“Based on a true story” is quite the clichéd movie phrase these days, used to pique interest in the latest picture on the big screen. But when it comes to chilling stories told around campfires and in darkened rooms, it is the tales with a touch of truth that give us the goosebumps.
The city of Evansville is more than 200 years old, with buildings, homes, and spaces that harken to the past. Some carry interesting stories. Others have more tragic tales to tell. As the heated summer months give way to cooler fall evenings, we find ourselves itching for a good story — partially true and completely spooky.
We reached out to Haunted Historic Evansville organizers, with their pages of research from Willard Library and homeowners, and listened to the tales of eerie investigations of the Evansville Vanderburgh Paranormal group to find out for ourselves just how haunted our community may be.
As All Hollow’s Eve draws near, come walk the streets of Evansville with us and learn about the spooky haunts, hidden histories, and bumps in the night of the River City.
The Abandoned Floor
The Manor House, 619 S.E. Second St.
This historic home that sits at 619 S.E. Second St. showcases impressive architecture as well as history. Known as the Manor House, the structure originally was built in 1868 by Henry Gwathmey, a well-known resident in Evansville who had served in the Civil War and as auditor for the city. He lived in the two-story, Italianate-designed home with his wife Mary Eliza (Kazar) Gwathmey until she passed away shortly after the house was completed.
The home’s story continued on a rocky path from there. Between 1868 and 1872, Gwathmey’s home, and lots surrounding it, would change ownership several times. Henry eventually gained back his original home from George and Mary Fish in 1872, only to sell it off again one year later to Dr. C.P. Bacon and his wife Emma. The home would rest with the Bacons until the 1940s.
Almost 20 years after acquiring the home, Emma Bacon wished to expand and renovate the space. In 1895, a third story was added by raising the roof. This space was furnished with extra bedrooms, but strangely, the family would never use the floor after it was built. No one is sure why.
Dr. Bacon, a renowned physician who practiced in Evansville for 50 years, lived out his days in the Manor House. He was 99 and a half when he died, and friends and family claimed he was mentally sharp until the very end. It was a horrible fall inside the home, which resulted in a broken hip, that claimed the doctor’s life.
After Dr. Bacon’s death, the Manor House fell into disrepair. It became an apartment home with 13 to 15 separate rooms in the home, none with any bathrooms. Five toilets in the back of the house served all who resided there. The building became home to transients and continued to crumble away until the Riverside Neighborhood Association bought the property in 1981. At this time, the Manor House truly was falling apart — one casualty of time was the beautiful original chandelier which laid in pieces all over the floors.
Four investors stepped up in 1985 and invested more than $300,000 in the home, looking to restore the space following guidelines laid out by the Evansville Preservation Commission. They included Vanderburgh County Superior Court Judge Randall Shepard, investment counselor Greg Donaldson, insurance agent David Stinnett, and businessman Jack Dippel. With this investment, the Manor House was turned into five luxury apartments, with seven original fireplaces restored.
Today, residents of the manor have reported strange sightings of a woman dressed all in black. She has hovered near the bay window in one apartment and been caught perched on one of the home’s staircases. Some have ventured a guess the apparition is that of Mary Eliza Gwathmey, who only occupied the home for a short time. Others claim she may be the reason the Bacons never occupied the third floor addition — they say Mary Eliza may not have been happy the floor changed the architectural look of the home.
Though this presence has startled many residents and caretakers of the home over the years, she has been described as friendly, never causing anyone to feel unsafe in the manor.
The Carpenter House
the previous house of WNIN and the past home of Evansville philanthropist Willard Carpenter often has been thought to be on haunted grounds. Carpenter, perhaps best known for building and endowing the Willard Library, lived at the residence until his death in 1883. The building, completed in 1849, still is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the area, featuring hand-cut Indiana limestone to resemble stone and the façade over the entrance.
