October 2010 Issue
Take a spine-tingling tour through some of Ohio’s spookiest public gardens.
Fall color is one reason to get outside this month; fun Halloween haunts, another. We sought out some of the state’s prettiest public gardens where phantom people, places and even pets are rumored to lurk.
Spring Grove Cemetery
A cemetery as a spooky place is a no-brainer. But few cemeteries are as spectacular as Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum in Cincinnati. The final resting place of dozens of Cincinnati-born politicians, Civil War generals and other who’s who, the 733-acre park is also a hot spot for leaf peeping thanks to its collection of herbaceous, ornamental and woody trees. In the fall, the arboretum’s buckeye, black gum, sweet gum, ginko and other deciduous trees makes this a fantastic place to see fall color — and, according to some, a ghost or two.
Karen Laven, author of Cincinnati Ghosts
(Schiffer, 2008), says Spring Grove has its share of creepy stories, from a tombstone bust said to have eyes so lifelike visitors feel “watched,” to a “weeping” statue. But most of its tales revolve around the Dexter Mausoleum, a Gothic Revival-style structure and registered historical landmark that even skeptics describe as eerie.
According to Laven, visitors have reported seeing two glowing white dogs; some insist the dogs growled at them, others said they just stared, their coats growing whiter. Laven says she didn’t have any ghostly encounters during her research at Spring Grove, but the park certainly left an impression. “The first time I went to Spring Grove, between the architecture and the nature I thought ‘I could live here — just not yet,’ ” she jokes.
4521 Spring Grove Ave., Cincinnati, 45232, 513/681-7526. springgrove.org
Founded in 1817 by a group of German religious separatists, Zoar Village in Tuscarawas County has a well-earned reputation as a hamlet of haunt. Local ghost guru Betty O’Neil Roderick says the businesses and attractions are rumored to have a community of friendly ghosts who keep watch over the historical site. But while many visitors come here to meet Zoar’s undead, some arrive in the garden in an already ethereal state.
“When the garden was planted, the Separatists created paths running through it like spokes of a wheel,” says O’Neil-Roderick, who also leads lantern ghost tours of the village and its garden.
According to the Ohio Historical Society’s website, the garden’s design is based on a chapter from the Book of Revelation, with a towering Norway Spruce in the center to signify the “tree of life” and 12 surrounding juniper trees that represent the Apostles. The space between the junipers and the spruce represents heaven, and a path circling the perimeter of the garden symbolizes the world.
“The paths all lead to the center because the Separatists believed that all paths lead to heaven,” explains O’Neil-Roderick. This symbolism has been a draw for some in search of a final resting place. “People have had their ashes scattered in the garden, including the doctor who once owned Cowger’s cabin, [who] is the ghost we call PJ [on the tour],” she says.
According to O’Neil-Roderick, unlike other attractions in Zoar that have a resident ghost, there is no one particular ghost that lives in the garden but there have been a few unnerving run-ins. “People on the tour have felt a chill in the garden,” she says.
One of her favorite garden ghost tales happened a few years ago during the biennial Civil War encampment the village hosts. “One of the re-enactors, a true skeptic, was camping in the village and got up in the middle of the night to use the restroom,” she says. “He took a shortcut through the garden, and as he was walking, he heard footsteps behind him.” He stopped, turned around and saw nothing, so he continued on, she says, convinced that his fellow campers were playing a trick on him. “As he walked on, he heard the footsteps again, and this time he actually drew his weapon and searched the garden,” laughs O’Neil-Roderick. Of course, he found nothing, “but on the way back to his tent, he took the long way.”
Zoar Village 44697, 330/874-2646. zca.org
The Kelton House Museum & Garden
Built in 1852 as the home of Fernando Cortez and Sophia Stone Kelton, the Kelton House Museum and Garden sits tucked in a sleepy street just east of Columbus’ downtown. A combination of Italianate and Greek Revival architecture, the distinguished house museum offers visitors a glimpse of Victorian-era life through the family’s original furnishings, clothing, books and other possessions. Georgeanne Reuter, the museum’s executive director, says special care has been taken to ensure that both the home and its elegant backyard garden continue to reflect the period and the personal tastes of the Kelton family.
“In the garden, you can see Victorian influences and unusual plants and sculptures the family would have picked up while traveling,” she says. Period markers include the use of shrubbery and colorful annuals. The far end of the narrow space holds a columned pergola, which functions as both a garden accent and popular place for couples to say “I do.”
The Keltons were dedicated abolitionists, and the home served as an active station along the Underground Railroad. Visitors can experience living-history recounts of family members as well as tales of escaping slaves who stopped here on their path north.
Naturally, a home with this much history is prone to a ghost tale or two. “I’ve never seen or heard anything, but I’ve heard about 20 stories of others’ experiences,” says Reuter.
Most of the recounted run-ins took place inside the home, but Reuter says there’s one tale from the garden’s graceful terrace. “The Kelton House is managed by the Junior League of Columbus, and there’s a walking path between [the museum and the Junior League],” she says. “One day, the office manager was on her way over here, and when she came up to the office she said, ‘I didn’t know you were having a reenactment today.’” Reuter says the museum staff looked at each other bewildered and replied that they weren’t. The woman reported seeing a young man dressed as a Civil War Yankee soldier leaning up against the building.
“She thought he was a contemporary young man just taking a break,” she says. “She said he looked as though he were just hanging out, waiting for something to happen.”
586 E. Town St., Columbus, 43215, 614/464-2022. keltonhouse.com
Fall Foliage With a Spooky Twist
While researching Cincinnati Ghosts
and her latest book, Dayton Ghosts
, Karen Laven uncovered many tales about some of the state’s favorite green spaces. Here, a few of her favorite spots for scenery with a side of spook. For more ideas, visit karenlaven.com
Arguably Cincinnati’s most beautiful green space, and home to local landmarks such as Krohn Conservatory and the Cincinnati Art Museum, many report spotting a woman in black near the park’s ornate gazebo. The woman is believed to be Imogene, the wife of Cincinnati attorney and notorious bootlegger George Remus, who gunned her down on this spot. cincyparks.com
Sycamore State Park
While hiking through the park one evening, two individuals saw a vision of a small house on a hill with its lights on. Neither could remember seeing the house before. The next day, the house had vanished. The pair later discovered that a house, exactly like the one they had both seen, sat on that site many years ago. dnr.state.oh.us/parks/parks/sycamore/tabid/791/Default.aspx
John Bryan State Park
Home to some of the best rock formations and rare species in the state, John Bryan State Park is also home to a ghost affectionately known as the “twilight man.” Countless reports describe a man in overalls walking out of the west gate at twilight, then disappearing as he reaches Meredith Road. Some believe the man is John Bryan himself, keeping watch over his beloved property, which he donated to the state in 1918. dnr.state.oh.us/parks/parks/jhnbryan/tabid/750/Default.aspx