Everybody in Marion County knows about the Mongoloid House, right? As a kid growing up in the 80s, I remember my dad scaring us with stories about a house out in the country where strange people lived. There’s a good chance you’ve heard a Mongoloid House story or two growing up, too.
This was how I introduced the chapter about the local legend known as the Mongoloid House when I wrote Haunted Marion, Ohio back in the fall of 2010. I still think it’s a good introduction to the story. However, in the rest of the chapter, a lot of the details surrounding the Mongoloid House (including its location) are murky to say the least, and I was never really happy with the story as it appears in the book – there are just too many loose ends.
That’s no longer the case, though.
In the fall of 2013, a man named Harry Titus sent me a long e-mail about his experiences at the Mongoloid House back in the late ‘60s. We eventually met in person at Ralphie’s where he laid out a clear, compelling and, most importantly, first-hand account of not only the Mongoloid House but of Marion’s youth culture at the time. I think it’s as complete of a story as we’re likely to hear on the subject.
Oh, and one more point I should make clear: the Mongoloid House is not (and was never) located on Salem Road. That’s a different Spooky Marion story!
That said, I will turn this story over to Harry:
Shooting the Loop
I was born and raised in Marion. Graduated in ’68 from Harding. At that time in Marion, the social life of young people centered around the “loop”. The city had just introduced the one way street system uptown, and this made “shooting the loop” possible. We would go uptown to mingle with the opposite sex, listen to rock n’ roll, street race, drink beer. We’d pull up in front of the Isaly building and hang out until we got chased off, and then we’d pull up in front of A-1 cleaners and hang out there until we got chased out of there, too. The most popular place to hang out was Frisch’s. It’s where CVS is now, across from the Stengel True museum. People would line up for blocks just to drive through Frisch’s parking lot. And if you found a place to park, you were all set. We didn’t really have drugs in Marion at the time. We were really late in getting into marijuana, even. We were still very innocent in the late 60s as far as that goes. To think that one day there would be a heroin problem in Marion… Anyway, this new social scene is what eventually led to excursions out to the Mongoloid House.
The Pugh Place
I remember first hearing about the Mongoloid House around ’67 or so, although at that time no one called it that. Instead, people just called it the Pugh place after the family living out there. I had a rock n’ roll band at the time, TC and the Turks, and while we were rehearsing on day, my brother-in-law, who was a deputy sheriff, stopped by and asked me if I’d ever heard any of the carryings–on out at the Pugh place on Marseilles-Galion Road. At that time, I’d never heard of anything going on out there. But that tells me now that the sheriff was already aware of the situation out that way.
Right out of high school, I got a job as a design trainee over at Fairfield Engineering. I thought I had it made. I was making $9.10 an hour, which was more than my dad made after working 30 years at the Shovel. Anyway, one day at work, I happened to overhear some of the other guys talking about going out to the Pugh place. Finally, I said, “What are you guys talking about?” One guy said, “It’s this farm house out on Marseilles-Galion Road. We go out there and drive up and down in front of it. Sometimes some guy’ll come out and chase you in his car. Sometimes he’ll even shoot at you. You’ve never been out there?” Now, what in the world we found intriguing about going somewhere where I could get shot, I don’t know. In any case, we all agreed that we would meet at Frisch’s that night and ride out there. At the time, I had a ’65 Barracuda. It wasn’t very fast compared to some of those muscle cars guys were driving at the time, but it’s what I could afford.
Today Pole Lane Road just ends in a ‘T’ with Marseilles-Galion Road, but at that time, this was the location of the north entrance to the Scioto Ordinance Plant. The paved entrance was still there, so it was a convenient place for kids to gather. The night we went out there, six or seven cars showed up.
My buddy Joe jumped in the car with me, and down we went, along with all of the other cars. We drove back and forth in front of the house and nothing happened. I was starting to think the whole thing was just a joke on me. Finally, we gave up and decided just to go back uptown, all of us hauling ass down Marseilles-Galion Road just as fast as we could go. I fell behind everybody else because my Barracuda just couldn’t keep up. As everyone else’s taillights were disappearing in the distance, my friend Joe said all of the sudden, “Holy Jesus, get your ass moving – he’s right behind us!” I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the moon glinting off of the grill of a car. He didn’t have his headlights on, but I could see he was right on our bumper. And worse than that, there was another guy in the passenger seat leaning out the window with a shotgun. There were some empty beer bottles rolling around in the car, and my buddy Joe started throwing them at the car behind us. And then, just like that, the car was gone. Just before he disappeared, he flashed his headlights on and that’s where the term “Flash” came from. Even now, when people talk about the Mongoloid House, they often talk about “Flash.” What the guy was really doing was turning on his lights so that he could see one of the lanes that cut into the fields. Those lanes are what the Pughs used to get in and out of their fields from Marseilles-Galion Road with their tractors. But they used these same lanes to appear and disappear out of nowhere on nights when kids were out there raising hell. That was the first of many experiences I had out at the Mongoloid House.
