Guest Commentary: The Story Behind the (Mostly) Friendly Spirits Who Roam Arnold's Bar & Grill

Of course there are ghosts – the building that houses Arnold’s was built around 1838.

click to enlarge The building that houses Arnold’s was built around 1838. - Photo: Provided by Arnold's Bar & Grill
Photo: Provided by Arnold's Bar & Grill
The building that houses Arnold’s was built around 1838.

Editor's note: This story is featured in the Oct. 19 print edition of CityBeat.

Arnold’s Bar & Grill is dwarfed by everything around it. It’s small and it’s plain because it’s one of the oldest buildings downtown. It’s also one of the most haunted.

Who haunts it? Take your pick, but let’s start at the beginning.

Smith and Susan Fawcett purchased the lot of land at 210 East 8th St. as an investment in 1833, but Smith died of unclear causes within the year. What happened next gets fuzzy, but the gist is that after some intriguing legal maneuvers, Susan obtained ownership and oversaw the construction of the buildings that house Arnold’s around 1838.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that the widow Fawcett then opened a brothel. This is speculation, but paranormal activity shows that at least one bold female spirit still lives there. She has long black hair and wears a dark blue, 19th century dress. Multiple Arnold’s employees have seen her walking around the upper floors, which were apartments for most of the building’s history. Some who have seen her refuse to enter the third floor.

The building at 210 E. 8th became a saloon in the 1860s. Simon Arnold bought the business in 1878, moved his family into the third floor and, along with wife Kate, became the first of three generations of Arnolds to run the bar, live there, and run a boarding house on the upper floors.

Either the brothel era or the early Arnold’s tenure is probably responsible for the overwhelming smell of roses that sometimes permeates parts of the second floor. Roses play a common role in paranormal activity, although believers debate their meaning. Some claim that the smell indicates the presence of an angel, although Arnold’s is an unlikely place to find one of those.

Other tenants may also remain. Co-owner Bethany Breeden is one of several people that describes the presence of two children that still scamper
and play on the second floor.

Most of the spirits in the building are “pretty benign” according to paranormal investigator Dave Howard, but some feel that there is one undesirable character in the mix. It’s part of the bar’s lore that Arnold’s remained open through Prohibition. The specific truths of this claim are dubious. The saloon
became a restaurant and “soft drink establishment” in 1919, but owner Hugo Arnold was arrested for transporting whisky to the building two-and-ahalf years into Ohio Prohibition. He got out of the business less than a year later. Hugo’s son William was in a jazz band in the 1920s, and forms of small, wet events seem to have continued on the third floor for a while.

Ghosts can be found from top to bottom, but the second floor “Bathtub Room” is allegedly the most haunted. Howard and his wife Theresa are the principals of Cornerstone Paranormal, and they’ve conducted the most otherworldly research of the premises. They emphasize that they don’t “look
for ghosts.” Yes, they’re believers, but they dedicate a lot of diligence to being as scientific as possible in their investigations, only reaching conclusions on what they measure with different forms of equipment. This includes audio recorders, devices that record dramatic changes in static electric or physical vibrations, as well as a camera made by modifying an Xbox.

This last device has picked up visual representations of several people around the bathtub. One has appeared to be washing the hair of a second; and another seems to crouch beside the tub churning something. There is a false floor under the bathtub, reportedly used during Prohibition, and the ghostly bootlegger that’s still working on bathtub gin is one of three or four spirits that Cornerstone Paranormal has confidently identified.

The identity of two other spirits is more specific. One is likely Jim Christakos, who bought Arnold’s in 1959. In the tangible sense, you still find him there on the menu: Arnold’s famous Greek Spaghetti is Christakos’s creation. Christakos was a colorful character. During the Great Depression, he became a professional wrestler. He was good at it, drew a following, and toured nationally, but he was a quiet man. His skills were primarily physical, and as
pro wrestling started morphing more into theater, he found work where a confident, muscular man that was good at keeping his mouth shut could excel – the Newport underworld. He was a blackjack dealer who did some side work in “the collection business.”

Running Arnold’s was his lastprofessional vocation, and one that he excelled at. People remember him as easy-going and likable, although patrons and employees were smart enough not to cross him. Audio equipment has picked up the name “Chris” being spoken on multiple occasions, and a voice seems to want to convey that Chris (or Christakos) is a good guy.

click to enlarge Former owner of Arnold’s, Jim Christakos, is shown on the job. - Photo: Chris Christakos
Photo: Chris Christakos
Former owner of Arnold’s, Jim Christakos, is shown on the job.

Steve is the most identifiable spirit, the most recent, and probably the strongest force. He was a tall, thin, Black man in life. He loved life and lived it with gusto as a wickedly humorous, good-natured, flamboyant, and nattily dressed gay man. He was fashion-conscious enough, in fact, that he wouldn’t make the short walk between home and Arnold’s in work clothes. He came to Arnold’s dressed to the nines, changed to start work as a cook, and then changed again before leaving the bar at the end of his shift.

