Thursday, October 30, 2003
The Mahoning Valley is ripe with tales about ghosts. Read on -- if you dare.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
Wide aluminum cans full of ketchup sit next to a plastic jar of ranch dressing and jugs of barbecue sauce in the basement of Sam's Pizza Shop on South Canal Street in Newton Falls.
The pizza shop items can't tell Tim Kiniery who keeps moving them from their spot on the top shelf to the bottom, but Kiniery wonders.
After all, he's usually the last to leave the shop each night and the first to arrive each morning.
Perhaps whoever moves the cans and jars is also the one who makes the sign outside sway on still days, the basement furnace shake and kick on and off, or the phone ring repeatedly while offering nothing but dead air on the other end of the line.
Perhaps it's the same one who makes doors close unexpectedly, the phone go dead, or the electricity go out three or four times a day -- sometimes just in the pop cooler -- despite the work of electricians who've visited 10 times over the past 10 years.
"I've seen my share of weird things I can't explain," said Kiniery, who's worked at the shop 13 years. So he wasn't surprised when he heard the eatery was listed on a Web site as the home of a ghost.
"It's someone who probably had a good sense of humor," he said. "He probably was a joker when he was younger. He's probably not out to hurt anybody."
Check these out
The ghost at Sam's is one of dozens in the Mahoning Valley that ghost-hunters can unearth if they glean Web sites such as www.deadohio.com, www.forgottenoh.com, www.realhaunts.com or dawghouse.topcities.com.
Warren City Hall, for example, is said to be haunted by the banker/real estate magnate who had the structure built as his home in 1871. Henry Bishop Perkins hanged himself from the railing in an attic of his office building next door to city hall (now the office of the city law director) in 1903, said Mayor Hank Angelo, showing the railing where the businessman had tied his noose before jumping from a top step. Angelo, who has been mayor eight years, recalls the shaking hands and streaming tears of the city employee who saw Perkins' ghost in the late 1990s. She quit the same day.
Angelo was across the street at an event that day when he saw police cars outside city hall. The woman said she had seen a man with white hair and beard, wearing an old-time coat and bow tie walk down the steps that lead to a foyer (the area is now lined by offices). Angelo points to a portrait of Perkins in a glass case at the bottom of the staircase: He was a man with white hair and beard, wearing an old-fashioned tuxedo. However, Angelo said, the display case wasn't there at the time.
He said a cleaning woman encounters oddities such as her purse being moved from a table or desk to the floor or chairs being moved back from a table in the mayor's office.
"You can really feel like somebody's with you when no one's in the room," Angelo said. "I've run out into the hall twice, fully expecting to see someone. I believe there's something, whether it's a ghost or not, I don't know."
And, the mayor added, when it's very quiet in mornings or late afternoons, he swears he hears chamber music coming down from the ballroom on the house's top level.
Pizza shop story
In Newton Falls' haunted pizza shop, Kiniery said the building was once the Rotini's bar and gambling hall owned by Italian immigrants, relatives of current owner Sam Giuliano. A rumor was that those who failed to pay gambling debts never left the basement. While a Web site listing says the ghost is a 13-year-old boy, Kiniery said relatives of Sam had a cousin who died of leukemia at age 13, but that was in the house next door, also owned by the family.
An aunt of the Giulianos died more recently. Her musical jewelry box was kept on a counter in the eatery but was taken to an upstairs attic after it spooked some of the workers. Kiniery said it often began playing without being wound.
"Sometimes I feel like there's somebody behind me, and I turn around and nothing's there," he said. "And it's not windy outside. It's an eerie feeling.
"I haven't had the pleasure of seeing him. If I do, I'll probably be spending the rest of the evening at the closest bar."
Don't be afraid
Mitch Tolliver, co-founder of Spiritseekers of Ohio, said the spirits are nothing to be afraid of; most are not evil.
"I think the reason we're afraid of them is because they're unknown," Tolliver said. "They're trying to communicate. They're not trying to harm you."
Born in 2001 out of a lifelong interest of Tolliver and his sister, Gayle, Spiritseekers now has nearly 300 members and 10 chapters across the state. (The closest is in Akron; check www.spiritseekersofohio.net.) Since then, they've recorded and photographed various spirits at private residences, cemeteries and at the former Mansfield prison.
Most chilling, Tolliver said, is the giggling of a child recorded in the children's section of a cemetery in Rittman, and another of a child calling for its mommy. At a private lot in Lodi -- known for Ku Klux Klan beatings, killings and witchcraft -- seekers could smell cherry tobacco and caught a ghost on video, saying, "I win."
"Something's happening, and I believe there are spirits -- some spirits don't even know they're dead," Tolliver said. "For what reason they're still hanging around or how it happens, I don't know."
In Columbiana County
Spiritseekers have also visited Columbiana County's Beaver Creek State Park. Last week, they sought out Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd, a bank robber who killed 10 people in the Depression era. He was killed by law enforcement authorities on Oct. 22, 1934, in an area that is now part of the state park.
Tolliver said Floyd, captured on tape, answers Spiritseekers, accurately telling them he is 30 years old.
The state park also has made its way into the "Haunted Ohio" and "Spooky Ohio" series by Chris Woodyard. (The below information from the books is used by permission of Kestrel Publications, copyright 1990-2000 Chris Woodyard. For book information, see www.invink.com.) These ghost stories date back to when the area prospered during a canal boom of the 1880s, supporting the town of Sprucevale.
One legend is about Lucy Cobb, "the crazy mushroom lady," who pined for a man who fell in love with another woman. It's said she fed the couple a meal with poisoned mushrooms and buried them outside her inn. Woodyard has heard from a reader who says a bone found near the site of Cobb's Inn was that of a man from the 1830s or 1840s.
The park is also the site of Gretchen's Lock, named after a girl from Holland who was brought to the area by her father, the engineer who built the lock. She died of malaria in 1838 and can be seen walking along the lock every Aug. 12, the anniversary of her death.
Nearby Jake's Lock is haunted by the lock keeper who was struck by lightning one night as he patrolled. Some nights, Jake's lantern shines beneath the water and, when his spirit is present, cameras won't work, Woodyard reports.
Esther Hale was set to marry on Aug. 12, 1837 (one year before Gretchen's purported death), when her groom failed to show. She died that December, still wearing her wedding dress. Woodyard reports that she can still be seen, dressed in white, and haunts a bridge over Beaver Creek each Aug. 12. "If she touches you, she will become young and beautiful again -- but you will die," Woodyard writes.
John Horn, president of the Columbiana County Forest and Parks Council, said visitors often ask about the ghosts and, "It's amazing the number of people who will come down and tell things that happen to them."
He and other volunteers have wondered if there is another ghost, this one in the former home of Blanche Williams. They've found that clothes left on beds end up on the floor, and so do doilies left on chairs. Sometimes beds look as if they've been slept in. And once, a red brick that holds open the door was found in the home's kitchen after the door closed inexplicably.
Horn once finished showing the house to some visitors and locked the door; when he returned to show it to another group, the door was unlocked.
"A chill went up my spine. I thought, 'Wait a minute,'" he said. "It makes you wonder."