Hershel the Harding Freshman Building Ghost

From 1915 to 1996, the school known at various times as Harding High School, Eber Baker Junior High School and, lastly, the Harding Freshman Building stood on West Church Street between Union and Orchard Street. According to a 1996 Marion Star article, the building was built to accommodate Marion’s growing population, which was spurred by a booming local economy. Thousands of students passed through the school’s doors during the nearly seven decades it was open, and even now many older Marionites recall the years they attended there with a great deal of fondness.

freshman building mike crane
A postcard featuring an early photo of the school, courtesy of Mike Crane. Anyone interested in looking at Mike’s nice collection of old photos, postcards and other assorted Marion miscellanea should check out his website.

Although the students may not have been aware of it, some staff members believed that there was also another, otherworldly presence in the building. In an article appearing in The Marion Star titled “Ghostly Caretaker Makes His Rounds,” staff writer Darlene Slack reported on the unsettling experiences members of the school’s kitchen and custodial staff had had over the years with a ghost they eventually nicknamed “Hershel”:

Custodians and cooks arriving in the early morning hours began experiencing things they ‘just couldn’t explain.’

The odor of cherry flavored pipe tobacco was the most distinctive of the occurrences because it was the same kind used by a custodian who had worked there and since died.

‘I’d go down to turn the heat on in the boiler room and I could smell pipe tobacco just as plain as if somebody lit it. I’d turn on the lights and look for the smoke,’ said [custodian] Woody Jordan.

Jordan never saw the smoke, but once he did find the ashes. He arrived early one morning after a night of fresh snowfall and found coffee made, a cup that had been used to drink some of it, and ashes in an ashtray.

Jordan knew there weren’t any tracks to the door he had entered. ‘I went window to window, door to door, checking for tracks leading to the building,’ he said. He never found any.

As more of these stories began to circulate, they caught the interest of English teacher Charles Mosher, and he began to collect them. Although he was initially skeptical, he eventually became convinced that staff members truly believed they were having brushes with the supernatural:

These people were no kooks. They were sincere. I had no feeling they were embellishing stories to get me excited. They weren’t trying to convince me of anything. They were just sharing.

According to Mosher, Hershel was especially fond of pranks. Staff members would find their coats hanging upside down in the closet; the lights in locked rooms would mysteriously turn on. At times like these, Mosher said, the staff members were more amused than scared.

However, Hershel was also quite capable of frightening people. Again, according to Mr. Mosher:

 As a custodian was dry mopping the hallway on the second floor one day, he heard steps behind him, turned around and saw no one. He kept mopping until he felt a hand touch his shoulder and squeeze it.

[The custodian] said the hair stood up on the back of his neck. It really frightened him. Then the footsteps went around him and past him down the hallway into the library. The library door opened and closed, and…Hershel was gone.

When Tri-Rivers opened in 1976, Harding High School’s vocational students began attending school there. This meant that there was now room at Harding for freshman. The Freshman Building, which by the early 80s was in a state of disrepair, closed in 1983 and sat empty for over a decade as the city tried to figure out what to do with it. Finally, unable to sell  or develop the building, the city decided to demolish it. One can only wonder if Hershel was still haunting the long-silent school when the wrecking ball began crashing through its walls during the summer of 1996.

freshman building demolition
The front page of the August 6th, 1996, edition of The Marion Star. When the demolition was complete, only the gymnasium (which later became a recreation center) was left standing

- Josh Simpkins



The Marion Star, November 15th, 1978

The Marion Star, August 6th, 1996

There’s No School Like an Old School. An Illustrated History of  the Public Schools in Ohio’s Marion County by Donna Converse Lawrence

Going Ghost Hunting? Beware of Pareidolia!

It’s a cold December night, and Bill and I are trudging along a country road just outside of Prospect looking for an abandoned barn. We have flashlights with us, but we’re not using them because we don’t want to attract unwanted attention.

“Okay,” I say. “It should be up here in this stand of trees.”

We push our way through the brush, and in a few minutes we’re in a clearing with the outline of the barn and a few other buildings just barely visible in front of us. For the moment the road we’ve just left is free of traffic, and the only sound is the winter wind blowing through the bare branches of the trees.

“So, um, what do we do now?” Bill says.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “Maybe look inside? Take a few photos?”

We poke around. It turns out there’s nothing even remotely interesting inside the barn or the other buildings.

Bill says, “So is this place supposed to be haunted or what?”

“No, not that I’ve heard. It’s just some old abandoned buildings someone told me about. I thought it might be cool to come out here and check it out.” If Bill could see me in the dark, he’d see me shrugging.

“Well, take some photos and let’s get out of here.”

“Why, are you scared?” I say, teasing.

“No, but it’s cold, man!”

A half an hour later we’re warming up and eating burritos at the Taco Bell on Delaware Avenue.

“I’ll tell you what,” Bill says. “When you look at those pics later, I’ll bet you’ll see something spooky.”

At the time I was skeptical, but Bill ending up being right. When I got home and opened the photos in Photoshop, I saw what appeared to be a spectral face peering out from between the slats of one of the smaller buildings:

The image in question. It’s only when the section is blown up that the ‘face’ is plainly visible.

Is it a ghost? Maybe. But there’s another explanation for this image that’s worth discussing: pareidolia. Put simply, pareidolia is the natural tendency to see or hear something we recognize as human (e.g. a face or a voice) in what is essentially random or vague stimuli.

man in the moon
Seeing the man in the moon is a well-known example of pareidolia.

Ghost hunters often take copious photos and record hours of audio while in the field with the intention of analyzing this data later. They make the assumption – arguably a false assumption – that their equipment will pick up images and sounds they themselves may not detect. As a result, when they go over their data later, they’re already primed to see and hear patterns that are perhaps just not there. This isn’t to say that unexplained images or sounds can always be explained away with pareidolia, but it’s certainly something ghost hunters should keep in mind.

Personally, I don’t think that the image I photographed that night in December is a ghost. Still, I have to admit that I did get a little chill when I spotted that otherworldy ‘face’ staring at me from between the slats of that building. Bill was right; ghost or no ghost, the image was definitely spooky.

- Josh Simpkins