- Vivienne Machi
Dayton has its fair share of spots with a creepy history. As the days get shorter and crow caws seem to cut through the chilly air even more ominously than usual, the dark corners of Woodland Cemetery and Sinclair Community College seem even more spooky.
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But what are some of the creepiest haunted spots in Dayton? We asked Beavercreek resident and regional ghost authority Chris Woodyard to give us some details into her personal experiences with Dayton’s haunted places.
Woodyard, who penned the Haunted Ohio book series, touched on her favorites, while giving us a brush-up on our ghost knowledge. Whether you’re a true believer in the supernatural or think it’s a whole bunch of hooey, the ghost stories around this town will give you goosebumps.
Contrary to popular belief, she said, Halloween is not the most popular time of year for ghostly and paranormal activity.
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“If I had to say, I think there’s a lot more activity around Christmas,” she said.
Nor is Dayton one of the most haunted spots in Ohio, though there are many publicly-accessible buildings with activity going on, as well as a fair amount of private homes and properties where Woodyard has sensed an other-worldly presence. The title for the most ghosts per square foot, according to Woodward, would go to Waynesville, which is well known for its Ghost Walks and eerie occurrences.
So what makes a true haunted site, anyway? Woodyard, who wrote her first ghost story in first grade, emphasized that verifiable facts are key.
“I am a historian, and the history bleeds over into my ghost stories,” she said. “If it’s a legend, I will state that it’s according to legend, for example, with ‘crybaby bridges’ (bridges where the sound of a baby can be heard, supposedly because a child was killed on or near the bridge), where we don’t have a lot of documentation about anything happening there.”
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“I have always loved Woodland Cemetery,” Woodyard said. A favorite area among ghosthunters and lovers of the occult, you have to expect some spooky stuff going on there, just with the amount of famous Daytonians who are buried there! The inventive, brilliant minds of Erma Bombeck, the Wright Brothers, and Charles Kettering couldn’t be expected to be restricted by bodily decay.
The gargantuan cemetery on 118 Woodland Avenue has several ghostly stories ranging from the mild to the terrifying.
Many like to tell the tale of Johnny Morehouse, a boy who drowned in the Miami-Erie Canal, and his faithful dog who tried to save him and who sat on the boy’s grave until he died too. But Woodyard is skeptical of that one; there’s never been a death certificate or record of the lad.
The Dayton Masonic Temple
“It has wonderful architecture, and I had a very interesting experience with a ghost there,” Woodyard said. She went for a tour at 573 W. Riverview Ave, led by a man named George.
“I sat down in a chair for a little bit, and he scooped me up by the elbow and led me along,” she recalled, saying that he guided her to a photo of the Masonic’s graduation classes over the years. “He directed me to a specific year, and there he was in the picture. He was a jolly, portly gentleman.”
After the tour, she spoke with some Masonic officials who had brought her there to take the tour; one official in particular asked her stern questions about the areas she had toured. She mentioned the man, George, and the photo; the skeptical official asked her to show him the picture.
“When we got to the picture, he turned pale,” Woodyard said. “He said, ‘that’s the guy I see around here all the time.’”
Fun fact: Ghosts aren’t necessarily transparent bogeymen.
“When I see them, they look like regular people,” Woodyard said. “To recognize them, you just have a sense about them, or you seem them walking through a wall, or wearing old fashioned clothing.”
The Air Force Museum
“Sometimes you just run across places that are eerie and you don’t know why,” Woodyard said. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, 1100 Spaatz St., doesn’t have any spooky tales per se, but all the same, Woodyard avoids the spot.
“You have a lot of planes that have ‘things’ attached to them,” she said. “Airmen do get very attached to their planes. There’ s a lot of activity going on there.” She says that the times she has visited the museum, she is constantly followed by a ghost while she tries to read the information panels.
Revolutionary War veteran Colonel Robert Patterson may still call 1815 Brown St. home. Since Patterson Homestead was donated to the city of Dayton by ancestor Jefferson Patterson in 1953, multiple reports have followed of museum staff seeing furniture move by itself, or smelling a phantom dinner cooking.
“When they were giving tours at Christmas time one year, someone said ‘I thought you told us no one was allowed on the third floor,’” Woodyard said. The tour staffed then rushed up to the floor to apprehend the alleged trespasser, only to see a pair of polished boots on the steps. “They looked up and saw someone standing there in a military uniform, possibly Patterson himself,” Woodyard said.
The Victoria Theatre
Woodyard also mentioned the more-than-150-year-old theater at 138 N. Main St., where a number of sinister events have taken place. Take, for example, the story of a touring actress in the early 1900s who went to her dressing room to change for the next scene, and never came out of the room. No trace of her was ever found, though fewer and fewer actors would use that dressing room, with reports that some would look into the mirror and see her face staring back again. In the 1950s, a man committed suicide in the theater by wedging a knife into the seat in front of him and throwing himself upon it. When the curtains around the left exit door are pulled, some people claim to see his face.
Staff members have heard strange noises like the rustling of satin or taffeta, or suddenly smelled the scent of roses in the air. Others are said to have seen the ghost of the Victoria’s founder when they’re alone in the building. Diane Schoeffler-Warren, the Victoria’s public relations manager, told us that many of the historic theater’s long-time volunteers and staff like to blame these strange occurrences on “Miss Vicki,” who was not a real person.
“Every theater has its legends, such as the legend that you don’t say Macbeth in the theater or the legend of the ghost light in the theater,” she said. “The ghost stories are particularly popular with the Victoria’s volunteers, but as we all know, 99 percent of the time, you’re not going to the Theatre to get goosebumps from ghosts, but rather from the fabulous performances.”
The University of Dayton, Liberty Hall
“I had given a talk about ghosts at the University of Dayton, and after it was over, a campus police officer asked if I would walk through Liberty Hall with him,” Woodyard said. “He said he wouldn’t ever go there by himself, but he would with me.”
Liberty Hall, a small building at the center of UD’s campus currently contains the Campus Ministry offices, though since it was built in 1866 it served a number of functions, including an infirmary for the public. As Woodyard walked the loop of offices in the building, she didn’t feel any presence until they got to the top floor.
“A ghost of what looks like a homeless person was blocking my path,” she said. “His mouth was stained with tobacco, he had long, shaggy hair, and he was dragging one foot like he can’t really walk very well.” She went outside and informed the police, about the intruder in the building.
“They told me, ‘we see that guy, he peeks out of the window sometimes, but we don’t go up there,’” she recalled, adding it’s possible that he was a patient of the infirmary who died there.
The phantom car on Route 40 to Englewood
“In the 1950s, people would be driving along the highway, and would see a green-tinged lit-up skeleton supposedly driving a car on Rt. 40,” Woodyard said. At least five tales of the phantom traveler have been reported to the local State Highway Patrol, many claiming the phantom driver seemed to be challenging truck drivers to play chicken along the narrow and dangerous stretches of highway.
The phantom allegedly wrote a letter to Sheriff J. Arthur Sherman of Clark County, daring the sheriff to chase him.
Many think it was just a prankster, perhaps someone who was mentally ill. “If it was a prankster, it really was kind of a strange thing to do,” Woodyard said. She details all of the recorded occurrences on her Haunted Ohio blog.