Read an Excerpt
Ghost Hunter's Guide to Haunted Ohio
Copyright @ 2000 by Chris Woodyard
THE SPIRIT OF THE HOUSE
Oak Hill Cottage
A great brick house, conceived in the most bizarre union of Georgian and Gothic styles...The roof carried a half-dozen high pitched gables; the windows were tall and pointed in the manner of a church rectory, and the chimneys, built of white stone, were carved in the most ornate Gothic fashion...the house stood in the midst of a community which less than a century before had been a complete and trackless wilderness.
-Louis Bromfield, The Green Bay Tree-
The exuberant Oak Hill Cottage, considered to be one of the most perfect carpenter Gothic houses in the United States, was built in 1847 for the sedately named John Robinson. He and his wife lived there for 15 years, raising five children.
Robinson worked for the Sandusky-Mansfield-Newark Railroad, absorbed in 1861 by the B&O. No one is quite sure what went wrong, but in 1861 the Robinsons moved out and the building went back to the bank. It was sold several times, but never actually occupied by the buyers. Perhaps the location was inconvenientit stood out in the countryor the elegant house was too expensive to keep up.
In 1864, Frances Ida Jones, the wife of Dr. Johannes Aten Jones, fell in love with the house and persuaded her husband to buy it. The furnishings currently on display in the house belonged to the Jones family, who occupied Oak Hill for 101 years. The Jones raised four daughters in the house, losing a fifth daughter in infancy. The girls had the best of advantages growing up: they traveled the world, went to the finest finishing schools, and married well.
Author Louis Bromfield played at Oak Hill Cottage as a child. His grandmother and Mrs. Jones were sisters. Bromfield wrote about the house in his 1924 novel The Green Bay Tree, calling it "Shane's Castle."
Dr. Jones was a consulting eye-ear-nose-and-throat specialist and an early distributor of Peruna patent medicine. Although well-to-do, and visited by rich and famous people, there was no question of keeping up with the Joneses. Somehow the Jones family just didn't quite fit into Mansfield society. They were notoriously proud people. There was the usual gossip, as there always is when a man is a cut above and lets people know it. Dr. Jones died in December 3, 1895. Mrs. Jones died of heart disease on December 12th, 1912.
"12-12-12," the Curator told me. "And if I found out that it was at 12:12, that would just be too much. ..." (I checked her death certificate. The time of death is stated as 12:15. Too close for comfort...)
The last of the Jones daughters, Leile Barrett, died in 1966.
In 1965, the house and property was titled to the Richland County Commissioners, a move which made the building eligible for historic preservation grants. The Richland County Historical Society owns the contents and manages the site. The enormous carriage house across the street still awaits restoration. Remarkably, most of the furnishings are original to the house.
The scrupulous attention to detail in Oak Hill's restoration is nothing short of incredible. Even the carpets were custom-woven, using as a portion of the original pattern. Astonishing photos in some of the rooms show the décor and the furniture. They could have been taken yesterday instead of in 1896. The house boasts seven gables, five double chimneys and seven marble fireplaces. The Historical Society decorates this already lavish house even more lavishly for Christmas.
It was love at first sight. I even drove around the block several times, completely enchanted from every angle. Oak Hill Cottage was the house of my dreamsif only I could shrink it and carry it home to my dollhouse room! It looked like an illustration from Woodward's Country Houses or a Currier & Ives lithograph.
The Curator unlocked the house for my own private tour. I prowled about the house, moving as quietly as I could. There was something very feminine about Oak Hill Cottage that made me want to speak softly, move soundlessly. If houses can have personalities, Oak Hill Cottage was ladylike and utterly charming.
I padded through the dining room, its windows mullioned in a chevron pattern with cobalt blue glass insertions. A stern black buffet carved with bouquets of dead ducks and a deer's head, dominated the end of the room, an altar to conspicuous consumption. Underfoot, the floor was inlaid with an elaborate knot pattern. Off the dining room, I saw a ghostly woman writing a ghostly letter at the window in the butler's pantry.
