Cleveland's diverse cultural mix and long history have led to some eerie and haunted sites. Among them are Gothic homes, inns, theaters, and a lighthouse. Ghostly apparitions include soldiers, Native Americans, innkeepers, and even a cat.
A look at some of the greater Cleveland area's haunted sites will take you from castle-sized homes to cemeteries, and along the way, you'll hear some sad and disturbing tales.
Visitors and staff at the historic Gray's Armory have claimed to hear footsteps when no one was present as well as seeing Civil War-era apparitions. By all accounts, the ghosts seem friendly. The history of the armory provides a backstory to these apparitions.
In the mid-19th century, all major U.S. cities had their own volunteer militias with their own uniforms, flags, weapons, and bands. In Cleveland, this unit was called the "Cleveland Grays" after their gray uniforms. They were the first Cleveland group to leave to fight in the Civil War, and they fought bravely at Manassas and at Phillipi. Later, the "Cleveland Grays" rode with General Pershing in the Spanish-American War and with the 145th Infantry in 1916 during World War I.
The group built a huge sandstone castle in 1893 as their headquarters. This five-story fortress still stands in downtown Cleveland, near Erie Street Cemetery. It features a 10,000 square foot ballroom, a basement shooting range, a wood-paneled library, and walls upon walls of military memorabilia.
Grays Armory was a social and community center as well as a military one. The Armory is open only for private parties and special events, such as the annual book fair, historic tea, and classic auto show.
Franklin Castle, located in the Ohio section of Cleveland, is one of the most fascinating and most haunted houses in the city. The four-story sandstone Gothic structure was built in the late 1880s by grocery and banking executive, Hannes Tiedemann and featured thirty rooms, including a ballroom that encompassed the entire fourth floor.
The house's history is a sad and disturbing one. Not long after the Tiedemann family moved into the house, their daughter and Mrs. Tiedemann's mother died. To distract his wife from her grief, Tiedemann remodeled the house and it was rumored that several secret passages were added at that time. With his entire family pre-deceasing him, Mr. Tiedemann passed in 1908.
The house subsequently belonged to a German brewer, the German Socialist Party (rumored to be Nazis and to have run surveillance of Lake Erie from the house), and several Cleveland families.
Strange occurrences have plagued all of the residents of Franklin Castle. Voices, an organ playing, shaking light fixtures, and apparitions have all been reported. In 1975, the homeowner went searching for the secret passageways—and found more than he expected. He uncovered a human skeleton, deemed to be very old by the coroner.
Squire's Castle, located in Willoughby Hills in the Cleveland Metroparks, was built in the 1890s by Feargus B. Squire, an executive with the Standard Oil Company. The British-born Squire intended to create a country estate, modeled after those in Britain. He began by building the gatehouse, complete with a living room, several bedrooms, and a hunting room with mounted animal heads. The Squires used the gatehouse as a weekend retreat while plans were being finalized for the main house.
Mrs. Squire never liked the country. A city girl, she was scared of the quiet country nights and the sounds of animals. Urban legend says that she had so many nightmares that she was afraid to go to sleep and consequently went insane. According to the legend, she died one night when she became so frightened that she fell and broke her neck. The truth is that Mrs. Squire, died of a stroke in Wickliffe, Ohio, five years after the Castle property was sold.
Even so, there have been numerous reports of a woman in the upstairs window at night, sometimes with a lantern. Could it be Mrs. Squire?
Feargus Squire never completed the estate after his wife's death, and the gatehouse was abandoned and what remains is just a stone shell.
Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery, located just east of University Circle and Little Italy, was founded in 1869 by a group of prominent Cleveland businessmen, including Jeptha Wade, founder of the Western Union Telegraph Company.
The 285-acre cemetery is the final resting place for many of Cleveland's most famous figures, including John D. Rockefeller, Eliot Ness, former Mayor Carl Stokes, and President James A. Garfield. Lake View is noted for its diverse and elaborate architecture, including the Art Deco-style Wade Chapel with its original Tiffany window and the Neo-Gothic Garfield Monument, and its many stone angels.
As with any cemetery with so many famous residents, rumors persist of hauntings and locals report the spirits roaming the graveyard at night.
The Haserot Angel, a statue marking the graves of Francis Haserot and his family, depicts an eerie representation of "The Angel of Death Victorious." There are reports of weeping sounds at the grave and the black tears streaming down the face of the angel add to the mystery.
Tours of the gravestones and grounds are given regularly at Lake View, including several on and around Halloween.