The Stories They Told Each Other
The farm house at the time looked pretty dilapidated – in fact, it look haunted. It was painted grey, had a steep-gabled roof and a big wrap-around porch. There was a big, creepy-looking barn in back of the house.
According to one of the guys I worked with over at Fairfield, people had started going out to the Pugh place because of another story – kind of a ghost story. The story going around at the time was that a kid had died in a car crash out at the intersection of Marseilles-Galion Road and Route 98, and on the spot on the road where the kid had died, there was supposedly a bloodstain that never went away. That was the story at least. Well, people started driving out there to see that. I think it was just iron oxide – rust – seeping out of the ground water. I went out there during the day once and could see that’s what it really was. But it was a good story to tell a girl and maybe get her to go for a drive with you out in the country. [laughs] So that story about the blood is what got kids driving out there, and the Pughs started to get tired of all of these kids hot rodding up and down the road. Well, the Pughs started chasing them off, and that only made the situation worse. Every time they would run some kids off, these kids would drive back to town, tell all of their friends about it and even more kids would drive out there. This was going on every night, all summer in ’68. It was something to do: “Hey, let’s go out to the Mongoloid House.”
Although I never actually saw them myself, the Pugh family supposedly had a couple of ‘mongoloid’ children. That is to say, other people claimed to have seen kids with physical features typical of people with Down’s syndrome. That’s the origin, as far as I know, of the unfortunate name, and it stuck.
There were other rumors, too. I heard that the family had a baby that had died and the mother couldn’t accept the baby’s death, and so she had a coffin on the table in the living room. That story was very prevalent. And some of the kids decided they were going to sneak up to the house and look in that window. Dave Musolf was one of those people. He was a friend of my brother’s and crazy as hell. He claimed – and I don’t know if it’s true – but he claimed he got all the way up to the window and looked in it, but there wasn’t a coffin.
And then there was the night Jack Hancock got his car shot. He had his dad’s Buick Century. For a long time, I had a photo of Jack pointing to the bullet hole in the fender [laughs]. And of course that story got around town, too.
Another time Dave Musolf was sitting with his girlfriend and me one night at Frisch’s, and he said, “I’m gonna go out there and let ‘em have it.” And he was packing a .38! And so off we went to the Mongoloid House. Next thing I knew, Dave stopped at one of the lanes and fired off a few shots. I remember thinking, “Oh my God!” But nothing ever resulted from it.
On another night, we were out there running up and down the road in my Barracuda. Just to show I was as brave as everybody else, I decided to drive into one of the lanes. As we were on our way out of there, this log came flying down in front of me. I ran over it and the engine died. It was a hot summer night, and my windows were rolled down. The next thing I knew, I was looking at some guy in bib overalls who was carrying a shotgun. There wasn’t anything strange about him, though. I mean, he was just a normal-looking farmer type. I was expecting to get screamed at and shot, but he was calm and reserved and told me that they would like to be left alone. He said he had my license plate number, and if I ever came back, there would be problems. I did finally get the car to start, and we got out of there.
At that time, they were turning license plate numbers over to the sheriff’s department, and the sherriff was calling those people in and reading them the riot act. It got to the point where just about everybody going there got called in and told something along the lines of, “If we catch you going out there again, you’re going to jail.”
I replaced the Barracuda with a brand-new bright red ’69 Mustang sex machine. [laughs] I was uptown with it one night, and a guy I knew – I can’t remember who – wanted to ride out to the Mongoloid House and get a look in the window. So I drove past the house, dropped him off at the last lane and drove down to the Kirkpatrick Methodist Church. I had told my friend I’d wait for ten minutes before heading back to pick him up. On my way back, I saw something that I hadn’t seen before: There wasn’t one set of tail lights behind me – it was more like six! Suddenly this – it looked like a tree stump with its roots still attached – this thing came flying over the fence and landed on the road right in front of my brand new car. I swerved around it, but as I was coming back up onto the road, there was this guy standing in the middle of the road with this huge spotlight, and he was shining it right in my eyes trying to blind me. I headed straight for it. The guy who had been holding the spotlight went flying down into a ditch, and I ran over his light – just smashed the hell out of it. Messed the front of my car up, too. But I kept driving and suddenly there was a cable stretched across the road! They had it pulled too high, though, and so I slid right under it. It did take the spoiler off the back of my car. But I just kept right on going. From that time on, I didn’t worry about my friend. That was the last night I went out there for awhile.
