Undated photo of the Swift Mansion, the building that will forever be linked to the Gore Orphanage legend — via Vermilion Views

Every October, since the entire state of Ohio gets ghosts on the brain, I become obsessed with scouring the Internet for news article about ghosts and hauntings in the Buckeye state. For the most part, the articles fall into one of two categories. Most are simply re-tellings of old, established ghost stories. Every once in a while, though, an article will bring up a new haunting or legend that I hadn’t heard before. I love those! There is, of course, a third category. Thankfully, they don’t come around very often, which is a good thing. For these are the articles that send me into a blind rage. And trust me; it’s not pretty.

Why do I get so mad? We are, after all, talking about ghost stories, right? Kind of hard to get worked up about things like that, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. I have no problem with a good scary ghost story, especially around this time of year. I don’t even mind if the story has vague references to individuals (i.e.: Old Man Willis, a sadistic Doctor Willis, etc.) or contains story elements that can’t possibly be true (i.e.: a man with a hook for an arm, a balanced national budget, etc.). For me, it helps add a little “wink” that lets the listeners and readers know “relax, this is only a made-up story to scare you. Enjoy.” Where I draw the line is when people start making grossly inaccurate statements and attempt to pass them off as fact.

Such is the case of a recent article in the Lifestyle section of Northern Ohio’s Morning Journal. The article, entitled Haunted Explorations Available In Northeast Ohio, contained interviews from several people about various haunted locations in Northeast Ohio. One of the people interviewed is Sonya Horstman, a”spiritualist” who runs a successful ghost tour and also does such things as “conducting spiritual studies” and “hunting and banishing spirits”. When it comes specifically to her tours, Horstman discussed how an “important aspect of her business is dispelling urban legends and providing accurate accounts of what happened when touring sites”. Love it! Horstman also made a comment regarding not taking everything you hear about supposed haunted locations at face value: “Don’t believe everything you hear online or everything you read, because if you dig deeper you’ll find that the truth is quite opposite of what’s reported”. I couldn’t agree more.

Oddly enough, shortly after making those comments (as least in the context of the article), the ghostly wheels fall off and all hell breaks loose.

The article transitions out of Horstman’s desire to find the truth behind the urban legends by bringing up one of Northeast Ohio’s most infamous tales: Gore Orphanage. For the uninitiated, the legends swirling around Gore Orphanage center around an old orphanage that allegedly burned down with children inside. Their ghosts are said to haunt the grounds to this day. Truth be told, it’s a classic urban legend that has mutated over the years. Still, Horstman believes she knows the truth behind the legend. Let’s listen in!

Horstman does not dispute the fact there was a fire that destroyed a structure on the property, or that it is haunted; but says the devil’s in the details of the story.
“It’s actually related to witchcraft,” she said.
 
Witchcraft, you say? Well, that’s certainly a new wrinkle to the tale. Wonder what Horstman means by “witchcraft”. Let’s read on and see if she can help clarify things.
 
Horstman says the structure was in fact a mansion originally built in 1840 and owned by Joseph Swift and his wife Eliza who were Satanists. During their two years in the home, Swift’s two children died and were buried on the property in an “unchristian-like” burial to appease the “dark lord.”
 
OK, wait. Satanists? Appeasing the dark lord? Seriously, what the hell is going on here (pun intended)? And you’ll need to help me out here, Sonya, because I don’t really know what an “unchristian-like burial” means.
 
“What that means is, they were buried straight up and down, not lying flat as a Christian burial would be,” she added. “Those are the children who haunt the building, because they did not have a proper burial.”
 
Gotcha. Yeah, it all makes sense now (sarcasm intended).
 

In all seriousness, there must be something paranormal going on here because every time I read Ms. Horstman’s quotes, I literally levitate out of my chair. Yes, they anger me that much.

For the record, I have been actively peeking into the legends swirling around Gore Orphanage since 1999. I’ve been there dozens of times over the years, and have even gotten a Skunk Eye or two from local librarians and historians who were convinced I was going to ignore the truth about the area and instead focus on the urban legends. I mention this because in all that time, I have NEVER come across anything even remotely close to the notion of Satanists or children being buried standing up. So I have absolutely no idea where Ms. Horstman is pulling this information from.

So let’s look at this line by line, shall we?

“mansion originally built in 1840 and owned by Joseph Swift and his wife Eliza who were Satanists.”

FACT: Not a single shred of evidence to suggest the Swifts were anything other than well-to-do Northern farmers who came to Ohio with the intent of building a mansion on a sprawling farm/estate.  Folks back then did think the Swifts were a little nutty for building such a regal house, not to mention a farm, at the bottom of a hollow (the mansion was apparently referred to as “Swift’s Folly” by the locals), but last I checked, that was hardly grounds for being accused of being in league with the devil.

Part of the original plans for the Joseph Swift House (Swift Mansion) — from Vermilion Views

“During their two years in the home, Swift’s two children died and were buried on the property in an ‘unchristian-like’ burial to appease the ‘dark lord’.”