Adjoining the dining room was a little sitting room and an amazingly modern bathroom with a copper tub and the earliest flush toilet in Mansfield. Beyond it lay Dr. Jones's office, with his massive desk and bookcases and his leather satchel of remedies. Across the hall lay a breathtakingly elegant reception room running nearly the full length of the house, divided by elaborate pillars. You can almost picture the grand soirees held here, the ladies' jewels sparkling in the flare of the gaslights, the men's stern black broadcloth, the gleam of the little gilt chairs where young ladies gaze shyly over their fans at the young men.
I circled back to the dining room. The back stairs led from the dining up to the maids' rooms and onto the landing where a small door was cut out of the paneling, more the size of a cupboard than a full door. Opened, it revealed a set of very steep, very high steps. A little confused by this arrangement, I crawled up them on my hands and knees, and found myself face to face with a sinister little baby carriage, all rusty black fabric and spidery fringes, topped with a wobbly black parasol like a miniature hearse. It gave me quite a turn, as did the dead baby picture hanging above the child's bed.
It was here that I saw a little boy ghost. He seemed to be about 4 years old, wearing baggy white stockings and a little suit with scalloped edges on the knee pants, the jacket sleeves and bottom. The Curator later told me that one of the Robinson's sons had died in that room. It seemed a cold and inhospitable place, compared to the rest of the house. I imagined what it would have been like to lie in bed, watching that little door, waiting for it to open to who knows what creature of nightmares?
By contrast, it must have been delightful for the children of the house to play on the landing at the front of the house by the Gothic-arched door, under the stained glass window, its colors forming an ever-shifting kaleidoscope on the floor. Perhaps Louis Bromfield played there.
On the second floor landing and in the child's room, stood glass-front cabinets filled with artifacts of the Jones' lives and travels. Elaborately feathered hats, a still-glossy hank of brown hair, beaded pincushions, moon-faced Japanese dolls, cases of glass eyes, goggling grotesquely up at the viewer. On the wall are framed photos and newspaper clippings showing three generationsFrances Ida's daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughterwearing the same wedding gown. The gown itself stands in a case like a glass coffin in an adjoining bedroom. Once white, it has now mellowed to a delicate beige, its beading cascading in a sparkling torrent down the laced bodice and skirt.
From the second floor, I descended to the blandly modern basement, all cement block and pale, shiny paint. One edge of the large meeting room was curtained off. Gingerly I peeked behind the curtains where cleaning supplies and other items were stored. Near the furnace area, I ran into a truly curmudgeonly ghost: a very grumpy old man who didn't want me there at all! Later when I told the Curator about it, she immediately called up her brother, who had helped stoke the furnace at the house when he was a boy. Without knowing what I had just said about the basement, he described being terrified when he went over in the afternoons to shovel coal into the furnace.
"I felt like somebody was watching me and didn't approve of my being there. 'I'm just putting the coal in,' he'd tell the invisible watcher. 'I'm not doing anything wrong.' And he wouldn't linger...
All through the house, I got the feeling that someone was watching me, shyly, from behind doors, and around corners, someone who just didn't want to show herself. Downstairs in the entrance hall, I sat down in the docent's chair and closed my eyes. The feeling that someone was standing behind me was so strong, I opened them again and looked cautiously behind me. As I gazed up at the elaborate metal and glass chandelier in the hall, several of the bulbs suddenly went out. I didn't think anything of the bulbs, until I finally stood up to leave and walked down the hall towards the kitchen exit.
Something made me stop and look back at the front door. Two of the bulbs on opposite sides of the chandelier suddenly began to blink alternately off and on, rhythmically, like Christmas lights. On, off, on, off. I smiled. It seemed a clever and amusing thing for the ghost to do. Then the blinking stopped and all the bulbs came back on. I walked back to where the chandelier was burning and jiggled the bulbs to see if they were loose. They weren't, although the Curator later told me that the right bulb does frequently go out and come back on by itself.