After the Great Depression hit, the family was forced to give up their home to the Funkhouser American Legion Post for an alleged amount of $3,500. In 1956, the legion sold the property to WTVW/TV7, who had no use for the mansion and reluctantly announced their plans for demolition. However, in 1974, Medco Centers purchased the location to serve as its headquarters and restored the home. WNIN moved to the property in 1985 and occupied the space until its move to the new WNIN Public Media Center
at 2 Main St., in 2017.
Today, stories of Depression-era spirits and mysterious noises linger around the home. In October 2010, the Newburgh-based Southern Indiana Paranormal Investigators completed a three-day investigation of the house after an employee spotted two women in 1800s garb on an elevator. Billy Miller, the founder of the group, heard moans, groans, and footsteps during the night, and, in the men’s bathroom on the second floor, he claimed to hear a toilet seat slam.
Evansville was not immune to the epidemic of tuberculosis — by 1909 only Denver, Colorado, surpassed the city in TB deaths. To help combat the illness, a tent camp opened on the West Side in 1908 to quarantine the sick and allow them what was thought to be the best treatment — fresh air. However, the Vanderburgh Anti-Tuberculosis Society — led by Albion Fellows Bacon and former city mayor John W. Boehne — realized more was needed.
Boehne donated the land for the camp and later the funds to bring about the construction of an official hospital complex. The buildings were completed in 1912 and the hospital became one of the most significant in Indiana to battle the illness.
The hiring of Dr. Paul Crimm in the 1920s would prove to be even more effective. Made superintendent in 1929, it was Dr. Crimm who instituted thoracroplasty. During this surgery, certain ribs were removed from a patient to collapse parts of the lungs infected with tuberculosis and stop the spread of the disease. All patients operated on by Dr. Crimm responded to the treatment and survived.
Boehne Camp closed in 1967 as the threat of TB subsided. It was leased to Alcohol Help from 1970 to 1977, until a private citizen purchased the property. All of the former hospital buildings were razed in 2000, save the administration building, which has been remodeled into apartments, and Dr. Crimm’s home, which now is a private residence.
Reports of hauntings at Boehne Camp have been sporadic. Many claim to have heard the cries of patients who allegedly were held against their will in quarantine, though no reports of patient abuse exist.
A Deadly Adventure
The Reitz Home Museum, 224 S.E. First St.
The Reitz Home Museum along Southeast First Street possibly is one of the most iconic historic homes in the Riverside district of Evansville.
German immigrant John Augustus Reitz found himself along the banks of the Ohio River in southern Indiana for the clay, but soon turned his sights to the lumber industry. Reitz would start his own sawmill along Pigeon Creek in 1845 and soon after began the most successful lumber mill in the country, earning him the moniker “The Lumber Baron.”
John Augustus and his wife Gertrude built the French Second Empire architectural home in 1871 for their large family — the couple had eight children still living at home when the house was completed. In the decade following the family’s move into the home, only one other child (John Jr.) would marry and leave.
Though there have not been reports of the Reitz Home hiding ghostly residents, an occasional bump in the night or shadow in the corner may make you wonder — could a member of the Reitz family be stopping by now and again to check on the home? There have not been any tragic deaths in the residence; however, the Reitz family did experience a sad loss in the early 1890s.
Edward, the youngest Reitz, was said to have a taste for adventure. He was 8 years old when the family moved into the home on First Street. After leaving Saint Louis University without a degree in 1880, young Edward returned to Evansville to work as a clerk at his father’s business and reside in the family home. But he soon itched to be away from the confines of life in southern Indiana.
He settled in the Utah Territory and purchased the Pacific Hardware Company in 1891. Edward sold the business a year later to seek opportunities in mining ores. Later that year, Edward would start his next adventure to the northeastern part of that region. Traveling with two others, the youngest Reitz set out on the Green River to see if it was a viable shipping path for mined ore.