FACTS: The Swift’s lived in the home longer than 2 years.It’s believed that construction on the house lasted 2 years–from 1840 until 1842–so that might be where the confusion over “2 years” came from. But by all accounts, the Swifts either lived on or controlled the property until the 1860s, when they had to face the fact that the bottom of a hollow really wasn’t the best place to put a farm and sold everything off.

Undated photo showing people standing on the porch of the Swift Mansion — from Vermilion Views

It is true that two of the Swift’s children died during the time they were in possession of the property, but those deaths were more than a decade apart. Their daughter, Tryphenia, died at the age of 5 in 1831 and their 24-year-old son, Herman, died in 1849. Both are buried in clearly marked graves at Andress Cemetery, which is also known as Gore Orphanage Cemetery because it sits at the far end of Gore Orphanage Road.

Now there IS a newspaper article that mentions children dying and being buried on the property, but it is filled with errors. The June 8th, 1948 edition of the Lorain Journal carried an article entitled Riders Pay Swift’s Hollow Visit. Part of the article states:

Misfortune beset the Swifts after they moved in their new home. Swift lost money in an early railroad venture through here. He over-extended himself in land and lost money signing notes for friends. His four children died of black diphtheria and were buried along the river’s edge.

The fact that the article mentions black diphtheria is key. Historians believe the first wave of what was called black diphtheria swept across Ohio in the 1880s, long after the Swifts had sold off the property. The other giveaway that the article contains erroneous information is the mention of four children rather than two. Here’s where things get really interesting.

When the Swifts unloaded the property, they sold it to the Wilber family. Sadly, in January of 1893, the Wilbers lost four of their grandchildren (not children) to what is believed to have been black diphtheria. So these are clearly the four children the Lorain Journal is referring to, not any of the Swift children. And for the record, none of the four Wilber grandchildren are buried on the property. They are all in clearly marked graves, along with their grandparents, at Maple Grove Cemetery, which is but a short drive away.

Finally, some people have pointed to the stone obelisk that is still visible near the Swift Mansion foundation and said it is a tombstone, but it’s not. It’s nothing more than a driveway and/or fence marker (although some said it sometimes doubled as a hitching post).

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Behold! A non-tombstone driveway marker! — via The Ghosts of Ohio

Just for kicks, I had to look up why the “dark lord” would be so tickled to have people buried standing up. Guess what? Couldn’t find anything on that. Apparently, though, some cultures would bury their strongest warriors standing up to show that, even in death, they were still ready to defend their people. But that was more of a sign of respect than anything that would make a dark lord get all giddy. The closest thing I could find was that sometimes, traitors would be buried upside down to mockingly show that their “ways” were upside down.

“they were buried straight up and down, not lying flat as a Christian burial would be”

FACTS: The above statement is Horstman’s attempt to clarify what she meant by an “unchristian-like burial”. Now there are all sorts of rules and regulations when it comes to a Christian burial. But oddly enough, whether or not the body is laying down or standing up does not appear to be one of them. In fact, the only stipulation when it comes to the position of the body is that, whenever possible, it should be placed west to east with the head towards the west. This would be so that during the second coming of Christ (from the east), the dead could rise and face him. Reading that alone, one could deduce that the body would have to be laying down. I mean, it would be pretty hard to stand someone up and get their head to face west and their feet face east.

However, it is noted that if it’s not practical to bury the body with a west-east orientation, it is acceptable to bury the body any way possible, as long as “the body itself is facing east so that it was see the second coming of Christ.” In other words, burying someone standing up, while unorthodox, can’t be considered “unchristian-like” as long as the body is facing east. So unless the “dark lord” really digs technicalities, I doubt this would have been something that appeased him. But hey, you never know!

So there you have it; no Satanists, no unchristian-like burials, and no appeased dark lord. Just a whole bunch of misinformation. All of which begs the question; where did all this untrue stuff come from (other than the Morning Journal article, that is)? To be honest, I have no idea. As I said, I’ve been researching this story for years and have two file folders filled with news clippings and historical documents and this is all new to me. Internet searches turn up nothing, so it doesn’t appear that these are new variations on the legend.

You could make the case that Sonya Horstman was really, really misquoted. It happens (I’ve had it happen to me more than once, and it makes me cringe every time I think about it). But I’ve re-read the article numerous times and I just don’t see how she could have been misquoted that many times.

To be honest, I really don’t care where these new stories came from. All I care about is making them stop! Not only are they untrue, but they serve no purpose with regard to the Gore Orphanage mythos. I firmly believe that ghost stories and actual history go hand in hand and that ghost stories, even ones that can’t be proven, can help educate people about history. In this instance, who really owned the building many refer to as “Gore Orphanage” and the real events that led to the ghost stories cropping up. But what we can’t do is level false allegations against real people just for the sake of making a story spookier. This has to stop. Now.

That’s where you guys come in. Please don’t let these untrue statements about the Gore Orphanage legend continue. Spread the word!

BTW, for the record, I did reach out to the two reporters who covered the original story (and for the record, I like saying “for the record” since it makes this article sound real official-like instead of the rambling blog post that it is). They’ve yet to respond.

The Swift Mansion “in better times” — from Vermilion Views

________________________

The entire article from The Morning Journal can be accessed here.

