Monday, October 29, 2012

The Ghost Stories of Lake County - Pastoral Terror - 'Melonheads'

Country legends date back to the times of Beowulf and Grendel.  Urban legends date back to the latter 19th century and their stories are often known worldwide.  The pastoral terror of the 'Melonheads' is one such urban legend.  It is not only told here in N.E. Ohio but also in parts of Connecticut, Southern Michigan, Kentucky, and Oregon.

The 'Melonheads' is a well known tale that originates on the Kirtland and Chardon borders.  Folks passing through or living near the bridges on Wisner or King Memorial have heard or reported sightings of these malformed humans with unnaturally formed heads.  Urban legend has Dr. Crow(e) or Kroh's wife looking after them.  In time she passes.  These children with enlarged hydrocephalic heads run amok.  They become animalistic and feral.  Dr. Crow loads them into his car and abandons them along the Chagrin River.  Motorists and hikers near Wisner and King Memorial Roads have reported encounters with these strange figures over time.  It has been said that if you wear dark clothes you can escape them due to their poor vision.

A local Chardon man named Ryan Orvis tells of the the 1950-60's story of a young child with hydrocephalus syndrome.  It is said that his appearance frightened the local youngsters.  A neighbor and TB researcher Dr. Crowe / Kroh lived on the street.  He befriended that child and they were often seen traversing the Wisner Road area at dusk.

From the wayward spirits to the haunted structures, Lake County has its ghost stories and urban legends.  Steeped in partial truths and local lore, these tales have become part of the fabric of our county history.  Wandering ghosts,  a haunted lighthouse, a mysterious girl in blue, stolen cadavers from a local medical college - while I have never personally witnessed any of these tales - others will tell you differently.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Two Programs to conclude Fairport's Bicentennial Celebration

Two programs will be the culminating pieces of the Grandon (1812), Fairport (1836), Fairport Harbor (1959) Bicentennial Celebration.  Past programs included an Ecumenical Concert, Village Birthday Party, Lighthouse Flying Lanterns Launch, Mardi Gras Boat Parade, Summer Party in the Park and numerous historical lectures.  Lecture topics profiled famous Fairporters, Harding High School, Village merchants and signature events.  Tonight will feature the seventh and final educational lecture series topic.  The Diamond Alkali and Docks will be tonight's subject.  Bill Branthoover, former Fairport Superintendent will be the keynote speaker.  The event begins at 7pm and will be held at the high school auditorium.  This coming Saturday will see a noon program officially end the celebration with a time capsule ceremony.  The Fairport School Band and Mayor will be featured celebrants.

                                      The Diamond Alkali and Ore Docks

For the majority of the 19th century, Fairport was a leading port for Lake Commerce and transportation.  In its hey-day the docks and warehouses located on Water Street handled over 3000 vessel's visits and nearly a million dollars in cargo annually.  French explorers, Native American Settlements, early Mormon History, Underground Railroad History, and other signature moments in Western Reserve History all met in Fairport at one time or another.  The rise of the Diamond Alkali site in 1912 enabled Fairport to be the epicenter of the 'Chemical Corridor' of the Northeast until 1976.  The Diamond's motto 'Chemicals You Can Liver By' truly resonated in Fairport's community history.

                                  Time Capsule Ceremony Ends Celebration

This Saturday at noon in the school auditorium will mark the end of a year-long tribute to the 200 year history of Fairport Harbor.  The school band and Village Mayor will preside over the event.  Family histories, Fairport Lighthouse and Historical Society contributions,  Finn Museum documents, Mayoral letters and village artifacts will be enclosed in a time capsule.  The sealed time capsule will then be stored for the next fifty years at the lighthouse museum. At the designated anniversary the future graduating seniors and first village bicentennial baby will revisit the capsule.

Thanks to all those community members who contributed to the 1812-2012 Celebration of Fairport Harbor.  Special thanks to Bicentennial Committee participants and co-chairs P. Spivak, M. Scruggs, members, E.Kangas, B. Lukshaw, C. Lipscomb, J. Ollila, K. Langford, P. Mackey, K. Paulino, D. Maxson.  Deep appreciation is extended to former Mayor F. Sarosy, current Mayor T. Manross and members of Village Council for their time and efforts in this endeavour.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Ghost Stories of Lake County

'A Stop in Willoughby' was the title of a 1960 episode from Rod Serling's Twilight Zone.  Serling was looking for an idyllic American town, an everyman town.  Like all cities and towns Willoughby has its unexplained stories, its wayward spirits and haunted structures.  Today we look at two of downtown Willoughby's legendary tales.
                                             Who is the Girl in Blue?

