio’

THE WOMAN IN BLACK

The readers of the Journal will remember that about six years ago, several items appeared in these columns in relation to a mysterious personage that was frequently seen at night on Chestnut Street, and known to the habitués of that neighborhood as “the Woman in Black.” It was related that this mysterious female was seen flitting in and out of yards along Chestnut Street at all hours of the night, and that her ingoings and outgoings were made without reference to gates or doors, as she passed directly through fences with a facility that was both surprising and astounding. But this was not the most fearful thing incident to the situation. It was marked by divers persons that wherever the Woman in Black made her frequent ingress and egress, a death was sure to occur in the family residing there. Statements to the above effect were repeatedly made to the reporter for the Journal at the time, by persons whose statements on any subject would be received with credence by this community. Unbelievers in this mystery were made to acknowledge that they certainly saw — if not the Woman in Black, certainly a spirit robed in very dark clothing, and she moved through fencing with the greatest facility, as though it were a mere shadow and not substance of posts and plank.

Of course, the usual surveillance was kept up on this “apparition,” with the usual results, in such cases. Parties followed the Woman in Black for a certain distance, when she suddenly vanished from sight and — well, this programme was repeated indefinitely until, at length, the Woman in Black disappeared altogether. Whether death ceased to visit that pleasant neighborhood, we have never been specially advised, but as the “grim monster” neither respects persons nor neighborhood, it is fair to infer that Chestnut Street has presented its usual bill of mortality, which — we are pleased to add — has always been very small. But, this is preliminary to an incident we were intending to relate.

About three weeks ago, a gentleman who is well known to this community, was passing along Chestnut Street near Jefferson, and, passing the house of an acquaintance, he recognized the mistress of the mansion standing at the gate, and he exchanged with her the compliments of the evening. At the same moment he observed a female, in black costume, standing immediately in the rear of his lady acquaintance, and he thought [it] strange that an introduction was not extended. While ruminating on the incident, the Woman in Black flashed across his mind. And he instinctively turned about to again look at the dark, silent figure inside the gate. To his surprise — we may say consternation — the Woman in Black was gliding along noiselessly a few paces in the rear. He halted, and the black figure came to a stand-still. Our informant repeated this proceeding several times, with the same results. Then he suddenly turned and rapidly advanced towards the Woman in Black. The apparition instantly vanished. Growing a little nervous at this demonstration, our informant determined to test the matter still further, and shortly afterwards he repeated his walk along Chestnut Street, and he was again confronted with the Woman in Black, who was standing in the same place he first saw her, half an hour before, but she was alone, the lady of the house having retired indoors. As our informant passed the gate, the Woman in Black glided through the fence and proceeded after him. He halted half a dozen times and the apparition did likewise. He at first tried to account for the incident supposing that it was caused by the shadow of the gaslight at the corner. But there was no person in range to make the shadow, and it could not have been produced so distinctly under any circumstances. Full of conflicting emotions, our informant made his way home, and it was several days before he could shake off the bad effects of the incident. The denouement is the saddest feature of the incident. A few days after the appearance of the Woman in Black on Chestnut Street, death visited the premises where she was seen, and bore away one of its most lovely inmates.

If our informant was not a gentleman of excellent character, and entirely trustworthy, we would not trifle with the feelings of our readers by the recital of this most singular incident.

Dayton [OH] Daily Journal 11 October 1870: p. 3

An excerpt from The Face in the Window: Haunting Ohio Tales, Chris Woodyard

***

Most mornings I work out at a local gym. I’ve gotten to know most of the regulars by sight: the stumpy, turnip-shaped guy I privately dubbed “Dilbert;” the distinguished-looking man with silver hair who blew his nose on his shirt and spit on the track; the rail-thin woman who relentlessly pounded the cross-trainer machine while leafing through pictures of food in women’s magazines. But I didn’t recognize the man who stood there one morning staring at trainer Marjie Gilliam, who writes a popular fitness column, “Road to Fitness,” for The Dayton Daily News.

Lots of men stare at Marjie — with good reason: she’s lovely and incredibly fit. But this was different. The man with the pale skin and dark-rimmed hipster glasses stood there staring openly at her with a terrible hunger in his eyes. It was a longing in which there was no desire, except for life.