An online version of Bill Ellis’ What Really Happened At Gore Orphanage, which many people (including myself) believe to be the most comprehensive discussion on the legend, can be found here.

Vermilion Views has a wonderful, in-depth article on the history of the property, including information about the actual orphanage that later occupied some of the Swift property. Check it out by clicking here.

Brady’s Bunch Of Lorain County Nostalgia, in addition to all sort of cool historical tidbits about Lorain County, also houses lots of historical photos and news articles related to the Swift Mansion. Give a click and check it out.

Read more about what my organization, The Ghosts of Ohio, has to say about Gore Orphanage here.

Maps claiming to be able to show you which state likes/hates/eats what have long been a staple on Facebook. To be honest, I find them annoying, second only to those sponsored links that try to entice me to click on them because “what happens next will blow your mind! Number 7 on the list freaked me out!”

Anyway, this map sounded different. It claimed to “map out” all the “iconic ghosts” in the United States, listing the one that “most defines” each state. Interesting, right? And it was put out by People.com, so it had to be cool, right?

Yeah, not so much.

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–from People.com

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a cool-looking map. But once I started looking at each state and what People.com was calling “the most iconic” there, most left me scratching my head. For example,  they picked the Philadelphia Zoo to represent Pennsylvania as opposed to Gettysburg. Oh yeah, and there’s not even a ghost story associated with the location listed for Oklahoma, “just a lot of creepy feelings.”  Still, when I got to Ohio, I just had to blurt out, to no one in particular: “Akron Civic Theatre? Where did they pull that from?”

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OK, to be fair, I know where they pulled Akron Civic Theatre from since they included a link. Turns out it came from some book, Weird Ohio. You might have heard of it. So I’m honored they used my book. And the Akron Civic Theatre does have some spooky stories associated with it, including some ghosts that are said to wander around outside the building itself. But with all due respect to the Akron Civic Theatre, there’s no way it’s the ghost story that defines Ohio.

I should also point out that whoever put the list/map over at People.com together did give themselves an out when it comes to what they considered iconic. In fact, they sort of willingly admit the map isn’t really iconic at all. Here’s how they describe what ended up as each state’s ghostly representative:

“in some cases, it’s the “most famous” ghost in each state, in others, it’s the one we found the most interesting.”

So clearly, People.com phoned it in on this one. But it got me thinking: if someone really was going to put together a list of the most iconic haunting for each state, which location would I think should represent Ohio?

Since I moved to Ohio in 1999, I have been chronicling and cataloguing all reported hauntings in the state. I’ve even compiled a database of all said hauntings. Currently, my database has over 3500 entries, although roughly 60% of those are nothing more than vague teenage “some scary s**t went down in those woods” urban legend-type tales. I also field, on average, 5 to 10 requests a week for more information about a reported haunting in Ohio. The one location that I am asked about most often, and the one that gets the most hits on my web site is Hell Town. The numbers aren’t even close: Hell Town beats all the other pages on my site by an almost 3-1 margin.

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My “iconic” photo of the entrance to Hell Town. Please ask before you snatch it.

So you could certainly make the case that the legend of Hell Town is iconic. It’s not really a ghost story, though. It’s more of an amalgam of urban legends, the vast majority of which I debunked years ago. Plus, other than my photo (above) of the long-since removed Road Closed sign (you know the one: it’s probably the most “borrowed” photo I’ve ever placed on the Internet), there isn’t a lot of stuff to see in the area known as Hell Town anymore, even in person. So I don’t think Hell Town can make the cut because, for me, to be truly iconic, a location needs to have something that literally takes your breath away as soon as you set eyes upon it.

That’s why, in my book, there’s a tie for the most iconic Ohio haunting in Ohio. A tie between Franklin Castle and Mansfield Reformatory.

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Franklin Castle is one of the longest-standing haunted houses in the state of Ohio. Even before I moved to Ohio, it was on my radar and was the place I most wanted to visit when I got here. The ghost stories associated with the building go back decades and involve everything from murder victims to Nazi sympathizers. Oh yeah, and throw in a couple of secret passageways throughout the house while you’re at it. Even though it has been abandoned and in a state of disrepair for years now, ghost hunters from all across the US still stop by the house just to take pictures and stare up at the boarded-up windows.

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The ghosts at Mansfield Reformatory haven’t been known as long as those at Franklin Castle, at least not to the general public. But the place is said to be lousy with ghosts. Once the Preservation Society stepped in, saved the building from the wrecking ball, and opened it up for tours, people started whispering about the ghosts in the building. Then came the overnight ghost hunts and reality TV shows and the whole thing just exploded. The Reformatory’s overnight ghost hunts almost always sell out and the building usually sits atop many a ghost hunter’s Bucket List.

So what about you guys? What location would get your vote for Ohio’s Most Iconic Ghost Story? While you’re pondering that, feel free to check out the full version of the People.com map, along with descriptions of each state’s haunting. You can do that by clicking here.

 

 

Saturday, October 11th, 2014: A day that will go down in superhero infamy.