Some Cleveland mothers used to threaten their children, "If you don't behave, I'll send you to Mansfield." Thoughts of the dark, foreboding stone castle were enough to keep even the most unruly kid in check.
The Ohio State Reformatory, at Mansfield, was designed in 1896 by Cleveland architect, Levi Scofield. The gothic, dark stone structure was a fear-inspiring building but inside the prison, things were even worse. As early as the 1930s, the prison was cited for having inhumane living conditions. Notorious was the prison's "Hole," a series of one-man cells with no facilities, no light, and little air. The facility was closed by order of the United States Federal Court in 1990.
The Ohio State Reformatory has been featured in numerous films and TV productions, including the movies Air Force One and The Shawshank Redemption.
Several inmates and guards were killed during their time at Mansfield and numerous ghostly sightings, believed to be their spirits, have been reported. Whether you encounter a ghost or not, almost everyone leaves the property with a deep feeling of sadness. Tours and special Halloween events are offered to visitors.
Rider's Inn in Painesville opened in 1812 as a hospitality stop along the rough stagecoach road between Buffalo and Cleveland. The inn, named for its founder and his wife, Joe and Suzanne Rider, was also a major stop along the underground railroad and a refuge for Union soldiers returning home after the Civil War.
The gracious inn is still in operation and offers guests delightful, individually decorated suites as well as a charming dining room and pub. The wife of the first owner, Suzanne Rider, is said to (pleasantly) haunt the inn. In life, her job was to greet guests and her spirit has been seen around the former front door as well as the upper floors.
Rider's Inn offers a Halloween dinner and tours of the inn.
Erie Street Cemetery
Erie Street Cemetery, founded in 1826, is Cleveland's second oldest cemetery. The 8.9-acre cemetery contains the remains of over 17,000 Clevelanders, including four Cleveland mayors and some of the city's earliest settlers, such as Lorenzo Carter and his family.
Located within walking distance of the Progressive Field baseball park, Erie Street Cemetery's most controversial residents are two Native American chiefs: Joc-O-Sot and Chief Thunderwater. Chief Thunderwater, an Iroquois chief, is said to be the model for the controversial Cleveland Indians mascot, Chief Wahoo.
Joc-O-Sot (or Walking Bear) fought against the white settlers in the Black Hawk Wars, was wounded, and later joined a vaudeville show performing in plays that purported to represent Native American life. Ten years later, he became ill, possibly with tuberculosis, while in England and made his way back to Cleveland where he died and was buried in the Erie Street Cemetery. Joc-O-Sot's spirit never rested, because he did not want to be buried in Cleveland and had asked to be buried in his homeland which is now Minnesota. His unsettled spirit is said to haunt the cemetery and, when he's really troubled, it is said he haunts the nearby baseball field.
There are other spirits haunting the cemetery. Shadows of ghosts have been seen darting around, especially near the mausoleums.
Erie Street Cemetery is open to visitors during the day and intrepid history buffs will enjoy strolling amongst the historic stone markers.
The Old Fairport Harbor Lighthouse sits at the mouth of the Grand River, east of Cleveland. The lighthouse, originally built in 1825 and rebuilt in 1871, was a safe haven for sailors as well as refugees traveling along the Underground Railroad. The lighthouse was replaced by the current Fairport Harbor Lighthouse in 1925 and is open as a maritime museum.
The Old Fairport Harbor Lighthouse is believed to be haunted by a gray cat, one of many owned by a former lighthouse caretaker. The myth was given more credence when, in 2001, the remains of a cat were discovered in a sealed staircase. The remains are now on display in the museum, but the playful cat's presence can be felt all over the property.
The Akron Civic Theatre opened in 1929 as the Loewe's Theater, one of a number of jewels in the theater magnet's empire. The Moorish-style theater, designed by John Eberson, featured elaborate wood carvings, alabaster statuary, and European antiques. The theater was remodeled in 2001 and reopened as the Akron Civic Theater.
The theater is said to have at least two ghosts. Fred the Janitor, who worked at the theater in the 1930s, died in the theater and is said to haunt the building, particularly the bathrooms. The other ghost is a young woman, thought to be from a mid-19th-century canal barge family, as the Ohio-Erie Canal originally ran through the theater site.
The Unionville Tavern, located between Madison and Geneva, was built as a log cabin in 1798 and was converted to a two-story inn and tavern between 1815 and 1820. The white frame building was a stagecoach stop along the old Indian trail and hosted many Civil War-era parties in the second-floor ballroom.