Swift rapids and rocks thwarted the journey. Floating behind his companions in a small boat, Edward was overtaken by the rapids. His boat was destroyed and his body lost.
His elder brother F.J. Reitz traveled to Utah when news reached the family about Edward’s death. F.J. offered a reward for the recovery of the body, which eventually was found 60 miles downstream from the incident, near Jensen, Utah. The family would lay him to rest in November 1892 in St. Joseph Cemetery.
Upon the death of John Augustus in 1891 and Gertrude in 1893, the remaining five children set about redecorating the home with late period Victorian furnishings and the latest technology of the time — electricity and indoor plumbing. The last Reitz to occupy the home was Christine, who died there in 1931.
The home has served many purposes since — a community center for the Daughters of Isabella, a residence for Evansville’s first bishop Henry J. Grimmelsman, and finally as a museum.
Perhaps nothing lends itself to spooky stories and occurrences quite like old wartime haunts — and Evansville’s LST-325 is no exception.
Launched on Oct. 27, 1942, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the LST-325 was part of the largest armada in history during the Normandy Landings in France on June 6, 1944. During that trip, she carried 59 vehicles, 31 officers, and a total of 408 enlisted men.
The ship ran supply trips between England and France before her return to the U.S. in March 1945 and subsequent decommissioning on July 2, 1946, in Green Cove Springs, Florida. However, the ship went back into service with the Military Sea Transportation Service in 1951 and assisted in Operation SUNAC (Support of North Atlantic Construction) to construct radar outposts along the coast of eastern Canada and Greenland.
In 1961, the LST once again was decommissioned but was reactivated in 1963 and transferred to Greece the next year. She served in the Greek Navy under the name Syros (L-144) until she was decommissioned for the third and last time in December 1999. The LST has called Evansville home since Oct. 3, 2005.
Though no deaths were recorded on the ship, a total of 13 crewmembers and passengers were injured in three separate attacks from German bombers and air raids in 1943. However, Rick Kueber from the Evansville Vanderburgh Paranormal group says a fatality doesn’t always have to be associated with a location in order to be haunted.
During an investigation of the ship, Kueber said he heard a person coming down a flight of stairs behind him only to turn around and find no one. He also said another investigation group working alongside EVP caught a partial body apparition on their DVR system..
Paranormal Penny Lane
600 S.E. Second St.
Among the claims to fame for 600 S.E. Second St. are many retail presences throughout the years, including Penny Lane Coffeehouse. However, the building might be even better known for the woman who once resided within — Annie Fellows Johnston.
The structure was built in 1886 and originally housed a pharmacy owned by William Levi Johnston. The architects were the renowned Reid Brothers, who also designed the Willard Library. William operated his pharmacy on the first floor of the establishment and lived upstairs with his three children before marrying his cousin Annie Fellows Johnston in 1888.
After the death of her husband four years later, Annie decided to turn her writing hobby into a career and published children’s and juvenile fiction. She became famous for many of her works, particularly her semi-autobiographical “Little Colonel” series about the aristocracy of old Kentucky, and was internationally loved. Her work, which sold million of copies and was translated into more than 40 languages, even inspired a movie starring Shirley Temple. This newfound success brought fame and celebrity to Downtown Evansville in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The building continued to operate as a pharmacy decades after the Johnstons. It next was owned by Dell Wolff as a pharmacy from about 1912 until 1952. During the 1950s, Lillian Kelley bought the property and operated her sundries shop, The Public Store. Its next reincarnation was as Johnny’s Café and Sid’s Corner Café. It then returned to retail when Bill Butler owned the building to sell glassware until 1986, passing the location on to Marcia Denton Pugh for her antique consignment shop, Cherishables.
During this time in 1989, three people were injured and extensive damage was done after a drunk driver crashed into the building after a two-car accident. The drunk driver and residents of the second floor were uninjured, but three people in the second car sustained injuries. After the closing of Cherishables, it became Penny Lane.
