Cincinnati’s Haunted Houses: Spectral Visitors or Real Estate Scams?

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In 1875, one of the ink-stained wretches of the old Cincinnati Commercial sat down to write about the city’s haunted houses.

He first described on August, 29 1875, “the residence of a very popular and wealthy citizen” whose beloved daughter had died some years ago. The family plunged into mourning and remained withdrawn and gloomy even after they had taken down the traditional funeral crape. The servants, however, told tales. The young woman was seen often, wandering through the house, dressed as she had in life. More alarming was the music. The dead girl played piano beautifully. At her death, the piano, undusted, had been closed and locked and the parlor in which it sat shuttered and closed. But at night, piano music floated through the house faintly, “as though the instrument were being fingered by a feeble but skillful player.” The family, holding a lighted candle, stood outside the closed parlor listening to “drowsily weird” music. They unlocked the door and the music ceased.

Illustration of haunted house from Cincinnati Post 24 October 1912
Illustration of haunted house from Cincinnati Post 24 October 1912

Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

“At the same instant a current of icy air swept by, extinguishing the candle, and a sound as of rustling silk trailing passed from the drawing room through the hallway. The red embers of a winter fire still glowed in the grate, and the glow was sufficiently distinct to render the furniture and other objects visible. But there was no one there. The piano was still locked, and on raising the cover it was found that the dust still lay undisturbed upon the ivory keys. When the door was closed again, the playing recommenced, and the servants fled in fear.”

Eventually, the family and the remaining servants accommodated themselves to their spirit’s manifestations: banging doors, the sound of a whirring sewing machine, tapping on the windows, footsteps on the stairs, and nightly piano concerts.

“Some have actually seen Miss ______’s figure, it is whispered, but never her face – the figure casts no shadow and the face is veiled as in mists.”

Somewhere on Longworth Street, our scribe reports, another house, much less distinguished, has its own dark tales. Animals sense the presence of some uncanny force. The house is totally devoid of mice or rats, though cats will not stay there and dogs howl with terror if they are even brought into the yard. The darkness is centered around rooms on the third floor at the back of the house. No renter remains long in those rooms.

“And what was the matter? Well, they say that no one saw anything very, very horrible, but there were dead people there, and the dead would give the living no rest. Sleep was impossible. The clothes were always pulled from the sleepers, and hands were laid upon their faces, and strange noises were heard in the room all night. The hands were described to us as very small, tiny things like the hands of babies unborn, and the noises resembled the crying of weeny children.”

Years ago, our reporter claims, the rooms had been rented to “a female abortionist.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer [6 February 1870] reported on a haunted house of Sixth Street, between Central Avenue and John Street. As is often the case in such tales, successive tenants abandoned the house after nights disturbed by ethereal noises. An Enquirer reporter went to investigate and found that employees of a nearby undertaker would sneak into the house to sleep during night shift and that vagabonds also gained entrance to sleep in the parlor. the reporter claimed that the mystery was solved:

“So the matter all vanished in smoke, and so would it be doubtless with every other ‘haunted house,’ would anyone undertake to sift the stories to the bottom.”

But that was not the bottom. Two days later, the Enquirer published a letter from the building’s owner. No one, he wrote, “in this enlightened age” believes in ghost stories. And, furthermore:

“The reporter who wrote the article was imposed upon by some malicious person, who is, and has been for some years past, anxious to purchase the property for a song.”

The Cincinnati Post [26 July 1890] described the misguided efforts of a landlady to save her rental property from haunting rumors. The house, at 64 Carlisle Avenue, was the scene some years earlier of a notorious murder-suicide. Ever since, tenants had reported strange sounds and eerie goings-on in the house – whispering, spectral figures and such. The landlady, Ellen Kallam, decided to rent to educated and presumably ghost-proof tenants:

“Finally several medical students were secured as roomers, and were supposed to be proof against unearthly visitants; but one of them dropped the arm of a dissected corpse in the hallway one evening and the finding of it so startled several inmates that they departed with bag and baggage.”

The Cincinnati Gazette [7 March 1879] sent its own “ghostbuster” to investigate a supposedly haunted house on Barr Street, from which a family had fled after enduring the ghostly tread of marching feet, locked doors that sprung open, gaslights dimming and brightening uncontrollably, and gusts of cold air on still nights. After identifying a natural cause for each occurrence, the reporter concluded:

“If nothing more dangerous in the way of supernatural noises are ever heard than those which this house can furnish, the science of ghostology will make rapid progress to its own grave.”

This article was reposted with permission from Greg Hand, editor of Cincinnati Curiosities

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