Some time back in September of 2014, I received an e-mail from someone representing the DeBord Family Halloween Festival in Akron. They wanted to know if I would be interested in attending and possibly selling some of my books. To be honest, I’d never heard of this particular festival before, but when I gave it a look online, it seemed rather interesting. It was a family-friendly Halloween festival that featured live music, vendors, costumed characters, and all sorts of activities for the kids. Well, I wrote back to them, saying I would be more than happy to come, and asking for more information regarding what a vendor would need, etc. Never heard back. Hey, it happens. I was ready to bag the whole thing when I decided to hit up their website one last time to see if any new information about it had been added. And that’s when I saw it: the Batmobile!

Seems as though an Ohio man had created a replica of the classic Batmobile and would be bringing it to this year’s Halloween festival. On top of that, Batman himself was going to be there, along with the Riddler (yes, I know these would just be people in costumes. I’m not that weird, you know). This was news!

In case you didn’t know it, my daughter, Courtney, is obsessed with Batman. Not just any Batman, mind you: Classic Batman. She watches an average of 2-3 episodes of the 1060s TV show every day, including one as part of her “getting ready for bed” ritual. Courtney has Batman toys, coloring books, and more Bat-clothes than you can chuck a Batarang at. She even sleeps in the shadow of a classic DC comics Batman poster every night.

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So I started thinking to myself: what better way to spend a crisp, October Saturday than taking my daughter to meet “her buddy”, Batman? And let’s not forget the Batmobile! Courtney’s all about the different things Batman drives around in. In fact, she still thinks her parents are totally bad ass because we got to ride in the actual Batcopter…twice:

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With that in mind, I start flipping through the DeBord web site and I find a variety of shots of the Batmobile, Batman, and various other villains from years gone by. Seemed like all these Bat things showing up was something of an annual event. So what could go wrong? It was right then and there that I did something I will probably regret the rest of my life: I showed Courtney the pictures on the web site and asked if she wanted to go see Batman and the Batmobile.

If you could have seen the excitement on Courtney’s face when she looked at those pictures on the web for the first time, you would have thought Christmas morning had come early this year. She just kept making me bounce back and forth between the pictures, asking “how many days before I can see Batman?” In fact, beginning that very night and continuing for almost a week, before Courtney would go to sleep, she’d ask me “how many more days” before she got to see Batman and the Batmobile. And every morning, she’d ask the same question.

When Saturday finally arrived, she couldn’t wait to jump into her Batgirl costume and hit the road. She even had a list of questions she wanted to ask Batman, including what he liked to eat for breakfast and what color his bed was (no idea where that one came from). Courtney wanted to bring her super ball with her to show Batman how high she could bounce it, but I talked her out of it by saying we didn’t want to lose it. I was also successful in talking her out of bringing a bunch of presents for Batman (including a bunch of leaves from our yard–Courtney’s really into leaves this year) by telling her Batman didn’t have room in his utility belt for all those presents.

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Once on the road, Courtney sat in the back seat and watched her Batman DVDs (actually, bad copies of episodes originally taped off TV Land onto VHS), all the while bombarding Steph and I with questions like “will Batman like my costume” and “can I save some of my snack to share with Batman?”

The event was supposed to officially open at 2 and run until 10:00 pm. We had to get there early, of course, just to make sure we didn’t have any problem finding a parking spot, which might cause us to miss Batman’s big arrival. So 2 hours later, we found a spot in the grass that was doubling for a parking lot that day, helped Courtney into her Batgirl costume, and set off in search of Batman and his Batmobile.

I’m sure you all know where this is leading up to. Yup, no Batman or Batmobile in sight.

No need to panic, I thought. It’s early. Batman’s probably off somewhere in seclusion, waiting for the Batmobile to arrive so he can make a grand Bat-entrance. But just to be sure, I double-checked the DeBord web site:

Yup, the Batmobile’s still on there. First one, too! Doesn’t even have a “pending” on it like most of the other do, either. But what about Batman? Is he still listed on the web site? He sure is!

About an hour later, and still no Batman and/or Batmobile. So at this point, I’m thinking something has happened. Maybe there was a lot of traffic or perhaps the Bat-Computer was acting up in the Batmobile and it needed to be repaired before heading out. Perhaps, as the song goes, the Batmobile had lost a wheel and the Joker had gotten away. Although, to be fair, the Joker was not supposed to be there, anyway.

I should probably point out here that as quaint and fun the DeBord Family Halloween Festival is, you can probably see it all in an hour. 90 minutes, tops. There are vendors, some games for kids to play, and even a playground. But Courtney just breezed past it all. She was on a mission and was all business, repeatedly quoting “to the Batmobile! Let’s go!”

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Courtney searches for the Batmobile, while her dad keeps nervously asking “he’s still back there, isn’t he?”

After taking several laps around the festival and coming up empty, we decided to throw down a couple of bucks so that Steph and Courtney could ride a train that takes people around the entire park. Courtney likes trains and we thought Steph could scope out the park to see if the Batmobile was holed up somewhere away from the main event. In the meantime, I would take to the festival and ask around. Sadly, no one I asked had any idea where the Batmobile or Batman were. Some appeared to not even know what I was talking about. But I did my best. Hell, I even wandered aimlessly about in an attempt to locate Chief O’Hara so we could light up the Bat Signal and lure our beloved caped crusader in. Alas, the best I could do was to find an impressive-looking Jack Sparrow, who knew nothing of Batman’s whereabouts…or if he had any rum.

