As an eerie October chill fills the air and the dark of night slowly creeps into our autumn days, the Halloween season fills the imagination with ghostly images of spooks and specters. But what if Cincinnati’s dead can’t be confined to decrepit mansions and overgrown cemeteries?
From former first ladies to bootleggers’ wives, the Queen City’s ghostliest legends are as colorful and varied as the historical landscape of the city itself.
“Cincinnati Music Hall is certainly one of the more active locations for hauntings in the city,” says Judy Knuckles of Cincinnati Research and Paranormal Studies, which has held several investigations at the site and will host an open-to-the-public exploration at Music Hall on Oct. 31.
Built over a one-time orphan asylum, a potter’s field for mass burials, a lunatic asylum and the city infirmary during the cholera outbreak of the 1800s, Music Hall is believed to host a number of restless spirits. Counted among the majestic landmark’s undead have been a mysterious shrouded figure, phantom partygoers in the building’s ballroom, ladies dressed in period clothing and mischievous spirits who seize control of the building’s freight elevator.
Just next door, Memorial Hall reportedly has its own hauntings. Jerry Gels, who operates the popular Cincinnati Underground Tour, seems to have had ghostly customers sitting in on his proceedings.
“It’s been mentioned to me a few times,” says Gels, who also runs a Cincinnati ghost tour. “I’ve had tour group members ask me ‘Is this building haunted? Because while you were talking I saw a ghost walking in the balcony.’ ”
The Memorial Hall ghost is said to be a man dressed in a dark blue suit peering at newcomers from an upper level.
According to Gels, doomed entrepreneurs might also walk the empty corridors of Cincinnati’s failed subway system. Sightings in the subway’s forgotten tunnels have reportedly been of a man in a white suit, sometimes walking, sometimes hanging by a noose – a former investor in the venture who may have committed suicide after the project was scrapped.
The Taft Museum of Art is said to be curated from beyond the grave by the ghost of Anna Taft, who not only has been seen attending parties in the balcony overlooking the museum’s courtyard but has also been known to barricade herself in a second floor room by pushing a chair up to the doorknob from the inside.
The ghost of a bootlegger’s wife is said to haunt a gazebo in Eden Park. The phantasm said to inhabit the structure is believed to be Imogene Remus, the wife of famed lawyer and bootlegger George Remus.
“It’s one of the more interesting stories behind a haunting around here,” says Mike Morris, co-Author of the Cincinnati Haunted Handbook.
Remus famously shot his wife in the stomach on the premises while en route to the couple’s divorce finalization. Imogene is said to be seen standing in the gazebo, wearing all black, crying as she looks out over the park.
Some of Cincinnati’s favorite recreational spots might also be shared by fun-loving ghosts. Coney Island historian Tom Rhein claims that certainly he’s had odd moments in his 26 years working at the park,but that he’s never been frightened by them. “Sometimes you just feel like the ghosts are checking in,” says Rhein, who says doors have been known to open and close unexpectedly, strange fogs descend without warning, light bulbs fly out of their sockets with no wind and the sounds of Native American chanting have reportedly been heard near the river bank.
“Kings Island is an organization proud of its ghosts because they reflect the history of the land,” says Beth Hayes of the paranormal research team Paravizionz, which has been permitted to investigate there for the past three summers.
Three of the most famous Kings Island legends are all of children who enjoy the theme park from beyond the grave: a little girl in blue who hangs out along the train tracks and in the water park, a young child known as “Woody” who throws rocks and giggles near White Water Canyon and a boy in white who heads through the park’s Coney Mall toward the Racer rollercoaster.
The path along the river near Loveland Castle was once a migratory route for Native Americans, pioneers and settlers of all sorts, which is perhaps why many say the spirits still commune on the mansion’s grounds.
“I just think maybe they’re angels,” says head knight Joe Carey of the spirits, which allegedly include playful children, prank-playing poltergeists and an apparition which knocks on the front door but never enters. Carey claims the spirits are protectors of the building as well, a sort of ethereal alarm system acting up when things have gone missing or aren’t in their correct places.
As rich as Cincinnati’s history is, so also is its canon of ghost stories. Perhaps characters from the city’s past haven’t yet decided to leave. Perhaps they can’t yet leave. Or perhaps they’re simply proof that the city doesn’t only belong to the living.
The ghosts who walk the grounds of our city might be more than just remnant spirits of bygone eras. They could be otherworldly reminders of the rich past from which we’ve emerged.
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