As a volunteer tour guide at the Ohio Statehouse, Dan Trump is used to living with history. Sometimes, though, history makes itself known in unusual — should we say ghostly? — ways.

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.”

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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.

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“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.”

The State Room at the Ohio Statehouse. Dan Trump said he once had someone whisper in his ear just outside the State Room.

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.

The bedroom of Fernando Kelton. Kelton later died in this room from injuries sustained after falling out of a window.

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.”

The parlor in the Thurber House.

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.”

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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.

The back staircase at the Thurber House in Columbus. According to lore, Thurber was at the top of this staircase coming out of the bathroom when he heard footsteps in the dining room below that then began racing up the stairs, though he saw no one.

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.

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“(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.”