Oh Adam West, where are you now, when I need you the most?

When their train pulled back into the station (OK, it stopped in front of a couple of orange cones) and my girls got off, Steph shook her head: not a single Bat sighting. Sooooo, what next? Well, let’s not panic just yet. How about we use a giant bag of cotton candy to temporarily deflect all of Courtney’s Bat-questions? For a while, that actually worked and Courtney was more than happy to work off all that sugar on the playground, which came complete with what she claimed was a “Bat Pole.”

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Sadly, time was not on our side and before long, it was 5:15 pm and we had been wandering the festival for close to 4 hours while running out of creative ways to stall (i.e., lie): “Batman got a call on the Bat Phone and had to drive down to City Hall real quick. He’ll back here soon.” Or my personal favorite: “Batman got tied up because Egghead and Olga were trying to sneak into the Batcave with a bunch of Bessarovian Cossacks.” Mock if you will, but Courtney understood every word of that sentence and realized how dire that situation was.

But even after all this, we weren’t ready to give up, especially since several people had told Steph there were rumors of the Batmobile showing up “at six”. But by 5:45, we were spent, so we headed back to the car to hang out for a while. We hung there until almost 6:30, at which point I drove over to the small parking lot where the other custom cars were parked, hoping the Batmobile would be there. Nope.

As a final act of desperation, I left Steph and Courtney in the car and walked over to the picnic area where a small group of people were congregating. Maybe, just maybe, Batman was there. Alas, it was only a group from Unda Ground Wrestling, giving a wrestling exhibition. And no, Batman wasn’t on the evening’s wrestling card. It was time to admit defeat.

Back at the car, I had to look my daughter in the eye and say that I was sorry, but Batman wasn’t coming. She just stared at me for a couple of seconds. Then the tears started. And continued, seemingly without end. Sometimes, the tears were accompanied by sobs. But for the most part, the tears were those soul-stomping silent ones. And then came the question.

Years ago, when people found out Steph and I were having a baby girl, I was given all sorts of warnings regarding the questions my daughter was going to ask me; questions that were going to make me uncomfortable to the point where I would start stuttering the moment I attempted to answer them. Granted, most of the questions involve things I think I have a couple more years before they enter the picture–like if I can drive to the drug store to pick up “something” for her. Regardless, I’m not worried about those questions anymore, because I’ve already had to handle one of the toughest ones ever.

For me, the most gut-wrenching, heart-crushing question I’ve had to try and answer so far was the one where my sobbing daughter in her tear-stained Batgirl costume looked me in the eye and asked “why didn’t Batman want to come and see me?”.

Put it this way, if Batman had chosen to grace us with his appearance at that moment and try to explain things, I would have gone all Griswald on him.

Relying on my vast knowledge of the Batman TV show (the same one Courtney was currently obsessed with), I told Courtney “Batman’s very sorry, Courtney. He was just fighting too much crime today to come.” I then proceeded to remind her of the different episodes where Bruce Wayne had been trying to enjoy a nice, relaxing day reading Shakespeare, studying the globe, or playing three-dimensional chess when the Bat Phone rang and he had to run off and fight crime. Amazingly, Courtney bought it and stopped crying. She was still sad, though.

Thinking quickly, Steph and I were able to find a Target store nearby and we told Courtney she could pick out any Batman toy she wanted. Guess what? She didn’t want a toy–she wanted the “real” Batman. So more tears were shed by Courtney and my wife (and more silent cursing of Batman was done by me) before Courtney once again accepted our explanation that Batman just “had too much crime to fight today” and while he “was very upset and sad” that he couldn’t see Courtney in her costume, there was no way he could make it to the festival.

Once the tears stopped, she said she wanted to go pick out a toy. And while Batman had forsaken us this day, the Retail Gods smiled down upon us as Target had an older Riddler figure Courtney had been looking for. Steph and I even threw in a couple of pairs of Batgirl socks. The fact that we let Courtney wear her costume into Target made her happy, too, even if most people called her “Bat Woman.”

Hours later, when we arrived home, Courtney got ready for bed (but not in her usual Bat-Pajamas). When she came to give me my traditional good night hug and kiss, she said to me “thank you, daddy, for trying to find Batman at the festival for me.” Great kid. Shitty day.

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One last smile before she began to realize Batman wasn’t coming

I would like to say that as something of a public figure myself, I understand that sometimes having to make scheduled appearances becomes a bit of a burden. There are legendary tales of my being rolled out of the back of a car, sick as a dog, and literally propped up on stage (I did get to sleep in the car on the way home, though) or my having to literally stop at every roadside gas station and rest area on the way to a book signing (TMI, let’s move on). My point is, I get it: it was a cold day out. You were probably doing it for free. Maybe you were a little under the weather. So what? Pull up your tights and suck it up, bat boy. There are people looking forward to seeing you. As far as I’m concerned, it shouldn’t matter if there’s 1 or 1000 people coming to see you: if there’s at least one, you go. And if something comes up and you can’t make it, you make damn sure people are made aware of you not being able to attend.