December 23, 1933 is the setting of this unusual tale.  A young girl arrives in the terminal in downtown Cleveland.  Headed for Erie, Pa. and Elmira, N.Y. she pays 15 cents for a ticket to stop in Willoughby.  The reason is unclear to this day.  Arriving at the doorstep of Miss Mary Judd's Third Street Boarding House during the early hours of Christmas Eve she takes a room.  A desire to attend a local church service leads to the most enduring part of this mystery.  She heads out dressed in a blue coat, blue dress, sweater and scarf.  It has been reported she wandered into a copse of wooden trees.  Lost and soon engulfed by the menacing branches, she never returned.  Another report mentioned a stranger being sited on Second Street near the railroad station.  A third account mentioned a girl throwing herself on the tracks in front of a train.  The only remains found were remnants of a blue purse.  The unidentified girl was laid out to rest at the McMahon Funeral Home through January 5, 1934 in hopes of resolving this tragic mystery.  No one came.  Buried in the local cemetery, her epitaph read ' Girl in Blue.'  Her gravestone became a famous local landmark and her story endured for over 60 years.  A News-Herald article retold the story on the 6oth Anniversary of the event.  A reader in Correy, Pa. named Ed Sekerak had the key to solving this mystery.  He knew the family.  'The Girl in Blue' was Josephine ' Sophie' Klimczak.  She had emigrated from Poland in 1901 to Pennsylvania.

                             Eli Tarbell and The Willoughby Medical College

N.E. Ohio's first medical college came to Willoughby in 1834.  In its thirteen year existence it saw 160 students enter its doors.  Its demise came from a local legend of students stealing corpses from their graves.  One such famous tale is that of Eli Tarbell.  Mr. Eli Tarbell of New York came to downtown Willoughby to visit his daughter Mrs. Phoebe Burr.  Tarbell dies of typhoid fever and is buried in the local cemetery.  Legend has it, that on the third day of mourning Eli appears before his wife and tells of his dismemberment.  A visit to the cemetery ensued.  The ground is soft, torn up, and the grave is empty.  A local uproar occurred.  Investigations and public outrage set into the motion the demise of the college.  The mangled remains are returned.  The medical college faculty leave in time, forming two new medical schools in the wake of this storied scandal.  They became the medical campuses of CWRU and OSU.  The medical building located in downtown Willoughby was used as the female seminary from 1847-1856.  A fire destroyed the building that year and an unsuccessful restart moved the seminary to a sister seminary located in Painesville.  That Painesville Seminary became Lake Erie College.

Other local ghost stories in Willoughby include the Willoughby Coal Building and the Van Gorder Mansion.  As you travel the roadways of Lake County don't forget to make ' A Stop in Willoughby.'

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment : " Chemicals You Live By" The Diamond Alkali

If Lake commerce and the Grand River docks dominated the 19th Fairport century scene, it can be said that the Diamond Alkai / Diamond Shamrock Corporation story consumed the 20th century chapter of Fairport business history.  The Diamond Alkali, a chemical company incorporated in West Virginia by a glass businessman named T.R. Evans from Pittsburgh, began in 1910.  The Painesville-Fairport area was a perfect source to pool the resources needed for glass manufacture.  Salt, limestone, coal and water could be effectively harnessed, economically assembled then successfully transported.  The ability to make derivatives on site only added to the relevance of this Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Viriginia triad glass manufacturing site.