I believe the Pugh family eventually moved across Route 98 to a new house. I’m pretty sure this is what happened because they drove AMC Rebels, and I would see their Rebels parked at the new place on the other side of Route 98. The mailbox at the new place also had ‘Pugh’ written on the side of it. So the farm house we knew as the Mongoloid House sat there abandoned. (Years later, I happened to drive out there one day, and I noticed that the old house was practically falling over. It was leaning and just ready to collapse. A few years later, it did just that. For a long time, all you saw was the roof sitting flat on the field with all the rest of the house crushed below it.) However, some kind of caretaker lived in a modular home on the property.
In August of ’69, I got drafted. My dad had the Mustang fixed, and we sold it because I couldn’t make the payments on army pay. I got to come home on leave that Christmas. Just for old time’s sake, I took my dad’s Ford and decided to go for a drive around town.
Now the first thing I noticed was that nobody was really shooting the loop anymore. The police had started cracking down. I got ahold of some of the old guys, and they said, “Well, there are cops everywhere uptown now. And there’s no place to hang out – you can’t even park at Isaly’s anymore. If you do, the cops are right on you and write you a ticket.” Marion had started cracking down on that whole scene.
So then I pulled up to go into Frisch’s, and I realized the city had changed the direction of Washington Avenue! See, we used to head down Prospect Street and turn left onto Washington and take this “back way” to Frisch’s. But the neighbors had started complaining about all of the traffic, so the city made it one way going west. Inside, Frisch’s had hired rent-a-cops to run off people who weren’t there to eat. Needless to say, nobody was hanging out there any more.
Finally, I thought I’d go out to the Mongoloid House, but there was nothing going on out there, either. Nobody’s running up and down the road. It was wintertime, and I could see the snow was undisturbed going into the lanes. Nothing. The whole scene had changed. Everything was different.
My theory is that the police crackdown uptown and the fact that the sheriff was threatening to prosecute the kids who were raising hell out on Marseilles-Galion Road had an effect on kids driving out to the Mongoloid House.
That night I drove out there to the Mongoloid House, I had a run-in with the caretaker who lived in that modular on the Pugh property. I pulled into one of their lanes and got stuck in the mud. The guy came out and asked me what the hell I was doing, and I told him I was just turning around. Of course, he knew better than that, but he went and got the tractor and pulled me out anyway. He just told me not to come back anymore – said it was private property. I was wearing my uniform, and I think that’s why he wasn’t so hard on me. I shipped off to Vietnam in January of 1970.
Looking back, I’m appalled at the way we behaved out there. We would drive by their house, speeding. We would drive by their house and honk our horns. We’d do whatever we could to get them to come out. In fact, our goal when we went out there was to get them to chase us up the road. That was the brass ring. Sometimes, as we were on our way out there, we’d see other people speeding in the other direction with one of those Rebels chasing them. I do know that in the end the Pugh family was getting a lot of sympathy from the local community around there. I think that people are wiling to talk about it now because it’s been such a long time. In any case, that’s the story of the Mongoloid House as I remember it.
Do you have any photos or stories to share about either the loop or the Mongoloid House? Leave a comment below or drop us a line at email@example.com
On August 19th, 2011, a 55-year-old Marion man was arguing with his 46-year-old girlfriend when he pulled out a .357 caliber revolver and shot her in the head. He then turned the gun on himself. By the time first responders arrived at the Mark Street crime scene, both the man and woman were dead.
For the friends and family left behind after such murder-suicides, the grief and horror must be profound. Even for those of us who don’t know the people involved, such violence causes a complex mix of emotions: There is sadness, of course, that people have died in such unnatural ways. But there’s also frustration that the perpetrator of the murder will never have to face justice and perhaps answer the one question on everyone’s mind: Why? There’s also a deep sense of disquiet because the murderer and the victim(s), more often than not, know each other intimately. We think to ourselves If that woman just over on Mark Street could die at the hands of her boyfriend, then it could happen to me…
Sadly, this grim scenario has played itself out a number times in Marion over the years. “A Real Horror Story” is one such example, and the following two cases are equally bleak.
Insane Henry Powers
On Sunday morning, November 29th, 1896, 36-year-old Henry Powers sat down to breakfast with his wife and four children at their home on Marion-Bucyrus Road just north of the city. After breakfast the two older boys went out to play while Henry and his wife, 32-year-old Katherine, along with their teenage daughter and youngest son, stayed inside. According to a Marion Daily Star article that appeared the next day, although Henry had been showing signs of an “unsound mind” for some time, on the morning of the 29th, “He [was] quiet and undemonstrative.” It came as shock, then, when Katherine and her daughter, upon hearing a noise in the kitchen, found Henry standing there with a shotgun in his hands. Both women immediately turned to flee. Mrs. Powers ran toward the sitting room and Henry followed her. The daughter, Ella, ran for the door, and it was as she was racing outside that she heard the shotgun blast. The neighbors, alerted by Ella, watched from a distance as the still-armed Henry left the house trailed, shockingly, by Henry and Katherine’s youngest boy, 2-year-old Willie. Luckily, the two older Powers boys spotted their younger brother, grabbed him and carried him to the safety of Ella and the neighbors. As they all watched, Henry Powers disappeared behind the house, and they heard a second gun blast. Incredibly, Powers reappeared a few minutes later, gun still in hand, and with blood “streaming down over his face.” He disappeared back inside the house.
