It's that spooky time of the year, when 'Jack Tales' and other phantoms go bump in the night. Lantern Tours, ghost walks, and paranormal tales only serve to magnify the sounds of rustling leaves, the rasping sounds among the branches and the lurking shadows among the darkening nights under an October harvest moon. Even before Lake County was founded in 1840, stories of hauntings and bizarre activities were whispered by locals and recorded in print. Some like the 'Girl in Blue', 'Willoughby Medical College', or the 'Melonheads' have been shared in 2012 and earlier. The 'Monster of Little Mountain' kept scores of families in their homes at night in the early 1800's. These loud, eerie noises resonating off the rocks and nearby caves proved to be a prank by local lads who created these menacing sounds with a wooden barrel and rawhide ropes. Jilted by a lover, Hattie Martindale travels from her Historic North Cemetery home to haunt homes including the one on the hill at the intersection of 615 and Baldwin Road.
Fairport Harbor's Lighthouse Keeper Joseph Babcock is at the heart of two such haunting tales. Babcok and his family resided over the lighthouse from 1871-1925. Babcock's tenure though was not a happy one. Babcock escaped death several times over during the Civil War, in Indian uprisings in Sandusky, and at the lighthouse, but fate was not as kind to his family. The first story involves his son Robbie.
The Babcocks had two children during his tenure at Fairport's lighthouse. Robbie died at age 5 of smallpox. It has been said in journal entries and reported by villagers that Robbie continues to haunt the museum. Staff at the all-volunteer museum have claimed to feel the chill of the cold air and the smell of decay in the basement. Some have even mentioned an eerie sense of dread hovering while they work there. Paranormals have even recorded images and voices from the tower telling them to 'go-away'.
However it is the the cat Sentinel that has made the museum even more special since 2001. While cats have long been prized household pets, for millenia they have been shrouded in mystique. Hapless felines were mummified and entombed by the pharohs of ancient Egypt. Cats were persecuted in Europe for being in cahoots with witches. In fact, cats have become woven into the fabric of the season. Here once again, Mr. Babcock's family becomes involved.
Mrs. Babcock fell ill and spend a long period of time in her remaining years bedridden in the lighthouse dwelling's second floor quarters. Her days were brightened by a grey puff cat and numerous other cats, nearly 21 in all. At the time of her death, the cats disappeared. What happened to her favorite grey cat? Tales persisted of his reappearances. Even the last curator to live in the house, 1988-91 encountered the ghost cat within a year of her arrival. Reality set in in 2001 when a repairmen uncoverecd the cat. The legendary cat was examined by museum staff from all-around Cleveland. The cat named Sentinel still resides in the museum dwellings and may or may not be Mrs. Babcock's grey cat. Photos, some tales, and several newspaper accounts do though lend credence to this tale. Logic suggests the cat was accidently trapped beneath the dwelling or in the basement, starved to death and naturally mummified due to its dark, cool final resting spot.
Other possibilities suggest or support the UK lore of mummified cats being found inside of walls, crawl spaces and above rafters. This practice was thought to ward off evil magic. A second more graphic theory is the one of foundation sacrifices practiced by the Celtics. Humans were preferred but a cat would suffice.
The keeper's cottage has been empty since 1991 but the rumored presence of Robbie and the actual remains of a ghost cat (2001) keep the legends alive. Visitors and museum volunteers still report the eerie chill or skittering sounds of a feline to this day.
Strange happenings continue to be reported in Lake County to this day. The renovated Steele Mansion in Painesville, a 'Not Guilty' grave in Evergreen Cemetery, dorms at Lake Erie College, Willoughby Coal, and even the witch's grave on Hart Road in Kirtland are but a few legendary tales still alive today. Their existence lie in the eye of the beholder.
Sources- Mike Nolan, Cat Fancy 2003 Plain Dealer, 2001, Haunted Lighthouses, FHHS archives