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October 19, 2017

Local Ghosts

Local Ghosts

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

In the last my blog post, I casually mentioned a Castleton ghost story.  It got an enthusiastic response, so I looked further into it.  It turns out that the owner of the property, Martin Garrison (1835-1935), lived in Hamilton County at various points in his life and is buried at Crownland Cemetery.   So, I’ll count that as locally relevant and present the story.

This ghost sighting happened in March of 1885 in an abandoned cabin near present-day 91st Street.  It had been built fifty years before and was a ruin.  Garrison had gone out one evening to demolish it when he saw, as the Indianapolis News reported, “…three shadowy figures, two of them quite large, flitting around the ruins.”  He abandoned his work and ran for his home.

He talked to neighbors and found other people who had seen similar things.  As reported in the newspapers on March 23 and 24, one witness said:

“…he had heard cries and groans, as if of a woman in distress…he could distinctly see the white forms of what appeared to be three persons – one male and two females – queerly peering about the old building, now on the top, skipping from rafter to rafter at will, now leisurely walking along the plates of the building and again upon the ground.”

Another saw “…three persons of a shadowy appearance clad in white, two of whom have fans in their hands, the third confining his antics to peering out the doorway, but all of whom disappear upon approach.”

On a map of the area from 1889, the farm is marked “G. Garrison” for Georgina Garrison, Martin’s wife.  Georgina was a daughter of James Overby, whose family owned the property in the 1850’s and 1860’s.  The land today straddles 91st Street just east of Allisonville Road and is all subdivisions now.  I imagine those homeowners would be surprised by the history of the area.

Word spread and a mob of hundreds of people arrived to look for the ghosts.  Some of them claimed to have found a grave in the cellar of cabin.  However, they were prevented from digging by Martha McGeehey, who had an interest in the property and considered the ghost story to be nonsense.  She was possibly an Overby relative.

Representatives from the crowd went to Marion County Deputy Coroner James Rooker, who happened to live nearby.  (You can see his farm on the map just to the north and east of the Garrison farm.)  They demanded that he open the “grave” in his official capacity.  According to the Indianapolis News, he said that that they “…might dig and be darned, but if they expected him to hunt for ghosts on a cold night with a spade, they much mistook his mission on earth.”  Instead, he sat on his porch with binoculars and watched the crowd until it was too dark to see.

The story got into the national press.  There was a fun article in the Saint Paul (Minnesota) Globe.  The headline and sub-headline were “’The House Is Haunted’: An Extraordinary Ghost Sensation Near a Hoosier Hamlet”.  An article in the Reading (Pennsylvania) Times is headed “Three Shadowy Spooks”.  Interestingly, the Noblesville Republican-Ledger doesn’t mention it until March 27 and that’s just a reprint from the Indianapolis Times headed “Shadows From The Other World”.

The Indiana Tribune, a German language newspaper, said that “Frau McGeehy” was having the area guarded, but the ghost watchers had organized and were planning to attack with shovel and spade.  The author of the article shuddered at the thought of the revenge the disturbed ghosts would inflict.  (Thanks to Michael Kobrowski for the translation.)

In the end, Garrison became disgusted because the large crowd had damaged his fences and crops.  He resolved the situation by finishing the demolition of the structure, burning the remains, and obliterating all signs of it, “thereby, in his judgment, breaking the spell”, as the Cincinnati Enquirer said.

The Tribune’s notion of revenge is interesting.  Two years later, in December of 1887, Garrison was riding through the southern part of Hamilton County.  A group of quail hunters in the area fired at some birds without looking around and missed.  However, the Indianapolis News reported that, “The entire load took effect in Garrison’s face, lacerating his cheek and nose and tearing out his left eye.”

Since I’m a skeptic, I’ve looked at other reasons for what people claimed that they saw.  Amanda Smith, Superintendent of Natural Resources and Education at the Hamilton County Parks Department, acknowledged that it could have been Barn Owls.  They are white and have an eerie call, but are not very large.  Other areas in the US have had ghost sightings that that were later attributed to Great Horned Owls, (which are large, but not white and unlikely to be in a building), or Snowy Owls, (which aren’t in Indiana).

Since this happened at the end of March, could it have been an April Fool’s joke that got out of hand?  Or was it really ghosts?  Some local experts on this topic might be interesting to listen to.  There will be a program on October 26th by Nicole and Michael Kobrowski on Ghosthunting in Indiana.

It will be starting at 7:00 PM at the Fishers Library.  They also have a website that you can visit.  https://www.unseenpress.com