The Many Ghosts of Waynesville, Ohio

Waynesville is a small village in Warren County that, according to the 2020 census, houses a little shy of 3,000 souls. It is located around the intersection of US Route 42 and State Route 73. At first glance, it appears to be a reasonably typical village, but if you look a little deeper you will discover a few things that set the place apart from its neighbors. The most obvious is the antique stores the place is known for. It is also known for its annual Sauerkraut Festival, for those who actually enjoy eating that horrid stuff. And, it’s the closest named place to Caesar Creek State Park, a few minutes’ drive from town. Another thing the town is known for is its historical connections with the Friends … (no, not Monica, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe, Joey, and Chandler, although there may have been people bearing those names – no, we’re talking Quakers here.) And from what I hear, the Museum of the Friend’s Home is definitely worth checking out.

But, there’s another possible thing Waynesville, Ohio is sort-of kind-of known for … some people claim it’s one of the most haunted places in the state of Ohio. Throughout the summer months (and not just immediately before Halloween, you can book yourself on any number of “ghost tours” or even a “ghost hunting” class.)

Even if you don’t believe in ghosts (or the supernatural) it can still be fun to hear these ghastly tales that are often hard to ignore as these tales talk about the local history. When we hear about the shadowy figure reported at The Hammel House, we hear the history of the place and we might even try to imagine the historical figures from Charles Dickens to George Bush who resided there for at least a night.

Or, when we hear the ghost stories at The Museum At The Friend’s Home, we get a glimpse into the Society of Friends, the history and lore of The Quakers. Or we may come to learn something of the early Germanic settlers in the region.

But, that begs an interesting question. Why is Waynesville so haunted? Or, why do so many people seem to think it is?

A Brief History of Waynesville, Ohio

The history of Waynesville dates back to 1792 (before Ohio had become a state) when Samuel Heighway visited the area and decided that it would be a great place to start a new city. A few years later, on March 8, 1797, after he and a few of his partners including Reverend John Smith (no, not that one), a physician Dr. Evan Beans, and scientist Sir Francis Baily, arrived in town, and began laying out their plans for a fine city. 

The image they had in mind was something akin to a southern plantation (except for the slavery bit) but laid out more like a traditional English village. (If you couldn’t have guessed on your own, all four men were born in England, which wasn’t exactly rare at that time.) This city would feature numerous parks and statues or monuments, groves of trees, and fishing ponds. They named the town Waynesville after American statesman and distinguished soldier (and Founding Father) General “Mad Anthony” Wayne and had hoped that if all went well, surely their fine city would be named the capital of the Northwest Territory. (Spoiler Alert: that dream never happened.)

Heighway platted the town, laying it out as twelve squares, each containing four acres. The first was named Washington Square for obvious reasons, followed by Scioto, Miami, Washington, English, Ohio, Wabash, Frankie, Wayne, President, Jefferson, Adams, and Town Square. While many details of the village have changed over the years, there are still many markers, especially throughout the historic district, that note these names.

By 1801 (Ohio still isn’t a state yet) Waynesville and the nearby village of Harveysburg began to be popular destinations for the Quakers, most of whom were moving north from the Southern states after being disillusioned by the concept of slavery and suffering some forms of religious persecutions. 

Among the beliefs of the Quakers was that there was a spark of God in all men, not just the fair-skinned Europeans, but all men. They also abhorred all forms of violence and saw the treatment of slaves as particularly brutal. (I am hardly an expert on The Society of Friends, but I hope this paragraph does them justice.) Within a few years, Waynesville housed the largest community of Quakers in the new world. And almost from the start, it would be established as a major hub on The Underground Railroad.

Later on, many Germans also choose the Waynesville area as a settling place during their migrations, especially after the 1855 riots in Cincinnati.

Today, the town still echoes the history of its past and has one of the more interesting historic districts that reflects much of this.

So, What About The Ghosts?

When looking at the history of Haunted Places, it is often no wonder why people say restless spirits are roaming its halls. Other of the more infamous haunted sites in Ohio include places like the former Ohio State Reformatory (where the movie version of Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption was filmed) because of its history of inhumane treatment of its prisoners) … Or, Chillicothe’s Majestic Theater which had been used as an overflow morgue during the influenza outbreak of 1918. 