The "Diamond's' first plant was built on the site of the original Painesville Township Park in 1912.  Production of soda ash started early that year and customer demand proved steady.  Within three years capacity was increased to 800 tons daily.  WWI became the 'boom' years and the 'Diamond' became a leading government supplier of caustic soda and bicarbonate of soda.  By 1924-25 the plant had added calcium carbonates, Portland cement, coke, and magnesium oxide to its production list.  Magnesium oxide production would later prove useful as a key element in the the production of WWII incendiary bombs.  Later contributions by the 'Diamond' would include chlorowax, a resin used in flame retardent paints and plastics.  Periclase was produced.  It was a material used in refractories.  Post WWII products included hydrochloric acids, paraffins, and ammonium bicarbonate.  Carbon Tetrachloride and silicates remained at the core of the plant's production.  Fairport's Diamond Alkali reach spanned 100 miles from Toledo to upstate New York.  The plant became the focal point of this northeastern chemical corridor of the era.  The Diamond's motto became " Chemicals You Can Live By."  The plant now encompassed over 1660 acres.  Docks, a company freighter and nearly 1300 employees were mainstays in this chapter of plant history.

1948 marked an important date in the plant history.  The world headquarters moved from Pittsburgh to Cleveland.  As the manufacturing landscape changed, the plant aggressively pursued a merger with Standard Oil and Gas.  This occurred in 1967 and the company became known as The Diamond Shamrock Corporation.  Events between 1972-75 changed the manufacturing landscape once again.  eight plants of a similar nature to the Diamond closed.  Raw production was giving way to new synthentics. Pollution and environmental issues arose.  Ultramar was now the new name of the corporation and New Jersey became a secondary home.  Fairport's Diamond Plant closed its doors in June 1976.  An era dating back to 1912 had ended.  In 2001, Valero Energy purchased the Ultramar Company.

Today the 'Diamond' is a memory.  Remnants of the plant still exist.  Portions of the docks lie under the surface of the Lake. The Bluffs where the plant once stood are now barren fields.  Discussions about repurposing the property remain stalled.   Artifacts and a detailed model of the plant are housed at the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse and Marine Museum.  Former employees still reside in Fairport and meet occasionally.  The 'Diamond' remains to this day firmly rooted in the village.  Its storied history is a large patch in the bicentennial quilt that is Fairport.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Ghost Stories of Lake County - Collegiate Ghosts of Painesville

Painesville has had a long history firmly rooted in the annals of Lake County history.  Edward Paine, General Jack Casement, architect Jonathan Goldsmith, U.S.Presidential visits, underground railroad stops, and a historic rail depot are but a handful of well chronicled places.  A walk through Evergreen Cemetery is a walk through an early American history book.  Every city also has its unexplained stories.  Today's chapter examines the alleged apparitions of Lake Erie College, Riders Inn, a bridge, and some other lesser known haunted sites .

Lake Erie College has six known stories of the supernatural kind.  Here is but a brief synopsis of the campus tales.  Andrews Dorm is said to be haunted by former President Mary Evans.  Her poltergeist has been confirmed by many former residents.  College Hall, the oldest building on campus has a ghost named Stephanie residing on the fourth floor.  Stephanie is rumored to have been killed in the belfry around 1800.  The fourth floor is now closed off, but Stephanie still peers out from her window.  The Fine Arts Building has its own apparition.  A ghostly man with dark skin has been seen there.  Also the 'Green Room' is alleged to be haunted by theater majors.  Fowler Dorm residents report the tale of a ghost appearing in the mirror.  This brown haired female specter is perhaps from the seminary era in its campus history.  Kilcawley Hall routinely has toilets flush for no reason and spectral visions appear when sinks are full according to those who live there.  The Morley Music Hall is home to Mrs. Morley, who is often seen wandering about in her white flowing gown.

Other Painesville Hauntings -  Riders Inn on Mentor Avenue has a long history associated with the property.  Two ghosts are commonplace to all who frequent the establishment.  Mistress Suzanne is reported to be a very genial hostess despite her circumstances.  She was killed by her third husband Joseph Rider.  The other spectral figure on the property is that of a Civil War soldier who once stopped there.  The Painesville Fairgrounds have had reports of children seen playing tricks on visitors in attendance.  The children perished in a 1964 fire on the property.  The North St. Clair Bridge has its ghost tale.  According to legend, Snake Bite Scroggs killed a young couple who ventured too near his fishing hole one day.  For some, their tragic hanging and Scrogg's presence is still felt to this day.  The Rite Aid Pharmacy sits on the former site of a local theater.  It is said spirits still haunt the site.  The former T.W. Harvey High School reported activities by former students on its premises.  Things falling, items being moved about, and whispers have been attributed to a student who tragically passed on school property in the early 1900's.  The Lake County Poorhouse on Riverside Drive is a Gothic style building with a basement jail.  Its story was told by A&E on November 7, 2010 with an episode entitled 'The Forgotten.'  The last two alleged ghost stories take place in residential homes.  The homes are located on Carroll Avenue and Monroe Blvd.  The locals can share these stories with you.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Ghost Stories of Lake County - Haunted Lighthouse