So for future reference, Batman, you might have to let Alfred take full control of your schedule (or Aunt Harriet, for that matter since she’s always looking for something to keep herself busy) lest you run into another debacle that was the 2014 Debord Family Halloween Party. I’ll accept the fact that I am forced to raise my daughter in a cold, uncaring world that seems to become more and more dangerous every day. But four’s too young for a child to start losing faith in superheroes.

Oh yeah, and if you happen to own a Batman costume and can pull off a halfway decent “Batman”, I might be interested in hiring you for an hour or two. Yes, I’m serious. Drop me a line at jim@strangeandspooky.com.

 

A few years back, I you about the blog of one of my friends, Dan. Back then, being the faithful readers you are, I’m sure you all immediately clicked on the link and subscribed to Dan’s blog. So I’m sure that this is all old news to you. Still, allow me to tell you all how Dan, a special second set of hands, and a couple of pumpkins managed to bring a tear to my eye and restore my Halloween spirit, all at once.

You don’t have to read too many of my blog posts to discover how I continually feel cheated out of Halloween. Every year, I despise having to sit and wait to find out when the state of Ohio has decided what day (and what two-hour window) I am allowed to celebrate Halloween on. And of course, the “breaking news” for me this year was my decision to forego the vast majority of October appearances, book signings, etc., and instead focus on my family and try to recapture some of that good, old-fashioned Halloween spirit. Well, leave it to my friend Dan to help me do just that.

Dan has created what he is calling the Pumpkin Challenge. The idea is simple: In the eight weeks leading up to Halloween, carve up a jack-o-lantern every week. Eight weeks, eight pumpkins. The plan is to start with a basic carving and then get more and more elaborate as October 31st rolls around, when he promises to unleash an “unholy gourd of terror.”

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Week #1: “The Classic Jack”

The best part of all? Dan’s doing the Pumpkin Challenge with his foster son. I can only imagine how exciting it must be for this young boy to be getting a taste of Halloween spirit…and pumpkin pulp. State laws forbid me from showing the boy’s face or even mentioning him by name. But in this case, it’s ok. His creativity and artistic flair does all the talking in the following photos, which showcase his talents:

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Working on pumpkin for Week #3, “The Shaded Stencil”

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Week #4: Stencil loosely based on Halloween movie poster

As of this writing, the Ghoulish Gourd Guys are only on week 4, so there’s still plenty of time to head over to Dan’s blog and catch up before the big Halloween reveal. So head there now, even if it’s only to tell them to keep up the good work. Oh yeah, and be sure to thank Dan for doing all he can to keep the spirit of Halloween alive!

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Flyer for the event

Flyer for the event

While 2009 was technically the second year of the Lima Lantern Tours, it was the first one for me. Not only that, the Lantern Tours represent the first (and so far, only) event I’ve participated in where I attempted to tell ghost stories while riding around in the back of a horse-driven carriage. Oh yeah, and all while trying real hard not to fall out of the back of said horse-driven carriage as it cruised down the streets of downtown Lima.

My involvement began with an e-mail from the two women who were organizing the event, Cara and Aubree. I was intrigued enough with what they were describing in terms of what they were planning, although I will admit that I was a bit nervous when I asked what they wanted me to do and they responded “we don’t know. You can do whatever you want.” Of course, when they followed it up with “but we do know we want to put you on the back of a carriage and have you tell ghost stories while horses pull you around downtown Lima” I was sold. How could I not be?

Since one of the members of The Ghosts of Ohio, Darrin Boop, was a longtime Lima resident (and my wife has relatives in the area), I had been hearing tales of the wonders that is Kewpee for years. So the fact that on top of my hanging off the back of a carriage, I could also make my first official pilgrimage to downtown Lima and ingest a hamburger in the shadow of a naked baby statue, well, that was the icing on the cake. And while I must admit that I did not dip my fries in my malt on this trip, Kewpee did not disappoint.

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There was also another interesting ghostly wrinkle thrown into the tours. The Ohio Theatre in Lima, which was going to be one of the stops on the Lantern Tours, has a long reputation for being haunted. The organizers of the tours gave me exclusive access to the basement area of the theatre, including the old dressing rooms where the ghost is said to roam. I was actually able to set up some infrared video cameras throughout the basement and had them run overnight. Sadly, no shadowy spectre showed up that night, but it was an amazing and unique opportunity to see the hidden side of the Ohio Theatre.

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Heading down to the basement of the Ohio Theatre

As for the Lantern Tours themselves, truth be told, the whole thing was rather surreal and weird; a pair of horses pulling a large carriage full of people up and down the main streets of Lima, Ohio, in the middle of the night. The looks from the people walking along the sidewalk were worth the price of admission alone. As for what I ended up doing that night, after a few panicked moments of silence while the guests and I exchanged nervous glances, I launched into my usual, manic ghost-story-telling self and all was well with the world. And when I pulled out some handheld EMFs and explained that I wanted everyone to help me do a little ghost hunting, well, let’s just say it was all I could do to keep from bring pushed out of the carriage as people scrambled for the equipment.

