Keeping up with the local ghosts: Experts share their experiences with the local afterlife

2013-10-03T09:30:00Z 2013-10-08T13:08:07Z Keeping up with the local ghosts: Experts share their experiences with the local afterlifeJane Ammeson Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
October 03, 2013 9:30 am  • 

Ghosts abound in Northwest Indiana if you know where to look. Here are some spooky stories about our area.

When Mignon and Kevin Kennedy bought an old farm house in Porter County, they did so because they liked its beauty and history. Or at least the history they knew. During renovations, their contractor had more information to share.

“He said to us, I know this house, it’s in a book called Haunted Indiana,” recalled Kennedy. “I got the book and there was a very long chapter on this house.”

Indeed, there were so many tales about the house that Kennedy can’t remember them all though the one that stands-out is a red headed boy who might be a poltergeist.

But in all the years they’ve lived there, nothing untoward has ever happened. No apparitions, dramatic changes of temperature or ghostly touches.

“Well, we did have one thing odd happen,” said Kennedy, trying to be helpful. “We had just set up our entertainment system and the radio went on though neither of us had turned it on.”

Kennedy also almost added to the lore of the house. People sometimes just knock on their door after reading stories about the house.

“One time I was upstairs, and I heard my husband talking to some high school students who were doing videos of haunted places and they’d come to our house,” she said. “So, I started making ghost sounds.”

Unfortunately her ghost act wasn’t successful.

“The kids looked at my husband and he shook his head and told them it’s just my wife,” she said.

Mark Wilkins, author of the Haunted Indiana series as well as his most recent Haunted Travels of Indiana which is a collection of different public places people can visit that are said to be haunted, follows up on the ghost stories he hears. And that’s a lot.

Wilkins recalls his Folklore class professor saying search as you might, you’d never find enough ghost stories in Indiana to write a book. But Wilkins, writing under the penname of Mark Marimen, has found more than enough. Besides the four volumes of Haunted Indiana, he’s also written other books as well like "Weird Indiana: Your Travel Guide to Indiana's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets and School Spirits."

Though he said ghost stories are like children and you love them all, Wilkins does seem to favor the spirit of Wilhelmina Stallbohm, a perpetual resident of the 1910 Kaske House, now the home of the Munster Historical Society and Museum located at Ridge Road and Columbia Avenue.

“She was an amazing woman, very bright, a friend of Helen Keller,” said Wilkins. “The story is she never left the house though she died in the 1930s. One time a boy was cutting the grass and complained about the woman who stared at him the whole time he was doing so. But of course the house was empty so it had to be Wilhelmina. And she played piano and people often her piano music though the piano is broken.”

Originally, the site was the location of a tavern built by David Gibson in 1837. Eight years later, the Brass family brought the property, building a large, two-story inn known as the Brass Tavern. That building burned down on Halloween night in 1909 (how spooky is that?!) and the Brasses built the home currently standing in that spot.

Wilkins also said both the Porter County Museum of History in Valparaiso and the Lake County Courthouse are known for their spectral visitors.

“In the 1930s, Crown Point was the marriage capital of the U.S,” he said.

So, it makes sense that one of the courthouse ghosts is a young woman dressed in 1930s garb who stands gazing out the window looking for a groom who will never arrive.

“In the 1920s, the Barbee Hotel was a hangout for Al Capone, Baby Faced Nelson and other gangsters,” said Mary Kittrell, Executive Director of the Kosciusko County Convention and Visitors Bureau, about the century old hotel on Barbee Lake in Kosciusko County, Indiana. “There are all sorts of stories and through the years both staff members and guests have stories to tell such as a man sitting in the booth at the bar who suddenly isn’t there, unexplained cold spots and the sounds of a woman crying. I’ve seen photos of hazy faces and orbs.”

Probably the most haunted room is 301 where Capone always stayed.

“The cleaning staff say that they smell cigar smoke when changing the room but there are no cigars and no one staying there who smoked cigars,” said Kittrell, noting that when Capone called to say he was on his way all other guests had to leave, pronto.

The sobs of a woman crying might belong to one of the gangsters’ girlfriends.

“The Barbee was where they brought their girlfriends and not their wives,” said Kittrell. “One gangster took up with the girlfriend of another gangster, and he killed her.”

Richard Lytle, Local History Librarian at the Hammond Public Library, President of the Hammond Historical Society and author of "The Great Circus Train Wreck of 1918: Tragedy Along the Indiana Lakeshore," said he’s often contacted by people with ghost tales to share. Of all those, few seem credible. But there was one…

“She lived in a home in North Hammond that during Prohibition had a speakeasy in the basement, and the bar was still there. She’d sometimes see a soldier dressed in a World War I uniform down there.”

In a subsequent conversation, Lytle talked to a son whose father, a World War I army vet, had frequented the speakeasy.

“I was thinking, he must have had such a good time,” said Lytle, “that he decided to stay.”

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