Lighthouses are among the oldest structures in America.  Like the castles found in Europe, they are lasting tributes to our past - proud, sturdy, majestic, and sometimes even haunted.  Most ghostly lighthouse tales fall into the category of oral history.  These chilling accounts of hauntings replace the nostalgic whims of being a keeper on an idyllic seaside landscape.  As the sun sets, spidery shadows rise up from the dusty corners.  A trick of light becomes a scary face.  Curious creaks and scrapes echo thru the lighthouse towers.  Some tales are eyewitness accounts.  Others are remnants of lighthouse lore passed down through generations.  Ghost stories are an inseparable part of maritime history.   Such is the case as we visit Fairport Harbor's Haunted Lighthouse.

In 1871, Captain Joseph Babcock, a veteran of the Civil War, moved his family into the light station at Fairport.  Two of his children were born there.  Tragedy soon found the Babcocks.  Their son, Robbie died of smallpox.  Shortly after his death, Mrs. Babcock fell critically ill.  Bedridden, she received many cats to help her cope with her lonely days.  Her favorite was a stray gray puff cat presented to her by Captain Babcock. Sentinel, as he is now known, became her constant companion.  One day he suddenly disappeared.  Despite many efforts, repeated searches yielded no trace of Sentinel.  Mrs. Babcock passed a short while later.  Her beloved feline never was found.  The lighthouse was officially decommissioned in early 1925, ending its hundred year service.  Hard times befell the structure before it was saved by the village residents in 1945. 

Years passed and the keeper's dwelling became home to the FHHS and its curators.  The last curator to live at the lighthouse (1987-1991) reported strange sightings.  A gray cat appeared out of nowhere and dashed about the room.  The gray puff cat became a frequent visitor.  His upstairs sojourns were in the same room where Mrs. Babcock slept.  Visitors to the lighthouse would report similar sightings on the property in the years to follow.  In 2001, the museum was installing A/C and the installer was met by a mummified cat in the basement.  Are the ghost cat and the mummy one and the same?  Many visitors to the Fairport Harbor believe it is so.  Paranormal groups have come to the lighthouse and recorded voices and images.  In fact the Ghost Cat has had two local and five cable segments examine his past. The voice is believed to be that of Babcock's son Robbie.  The shadowy images of a feline lend credence to the eerie legend of the Ghost Cat.  The mummified cat, Sentinel remains on display in his lighthouse keeper's home to this day.

As current curator and volunteer FHHS President at the lighthouse, I can't say it's haunted because I have never personally seen the ghost cat.  But there are visitors here who say that they disagree..

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Ghost Stories of Lake County - Squire's Castle

Legends, tales, and local lore all share the trait of being fairly well known, generally accepted, steeped in minor truths, yet mostly fictional in terms of accuracy.  An essential component to any good ghost story is an old and creepy structure.  The specter usually has a significant association with the house. Or ghosts attached to the area are known to move into houses erected on the property.  Today's blog examines the first of several ghost stories of Lake County.  We begin with Squire's Castle.

Nearly a century ago, F. B. Squire acquired 500 acres in Willoughby Hills.  His intent was to build a summer estate.  A three story gatehouse was begun.  Contained within this initial structure was a basement trophy room.  Ornate in design, this summer home was despised by Mrs. Squire, who preferred their city life in Cleveland.  She avoided visiting the estate for some time, but eventually made sojourns there to please her husband.  Lore has it that she developed insomnia and often walked the gatehouse at night carrying a red lantern.