I studied him, anxiously. And suddenly I realized that I wasn’t seeing his face anymore. I was seeing a death’s head where his face should be. The effect was like segments I had seen on forensic TV shows where the image of a face is projected or superimposed over a skull to establish the identity of the dead.

“Is he a serial killer?” I thought wildly. “Is he stalking her? What is this — a death aura?”

And he, noticing that I was staring, flushed and walked away.

Marjie finished her set and I rushed up to her.

“Marjie!” I hissed, jerking my head towards him, “do you know that guy?”

I was still thinking he might be a stalker or something worse.

She followed my glance and nodded sympathetically.

“Oh, he’s a really sad case,” Marjie sighed. “He’s got skin cancer. It’s spread all through his body. He’s only got a short time to live. Why?”

In an undertone, I told her what I had seen. She was horrified, but she believed me.

I watched him furtively until he headed for the locker room. The skull did not reappear. Life went on at the gym.

I never saw the man in the dark-rimmed glasses again. Marjie told me that he died two months later.

An excerpt from Haunted Ohio V: 200 Years of Ghosts, Chris Woodyard

***

A HOMELESS HAUNT

The police officer was tall and dark with a handsome mustache. I had noticed him standing in the dark in the back of the lecture hall as I gave my talk to a group of students at the University of Dayton. After the students had finished their breathless recitals of accurate predictions by Ouija boards and mysterious disappearances of leftover pizza, the officer approached. He seemed like a man who had seen it all and privately despised it.

“You know Liberty Hall?” he said without introduction.

I nodded. I had read some stories about the building in the paper.

“Do you want to walk through it?”

“Now?”

It was after 9:00 p.m.

He nodded.

“I won’t go in there after dark. But I’d go with you,”

“Thanks,” I said, making a face, but I went. As we walked the University of Dayton campus towards the Hall, he told me about fellow security officers who refused to patrol the building after dark. I had already warned him not to give me any specifics and he didn’t. The building was a warm red brick. It was a smallish, rectangular building, two stories high, the oldest original building on the university campus. I looked up at the windows, but nothing looked back.

There were plenty of lights on inside as Officer J. unlocked the door and I had to say the building didn’t look particularly sinister. We started in the basement. Liberty Hall’s many offices were arranged in an outer circle around an inner core of more offices. All of the hallways were brightly lit. Some doors opened into darkened offices. I felt nothing in the basement; nothing on the first floor; nothing on the second floor —until I turned the last corner.

Standing unsteadily in the hall was a ghostly man. He was a shattered hulk, bent to one side, like a hunchback. He had a long, shaggy beard and mustache. Around his mouth, the hair was stained yellowish-brown with nicotine. He was dressed in many layers of ragged clothing and as he walked, he dragged one foot, painfully heaving it forward with each step. The worst thing about the apparition was—he dribbled. A string of saliva hung, glistening, from his broken-toothed mouth.

The hallway was too narrow for me to go forward without walking right through him.

“I think I’ll just go back this way,” I said brightly.

I circled back around to where the officer was standing and stepped into a well-lit corner office. There I was safe.

Outside Liberty Hall Officer J. lit up a cigarette and two of his companions joined him to hear what I would say and to tell their stories. I got the feeling that the old man was mostly confined to limping up and down that particular stretch of hall, but officers also reported seeing him looking out of the windows or seeing his silhouette in the darkened offices.

Others have had experiences elsewhere in the building. A young couple was waiting in the foreign students’ lounge on the second floor. It was 3:30 a.m. when they heard someone walk from the rear of the building downstairs to the front door. They had their backs to the door, but were curious about who else was in the building so late at night. They went to the head of the stairs to investigate.

As they peered around the corner, looking down the stairs, they heard a person climbing towards them. The invisible climber passed between them, and continued down the hall. They looked at each other and then dashed down the stairs and out of the building.

Who could the old man have been? A long-retired University of Dayton professor told me the following story:

Liberty Hall was at one time an infirmary for students and for some university workmen who had rooms there. One morning in the early hours, one of the workmen in a back room on the first floor was suddenly awakened from a deep sleep. He looked around the room to see what had woken him. Suddenly he noticed next to his bed an old man in somber dress with an abundant gray beard steadily staring at him. The worker was about to ask his uninvited visitor what he wanted at such an hour. Even as he looked at the old man, waiting for an explanation, the figure slowly dissolved into thin air and never bothered him again.

