Spooky, Scary: Exploring Haunted & Historical Spots

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

I was excited to be asked last month to write my first story for Ohio Magazine, a look at haunted spots around Cleveland. While that piece won't be published until fall 2019, I thought I'd share a peek here of some of the cool places I've recently explored as part of my research for it.

The Variety Theater
First opened on Thanksgiving Day in 1927, this theater at Lorain & 118th St. was the pinnacle of glamour. Now, it's fallen into utter disrepair, with only a few of its original 1,900 seats remaining & pieces of its crystal chandeliers literally falling to the floor at random. The beautiful marquee sign outside has been restored, & a renovation of the rest of the theater is in the works - but for now, it's abandoned & spooky.

Patrick Colvin, a board member of Friends of the Historic Variety Theater, says at least 19 spirits inhabit the space - including that of his brother, who committed suicide just two years ago while working on the building's renovation. Check out News Channel 5's coverage of the theater, which ran on Halloween.

The Cleveland Police Museum
Located inside Cleveland Police Headquarters in the Justice Building downtown (where I served jury duty!), the Police Museum is a small but well-done space that shares the history of the city's police force. Of particular interest is the Torso Murders exhibit, where original replicas made of victims' faces are still on display. (They were created in an effort to get the public to help identify the victims.)

Unfortunately, most of the indigent victims remain unidentified, & the killer has never been formally named - though local expert James Jessen Badal explains who today's detectives think committed the crime. During our visit, I stopped into the museum's Cop Shop to purchase Twilight of Innocence, Badal's book on the unsolved 1951 disappearance of Beverly Potts, & he was kind enough to sign it for me. Read more from Dr. Badal.

The Soldiers & Sailors Monument
This giant monument in Cleveland's downtown Public Square was erected in honor of those from Cuyahoga County who served in the Civil War. It features a 125-foot column topped with a statue called the Goddess of Freedom, plus a memorial room telling the story of those who served. The inside of it is truly beautiful, featuring Tiffany-style glass, bronze busts & reliefs, & the names of local servicemen carved in marble.

I also got to explore the tunnels beneath the monument, 200 feet of walkways originally designed for uniform storage. There's nothing in them anymore except a lot of standing water - but the Haunted Cleveland folks say the ghost of Levi Schofield, who built the monument, haunts the space.

Once home to the city's independent militia, called The Cleveland Grays, this castle-like building (described on their website as "Richardsonian Romanesque Revival-style") sits just off the main drag downtown - but even its docent admits that many Clevelanders have no idea its there! The original armory burned down & was rebuilt in 1893; it's now on the National Register of Historic Places & is a popular event space for weddings; there's also a shooting range in the basement that's still in use.

Today, the Grays are largely a social club, & their home is a museum - though it's thought to be haunted by the spirits of several individuals with connections to the spot, including a lieutenant who died in the ballroom.

The city's oldest existing cemetery is located in the heart of downtown Cleveland. More than 17,000 people are interred there, including many of the city's original pioneers and architects. One of its most famous resident is Chief Walking Bear (commonly known as Chief Joc-O-Sot), chief of Iowa's Mesquakie tribe, who became a performer & patron of the arts after fighting in the Black Hawk War against the U.S.

I already showed you the photo of me in Erie Street Cemetery with my dowsing rods, which are thought to help detect paranormal activity. There were a few spots where they went absolutely crazy, spinning all the way around!

OK, so: Do you believe in ghosts? Do I? I'm not sure, but I do love exploring old history & hearing the personal stories that go with it.

Want to learn more about Cleveland's ghostly history? I'm currently reading Haunted Cleveland, written by the owners of the tour company - &, of course, stay tuned for my magazine piece next fall!

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