WEST UNION, Ohio - At least three ghosts are said to haunt Adams County, according to a local historian.
According to newspaper columnist Stephen Kelley, a ghostly apparition was reported to have been seen at the old jail in West Union and another at the old Wickerham Inn, located between Peebles and Locust Grove. A third ghost supposedly haunts an old house outside Manchester, said to have been used for a counterfeiting operation.
The old jail, located at the corner of Market and Cross streets, was completed April 23, 1895.
The "new" jail was then built with living quarters for the sheriff and his family in the front of the building and two floors of jail cells in the rear, including a segregated cell to house women prisoners, a feature no other county jail possessed at that time. Sheriff Marion Dunlap and his family were the first of 20 sheriffs to inhabit the structure.
The jail was less than two years old when rumors of hauntings started. According to a Dec. 10, 1896, story in the Defender, "Ever since the jail was completed, numerous stories have been related by different prisoners from time to time about the hair-raising sights and unnatural noises that would be seen and heard within the prison walls."
The prisoners' encounter with a "spook" is retold in Kelley's Oct. 6, 1999, column.
"Several prisoners claim to have seen a white-robed object flitting through the corridor past their cells. Big Foot Howell, the Manchester desperado, while in jail here, related to some of the prison attaches that he had seen the apparition a number of times and that one night it stopped before his cell and blew out his lamp." The article further described Howell's encounter with the "spook" which reportedly occurred on the evening of Dec. 8, 1896.
"Several weeks ago the alleged ghostly manifestation subsided to a great degree, and of late very little has been seen or heard of the jail ghost. Tuesday night, however, the spook reappeared in all its frightfulness and proceeded to go through with some of its gyrations that spread terror among the inmates of the prison."
"George Wood, a colored prisoner, and Charley Bradley, occupy adjoining cells. About ten o'clock as they relate, an apparition robed in white, glided swiftly down the main corridor and stopped in front of Wood's cells, reached in a long, thin arm and wound its icy fingers into his woolly locks and almost pulled his hair out by the roots. (Wood) gave vent to an unearthly scream."
"The spook then passed to Bradley's cell and leaned forward and blew out a lamp that was sitting on a small table in a corner next to the corridor. This caused Bradley to utter a yell as loud, if not louder than the one made by (Wood). The cries attracted the attention of Sheriff Dunlap's son, Henry Dunlap, who came upon the scene with a lantern," Kelley wrote.
Henry Dunlap reportedly found the two prisoners (with) neither of the two able to utter a response to what happened "to fright them so." It was several minutes before he could get an intelligible account of what happened.
"Dunlap remained with the two prisoners nearly two hours before they had quieted down, and even then they implored him to remain with them until morning. Mr. Dunlap is satisfied from the frightened condition in which he found Wood and Bradley, they either saw an apparition of some character," Kelley wrote.
According to his Oct. 13, 1999, column, the old jail was reported to be haunted to that day.
"Workers there report strange noises including music coming from nowhere, lights being turned on when no one is present, the elevator moving from floor to floor with no one getting on or off of it, and other odd occurrences."
The current jail and sheriff's office adjoins the courthouse and was completed in 1975. The old jail now houses the Adams County Health Department, the county engineer and state auditor offices.
But Kelley, who said he worked in the old jail for about 12 years, said he personally never heard noises that couldn't be explained.
"But supposedly, in the 1960s or maybe the 1950s, one of the inmates did hang himself and some people say, well, maybe that's the ghost," he said Wednesday.
Kelley also first wrote about the ghost of Wickerham Inn, also known as Wickerham Tavern, in 1982 but wrote again about the ghost in October 1998. The inn is located about 2 miles north of Peebles on Ohio 41.
"Many have claimed to have personally seen the strange specter, although most witnesses demand anonymity," he wrote. "All attest to seeing the ghost of a man - a headless man - who haunts the old Wickerham Inn to this very day."
The story began in the early 1900s when the inn was used as a stagecoach stop. According to Kelley, Zane's Trace, on which the inn was located, was not initiated until 1906. Stagecoaches on the path were discontinued through Adams County in 1842. The driver was reportedly passing through on his way from Maysville to Chillicothe, Ohio.
"… One evening as the stage pulled to a stop in front of the inn, a new stage driver was observed by the keepers of the hostelry. After the evening meal was finished, this new driver retired early to his room on the second floor. Reportedly, he was carrying a large sum of money on his person. During the dark hours of the night, a disturbance in the driver's room was heard by some of the guests. Despite this commotion, no one investigated the matter."
The next morning at the breakfast table, other guests noticed the driver was absent and someone was sent upstairs to find out why.
"A gruesome sight was uncovered in the room. Blood stains were splattered on the walls and on the bedclothes. The furniture was in disarray and a large pool of blood was soaking into the floor. Mysteriously, the driver could not be found," Kelley wrote.
A rumor began that the stagecoach driver had been brutally decapitated and his head thrown into a nearby pond. Shortly after his murder, neighbors began claiming to see an apparition in an upstairs window of the inn in the outline of a headless man.
In 1922, when the inn was being renovated, owners were amazed to find human bones in the old cellar under the home. The owners discovered a skeleton with the exception of a skull, Kelley wrote.
"The mystery of who perpetrated this ghastly malefaction remains today. The person or persons responsible for the driver's death and macabre burial will probably forever remain unknown. And the ghost? He continues to prowl the premises of the old wayside inn seeking his severed head and, perhaps … vengence!"
Kelley said former owner Virginia Webb Wolfe, who inherited the inn from the Wickerham line of descendants, renovated the house with her husband and found the bones. Wolfe passed away just a few weeks ago, he said.
"When I was interviewing her, she asked me if I wanted to see them. She had them in a box under the bed," Kelley said.
He said he also spoke to a man who lived in the inn who claimed to see a blue light pass from time to time in the window of a second-floor room built specifically for stagecoach drivers.
Kelley said Adams County resident Ada Young, who is still alive and once lived with her family in the inn, told him she remembered seeing her mother scrubbing the floorboards of the second-floor room.
"She was trying to get those bloodstains off the floorboards," he said.
Kelley said he has heard rumors of the ghost that haunts an old house outside of Manchester allegedly used for counterfeiting in the mid-1850s.
The house, located on Gift Ridge overlooking the Ohio River, is said to contain secret rooms and actual presses used for counterfeiting.
"Some Cincinnati investigators caught onto it and one got into the house but he was bludgeoned or shot, depending on which version you go with, and his bloodstains could be seen on the wall," Kelley said. "… The unfortunate policeman supposedly haunts the house."
Eventually, the plaster on the wall was replaced to remove the unsightly stains, he said.
Kelley said he was interviewed in November 2000 about the rumored incident for a two-hour counterfeiting documentary To Make a Buck for the History Channel.
Kelley has written "Legends and Landmarks of Old Adams" for the past 22 years.