One of the cool things about the Lima Lantern Tours is that they are continually adding new places to the tour, including ones where guests can disembark and go inside. But back in 2009, the carriage only stopped at two such places, one of which was the aforementioned Ohio Theatre. On Friday, the first night of my very first tour, we took a group in and up onto the stage of the theatre. As we were standing there, exchanging ghostly tales, I remembered how earlier I had gotten some high EMF readings near one of the back doors, which I attributed to electrical wires outside the building. Thinking this would be an opportunity to show people that just because you get high EMF readings, that doesn’t mean there’s a ghost around, I directed one of the young girls in the group to the back door and told her to use the EMF to find the high readings. Guess what? There were none to be found. Whatever had caused those high levels was now gone. I was never able to figure that one out.

Of course, this was the same door that, minutes later, would send a local police officer and myself down the alley alongside the theatre in an attempt to explain the readings. That, in turn, would lead to an event which caused the officer to move his hand back towards his holster while asking me “what was that?” This would be when I first muttered those now-infamous words: “I don’t know, but what are you looking at me for? You’re the one with the gun.” BTW, this should not be confused with the 2013 Lantern Tour, when I was with an officer who drew down on an elevator that seemed to open on its own. But that, as they say, is a story for another day!

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Just when I thought this door couldn’t look any spookier, I saw the name written on the wall next to it. Chills!!

2009 was also the year the Lantern Tours started entertaining the idea of giving guided daylight tours through Woodlawn Cemetery. They didn’t offer any official tours that year, but Darrin, Steph, and I spent some time wandering the grounds, admiring all the interesting and unique stones and monuments. What better way to spend a fall afternoon?

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So there you have it: two nights filled with ghosts, gangsters, and various tales of Lima’s strange and spooky side, coupled with an afternoon stroll through a graveyard. Doesn’t get much better than that.

It was a good weekend.

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The Lima Lantern Tours traditionally run for two weekends every October. For more information, check out their site here or visit their Facebook page here.

 

It’s October 1st, which means the Halloween season has officially begun for me! So this seemed the perfect time to address what so many of you have been e-mailing and texting me about recently. Namely, the fact that it doesn’t look like I’m doing very much this year in terms of presentations, appearances, and ghost tours. The simple answer is that I’ve decided to take this October off for the most part. Don’t worry; I’m not going anywhere. Just taking a break to gear up for some craziness that’s going to pick up the first of the year and continue straight through next October, when all heck is going to break loose…in a ghostly good way!

So that’s the simple answer. If you care for a longer, more in-depth explanation, then read on! I’ll even throw in a couple of random spooky pictures just to sort of break things up.

Still there, huh? OK, then let me start by saying that I’ve been overwhelmed with the outpouring of e-mails I’ve received from people who appear to be downright depressed that they aren’t going to be able to see me this Halloween season. You guys touch me in all the right ways (and none of the wrong ways) and to you, I say “thank you”. Some of you have even said that you plan on boycotting some of the events/conferences/locations to show your displeasure at my not being there. Please don’t do that. Look, I appreciate the gesture, but to make it clear, not a single one of those events/conferences/locations asked that I not return. Across the board, it was my decision and mine alone. Since all of these events/conferences/locations depend on your attendance in more ways than one, I ask that you continue to attend and support them. And don’t think you’ve seen the last of me at those events, either. I’m taking a break, not going away.

So why am I taking a break? For no other reason than I needed one. My upcoming project, the one I keep teasing the heck out of, took over 2 and a half years (and literally thousands of miles) to complete. While that was going on, I was still trying to keep the Halloween tour schedule running full-steam ahead and attempting to balance all that madness out with my personal life. Late last summer, when the project was finally put to bed, I realized something that depressed the hell out of me: 3 Halloweens had passed and I had yet to take my daughter, Courtney, trick-or-treating.

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Courtney wears Batman stuff because he’s her “buddy”. But for Halloween this year, she wants to be Batgirl. She also wants her dad to be the Riddler. I’m still trying to convince her dads are not supposed to wear spandex. Wish me luck!

That’s right: James A. Willis, the self-proclaimed strange and spooky guy who’s addicted to all things weird has yet to take his daughter trick-or-treating. How sad and pathetic is that? Sure, I could try to blame it on Ohio’s asinine habit of randomly assigning what 2-hour window I’m allowed to celebrate Halloween during, but the simple fact is that it was usually because I was either hopping around some stage/auditorium/haunted house/carriage, entertaining everyone with tales of weird and ghostly things.

And that was when I made the decision to take a break this Halloween season and focus on my family. I’m planning on taking Courtney trick-or-treating. Not only that, but as a family, we’re going to be carving a whole mess of pumpkins, decorating the house, bobbing for apples, watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on TV, and rolling around in the 25,000 pounds of leaves that fall in my front yard every year. In short, this Halloween, I plan on being nothing more than a strange and spooky father and husband.

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One of our latest acquisitions. After helping me put him together, Courtney asked if we could keep him in her bedroom.

But I’m not going anywhere. Far from it. In fact, I would suggest that most of you take this opportunity to enjoy a break from me. Because come next year, you just might get sick of seeing my ugly mug.