But, there is nothing within the history of Waynesville that points to an apparent cause of future ghostly phenomena. There were no 19th-century serial killers stalking the dark alleys. No insane asylums subjecting patients to inhumane treatments. No buildings were burned down trapping countless souls inside to burn to death. No witch doctors sucking the lives out of little children to achieve immortality… It may not have become the pacifist utopia the Quakers dreamed of, but it really doesn’t have all that much of a violent history – so there’s not much that explains the (possible) existence of so many ghosts.

So, here’s my theory … It’s not the history of the place itself, but its attachment to history. We can walk down the streets of Waynesville, past the historic homes and other buildings, the antique stores, the parks and almost every place we go we can get a glimpse into the past in one form or another. It’s almost like we can reach out and touch history. It’s there, and it reminds us just how connected we are to it. And, perhaps, that is what explains the (possible) ghosts throughout town.

The Ghosts of The Hammel House Inn

What we call The Hemmel House today was built in 1822, although parts of its structure date back to 1803, and used as a coach house and inn. The property was then bought in 1841 by Enoch Hammel and now we know where the name came from. By most accounts, Hammel was an upstanding member of society, if not a pillar of his community. The only person who didn’t like him so much was his cross-the-street neighbor, Miss Anna O’Neal, a Quaker lady who complained about the nearly constant drunken debauchery associated with the place. Being the fine example of Quaker morals that she was, she is said to have parked a large wagon just outside her window to prevent her children from being able to witness such ungodly behaviors.

The Hammel House has had many owners since then and has mostly been some form of inn, lodging house, or most recently a bed and breakfast. 

Today, people say they feel unseen ghosts, saying they feel like they are being watched when nobody is in the room with them. Others tell tales of a black cat who suddenly appears, only to disappear as soon as you glance away leaving a few stray hairs behind. People claim to have heard sounds of children playing and laughing coming from empty rooms. 

Another tale tells of a traveling salesman who rented room 4, and was never seen again. A few days later, the innkeeper was believed to have sold off the man’s horse and carriage, although nobody seemed to know why. On the innkeeper’s deathbed, he confessed to someone that he had killed the man, although did not apparently give a reason why. This, they say, is a shadow ghost that sometimes appears in room four, yelling as if having an argument and possibly throwing things about the room. (A note for the historical record, I have yet to find any materials that suggest that such a man ever existed, but that’s not to say that it didn’t happen.)

There is another ghost that is said to be haunting Room 3. This comes from a man who supposedly checked into the room and was told that he was the only guest that evening. He promptly fell asleep and was awoken in the middle of the night to the sounds of a loud party happening around him. As soon as he got out of bed to investigate (or complain) the inn fell silent. The following morning, the man is said to have spotted a shadowy figure moving through the wall from Room 2 into Room 3. (A note for the historical record, I have yet to find a story that suggests who this man was, and why he was there, but it still seems to be a nice ghost story, for what it’s worth.)

The Stetson House

The Stetson House was built in 1810 by a wheel smith where he lived with his family until they sold it to Hiram Larick and his wife Louisa who expanded the house, adding a few more rooms. Hiram’s entire family was known throughout the area as successful farmers, but it was his wife’s name that would go on to become more known in history. Louisa’s maiden name was Stetson.

According to legend, Louisa’s brother John (who is said to have been the black sheep of the family) got tuberculosis and then decided to make his way out west where he thought his TB symptoms would be much easier to handle. On his trip west, he stopped to see his sister Louisa in Waynesville. He stayed out west for some time, and when he didn’t find much success (except being cured of his TB) he headed home and on the way stopped for a couple of days to see his sister.

While he was there, this second time, two things happened. First, he discovered that his sister had also been diagnosed with tuberculosis (which she likely got from him). Secondly, he told Louisa that he had designed a new type of hat for men that he wanted to make which he thought would be the next big thing. Louisa liked that idea, so she gave him a large sum of money (at that time) so he could go on to create his hat company. 

Stetson Hats did, in fact, become the next big thing (and still are today) and John Stetson enjoyed much success later in life. A success that he did not share, in any way, with his sister.

