October 31, 2013

Columbus’ 19th century cemeteries source of Columbus State ghosts

Aquinas ghost photoA tall woman wearing a long, flowing dress and high-buttoned shoes walks holding the hand of small child in a white petticoat and hat. They appear not to step, but to glide along the basement hallway of Delaware, past rows of bookstore buyback tables. The hour is 3:00 a.m., and as the night cleaning woman stares, they simply vanish without a trace.
 
As two, third-shift officers sit in the first floor lounge of the ERC, the sound of female voices is heard above their heads. A lively conversation is taking place at 4:30 in the morning; laughing, footsteps, chairs moving. The officers race for the elevator–no one should be in the building at this hour. The elevator opens without a button being pushed.  On the second floor they split up and search but find nothing. They continue to search the building, floor by floor. Again, nothing. 

How could a campus so young, so modern and busy during the daylight hours, hold secrets and mysteries that seem to hail from earliest Columbus days, when these acres fell on the edge of the countryside?

The answers are found in the earliest records of the property, when the entire Catholic population of Columbus attended tiny St. Remigius’ Church, and an unnamed cemetery, simply called “Catholic Cemetery,” covered three acres of property at the corner of Washington and Mt. Vernon avenues. 
           
In the years prior to the Civil War, the land had been deeded to St. Remigius for $600, and the plots divided into two sections, one for Irish Catholics and one for German Catholics.  By 1868, the cemetery had become full, and fallen into disrepair.

Nearly 4,000 must have been buried here, but most records had been lost. In 1887, the Catholics of Columbus were advised to remove the remains of their friends to Mt. Calvary Cemetery, but it is thought that many families had undoubtedly taken part in the westward migrations of the late 1860s and 1870s, leaving no members behind to care for the cemetery. 

“While excavating at the site of the proposed St. Patrick’s High School, the hoof of one of the horses crashed through a metallic casket, and a few minutes later, a wooden box was broken into in the same manner,” reported The Columbus Evening Dispatch of Monday, June 26, 1905. “The site was formerly a Catholic cemetery, but no bodies have been buried there for more than half a century.”
           
In the Catholic Record Society Bulletin, December 1977, Editor Rev. Monseigneur Hattingly wrote that “the deceased probably would not have minded that their ‘final’ resting place was disturbed for the use of the Church. Aquinas College educated many priests for the Dominican Order, and the High School provided its over six thousand graduates with a Catholic education… but now it is said that the razing of Aquinas Hall, the last remaining building of the College, is imminent. Soon there will not be one symbol of the Columbus Catholic community left on this once hallowed spot, where the dust of many of its early members still remains.”
           
Perhaps because Columbus Technical Institute chose not to raze Aquinas, but to renovate and use the stately old building, our ghosts have been benign, even playful.  They appear and disappear, teasing third-shift officers and cleaning crews with harmless noises and ethereal sights.
           
That’s not to say they don’t scare us.  The cleaning crew member who saw civil-war era ghosts refused to come back to work.  The police officers who heard voices, saw elevators work and felt chilling drafts now resist patrolling the second floor of the ERC.  As recently as the ‘80s, bones have been discovered under Aquinas during renovations.  And the plaque now standing beside Nestor Hall Auditorium reminds us that many remains have been disturbed more than once as our campus was expanding.  On the plaque, we implore their souls to “requiescat”–rest in peace. But are they?
           
And every building, almost without exception, has its own supernatural occurrences. Columbus Hall has inspired the most tales, with its elevators taking nightly escapades to deliver its invisible passengers, as Officer Mike Phipps tells it, “to their appointed floors.”  Cold chills are said to pass through you like a panic, leaving you breathless and sure you have been touched by the hereafter.  And the voices are always there--on the second floor--always female, in the middle of the night.
           
Officer Terry Cooke was walking outdoors toward the end of his third shift when he heard the sounds of trumpets emanating from Aquinas. His search led to the lowest level of the old building and ended with dim echoes. . .memories of an early Aquinas high school band?  Phipps once searched Eibling in the wee hours looking in vain for the source of footsteps and banging doors on the third floor, secretly hoping not to see anything.  He didn’t.
           
Some late-night employees have a benevolent relationship with the spirits. Officer Tammy Eisel, now with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, would speak to the ghosts who refused to open Nestor Hall elevators, or allow her key to turn in locks.  They would promptly respond, and allow her to pass. Once, taking a break in the building’s lounge with two other officers, she wondered aloud if the spirits would ever consider such a mischievous prank as setting off a fire alarm. Within seconds, the alarm went off.
           
Union Hall has many voices that can be heard near dawn bouncing from its six-story stairwells.  The anatomy lab, with its human cadavers, would seem to inspire nightmares for the third-shift workers there. Cats are also dissected there, but their howls in the night can at least be attributed to the veterinary labs, with its caged creatures, in the basement.
           
A century-old gravestone from the Catholic cemetery, recorded by the Northwest Genealogical Quarterly in 1898, read: Ellen Buckley, wife of Charles Lyons, native of Kilkarney Co. Ireland, Died December 30, 1863, age 30 years.  Beside it, the tiny inscription for Mary Ellen Lyons, aged 1 year, 10 days, died May 7, 1864. 
           
Do they still wander, hand in hand, this mother and child, through the halls of Columbus State late at night?

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