Suddenly I realized that there was a lady standing at the top of the stairs. The light was behind her so I could only see her in silhouette. She wore form-fitting 1880s clothing. She was so happy and so welcoming that it brought a smile to my face. I felt she must have been the perfect hostess.
"How do you like my house?" she asked me in a silvery voice. Then she was gone.
The Curator is convinced that I saw Mrs. Jones. Mrs. Jones was very proud of the house. In fact, she talked the Doctor into buying it. Mrs. Jones, known as "Frank," a common nickname for girls named Frances, was a perfectionist when it came to her house and its upkeep. The perfect house, the perfect hostess, the perfect afterlife?
On a subsequent visit, I brought along my friend Alexis*, who is very sensitive to "atmosphere." She knew nothing of anything I had seen or experienced and had never heard of the house.
"The first thing I sensed was an overwhelming pride. These were very, very proud people. And the lady of the house was unusually 'house-proud.' But there was something about the portraits of Dr. Jones," she said uneasily. "There was something cruel about his eyes, like someone who had seen too much."
Indeed, the portraits of Dr. Jones show a rakish, bright-eyed, sharp cheek-boned face, the face of a soldier or adventurer, not at all the sedate visage of a highly respected otolaryngologist.
Had Bromfield seen the portrait of Dr. Jones at Oak Hill Cottage when he was young? For this is how he describes the fictional master of "Shane's Castle:"
"It was a lean face, swarthy and flushed with too much drinking, the lips red and sensual, yet somehow firm and cruel. The eyes, which followed you about the room were large and deeply set and of a strange deep blue like cobalt glass with sun shining through it. It was the portrait of a gentleman, of a duelist, of a sensitive man, of a creature haunted by a temper verging upon insanity...The portrait whose handsome, malignant eyes appeared to follow them with a wicked delight."
To my wicked delight, one of the lights of the hall chandelier went out as Alexis stood under it. I whooped and she jumped, not knowing what the fuss was about. Alas, it was just the bulb that usually goes out. The opposite bulb did not blink.
The Curator is constantly shepherding busloads of people through the historic building. She told us that "On a couple of different occasions, people would be in the house, only get as far as the parlor and say, 'There's something here. I can't stay.'"
I could have stayed all day, and all night. In fact, I would have stayed forever, happily haunting Oak Hill Cottage for the privilege of living in such exquisite surroundings. One can see Mrs. Jones drifting through the rooms, straightening a cushion here, flicking a speck of dust from a mirror there, touching a ghostly hand to an arrangement of flowers. The light falls through the jeweled windows, just as it did in her day. The chandeliers glitter, just as they did in her day. Chances are, Mrs. Jones would find herself very much at home here. Chances are, she does.
VISITING THE SITE:
Some local haunt spots: Mansfield Memorial Museum in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building (see p. QUERY). The Ohio State Reformatory (see p QUERY) , Brownella Cottage, (Haunted Ohio, p. 128), One block west and south of Public Square in Galion. 12 minutes west of Mansfield, on SR 309. PO Box 125, Galion, OH 44833, (419) 468-9338 or (419) 468-3973, and Malabar Farm State Park, 4050 Bromfield Road, Lucas, OH 44843, (419) 892-2784 Home of the infamous Ceely Rose, who poisoned her entire family. (Haunted Ohio, p.9). The haunted Mohican State Park (Haunted Ohio, p. 147) is a great place to go for skiing and canoeing, in season. 3116 State Route 3, Loudonville, Ohio 44842, (419) 994-5125 Park Office, (419) 994-4290 Cabin reservations and camping information
If the ghosts don't have you in enough of a whirl, visit Richland Carousel Park, in downtown Mansfield. It is the first new hand carved wooden carousel to be built since the early 1930s. Indoors and open year-round, this is a treat for merry-go-round lovers of all ages. 75 N. Main Street, Mansfield, OH 44902, (419) 522-4223.