Having shared his experience with some of the faculty later in the day, the worker was told that old, disabled workers had been housed there and some had died in that room.

Could the man that I saw be one of these workers? Or was he some homeless tramp taken in by the Marianist Brothers, only to die in their infirmary? Whoever he is, on your next visit to the University of Dayton, slip next door to the Immaculate Conception Chapel and say a prayer for the repose of his poor limping soul.

An excerpt from Haunted Ohio IV: Restless Spirits, Chris Woodyard

***

THE BIG CHILL

Everybody knew she was crazy. She’d walk down the street in the middle of August wearing four layers of sweaters and that filthy brown coat. Sweat would be running down her face from under her matted hair and grey knit hat, but she’d complain about how cold she was. And then she’d start to swear — not at you, but at something just above your head and a little to the left. You would mumble an excuse about remembering an appointment and edge away. She might stare after you and then stump off with her painful, rolling walk, cursing at the birds, swatting at invisible snowflakes.

Nobody was much surprised when she froze to death during a hard winter in 1979. She hadn’t paid her gas bill for months — half the time her mail lay unopened on the porch. The utility company gave her every chance, but finally cut off the gas in the early summer. She never got around to asking them to turn it back on when the weather turned cold.

She was found frozen to death in the Darst Avenue house in Dayton, her body shrouded in layers of clothes so that she looked like a walrus lying there, all blue-grey and glassy-eyed.

Jeff knew nothing of this when he bought the house in the early fall of 1990. But as soon as the weather turned chilly, something peculiar happened.

“The cover of the furnace repeatedly fell off,” Jeff said. “The first time it happened, we didn’t know that the furnace wouldn’t operate if it was off. So the house got freezing cold. Finally I bent the edges of the metal cover so you had to pound it to get it back on. It still came off. I didn’t understand it. It was on there tight! And it only happened in the middle of the night. You’d wake up freezing.”

Jeff found out about the dead woman at a block party two days before Halloween, 1990.

“The woman who used to live in my house was an alcoholic who ended up drinking rubbing alcohol. That final winter, a young girl came to visit and found her there frozen.”

A couple of months after buying the house, Jeff and his wife separated. He kept the house and the furnace cover stopped falling off. Then one night, he felt someone in his bed.

“I woke up one night, lying on my right shoulder. And I felt somebody behind me. Like someone had thrown an arm over me, just cuddling up. I was half asleep, and I was terrified. I wanted to scream out for help. I tried to roll over and reach the phone, but I couldn’t! If it was a dream, I’ve never had a dream like that in my life. I hadn’t been drinking — I hadn’t eaten any spicy chili!

“About a week later, the furnace cover fell off again in the middle of the night. And a week or so after that, the arm came back, just resting on me. That’s when I started thinking, ‘I’m not dreaming.’

“A few days later, I sat my little boy in front of the TV and went down to the basement to bring the laundry up to fold. I heard him walking around the kitchen. I had something on the stove and was afraid he’d burn himself so I called to him to sit on the basement steps. He came and sat. And as I was turning off the light to the basement, he said to me, ‘Daddy, whose eyes are those?’

‘What eyes?’

‘Daddy, whose eyes are those?’ he repeated. Then he said, ‘Oh, never mind, they belong to that guy behind you.’

“I didn’t look behind me so I don’t know what he saw! My son is a very smart three-year old, but he’s not a fantasizer. He doesn’t have imaginary friends or anything. And he calls anybody—man or woman—‘guy.’”

In May, 1994 I called Jeff for an update.

“Just yesterday, the sixteenth, I felt the arm again. I know somebody’s there and I can’t move. Last night I kept shaking it off and it kept happening over and over again: I was lying on my back. And somebody was holding my arms by the wrists.”

Jeff has tried to make his home warm and welcoming. But something of the chill of the grave still hangs over it: a woman’s frozen spirit seeking the warmth of human flesh.

An excerpt from Haunted Ohio III, Chris Woodyard

Links to blogs with local interest: The Phantom of Route 40.