One night on her travels it is said something startled her.  Whether it was a reflection from a trophy or she looked into the face of some spectral figure will never be known.  What is alleged is that she ran down the stairs, fell, and broke her neck.  Mr. Squire found her the next morning.  Guilt ridden, he ceased construction and abandoned the estate, moving back to the city forever.  The Cleveland Metroparks bought the property in the 1920's.  The estate is a shell of its former self as portions of it have been removed and the basement filled in.  Park visitors still claim at night to see a ghost carrying a red lantern.

Another version of this ghostly tale has Mrs. Squire as a sleepwalker who was awakened by the howling of wolves.  Running down the hallway, she stumbled, became caught in some rope and accidentally hung herself.  Rangers on the site consider both these stories to be a nuisance and often tell visitors that the Squires never lived there at all.  In fact, Mrs. Squire is said to have passed some miles away.  Could it be then be true that other apparitions from the area then moved into the castle?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: Finns, Hungarians, Slovaks

Cultural History of Grandon, Fairport, Fairport Harbor

All communities have ethnic groups in their origins.  Fairport was no different.  Land, opportunities, religious freedom, and education were just some of the reasons to settle here.  For Fairport's immigrants it was these ties that bound them ----- Commerce on Lake Erie & The Grand River

The Finnish People:

  • First sons & daughters of Finland arrived in NE Ohio in 1872
  • Most arrivals hailed from the Vaasa Province (western Finland)
  • Primogeniture prevailed
  • 1868 Aksel Sjoberg family arrived in Titusville, Pa.  Followed the railroad to Chardon, Ohio
  • Panic of 1873 ---depression led to few new arrivals until 1880
  • Settlers came to Ashtabula Harbor, Girard, and Burton
  • Iron Ore & Standard RR Gauge
  • 1886 – Penn. & Lake Erie Dock Facilities
  • 1887 – Finnish population swells to over 200 in Fairport / Finn Hollow
  • Pohto, Ollila,Killinen, Katila become notable names
  • Kasvi Temperance Society founded – 1893   (525 Eagle St.)
  • Mayors of Finnish descent – Rendrick, Asuma, Kaukonen, Ritari
  • Second Wave after WWI (40), last wave after WWII (30 families)

The Hungarians:

ü     From 1871-1913 over 2 million Hungarians arrived, mostly settling in Pa., N.Y., N.J., and Ohio
ü     26% of these immigrants arrived in Cleveland/ NE Ohio, nearly 11% of them right here in Lake County
ü     Cultural Heritage / isolation/ return/ lost heritage
ü     St. Michael’s Byzantine, Hungarian Reformed, St. Anthony’s of Padua

The Slovaks:

v    1884  --- Michael Pillar
v    M. Pillar & Michael Bendick ---worked the iron ore docks
v    Paul Locotosh- 1885
v    John Matsko, Joseph Kocak, Michael Petro, George Paytosh, John Pennock…dock workers
v    George R. Cage (Tug), John & Michael Volanski (Freighters)
v    1884-1911 – immigrants arrived here in great numbers
v    1912-1929 – most arrived from Pennsylvania

Monday, October 1, 2012

Goblins in the Garden 2012 - October 6 & 7th

October has become a popular month in recent years.  Fall's foliage, the season's harvest and All Hallow's Eve have combined into a must experience weekend at Holden Arboretum this coming Saturday.

Founded in 1931 by Albert Fairchild Holden, the arboretum honors the memory of his daughter who passed in 1908.  Originally conceived as an out-of-state memorial site (Harvard University), Albert made the bequest local at the urging of his sister.  What began 81 years ago as a 100 acre donation now totals over 3600 acres - 600 acres of which hold specific plant collections.  Twenty miles of trails and five specific gardens also are found with the holdings.

Goblins in the Park will be held this weekend October 6 & 7th beginning at 10am.  A trick-or-treat trail, wagon rides, straw pyramid climb, cornstalk maze are some of the experiences awaiting visitors.  Face painting, live musical entertainment, and a 'Seussical' parade at noon are part of each day's highlights.  The public, civic groups, and local merchants are encouraged to enter the popular Scarecrow Row competition which is located in the long held traditional place within the gardens.

Lake County's Fall celebration's will never look better than a Goblins in the Park experience.  So take the 'Fast Pass' and experience the history that is Holden Arboretum.