You see, the other reason I felt I needed a break was to sort of rest up for what is going to be nothing short of a strange and spooky assault on all of you in 2015. One that I’m sure you’re all going to enjoy: new projects, new appearances, and new presentation topics. Trust me, 2015 is going to be hopping around here!

It’s probably going to start picking up right after the first of the year. By the end of the summer, things will more than likely be bordering on “strange and spooky overload.” Put it this way, if you or someone you know is planning on having me out for an October event, etc. in 2015, you might want to look at getting something confirmed with me before this coming summer. The sooner the better, too. To put things in perspective, my latest project involves 21 specific locations in Ohio and 20 of them have already expressed having some type of event in October of 2015. So do the math…and get excited because, as I said, you’re probably going to get sick of seeing my face in 2015!

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Contrary to popular belief, Steph and I really ARE wearing Halloween costumes in this photograph.

Of course, all of this is calling for a bit of re-branding of myself. Well, perhaps “re-branding” is a bit strong. But by and large, people tend to develop incorrect preconceived notions about what they’ll get from one of my presentations/appearances. Their conclusions come from them thinking I fall into one of two categories:

  1. A published author, meaning that I will spend most of the time reading from my books
  2. A ghost hunter, meaning that I will spend most of the time trying to convince people everything is a ghost and that demons regularly pick me up, scratch me, and then chuck me across the room

Now, I’m sure those of you who have seen me live are probably chuckling as those descriptions, but it’s true: that’s what people who have yet to experience my Strange & Spooky World expect. That’s probably why most people walk away from one of my presentations muttering “I’m not sure what just happened, but it was fun.” Allow me to throw modesty to the wind here and state that since I first starting giving presentations in Ohio some 15 years ago, the only complaint I have ever heard was “it was too short.” Well, ok, one woman wrote to me and told me my stories gave her nightmares, but I take that as a compliment. I have always felt that my job, once I take that stage, is to entertain each and every member of the audience and to have them all smiling, laughing, and perhaps shrieking, by the time I’m finished with them.

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Preparing to unleash the video of my infamous Blue Flash video on Kenwood Elementary School. The kids with their hands up are the ones who said they’d be willing to ride the Blue Flash with me!

But while people walk away happy after the presentation, there’s still some confusion among the general public about what to expect going into one of my presentations. So I have my work cut out for me, especially since I’m planning on upping my game in 2015. If you thought my presentations were over the top before, just you wait! 2015 is going to bring all-new topics, bigger and better photos, audio, and videos, and even special guests! I’m even looking into the logistics (and legalities) of incorporating lasers, t-shirt guns, and confetti cannons. Yes, I’m serious.

So please, get out there and enjoy the Halloween season this year. You’ll be fine without me, I promise! Just know that I’m busy stocking up on Monster drinks and Boo Berry cereal in preparation for next year!

2014's Box #1

2014’s Box #1

OK, so Labor Day’s officially over. So in my book, that signals the beginning of Halloween season! With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite Ohio Halloween season memories; ghostly blasts from the past, if you will. They won’t be in any particular order. Just sort of random memories as they pop into my head or I come across them on my hard drive. And we’ll begin with the Delaware Ghost Walk from October of 2007.

Promotional flyer for the event

Promotional flyer for the event

I always look back fondly on the 2007 Delaware Ghost Walk, and not just because it was the first one The Ghosts of Ohio participated in. Sure, there was that, but it was also a blast because this was the first instance where we were having to do a two-day setup since the Ghost Walk that year was taking place over two nights. The Strand was open the entire weekend, too, so we ended up using some pieces of plywood to prop up the projector out in the seating area…and then parking Darrin Boop next to it so people didn’t bump into it during the presentation. After Friday’s presentation, we had to break everything down and then set it all back up again Saturday night.

The Ghosts of Ohio, up in lights on the Strand Theatre’s screen (note my multiple Monster cans hiding behind the bottled water on the lower left)

The 2007 Ghost Walk also holds a special place in my heart because so many members of The Ghosts of Ohio got involved, and not just with the presentation itself. Naturally, they were there, as always, to help me set up my 45-minute presentation on both nights, but they also worked the merchandise table and some members even donned costumes and helped out on the ghost walk itself, working as tour guides.

Members of The Ghosts of Ohio hanging out at the 2007 Delaware Ghost Walk.

 

 

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16-page booklet from the 1930s that is filled with magic tricks, supposedly ones performed (or at least endorsed by) Columbus-born magician, Howard Thurston. All the tricks in this booklet have been given bizarre names, my favorites being “The Healing Tongue” and “Futile Blows”. The “Library of Magic” listed on the cover was the name given to all 6 “volumes” (ie: booklets) in the series. As you can see, this was Volume 1.

Booklet was a giveaway from Swift and Company, who manufactured baking products like shortening. So there’s a great 2-page ad for Swift’s Silverleaf Lard that asks “what magic can you do with pastry-tested shortening” and then encourages readers to “eat more baked goods” because they are “wholesome, digestible, delicious.” Ain’t that the truth!

You can check out some other pieces of Howard Thurston memorabilia in the Historical Memorabilia wing of the Strange and Spooky Museum. Go on, click away!