***

THE WOMAN IN BLACK

The readers of the Journal will remember that about six years ago, several items appeared in these columns in relation to a mysterious personage that was frequently seen at night on Chestnut Street, and known to the habitués of that neighborhood as “the Woman in Black.” It was related that this mysterious female was seen flitting in and out of yards along Chestnut Street at all hours of the night, and that her ingoings and outgoings were made without reference to gates or doors, as she passed directly through fences with a facility that was both surprising and astounding. But this was not the most fearful thing incident to the situation. It was marked by divers persons that wherever the Woman in Black made her frequent ingress and egress, a death was sure to occur in the family residing there. Statements to the above effect were repeatedly made to the reporter for the Journal at the time, by persons whose statements on any subject would be received with credence by this community. Unbelievers in this mystery were made to acknowledge that they certainly saw—if not the Woman in Black, certainly a spirit robed in very dark clothing, and she moved through fencing with the greatest facility, as though it were a mere shadow and not substance of posts and plank.

Of course, the usual surveillance was kept up on this “apparition,” with the usual results, in such cases. Parties followed the Woman in Black for a certain distance, when she suddenly vanished from sight and—well, this programme was repeated indefinitely until, at length, the Woman in Black disappeared altogether. Whether death ceased to visit that pleasant neighborhood, we have never been specially advised, but as the “grim monster” neither respects persons nor neighborhood, it is fair to infer that Chestnut Street has presented its usual bill of mortality, which—we are pleased to add—has always been very small. But, this is preliminary to an incident we were intending to relate.

About three weeks ago, a gentleman who is well known to this community, was passing along Chestnut Street near Jefferson, and, passing the house of an acquaintance, he recognized the mistress of the mansion standing at the gate, and he exchanged with her the compliments of the evening. At the same moment he observed a female, in black costume, standing immediately in the rear of his lady acquaintance, and he thought [it] strange that an introduction was not extended. While ruminating on the incident, the Woman in Black flashed across his mind. And he instinctively turned about to again look at the dark, silent figure inside the gate. To his surprise—we may say consternation—the Woman in Black was gliding along noiselessly a few paces in the rear. He halted, and the black figure came to a stand-still. Our informant repeated this proceeding several times, with the same results. Then he suddenly turned and rapidly advanced towards the Woman in Black. The apparition instantly vanished. Growing a little nervous at this demonstration, our informant determined to test the matter still further, and shortly afterwards he repeated his walk along Chestnut Street, and he was again confronted with the Woman in Black, who was standing in the same place he first saw her, half an hour before, but she was alone, the lady of the house having retired indoors. As our informant passed the gate, the Woman in Black glided through the fence and proceeded after him. He halted half a dozen times and the apparition did likewise. He at first tried to account for the incident supposing that it was caused by the shadow of the gaslight at the corner. But there was no person in range to make the shadow, and it could not have been produced so distinctly under any circumstances. Full of conflicting emotions, our informant made his way home, and it was several days before he could shake off the bad effects of the incident. The denouement is the saddest feature of the incident. A few days after the appearance of the Woman in Black on Chestnut Street, death visited the premises where she was seen, and bore away one of its most lovely inmates.

If our informant was not a gentleman of excellent character, and entirely trustworthy, we would not trifle with the feelings of our readers by the recital of this most singular incident.

Dayton [OH] Daily Journal 11 October 1870: p. 3

An excerpt from The Face in the Window: Haunting Ohio Tales, Chris Woodyard

***

Most mornings I work out at a local gym. I’ve gotten to know most of the regulars by sight: the stumpy, turnip-shaped guy I privately dubbed “Dilbert;” the distinguished-looking man with silver hair who blew his nose on his shirt and spit on the track; the rail-thin woman who relentlessly pounded the cross-trainer machine while leafing through pictures of food in women’s magazines. But I didn’t recognize the man who stood there one morning staring at trainer Marjie Gilliam, who writes a popular fitness column, “Road to Fitness,” for The Dayton Daily News.

Lots of men stare at Marjie—with good reason: she’s lovely and incredibly fit. But this was different. The man with the pale skin and dark-rimmed hipster glasses stood there staring openly at her with a terrible hunger in his eyes. It was a longing in which there was no desire, except for life.