The Tavern also served as a station on the Underground Railroad and escaped slaves would enter the tavern for shelter and a meal from the tunnels that connected the inn to the cemetery across the street. At night, the slaves would be taken to Madison docks for the trip across Lake Erie to freedom in Canada. The ghost of a former slave is reputed to haunt the tavern.
The Unionville Tavern, which preservationists are working to restore, operated as a bar and restaurant for years and closed in 2003.
Another haunted site in Painesville is Lake Erie College. The fourth floor (now unused) of the school's College Hall is said to be haunted by an unfortunate female student from the late 19th century. The story goes that she became romantically involved with one of her professors and became pregnant. When the teacher refused to marry her, she jumped to her death from the bell tower atop College Hall.
College Hall isn't the only building at Lake Erie College that is said to be haunted. Ghostly sightings have also been reported in Morley Music Hall, the Fine Arts Building, and Fowler's Dorm.
Ashtabula's Chestnut Grove Cemetery, located along the Ashtabula River near downtown, was originally an Indian burial site for members of the Erie tribe. Since 1819, the cemetery has accepted the remains of more than 18,000 souls, including 25 victims of the Ashtabula train disaster of 1876.
The train disaster occurred on a snowy night, on December 29, 1876. The Pacific Express of the Lake Shore and Michigan Railway was making its way from Erie to Ashtabula when the bridge across the Ashtabula River failed and sent 11 rail cars tumbling 70 feet into the river, just 100 yards away from the Ashtabula station. It remains one of the worst train accidents in US history. Depending on the account, between 80 and 92 people perished from the fall, the cold, and the fires that followed the crash. Sixty-four were injured.
A distraught Charles Collins, the bridge's engineer died in January 1877. Many believe he killed himself. Collins is buried near the 70-foot obelisk at Chestnut Grove honoring the victims of the train disaster. Many people have reported seeing men and women in late 19th-century garb near the monument. Other reports cite a man in period dress kneeling nearby saying "I'm sorry."
The cemetery is open from dawn to dusk.
Cleveland's Agora Theater, located at East 50th Street and Euclid Avenue, has hosted musical acts from Elvis and ZZ Top to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
Built in 1910, the building was originally the lavish Metropolitan movie theater. In the 1940s, it became an auditorium for WHK radio. The Agora moved there in 1985.
Most concertgoers just visit the lobby and the two concert halls: the 700-seat ballroom and the 2,000-seat main theater. However, the building includes a labyrinth of narrow hallways, storage rooms, and catwalks. There have been numerous reports of a male ghost wearing a yellow raincoat in the balconies, hallways, and catwalks. Paranormal researchers report orbs and other ghostly apparitions in the theater.
Punderson Manor, near Newbury, Ohio, is named after the first European settler to the area, Lemuel Punderson who traveled to the Connecticut Western Reserve with his wife in 1802. Apparently, Punderson drowned in nearby Punderson Lake and is said to be one of the ghosts haunting the manor.
Construction on the English Tudor manor house was begun in 1929 by Detroit area businessman, Karl Long. Long lost his fortune in the Great Depression and the property eventually reverted to the state for back taxes in 1948 and was then opened to the public in 1956 as the lodge for Punderson State Park.
Ghostly sightings have been reported at the manor for more than 30 years by guests, park rangers, and caretakers. Some report hearing children laughing. Others have claimed to see an African-American girl who drowned in the lake in the mid-1970s and others have reported seeing a spirit believed to be Mr. Punderson.
The South Bass Island Lighthouse, located on the southwestern edge of the island (the same island that is home to Put-in-Bay, a destination for thousands of summer visitors) was constructed in 1897. The red brick lighthouse is somewhat unusual in that the light tower and the living quarters are connected.
Tragedy struck the lighthouse shortly after the building was completed. A handyman hired by the lighthouse keeper and staying in the lighthouse basement supposedly committed suicide by jumping from a nearby cliff.
Soon after, the lighthouse keeper was found wandering aimlessly, was ruled insane, and was committed to an asylum for a year. His wife operated the lighthouse in his absence.
Those who have stayed at the lighthouse report the sounds of eerie footsteps, doors slamming on their own accord, and strange, unexplained noises. Most activity is said to come from the basement.
The lighthouse operated until 1962 when it was retired and purchased by Ohio State University, which used the structure as a research station and guest house.
Since 2005, the first floor and the tower of the lighthouse have been open to the public on tours. The lighthouse basement remains closed to the public and that is where sounds and ghostly sightings have been reported.