Three Old Haunted House Stories

As you can probably imagine, since starting the Spooky Marion site back in 2008, I’ve heard my share of local haunted house stories. Although I’ve known about the following three places for years, I’ve always put off writing about them. It’s not that the stories about each place are actually little more than rumors – I could live with that. (Let’s face it, a lot of this site’s content is devoted to rumors.) Rather, it’s just that each story is pretty meager. For that reason, I’ve decided to put all three together in one article.

The Lapham Brick House

The “Meeker, Ohio Review” was, as best as I can tell, a compilation of stories told by some of Meeker’s senior citizens in the mid ’60s and published in around 1973. While skimming through it a few years ago, this little paragraph caught my attention:

Marie told about the old Lapham brick [house]. Rev. Crabtree lived there on road 27, [and] some said it was haunted. [There] was a spot on the floor that could not be washed away. There were whistling sounds heard [and], as the story goes, that a packpeddler went in, but never came out.

Obviously, the story interested me, and I was eventually able to track down a descendant of the Lapham family, a guy named Mike Brewer. He told me that Arthur Lapham, his great-great-great grandfather, built the house in 1837, and although it is still standing out on Marseilles-Galion Road West, it’s in poor condition.

The Lapham house is one of the oldest houses still standing in Marion County. This photo was taken in October of 2015.
The Lapham house is one of the oldest houses still standing in Marion County. This photo was taken in October of 2015.

Unfortunately for all of you hoping to hear a good haunted house story, Mike more or less dismissed that idea.

[T]he story is mostly myth. I know Reverend Marvin Crabtree’s daughter and grandson. She grew up in the house and assured me that the spot on the floor didn’t exist. Nor does she believe the house to be haunted. She did say that the wind made strange sounds around the roof eaves. As for the peddler myth, I have never seen any authenticating info.

The Sawyer House

One story that I’ve heard over the years is that after President Harding’s wife, Florence Harding, died in Dr. Charles Sawyer’s house, her ghost began haunting the place.

However, before getting to the haunted house part, let me start with a few facts about Florence Harding’s final years: After President Harding died on August 2, 1923, Mrs. Harding returned to Washington where she “bought a house and hoped to establish a social life.” However, as more and more scandals having to do with the Harding administration began to come to light and her health began to fail, Florence decided, at the urging of Dr. Sawyer, to return to Marion in July of 1924. Once she was back in Marion, she took up residence at Dr. Sawyer’s White Oaks Farm, which included both the White Oaks Sanatorium as well as the Sawyer residence on Bellefontaine Avenue. (For the record, a sanatorium was not a facility for the insane but rather for people needing long term care, usually for tuberculosis.)  After Dr. Sawyer himself died in September of 1924, Florence Harding “became increasingly withdrawn an ill” and died on November 21st, 1924 from kidney failure.

Marion Star Headline, Sawyer Home on Bellefontaine
On August 19, 2010, the former home of Dr. Sawyer, which was vacant at the time, was severely damaged in a fire.

Whether Florence Harding actually died in the house on Bellefontaine is unclear. In an article appearing in the August 21, 2010, edition of The Marion Star, Sherry Hall, the education specialist for the Harding Home State Memorial is quoted as saying that Florence Harding did, in fact, die at the house. However, I also got in touch with a guy named Bill Watts. He was friends with Charles Sawyer’s grandson, Dr. Warren Sawyer, and told me, “It was only folklore that she died at the Sawyer house.” In fact, he went on to say that he’d always heard Mrs. Harding had died in one of the patient wards (or bungalows, as they were called) rather than the house on Bellefontaine. In an effort to sort out the location of her death once and for all, I actually got a copy of Mrs. Harding’s death certificate, which unhelpfully listed the location of her death as “White Oaks Farm”. So as I sit here, I have no idea if Mrs Harding actually died in the Bellefontaine Avenue house.

Sawyer Home Fire
The Sawyer House was located at 1201 Bellefontaine Avenue. After the house was nearly destroyed in a fire in 2010, it was demolished soon thereafter. This photo, courtesy of the Marion County auditor’s office, clearly shows the damage caused by the fire.

Of course, I also asked Mr. Watts about the haunted house rumors, and this is what he had to say:

I have been in that house hundreds of times, day and night, in the basement, living room, kitchen and all over the upstairs during those years. I personally have never seen a ghost nor have I ever heard Dr. Warren mention a ghost in the house. 

Like so many haunted house stories, this is one that has persisted as a word-of-mouth phenomena, and I can only imagine it has done so because it concerns such a well-known Marionite who died in a historically significant home.