A messenger was sent to fetch the sheriff. The neighbors, unsure of whether Henry Powers was still dangerous, chose to wait with the Powers children at a safe distance. When the sheriff and the rest of his party eventually arrived and entered the house, they were met with a gruesome scene. According to the Star, “Mrs. Powers [lay] in a pool of blood [in the sitting room]. Half her head and face had been blown away, and her brains lay upon the floor beside her.” As for Henry Powers, his corpse was also found in the sitting room just a few feet from his wife’s body, and his wounds were likewise terrible: “In the left eye and directly above it was a large hole where the muzzle of the gun had been placed when discharged.”
Why did Henry Powers kill his wife and then himself? It appears the man had been mentally ill for a long time. According to the Star, most of his delusions centered around an “insane jealousy” of his wife. In May of that year, Powers had attempted to commit suicide by cutting his own throat with a straight razor. Shortly thereafter, a judge committed him to an asylum in Columbus. Five months later, however, the asylum’s superintendent, believing that Powers should given “one more chance,” released him.
Powers returned to his wife and family in Marion on October 16th. He wife was so surprised that he had been released that she believed the asylum must have made a mistake. In fact, fearing that Mr. Powers was still capable of carrying out “injury to himself or his family,” she had even contacted the sheriff about the possibility of returning Mr. Powers to the asylum. According to the Star, during the week prior to the tragedy, Powers was convinced that his wife had been trying to poison him. Tragically, it seems that the only thing poisoned in the Powers household was Mr. Powers’ mind, and ultimately the Powers family paid the price for it.
“It Was the Awfulest Thing I’ve Ever Seen in Almost 40 Years of Railroading”
On March 27th, 1948, 40-year-old Charles Gerstenlauer called his wife from a pay phone at Five Points, a lunch room and filling station once situated where Route 309 and Route 98 meet. In a disturbing conversation, Mr. Gerstenlauer told his wife, 38-year-old Elsie, that he was going to “do away” with himself and their two small children. The Gerstenlauers were in the middle of a particularly ugly divorce, and Charles, against Elsie’s protests, had taken the children earlier in the day from their home and disappeared. Immediately after receiving the call, Mrs. Gerstenlauer alerted authorities, and the search, which included members of the city police, the sheriff’s department and the highway patrol, got underway. However, by the time authorities located Mr. Gerstenlauer, he had already carried out the unthinkable.
Charles and Elsie Gerstenlauer had married in 1943 in South Carolina and moved to Marion in 1945 to take over Acme Dry Cleaners on Olney Avenue. In Marion, however, things seemed to sour for the couple, and in 1947 Elsie consulted an attorney about getting a divorce. On May 20th,1947, she filed for divorce, citing “gross neglect and extreme cruelty.” In fact, on the morning of the 27th, Mr. And Mrs. Gerstenlauer had been in court over Mr. Gerstenlauer’s violation of a restraining order.
Less than a quarter of a mile north of Route 309, a railroad crossing cuts across Route 98. John Dairy, the foreman of an Erie signal repair crew that was working in the area at the time, told the Star that he had noticed Mr. Gerstenlauer driving back and forth across the tracks all afternoon and thought it was a bit strange.
Another witness, Kenneth Carpenter, told the Star that he was following behind Mr. Gerstenlauer on Route 98 when Gerstenlauer stopped at the crossing, apparently waiting for the train approaching in the distance. Since the train was still a good ways off, Mr. Carpenter was initially irritated because he was running late and thought that, “[the man] still had plenty of time to cross safely [and] seemed pretty cautious.” However, the witness was dead wrong about Mr. Gerstenlauer’s intentions. Carpenter told the Star, “When the train was about 100 feet away, he drove his car right onto the tracks, and it looked like he stopped. The engineer never had a chance.”
The train, which was an Erie passenger train called the Lake Cities, was heading east and bound for Jersey City. By the time it was nearing Route 98, it was traveling at around 70 miles per hour. Mr. Gerstenlauer was thrown 200 feet from his car while the children were later found in it. Charles Lowe, the train engineer, told the Star that, “It was the awfulest thing I’ve ever seen in almost 40 years of railroading. I’ve been riding engines when they hit cars before, even people walking, but when I saw those two little girls it really hit me.” One has the impression Mr. Lowe and the other witnesses would be haunted by what they saw that day for a long, long time.