Years after his premature death, he may still be following this routine. Before work, Steve always changed his shoes at a chair just inside the Bathtub Room. Today, people frequently report seeing vague movement as they pass by this spot; but the most compelling stories about Steve aren’t vague or blurry.

Pam Diebold, who’s been at Arnold’s long enough to be routinely voted one of the best bartenders in the city, has had multiple brushes with the beyond at Arnold’s. The most eerie occurred one night after closing. Diebold set the alarm, locked up and got into a cab out front. Then she waited for a seemingly confused cabbie to drive. Instead, he asked Diebold, “Is your friend coming with you?”

Diebold was confused because she’d been on the street entirely alone. When asked what he was talking about, the cabbie described a tall, thin, flashily dressed Black man that he saw facing her as she locked up. The only clear part of this exchange was that he was describing Steve, the cook who had passed away two weeks prior. Steve stayed in Arnold’s that night and since. At least one employee has seen him looking identical to his live self.

Cornerstone Paranormal specifically identified Steve’s presence on different occasions, months apart. He changes shoes and comes down the stairs sometimes, but he’s most commonly experienced as a spirit that cheerfully moves back and forth from the kitchen to the bar, which he did routinely in life.

Other spirits are more nebulous. The most common experience involves the stemware that hangs behind the bar. Glasses sometimes slide to the front
of the rack, hang momentarily on the precipice at the end, then fall to the ground, crashing into oddly neat piles of glass. A former owner, bartenders and patrons have all watched this phenomenon from beginning to end on multiple occasions. In front of the bar in this same area, patrons often report being inexplicably patted on the back.

Cornerstone Paranormal has also documented glassware rattling, and they use this as an example of how they operate. Howard, who works in tech security for a living, has put a lot of time and effort into understanding Cornerstone’s equipment and its limitations, consulting with both geologists and
meteorologists to recognize the difference between seismic activity produced by traffic, construction, weather events, or other natural behavior versus the unexplainable.

For a while, an empty wine bottle was found sitting on the floor behind the bar at the start of a day’s shift. After this occurred several times with everyone denying responsibility for it, the security tapes were consulted, only to find that there were blank spots in the footage before and after the bottle appeared.
click to enlarge Arnold’s is teeming with spooky stories. - Photo: Michael D. Morgan
Photo: Michael D. Morgan
Arnold’s is teeming with spooky stories.

A staff member stood amazed one day while he witnessed the sink in the Bathtub Room turn itself on. He turned it off and watched the same thing happen again. This room is considered the most haunted because every basic type of paranormal activity has been experienced here by multiple people on multiple occasions.

Although frequently shaken, people don’t typically feel threatened by their ghostly encounters at Arnold’s. Diebold, however, remembers one notable exception. A patron came down the stairs in a rush, pale, sweaty, and looking visibly terrified. “Something very bad happened up there once,” he told her before he hurriedly left the bar and didn’t return.

Why does one place have so many restless spirits? There are several theories. The skeptical one is that these stories are all nonsense, but that ghost stories begat more ghost stories. Obviously, this is both possible and logical, but Howard thinks that there is simply too much consistency in the experiences at Arnold’s to deny that it’s chocked full of spirits. As for why here? Howard believes that Arnold’s is just a good place for people to choose to hang out when they leave their bodies.

A spiritual advisor offered former owner Ronda Breeden a different explanation. He says that 210 E. 8th sits above the confluence of two underground
waterways that meet from opposite directions, creating a sort of perpetual underground whirlpool that traps spirits.

Regardless of why the spirits remain, they seem pretty happy. If you’re looking to experience the ominous feeling of evil, head to an old prison or asylum. At Arnold’s, the sex workers, pro wrestler, flamboyant cook and everyday drunks were all a pretty good time in life, and that hasn’t changed. When no specific sounds or voices are heard on Cornerstone Paranormal’s equipment while the bar is closed, Howard still hears a low din of bar conversation, as if Arnold’s is the benign version of The Gold Room in The Shining.

To evoke specific reactions, Cornerstone likes to use trigger words or phrases and look for reactions on a static meter. The phrase that causes it to blow up most at Arnold’s?

“Free beer!”

As for me, I’m not sure what to believe, but if I’m going to get trapped in some terrestrial plane after I die – and if I get any say in the matter – look for me postmortem at Arnold’s.

Arnold’s Bar & Grill, 210 E. Eighth St., Downtown. Info: arnoldsbarandgrill.com.

Michael D. Morgan is a Cincinnati author, historian and brewing connoisseur. This haunted history is told in his own words.

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