America’s First Ladies: A Historical Encyclopedia and Primary Document Collection of the Remarkable Women of the White House. By Nancy Hendricks. ABC-CLIO, 2015. p. 244.
American First Ladies: Their Lives and Their Legacy. Edited by Lewis L. Gould. Routledge Press, 2001. p. 256.
The Marion Star, November 21, 1924
The Marion Star, August 21, 2010

The Haunted House on Green Camp Pike

This last story centers on a rather mysterious postcard. In the course of researching other Spooky Marion stories, I’ve run across this card a few times. Presumably, it’s from around the turn of the century, since one of the cards I’ve seen was postmarked 1912. For a card that purports to show a picture of a haunted house, it’s actually a much better photo of the road (incorrectly written as “Greencamp Pike”) with part of a house visible on the right side. Green Camp Pike, incidentally, later became Bellefontaine Avenue.

And for a long time that was all I had – a rather unremarkable postcard with a very tantalizing caption.

Green Camp Pike Haunted House Postcard
The original postcard. Image courtesy of Shelby Clarkston-Needham.

But then I got a break. A woman Shelby Clarkston-Needham‎ was able to purchase one of these postcards (as well as the original photo that was used to create it) at an auction of the belongings of a man named D. A. Brown. The only information I could find out about D.A. Brown was that he’d had a business in the 1950s on East Church Street servicing electronic equipment and had died in 1988. In any case, below the postcard was some additional information, presumably typed by Mr. Brown about the house:

Back in 1908, when present State Route 739 from Marion to Green Camp was a dirt road, Grandpa drove his horse and buggy past “The Haunted House” a short distance from Marion on the Green Camp Pike. At any time of the year, it was said that the witches and goblins held their class reunion in this old “Haunted House”. [It] just may have been the place where the witch committee for Halloween [was] appointed.

One final interesting piece of information about the postcard came from a “Growing up in Marion, Ohio” Facebook group member who said that the house had belonged to one of his ancestors, a guy named John James Jones Jr. (how’s that for alliteration?) who died in 1883. After Mr. Jones died, his wife moved out, and the house fell into disrepair. Eventually, stories began circulating that the house was haunted. Much as I would have liked a more dramatic story about the origin of this postcard, this simple explanation also seems the most likely.

So there you have it. Three haunted house stories (kind of). If anyone out there has information to add about any of these places, feel free to drop me a line or comment below.

-Josh Simpkins

The Marion County Jail

According to the 1883 History of Marion, the combined jail and Sheriff’s residence was erected in 1878 and cost about $28,000. There were eighteen cells total, sixteen for men and two for women. This photo, dated 1910, is from Mike Crane’s excellect collection of old Marion photos and postcards.
By the time the paper went to press, a mere two hours after the murder, a lynch mob was already forming outside the jail.

Unlike the old Marion City Jail, the Marion County Jail, which stood on North State Street from 1878 until 1968, doesn’t have any supernatural stories associated with it. However, it played a role in a violent series of events that took place in Marion in October of 1881.

On the afternoon of October 4th, 1881, Frank Foster, a well-known and well-liked livery man, stepped into Tim Kelley’s grocery store to buy some tobacco. As he was paying, a man named Orrin DePue walked up behind him and, without saying a word, shot him 4 times with a .32 caliber revolver. Foster died almost immediately.

Some men who had been chatting at the back of the grocery store were able to disarm DePue, and police quickly arrived to arrest him. DePue was initially taken to the city jail but was later transferred to the more secure county jail. A secure building was necessary to protect DePue from an angry mob that was rapidly forming in Marion. Indeed, The Marion Daily Star reported that, “Many threats are [being] made that the murderer will not remain long where he is, but it is hoped that mob law will not be resorted to in our law-abiding town.”

Shortly before the jail was demolished, an article appearing in The Marion Star stated, “Commissioners plan to preserve the key which, long eyed by antique dealers, is said to be a fine representation of 19th Century iron work.” According to Randy Winland’s book on Marion postcards, the turnkey is currently on display at the Marion County Historical Society.

DePue’s motive was shooting Foster was never clear. Initially, DePue initially told police that Foster deserved to be shot because he had mistreated DePue’s younger brother the previous fall. However, when a reporter from The Marion Daily Star interviewed DePue a day after the murder, he said that he was drunk at the time and didn’t know why he had murdered Foster. (The reporter eventually gave up trying to sort out DePue’s motive and noted, “Orrie talked very queer, and nothing definite could be learned from him.”)

The following night, on October 5th, DePue hanged himself in his jail cell using a bed sheet. The Marion Daily Star suggested that DePue had  probably saved the county a great expense and that most everyone was satisfied with this outcome.

In 1968, a new county jail was completed north of town, and the old county jail, which was already falling apart, was demolished. Today a small, unremarkable office building is located at the former site of the once imposing jail.

- Josh Simpkins

The Marion Daily Star, October 4th, 1881
The Marion Daily Star, October 7th, 1881
The Marion StarAugust 28, 1968
The Marion Star, October 10, 1968