'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.'