Waynesville: Host to Visitors Past & Present
Blog by Mary Fessler
Known as the “Antiques Capital of the Midwest”, Waynesville, Ohio is home to countless antique and unique stores, local dining gems, and the always popular Ohio Sauerkraut Festival.
What many may not know about the charming Warren County village, however, is that it’s also widely regarded as the most haunted town in Ohio. A longtime resident of the region, I had never given much thought to the stories of Waynesville’s hauntings – that is until my son started working at The Hammel House Inn.
When he first took a summer job at this historic dining spot and B&B, my history-loving son was simply excited by the idea of earning some summer cash in a unique work environment. It wasn’t long though, before he got much more than he’d bargained for. On at least two occasions, he heard what sounded like an unseen girl crying in the basement. His co-worker also reported a similar occurrence, claiming that she had heard a young girl ask her to “hurry up”, and had witnessed glasses sliding off of tables, seemingly without explanation. Intrigued by my son’s stories, I put on my research cap, but could find no definitive explanation for these “encounters”. On a hunt for more information, I contacted author Chris Woodyard, who explained to me that the sound of children crying is sometimes reported in tunnels and basements that were once part of the Underground Railroad. Recent research indicates that Waynesville may have played an even larger role along the Underground Railroad than previously believed. Fascinated, I couldn’t help but to dig deeper.
While accounts of the crying girl in The Hammel House’s basement are less common, guests and staff at the restaurant and inn routinely report encounters with two other ghostly apparitions – a cat (which is said to leave fur on the stairs) and a misty figure of a man in Room 4. While I could find no explanation for the friendly cat, stories abound about the man. The general consensus is that a young traveling salesman who dealt in gems or jewelry stopped at The Hammel House Inn long ago. The well-dressed man checked in, but never checked out, and was never seen again. The innkeeper at the time sold the traveler’s horses and carriage quite quickly following his disappearance, leading most to assume that the innkeeper murdered the man (and reportedly dumped his body in a well). Some even say he confessed to this crime on his deathbed. While many believe the spirit is that of the victimized young traveler, others claim the innkeeper felt so guilty about his crime that his own spirit is now stuck in the inn and prevented from moving on. This particular story has been so pervasive that the New York Times even carried a blurb about it in their February 23, 1881 edition. No matter the source of the inn’s entities, all who encounter the numerous Hammel House spirits happily report no feelings of fear or malice, but rather just a sense of mischief.
Elsewhere in Waynesville, another local legend involves a legendary company. In 1861 and 1865, Louisa Stetson Larrick was visited in her Waynesville home by her brother John Stetson. Suffering from tuberculosis and asthma, the prognosis was not good for Mr. Stetson, who had been cut out of the Stetson family’s hat-making business. While visiting Louisa, John made a new kind of hat for a fellow traveler. That hat—the first American Cowboy hat—was the start of a multi-million dollar empire. Soon thereafter, John made a miraculous recovery in his health. Sadly, though, he passed tuberculosis on to his sister Louisa, who passed away from the disease in 1879. Despite the fact that Louisa had cared for John both physically and financially during his own fight with tuberculous, John gave his sister only her original $60 investment – a small fraction of the fortune his design earned. To this day, people still report seeing a woman —presumably Louisa, in a high-collared dress and old-fashioned gloves standing in the doorway of the Stetson House or trying to enter nearby shops.
Directly across the street from the Stetson House, yet another tragedy took place. Newspapers throughout the country reported that Mrs. Mollie Hattie, her sister Clementine Weeks, and her niece Myrtle Weeks, just 12 years old, were brutally murdered in late August of 1879. Mrs. Hattie’s son and her ex-husband were suspects in the case, but her son was found dead from an apparent suicide. It appears no one was convicted of the crimes. The home that served as the site of the murders was ultimately demolished due to reports of “strange and unsettling sounds”. Tenants of a new home built on the same lot often report seeing a Victorian woman holding the hand of a small girl.
My research for this blog post took me to the Museum at the Friends Home. There I learned, in addition to background on the aforementioned tales of hauntings, that the museum is in fact home to a spirit of its own. Some say it’s that of Mary Lynch, who was removed from the care of her parents when they became too ill to care for her. Following the passing of her father, Mary’s mother eventually recovered. Though attempts were then made to return Mary and her siblings to her mother’s care, they were unsuccessful. To this day, locals and visitors alike report seeing a young girl in period dress on the Museum’s front porch, while others claim toys located within the museum inexplicably move from time to time.
Believe what you will about the hauntings of Waynesville, but I do encourage anyone interested in learning more about the charming town’s spooky stories to do so. The village hosts Ghostly History Walking Tours and Ghost and Goblet Dinner and Tour events on weekends and Wednesdays in October (reservations required), and they are as fascinating as they are frightening.
The Face in the Window: Haunting Ohio Tales – Chris Woodyard
Ghost Hunters Guide to Haunted Ohio – Chris Woodyard
Cincinnati Ghosts – Karen Laven
Special thanks to Chris Woodyard, Pam Bowman, Linda Morgan, and Dolly McKeehan for their time, stories, and insight.