If you’re into being frightened, the Queen City has plenty of locations that can do the job.
Cincinnati Music Hall, Over-the-Rhine
Music Hall looks like it should be haunted. Its history backs that up. Long before the first red brick appeared on the site, a potter’s field occupied the space. It served the community through multiple epidemics, particularly cholera, and likely accepted some of the unidentified victims of the Moselle steamboat disaster in 1838. An orphanage built on the same grounds added to the literal body count. Some of the bodies were moved to Spring Grove Cemetery when Music Hall was first built, but every renovation and excavation uncovers more. It’s no wonder staff claim ghosts trigger the box office bell, children see people their parents cannot, and, of course, there’s no shortage of ghostly music—particularly around the elevator, where a trove of bones greeted teams digging the shaft. Volunteers and workers see the ghosts as friendly, just extra guests there for the music.
Bobby Mackey’s, Wilder
Bobby Mackey’s Music World has a grisly reputation for real live country music and real dead ghosts. Upstairs, shoves and scratches are attributed to ghouls as often as they are to rowdy patrons. Believers insist they see dark figures and the headless ghost of Pearl Bryan, an 1896 murder victim whose head, according to legend, went into the slaughterhouse drain in the building’s basement. Downstairs, guests on organized ghost tours see the drain itself, better known as “the portal to hell,” where local tradition holds that cults used to perform ritual sacrifices. Rumor and myth also claim a woman named Johanna, the daughter of a mobster who owned the venue during its days as a casino in the 1950s, took her life in another basement room after her father killed the singer she loved. Real or not, people claim to smell her rose perfume.
Arnold’s Bar and Grill, downtown
Who doesn’t enjoy lingering over drinks with friends? More than 150 years old, Arnold’s is Cincinnati’s oldest continuously open bar, and it remains a spirited establishment. This goes beyond the legendary gin purportedly brewed in the bathtub upstairs. Guests see glasses float off the rack and drop to the floor, and workers hear pounding on the bathroom wall. Faucets turn on, doors close, and lights switch off by themselves. The Arnold family, who lived upstairs, may haunt the bar. Deceased patrons may prefer their favorite drinking hole to the afterlife, but not all of Arnold’s ghosts come from the distant past. An employee who died several years ago reputedly lingers at the workplace he loved, and tours have reported seeing him peeking around the top of the stairs and through windows. Whoever lingers should thank the bartenders who leave a drink for them on the bar after hours.
Spring Grove Cemetery, Winton Place
A beautiful spot to spend eternity, Spring Grove Cemetery hosts its spectral residents with grace. Its most famous grave is probably C.C. Breuer’s. A life-sized bust on the headstone features glass eyes many guests swear follow them as they walk by. Others claim to have seen white wolves that mysteriously disappear between the monuments, lakes, and trees of the arboretum.
Taft Museum of Art, downtown
History walks the halls of the Taft Museum of Art a little too literally. Annie Taft, sister-in-law to the former president, reportedly startles guests and peeps on gatherings from the upstairs balcony in a pink gown. Disembodied voices and phantom touches spook other visitors and staff deal with a pesky ghost who likes to knock over items in the gift shop for fun.
Sedamsville Rectory, Sedamsville
This is as close as Cincinnati comes to The Exorcist. Local rumor and a number of ghost hunting experts believe something demonic lives in the old rectory. Although the building has no marked tragedy in its recorded history, visitors have suffered scratches, including a mark suspiciously similar to an inverted cross, and dark voices growl at investigators over “ghostboxes” (paranormal research devices).
Hammel House Inn, Waynesville
An old stagecoach stop, Hammel House keeps some of its visitors. Many suspect the ghostly gentleman in room four began as a traveler who met a bad end in the inn. Workers also tell of a girl crying in the basement, though it’s the spectral cat that really runs the show. It makes pawprints on guests, brushes up against ankles, and leaves loose hairs in its wake.
Phillips’ Folly, Maysville
If you like dogs, this is your haunt. Local legend says one of the late owners, John Armstrong, still plays with his Newfoundland on the balcony at night. Stories of another John (Pearce), who lived and died in the house, say you can hear the duel he fought or the gunshot he used to take his own life in the parlor.
Groves of Burnet Woods, Clifton
Some places draw crowds, families, or artists. Burnet Woods attracted the desperate. The arboreal retreat just west of the zoo saw the end of many stories by suicide, and the tragedies left their mark. The park’s reputation carried so many shadows even in the 1800s, a path earned the name Dead Men’s Row and one of its loveliest oaks became the Suicide Tree.
Utopia, Clermont County
An underground church and an old foundation are all that’s left of the original town, one of America’s oldest communes. On the night of December 13, 1847, a community dance turned to horror as the Ohio River flooded and collapsed part of the hall. Most of the town vanished in the icy waters. Some people claim to see the lost townsfolk wading out of the river on cold nights.
Wayne Park/Sutherland Park/Rossville Cemetery, Hamilton
A three-acre park and playground sit on what was once hallowed ground. The bodies of the area’s first wave of white settlers were relocated for good to the old Pioneer Burial Ground, and while some were moved to a nearby cemetery as the town grew and the cemetery declined, construction crews still found some old friends sleeping under the new park.