Today, people at Penny Lane have named the ghost believed to haunt the café Fletcher, although many believe it actually is Annie Fellows Johnston. Workers at the coffee shop have reported several strange occurrences like heavy items randomly falling off counters and lights turning on after being shut off. The store even had a visit from paranormal investigators who claimed to pick up on a young woman’s presence.
A Grey Legend
Willard Library, 21 N. First Ave.
When it comes to the spooky legends lurking in Evansville, none are circulated more than that of Willard Library’s Grey Lady.
Even without a ghost story to accompany it, the library is an awe-inspiring structure designed by Reid & Reid (the architectural firm also responsible for the iconic Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California, also reported to be haunted). Willard Carpenter began construction in May 1877, but he would never see the library finished — after suffering a paralyzing stroke, he died on Nov. 3, 1883, two years before the library opened.
The Grey Lady first materialized in the late 1930s, at about 3 a.m. in the basement before a night custodian. As the man trekked toward the library’s coal furnace to stoke the fire, he came across a figure he described as “an all gray lady with gray shoes and gray veil.” The janitor was so startled, his flashlight fell from his hands and the figure disappeared. A short time later, he resigned from his position.
One theory on the Grey Lady’s true identity is that she is Louise Carpenter, Willard’s daughter who reportedly was unhappy her father left most of his estate to the new library. Others are not so sure and suggest a former librarian may still roam the stacks of books performing her duties.
Whoever she may be, the Grey Lady is not an angry presence. Many times she is seen descending the grand staircase or moving about the children’s
department in the basement. She often moves furniture, pushes books from their shelves, or touches the hair or earrings of female patrons.
The (Former) Boetticher Mansion
407 N. First Ave.
Rick Kueber of the Evansville Vanderburgh Paranormal group says the house that used to stand at 407 N. First Ave. was one of the most active locations he has visited in the area.
Originally built in 1877 by businessman Edward Boetticher, the residence eventually became the “nest” of the Order of the Owls, a secret fraternal group founded in 1904 in South Bend, Indiana.
After moving to the building in 1923, the Owls remained in the house until the property was sold to Berry Plastics in 2012. In May of that year, the home was destroyed.
Before the home was razed, Kueber and his paranormal group conducted an investigation of the property. They had discovered the Boetticher family tragically lost four young children during their time in the house. The group brought old toys including an antique wooden train, a ball, and teddy bear to possibly engage with the spirits of the children and receive a response.
“It went quiet for a minute and then bang. It sounded like two hammers hitting together or something,” says Kueber. “I remember I got the audio out and listened to that clip, and the bang wasn’t there. Actually, you could hear I said, ‘Did you hear that? It sounded heavy and metallic.’ But the bang wasn’t there. There was this little kid’s voice, and it said, ‘You can’t find us.’”
The Ghost of Prudence Past
The Sherwood Home, 420 S.E. First St.
Marcus Sherwood arrived in Evansville in 1819 on a flatboat after leaving his family behind in Connecticut to start a new life. The thrifty 16 year old saved up money to buy a large flatboat of his own and eventually start a shipping business where he would transport items to New Orleans, Louisiana.
Fifteen years later in 1834, Marcus married Kentucky-born Prudence Johnson, who had been raised in a religious household. Her faith drove her to work toward the betterment of the community, aiding Marcus in his business and promoting the interests of the citizens of Evansville. Prudence also adopted and raised many orphan children and always extended her sympathy to the poor, needy, and sick.
The Sherwoods also kept their home as a place of rest and comfort to all. The house at 420 S.E. First St. was built in 1867 for the couple by contractors Sansom and Tennemeyer. The cost of the original build totaled $6,000 and was inspired by the architecture of the Old South. Marcus and Prudence also owned the Sherwood House Hotel at the intersection of First and Locust streets, which was destroyed in the early 1900s.
Prudence died on July 18, 1870, at the age of 62. Many say she suffered for 14 weeks before she succumbed to her illness but always remained positive and joyful.