I studied him, anxiously. And suddenly I realized that I wasn’t seeing his face anymore. I was seeing a death’s head where his face should be. The effect was like segments I had seen on forensic TV shows where the image of a face is projected or superimposed over a skull to establish the identity of the dead.

“Is he a serial killer?” I thought wildly. “Is he stalking her? What is this—a death aura?”

And he, noticing that I was staring, flushed and walked away.

Marjie finished her set and I rushed up to her.

“Marjie!” I hissed, jerking my head towards him, “do you know that guy?”

I was still thinking he might be a stalker or something worse.

She followed my glance and nodded sympathetically.

“Oh, he’s a really sad case,” Marjie sighed. “He’s got skin cancer. It’s spread all through his body. He’s only got a short time to live. Why?”

In an undertone, I told her what I had seen. She was horrified, but she believed me.

I watched him furtively until he headed for the locker room. The skull did not reappear. Life went on at the gym.

I never saw the man in the dark-rimmed glasses again. Marjie told me that he died two months later.

An excerpt from Haunted Ohio V: 200 Years of Ghosts, Chris Woodyard

***

A HOMELESS HAUNT

The police officer was tall and dark with a handsome mustache. I had noticed him standing in the dark in the back of the lecture hall as I gave my talk to a group of students at the University of Dayton. After the students had finished their breathless recitals of accurate predictions by Ouija boards and mysterious disappearances of leftover pizza, the officer approached. He seemed like a man who had seen it all and privately despised it.

“You know Liberty Hall?” he said without introduction.

I nodded. I had read some stories about the building in the paper.

“Do you want to walk through it?”

“Now?”

It was after 9:00 p.m.

He nodded.

“I won’t go in there after dark. But I’d go with you,”

“Thanks,” I said, making a face, but I went. As we walked the University of Dayton campus towards the Hall, he told me about fellow security officers who refused to patrol the building after dark. I had already warned him not to give me any specifics and he didn’t. The building was a warm red brick. It was a smallish, rectangular building, two stories high, the oldest original building on the university campus. I looked up at the windows, but nothing looked back.

There were plenty of lights on inside as Officer J. unlocked the door and I had to say the building didn’t look particularly sinister. We started in the basement. Liberty Hall’s many offices were arranged in an outer circle around an inner core of more offices. All of the hallways were brightly lit. Some doors opened into darkened offices. I felt nothing in the basement; nothing on the first floor; nothing on the second floor —until I turned the last corner.

Standing unsteadily in the hall was a ghostly man. He was a shattered hulk, bent to one side, like a hunchback. He had a long, shaggy beard and mustache. Around his mouth, the hair was stained yellowish-brown with nicotine. He was dressed in many layers of ragged clothing and as he walked, he dragged one foot, painfully heaving it forward with each step. The worst thing about the apparition was—he dribbled. A string of saliva hung, glistening, from his broken-toothed mouth.

The hallway was too narrow for me to go forward without walking right through him.

“I think I’ll just go back this way,” I said brightly.

I circled back around to where the officer was standing and stepped into a well-lit corner office. There I was safe.

Outside Liberty Hall Officer J. lit up a cigarette and two of his companions joined him to hear what I would say and to tell their stories. I got the feeling that the old man was mostly confined to limping up and down that particular stretch of hall, but officers also reported seeing him looking out of the windows or seeing his silhouette in the darkened offices.

Others have had experiences elsewhere in the building. A young couple was waiting in the foreign students’ lounge on the second floor. It was 3:30 a.m. when they heard someone walk from the rear of the building downstairs to the front door. They had their backs to the door, but were curious about who else was in the building so late at night. They went to the head of the stairs to investigate.

As they peered around the corner, looking down the stairs, they heard a person climbing towards them. The invisible climber passed between them, and continued down the hall. They looked at each other and then dashed down the stairs and out of the building.1

Who could the old man have been? A long-retired University of Dayton professor told me the following story:

Liberty Hall was at one time an infirmary for students and for some university workmen who had rooms there. One morning in the early hours, one of the workmen in a back room on the first floor was suddenly awakened from a deep sleep. He looked around the room to see what had woken him. Suddenly he noticed next to his bed an old man in somber dress with an abundant gray beard steadily staring at him. The worker was about to ask his uninvited visitor what he wanted at such an hour. Even as he looked at the old man, waiting for an explanation, the figure slowly dissolved into thin air and never bothered him again.

