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October 26, 2017

A Ghost War

A Ghost War

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

As people prepare for trick or treaters, we should look at a time in Noblesville in late 1890 when “ghosts” appeared and frightened several families.  The results were probably not what people had expected.

Events are a little hard to follow.  Newspaper articles are the only source and there were three articles in the December 5th Ledger, two in the December 5th Democrat, and two in the December 12th Ledger with varying descriptions.  There were also variations in the name of one of the central persons involved which the Ledger called James E. Lawhorn and the Democrat called James F. Lauhon.  There were families with both spellings in Noblesville.

The incidents happened in the last half of November and the beginning of December.  They were in an area called “Hell’s Half Acre” – a neighborhood in the southeast part of town that had been developed by George Richwine.  The Lawhorn/Lauhon family lived on Division Street.

The hauntings had been underway by Nov. 29th, when there was a trial of James Lawhorn for assault against William Owens.  Owens had been confronted on the street by Perry Bishop and accused of doing the hauntings.  Their argument turned violent.  When Bishop made a threatening gesture with a shovel, Owens pulled a knife.  At that time, Lawhorn entered the fight by throwing rocks and brandishing a pistol.  Lawhorn was arrested later and arraigned in court.  The crowd at the trial was so large that the judge had to move the proceedings to the circuit courtroom.

Shots were heard in the neighborhood later that night.  When Noblesville Town Marshall Frank Barnett investigated, he found Mrs. Lawhorn and a Mrs. Phoebus.  They said that they had seen figures draped in black and fired pistols to run them off.  The next Monday night, the family of Robert Clayton was visited by ghosts and Mrs. Clayton had been terribly frightened.  The Lawhorns were contemplating moving out of town.

The incidents came to a head on Thursday, December 4th.  First, a figure appeared at the window of Alice Adams.  Then, as the Lawhorns were returning from the Craig grocery near the depot on 8th Street, they overheard two men talking about ghosts.  As Mrs. Lawhorn entered her yard at home, she saw two figures in white at the fence.  She screamed “There is that awful thing!” and ran towards the house.  However, she jabbed her sternum against a pump handle that was horizontal and fainted from the pain.   Mr. Lawhorn chased down the figures which turned out to be two women – Mrs. Owens and Mrs. Harrison, wife of James Harrison.  When Lawhorn confronted them, they told him, “We’ll dress as we please”.  A doctor was called for Mrs. Lawhorn and the women were arrested.  They were arraigned in Judges Henry M. Caylor’s court on charges of assault.

At the trial, Mrs. Harrison confessed her part in the full story:

“Yes, sir, I was one of the ghosts.  On that eventful night, I, in company with Mrs. Owens, threw sheets around ourselves and started out for a night of it.  Our object was to frighten my husband and my brother-in-law, Price.  Also sometime during the last few weeks I understood that Mrs. Lauhon had made boasts that no ghost could scare her, and perhaps that played an important part in the affair but I decline to make a positive statement to that effect.  We fixed ourselves up so that I thought we looked pretty well considering everything.  That’s the whole story in a nutshell.”

The controversy over the trial caused a change of venue to Judge Venable.  A jury was empaneled, but they split on the verdict, with six for conviction and six for acquittal.  Evidently, some sort of compromise or deal was reached by the plaintiffs and defendants because by Wednesday, December 10th, all affidavits had been withdrawn.

In the end, the whole incident could be considered a prank that got out of control.  After the case was dropped, the Ledger said, “This is perhaps not the best solution of the difficulty.  While the parties were probably not able to pay a heavy fine without seriously embarrassing themselves, there perhaps should have been something done to have deterred any one from repeating the fun.”