Louisa, on the other hand, died of TB in 1879.

Since then, people have suggested that Louisa’s ghost still roams the old homestead. Most notably, Louisa liked to bake gingerbread, and several people have claimed to have smelled gingerbread cooking in the kitchen, even long after her death.

Once again, I am uncertain about how much of this legend is true, but it does make an interesting story to tell.

That Triple Axe And A Pistol Unsolved Murder

(On a side note – this happened directly across the street from The Stetson House.)

In 1879, 18 year-old Willie Anderson’s mother moved into his house in Waynesville. Today, it’s usually the opposite (an 18-year-old moves out of his family’s house) but this case is a little different. When he was younger, Willie’s parents divorced and after that he went to live with his father in Cincinnati. After growing up a little (child labor laws were a bit different back then, too) he got a job as a printer and headed off to Waynesville. After the divorce, his mother remarried, but that relationship was short-lived too as her second husband died in a lunatic asylum shortly thereafter. After his mother moved in, so did his aunt and her 12-year-old kid. And all of this was a completely normal thing at the time.

Then, one day, Willie went off to work as usual, stopping to chat briefly with some neighbors who later stated the boy was his usual cheerful self. He told them that his mother and his aunt had gone off to Cincinnati for the weekend. During that time, the neighbors spotted him coming and going as usual, and they thought nothing of it. Willie was spotted having dinner in town, and nothing at all seemed wrong.

A week later, the neighbors had another brief conversation with Willie who explained that his mother had gotten ill during her trip to Cincinnati and they had decided to remain there for a short time. Several days later, he told people was going to take the train into Cincinnati to visit his mother on Sunday. By then, some of the neighbors had begun to notice a foul odor coming from the house and it seemed to be getting worse with every passing day. With nobody home, the police were called and the following Tuesday arrived at the house and made their way inside. There, they found the lifeless bodies of Willie’s mother, aunt, and cousin – all in the advanced stages of decomposition. Blood was everywhere, covering walls and floors. A bloody axe was also discovered near one of the victims.

Other than the bloody bodies, nothing seemed odd. There was no sign of a break-in. This was clearly not a robbery. So, what the heck had happened?

The police soon learned that Willie had taken the train to Cincinnati, where he met with his father. The two had enjoyed various sights around the city, even attending the theater on Sunday night. The following day, his father claimed his son said he needed to get back to his mother, so he took him to the train station where, supposedly, the young man headed home. The police next talked to the train conductor. He said that a man matching Willie’s description had been on the train, but since he had no money for the train, he was turned away.

The mystery now was … where had Willie gone?

It’s also probably worth noting that Willie’s father had been interrogated by the detectives who quickly determined that he had not been involved, in any way, with the three murders in Waynesville. He had an alibi, they discovered him to be a fine and upstanding member of the community, and he seemed to have an amicable relationship with Willie’s mother. 

There was no question that Willie was the killer. He had purchased the hatchet, the murder weapon. He had also purchased some lye that had also been found on and around the victims. He had been seen going into and out of the house after his family had been killed, but before their bodies had been found. 

What people found strange was how Willie appeared to act and behave in his normal, light-hearted fashion, after killing his mother, aunt, and cousin. According to his father, Willie really seemed to enjoy his trip to Cincinnati and had shown no signs that anything was wrong.

The big question now was … where the heck did Willie go if he wasn’t able to take the train home?

The day after Willie’s father was interviewed by the police, a gruesome discovery was made in a tool shed in Plainville – the lifeless body of Willie, the victim of an obvious suicide.

Sometimes, knowing who the killer is doesn’t take the mystery from unsolved to solved and in many ways that is the case here. Police had then, as we do now, many questions that deserve answers. There is no doubt that Willie murdered his mother, his aunt, and his cousin. He lied about them going to Cincinnati, then lied about his mother getting ill. He was seen going into and out of the house they shared while his victims were slowly decomposing inside. He had purchased not just the murder weapon, but the lye. There is no question whodunnit.

What we can’t even begin to answer is the big question – Why?

Willie was never known to be all that violent. He had a close relationship with his mother, as well as her sister. He did not gain in any obvious way from their deaths, so why did it happen?