Having shared his experience with some of the faculty later in the day, the worker was told that old, disabled workers had been housed there and some had died in that room.

Could the man that I saw be one of these workers? Or was he some homeless tramp taken in by the Marianist Brothers, only to die in their infirmary? Whoever he is, on your next visit to the University of Dayton, slip next door to the Immaculate Conception Chapel and say a prayer for the repose of his poor limping soul.

An excerpt from Haunted Ohio IV: Restless Spirits, Chris Woodyard

***

THE BIG CHILL

Everybody knew she was crazy. She’d walk down the street in the middle of August wearing four layers of sweaters and that filthy brown coat. Sweat would be running down her face from under her matted hair and grey knit hat, but she’d complain about how cold she was. And then she’d start to swear—not at you, but at something just above your head and a little to the left. You would mumble an excuse about remembering an appointment and edge away. She might stare after you and then stump off with her painful, rolling walk, cursing at the birds, swatting at invisible snowflakes.

Nobody was much surprised when she froze to death during a hard winter in 1979. She hadn’t paid her gas bill for months—half the time her mail lay unopened on the porch. The utility company gave her every chance, but finally cut off the gas in the early summer. She never got around to asking them to turn it back on when the weather turned cold.

She was found frozen to death in the Darst Avenue house in Dayton, her body shrouded in layers of clothes so that she looked like a walrus lying there, all blue-grey and glassy-eyed.

Jeff knew nothing of this when he bought the house in the early fall of 1990. But as soon as the weather turned chilly, something peculiar happened.

“The cover of the furnace repeatedly fell off,” Jeff said. “The first time it happened, we didn’t know that the furnace wouldn’t operate if it was off. So the house got freezing cold. Finally I bent the edges of the metal cover so you had to pound it to get it back on. It still came off. I didn’t understand it. It was on there tight! And it only happened in the middle of the night. You’d wake up freezing.”

Jeff found out about the dead woman at a block party two days before Halloween, 1990.

“The woman who used to live in my house was an alcoholic who ended up drinking rubbing alcohol. That final winter, a young girl came to visit and found her there frozen.”

A couple of months after buying the house, Jeff and his wife separated. He kept the house and the furnace cover stopped falling off. Then one night, he felt someone in his bed.

“I woke up one night, lying on my right shoulder. And I felt somebody behind me. Like someone had thrown an arm over me, just cuddling up. I was half asleep, and I was terrified. I wanted to scream out for help. I tried to roll over and reach the phone, but I couldn’t! If it was a dream, I’ve never had a dream like that in my life. I hadn’t been drinking—I hadn’t eaten any spicy chili!

“About a week later, the furnace cover fell off again in the middle of the night. And a week or so after that, the arm came back, just resting on me. That’s when I started thinking, ‘I’m not dreaming.’

“A few days later, I sat my little boy in front of the TV and went down to the basement to bring the laundry up to fold. I heard him walking around the kitchen. I had something on the stove and was afraid he’d burn himself so I called to him to sit on the basement steps. He came and sat. And as I was turning off the light to the basement, he said to me, ‘Daddy, whose eyes are those?’

‘What eyes?’

‘Daddy, whose eyes are those?’ he repeated. Then he said, ‘Oh, never mind, they belong to that guy behind you.’

“I didn’t look behind me so I don’t know what he saw! My son is a very smart three-year old, but he’s not a fantasizer. He doesn’t have imaginary friends or anything. And he calls anybody—man or woman—‘guy.’”

In May, 1994 I called Jeff for an update.

“Just yesterday, the sixteenth, I felt the arm again. I know somebody’s there and I can’t move. Last night I kept shaking it off and it kept happening over and over again: I was lying on my back. And somebody was holding my arms by the wrists.”

Jeff has tried to make his home warm and welcoming. But something of the chill of the grave still hangs over it: a woman’s frozen spirit seeking the warmth of human flesh.

An excerpt from Haunted Ohio III, Chris Woodyard

Links to blogs with local interest: The Phantom of Route 40, http://wp.me/p3gOGE-2fJ

The Wildwoman of Clearwater, http://wp.me/p3gOGE-1yl

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