Anka recommends The Flying Turtle at the old Mansfield Airport for good sandwiches, 501 Airport Rd, Mansfield, OH 44903-8993 (419) 524-2404. Also try
Brunches Restaurant, 103 N. Main Street (419) 526-2233 and Coney Island Inn, 20 S. Park St, (419) 525-1506.
Oak Hill Cottage
310 Springmill St.
Mansfield, OH 44902
I-71 to Rt. 30 to Rt. 13, which is N. Main Street. South to Surrey Rd. to Oak Hill Cottage. The Cottage stands between N. Mulberry, Springmill Street and Oak Hill Place, on a hill and it is the most distinctive building in its neighborhood. From downtown Mansfield take Park Avenue West to Bowman St. to East 6th St. to Mulberry St. north to Oak Hill Cottage. From the West, take Rt. 30 to Rt. 39, which turns into Springmill Street.
Excerpt from THE POOL ROOM Maumee Bay Brewing Company, Toledo
The first time I saw Oliver House in the early 1990s, it frightened me from two blocks away. There was something heavy and foreboding about it, with the sooty color of its uncleaned brick and the desolation of the neighborhood street. Pat Appold has restored the building and turned it into an attractive and popular eatery.
My friend Linda and I went to visit in May 2000. Huge copper tanks and tubing gleamed behind glass framed by hand-hewn beams salvaged from the upper floors. We sat down in the warm brick room with its tall windows, its elaborately mirrored bar and stuffed bison head. The room was pleasant and airy.
We had a lovely lunch. I can enthusiastically recommend the pulled pork sandwich. Linda liked the porter. We chattered away for almost two hours. Before we explored the building, we went into the ladies' room. It was painted a cold, grey-green. I was repulsed by some kind of energy at the end of the room by the handicapped stall. Flippantly, Linda blew into it as if to chase it away. I shivered.
After strolling through the dining rooms filled with plants and antiques, we descended into a large oval private dining room, lit by many tall arched windows. This room had been the main lobby of Oliver House. Polished glassware glittered from the walk-in safe, now the bartender's storage pantry. Linda and I took turns guessing where doors and stairways led. It is a most disorienting building. One is never sure where a stairway will lead or where a hall will come out.
There was a certain silence in the private dining room, as if we were being watched. I poked my nose into what looked like a closet. Some energy batted at my head and I hastily pulled back.
We retraced our steps through the dining areas and walked down the stairs past colorful displays of beer memorabilia to the lower floor. There was an attractive bar watched over by the "bright tanks" room, another area of the brewery. Through a side doorway to this room, I saw a ghostly man in a white apron standing with his back to us.
Just beyond was an empty hall, painted a foul, mottled tangerine color. The atmosphere was jarring after the agreeable rooms upstairs. But it only got worse. We stepped into a darkened pool hall, lit by windows to the outside courtyard. A sunny vision of a couple sharing a drink at a little table outside only made the Pool Hall seem all the darker. I scurried behind a big brick pillar.
"If you stand here and keep your head down," I thought, my heart pounding "they won't see you." I wasn't sure who "they" were.
The atmosphere got worse and worse. My eyesight began to go. Reluctantly I was drawn to the farthest corner, a corner fenced off by a little iron railing, full of a tangle of red-painted pipes and gauges. The rough stone wall was mottled with shrouded shapes.
"The dead corner," I thought.
Behind it, the back of a staircase seemed to seal off a much longer tunnel or passage.
"Where does that go?" Linda wondered out loud. I caught a smell of horrifying corruption and stepped back. Linda smelled nothing. When I told Pat Appold about the malaise in the Pool Room, she did not seem surprised.
"That may be why nobody wants to use it," she remarked. "Although I never feel a thing there."
When Pat initially opened the brew-pub, her daughter Cait and son-in-law Matt came to work at the restaurant for the first two years. One evening Cait had stayed late with her husband. She was waiting for him in the private dining room when she heard a man's voice calling her name from beneath the floor, from the then-unfinished Pool Room. It called her three times: "Cait" "Cait" "Cait."
Order Ghost Hunter's Guide to Haunted Ohio and finish the story.