Today, in the house where they had once lived, some people say they can peek through the windows and get a quick glimpse of a ghostly woman, dressed in Victorian-style clothing, often holding the hand of a young girl. Others have claimed they’ve heard a girl crying or could smell the rancid stench of decomposition. 

The Haunted Museum

The Museum of the Friend’s Home is (or, at least it should be) one of your first stops to learn everything there is to know about Waynesville. Or, The Society of Friends (The Quakers). The amount of information they have on display is, to say the least, astonishing. But now, we’re talking about ghosts – so, file that away for later.

The Friends House was built in 1905 as a Quaker boarding house. While it may have shifted its focus slightly a few times over the years, it didn’t change all that much until the year 2000 when it became the museum it is today.

As I was going through countless books and websites, The Museum of the Friend’s House was often among the first to be mentioned, and there are those who claim it is among the most haunted buildings in Waynesville. To be fair, since its construction, a great number of people have either resided there or stayed within its walls for an extended, but temporary period. And, throughout part of its time, it was an important meeting place, utilized by an even greater number of people. If the dead are sometimes attracted to places that were important to them in life, then this may explain why there are so many (possible) ghosts attached to the place.

But, unlike most other reportedly haunted buildings, the ghosts here aren’t limited to just a few legends. I rarely saw any accounts of ghost stories that attributed a sighting to a single person, real or imagined. By far, the vast majority of tales I heard directly associated with the Friend’s Home were along the lines of shadows seen out of the corner of one’s eyes or phantom sounds that were hard to pin down. And a lot of people just felt a presence around them, they knew they were alone but felt like someone was in the room with them. 

So, maybe unlike most other reportedly haunted buildings, the ghosts here might actually be more friendly, as if they just want to hang around for a bit, watch whatever is going on, then go back to doing whatever it is ghosts do when they aren’t rattling chains and going bump in the night.

All that being said, the museum is still an attraction to all types of ghost enthusiasts, and they appear to be just as welcome as anyone else. The museum does offer various forms of ghost tours, and at times has also held ghost hunting classes. If that is something that interests you, please check with the museum themselves as they would have more current information than I would ever have.

The Former Site of St. Augustine’s Catholic Church

In the first episode of the second season of Ghost Nation (original air date April 29, 2020, on The Trvl Channel) the Paranormal Investigators headed to Waynesville to investigate a reportedly haunted building that had once been a catholic church. 

Please Note: St. Augustine’s church is currently located on Lytle Road on the north end of town, however, this episode featured the location where the Church had been before on High Street between Main and Third.

The episode of Ghost Nation proceeds as one would expect, however in this case something quite astonishing did occur. At one point, while conducting EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) experiments, in which a digital voice recorder is used in combination with other electronic noise makers, a clear and distinct voice could be heard saying “Hallowed be thy name”. After hearing this, the production crew stopped all their ghost hunting, turned on the lights, and began looking for hidden equipment, such as a hidden speaker. They thought they were being pranked, but no speaker could be found. The findings of the episode were that the building was haunted by a now-diseased priest, reliving his former clerical life in the ghost realm. Or, something like that.

The List Goes On

Above, I have listed a few examples of the kind of thing that has attracted ghost hunters to the Waynesville, Ohio area – but there are more. A lot more. Ghosts living in people’s homes. A spooky graveyard. A haunted school building. Phantoms appearing in parks … I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here to keep this from getting too long. However, if this is something that appeals to you, I suggest you look into The Museum of the Friend’s House and take note of the particular ghost tours (or maybe sign up for a ghost hunting class, if they’re being offered still.)

Ghosts And History Hand in Hand

There are those who claim that every building in Waynesville (or, at least buildings over a certain age) is haunted. If the dead do linger on, maybe that’s true. But, wouldn’t that be true everywhere?

For me, Waynesville is the perfect balance between past and present (history and current affairs) and between the seen and unseen (the ghostly world and the one we live in). And I think it is that balance that makes Waynesville a great place to visit. Sure, you can go on a ghostly adventure … or you could take a walking tour of all the places on the historical registry. (Why choose? Maybe do both?)

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