During one of the Statehouse’s annual haunted tours, in which visitors learn about purported paranormal activity in the state capitol building, Dan was stopped by a woman who said she smelled a rare flower.
“This woman said that the rotunda smelled so much of patchouli flowers and she wanted to know where we got them,” said Trump, 63, who lives with his wife Peggy, also a Statehouse volunteer, in Hilliard. “I told her that I had no idea what she was talking about. There were no fresh-cut flowers in the Statehouse.”
From there, the plot thickened.
When Trump consulted with others in the Statehouse, they told him that patchouli flowers had been used when President Abraham Lincoln’s body lie in state there following his assassination in 1865.
But that was a century-and-a-half ago.
“There were absolutely none of them in the Statehouse at the time,” said Trump, who has had other experiences in the Statehouse that have the potential to raise hairs on the back of his neck.
There was, for instance, the time when he was waiting for a tour group from the State Room and was given a warning from an unseen presence.
“I’m leaning out, watching, and, just plain as day, somebody whispered in my ear: Get out,” Trump said. “I immediately turned and saw nothing. … I’m not a big ghost person, but I did hear this.”
Columbus has a long history of ghostly events
Bucky Cutright, the founder of Columbus Ghost Tours, said that while every city has its own ghost stories, Columbus has a high concentration of them.
“Columbus has a pretty unique sort of makeup,” said Cutright, 47, a native of West Virginia who moved to Columbus in 1992. “We have strange stories from the pioneer and indigenous population. … This was mecca for most of North America around 2,000 years ago, with these ancient earthworks that are around. This was a ceremonial and sacred space then.”
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It all adds up to numerous spots throughout town in which things that go bump in the night are rumored, reported and sometimes experienced firsthand.
Kelton House has frequent guest
At the Kelton House Museum & Garden on East Town Street — built by one-time residents Fernando and Sophia Kelton in 1852, occupied by their descendants until 1975 and now run by the Junior League of Columbus — Executive Director Sarah Richardt reports giving a tour to a couple and seeing the lights flicker each time the name “Fernando” was spoken.
“The third time Fernando’s name was mentioned, the front door, which is an extremely heavy front door, … opened completely and stayed open for a good 15, 20 seconds and then just slowly closed,” Richardt said. “The young boy that was there was not real thrilled.”
Thurber wrote about his ghost
Meanwhile, the Thurber House literary center and museum on Jefferson Avenue — where young James Thurber once resided — has a ghostly reputation burnished by its former occupant: Thurber’s story “The Night the Ghost Got In” fancifully retells an episode that occurred at the house in 1915.
“(Thurber) was in an upstairs bathroom, washing his face and getting ready for bed, when he heard this stomping coming from around the downstairs,” Cutright said. “It woke his brother up. … The stomping noise came pounding up the stairs towards them, and they could see there was no visible cause.”
In fact, the house had been the site of a grisly death that might explain the disturbances: A man who occupied the home before the Thurbers, Thomas Tracy Tress, apparently killed himself after being careless with a gun he had assumed to be unloaded.
Leah Wharton, operations director at Thurber House, said that staff members routinely report odd occurrences, including a floating orb of light encountered upstairs by a staff member.
Even writers-in-residence, who stay on the third floor of the house during their term, have been known to get spooked, including 2018 children’s writer-in-residence Pablo Cartaya.
“(Cartaya) told us that he had quite a few interesting things happen to him,” Wharton said. “He would feel this sensation of prickling along his arms. One of the framed Thurber drawings in the bedroom fell off the wall in the middle of the night.”
Former bordello a haunt
The Jury Room on East Mound Street — now an Irish pub and private event space — originated as a tavern in the 1830s and, within two decades, had evolved into a bordello. Cutright said that multiple ghosts are said to linger in the space, including an angry customer who, one night in 1859, pounded on the door to get in and was killed by the bordello’s madam. Her ghost hangs around, too.
“Occasionally, I’ve had people ask me, ‘Oh these stories — they’re so dark,’” Cutright said. “I say, ‘Well, rarely does somebody become a ghost because they were tickled to death.’”
Of course, sometimes supernatural stories accrue to a place even in the absence of evidence.
Walhalla Ravine legend
The Walhalla Ravine area in Clintonville has long been a frightening favorite of Cutright.
“It’s dark and it’s wild,” said Cutright, but the talk of a haunting in Mooney Mansion on Walhalla Road — that the house once belonged to a mentally ill doctor who killed himself and his family and whose spirits remain — turns out to be erroneous.
“The house was built in 1913 for a Dr. Charles Mooney, and he and his wife lived there,” Cutright said. “They had three children, but they all died of old age.”
In 1918, in another house not far from Mooney Mansion, an incident similar to that associated with Mooney Mansion did take place, Cutright said, but the street on which that happened lacks the requisite — what’s the word? — creepiness.
“It’s just sort of an average street,” he said. “The (ghost story) kind of got moved to this more rural setting, a lonelier spot.”
COVID-19 pandemic affected Buxton Inn ‘residents’
The coronavirus pandemic seems to have had an unusual effect on at least one set of spirits: Last spring, when the Buxton Inn in Granville temporarily closed its doors, General Manager Jennifer Valenzuela noted that paranormal activity — already an accepted feature of staying or working at the 209-year-old inn — spiked.
“I would go into the building and check it and make sure it was locked, and it got to the point where, honestly, if I didn’t have one of my kids or my dogs with me, I’m not going in there,” said Valenzuela, who heard tables and chairs move and saw a swinging door open on its own and stay open.
“It would be so active, like they were doing something to get your attention. They didn’t understand why, all of a sudden, life ended at the Buxton on March 13,” she said.
With the inn long since reopened, the usual amount of mysterious sights, sounds and smells have resumed.
Green Lawn Abbey experience
For his part, Cutright has no doubt that people experience unusual things in these and other spots throughout Greater Columbus — and he believes his own eyes and ears, too.
A few years ago, Cutright portrayed magician Howard Thurston at an event at the Green Lawn Abbey mausoleum, where the remains of Thurston, who died in 1936, is interred. After Cutright went off-script, the lights began to flicker.
He asked one of organizers if they had arranged for the lights to dim. Nope.
“She hadn’t touched it,” said Cutright, who was left with only one possible explanation — a paranormal one.
“I don’t know if I made Thurston happy or upset.”
Columbus ghost tours
Ready to be scared stiff? Ghost tours and similar spooky events are on tap throughout Greater Columbus.
• Ohio Statehouse Haunted Tours, 1 Capitol Square, 7, 7:30, 8 and 8:30 p.m. Oct. 22-23; $13, or $7 for ages 12 to 17; tickets required; masks not required; www.ohiostatehouse.org
• Kelton House Museum & Garden “Fernando’s Funeral” ghost tours, 586 E. Town St., every 30 minutes from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Oct. 28-29; $18; maximum of 15 people per tour; masks required; www.keltonhouse.com
• Buxton Inn “Ghostory Tours,” 313 E. Broadway, Granville, Tuesdays at 8 p.m., Fridays at 9 p.m., “family-friendly” Saturdays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 20; $20, or $10 for age 12 and younger; masks not required; www.buxtoninn.com
• Columbus Ghost Tours’ “Creepy Columbus Walking Tours” and “Ghosts of Green Lawn Cemetery Walking Tour,” various dates and times; open-air, socially distanced and limited to no more than 20; prices vary; www.columbusghosttours.com