The current owners of 420 S.E. First St. believe Prudence still haunts her past home to this day, keeping watch over the house and removing unsightly objects. After moving into the house, the owners set out to take down some wallpaper. The ladder they owned couldn’t reach the high ceilings, so they decided to buy a new one. However, a day later, they went to the basement and in the middle of the room found a mysterious ladder they had never seen before. Even stranger, the ladder was the perfect height to reach the ceilings. When they finally got started on the dreaded and (usually) time-consuming task, all of the wallpaper easily peeled off the walls and was completely removed within an hour.
Along with her particular taste in wallpaper, it seems Prudence also has strong opinions on mirrors. The couple decided to hang one in the former master bedroom. They say the mirror was beautiful, but the frame was old and ugly. One day, they heard a crash in the house and found the mirror had fallen from the wall. The mirror still was intact, the hooks solidly attached to the wall, and the wiring unbroken. However, the frame was in pieces.
The Shot Heard Round the Corner
1113 Parrett St.
The home at 1113 Parrett St. in Haynie’s Corner Arts District has its own incredible stories to tell outside of the ghosts alleged to haunt it today. The house was constructed in 1877 for the prominent and respected businessman Charles H. Kellogg, one of the founders of the wholesale hardware business Boetticher and Kellogg.
In 1905, Kellogg’s widow and son sold the home to Claude Maley, who would bring drama and tragedy with him to the residence. The most notable incident occurred in May 1929 when Margaret Maley, daughter of Claude, accidentally shot her companion Mrs. “Dodie” Green Conrad, described in the local paper as being a “pretty divorcee.” Both women declared Margaret was not aiming the pistol at Conrad and the shot was accidental. Conrad was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital where she remained in critical condition for several days. However, she rallied her strengths and eventually made a full recovery.
During the Maley era, the home became a popular gathering place, with parties often thrown for the socially elite. In 1929, Margaret became the sole owner and converted the building into two luxury apartments. Throughout World War II, the home was further divided into six apartments and fell into disrepair.
Eventually, Tony Vincent, owner of Tony’s Water Beds, decided to give up his antique car collection in order to purchase the property. He repaired much of the damage to the roof and interior caused by fire and vandals. In 1989, the building was sold to Jim Williams, the former owner of Holiday Travel Service, and Horst Galow, a German chef, who together opened a reservations-only restaurant called Kirby’s. The restaurant was later expanded through the purchase of the adjacent Thayer/Ragon House, which was joined to the property by a one-story ballroom.
Today, delicious food still is served up on the grounds through the Italian restaurant Sauced, owned and operated by Scott Schymik. The owner claims to have experienced some chilling instances in the house, such as hearing the sound of a child’s laughter while taking a nap. Thinking the child must have been in the room because of the clear and loud laughter, Schymik sat up only to discover himself alone in the house. There wasn’t even a single person on the street.
This isn’t the most popular ghostly occurrence, however. The most common sighting has been of a 9-foot-tall, skinny man dressed in a black suit and top hat strolling through the hallway of the old Kirby’s reception hall and kitchen.
Looking for more historical haunts during October?
Be sure to take a walk through these area ghostly tours.
Haunted Historic Evansville
Oct. 27-28 — With two haunted routes, this event takes curious travelers through Downtown Evansville and Haynie’s Corner Arts District.
Historic Newburgh Ghost WalksOct. 20-22 — Astonishing tales of the Civil War, the Great Depression, and Newburgh’s past await guests of this well-loved event.
Haunted New Harmony Paranormal Investigations
Oct. 21 — Take a peek in the dark corners of Community House No. 2 and the Fauntleroy Home in New Harmony, Indiana.
Haunts of Owensboro
Check website for dates — Haunts, hangings, and voodoo tales guaranteed to send chills up your spine make up these tours in downtown Owensboro, Kentucky.