Lore lives on through local ghost stories

By Charles Cassady

Ghost stories are common to cultures throughout the world – and throughout the year. In old Japan, the “rakugo,” a wandering spooky bard, would recount supernatural yarns called “obake” on warm summer evenings. A stated intent was to raise gooseflesh (“torihada”) on the listeners, as a sort of forerunner to air conditioning.

In autumn and October, people eagerly join “ghost tours,” visiting authentic sites of chilling regional legends and lore. Those who have done the research say that the American city with the largest quantity of supernatural guided walking tours is Savannah, Georgia, followed by New Orleans and Chicago.

The latest ghost-tour business in Cuyahoga County to commence, in downtown Cleveland and Flats, are 2023 tours led by local author/genealogist/historian William Krejci; its perambulations can be found online at strangenspooky.com.

And of course, the nearer to home the scary stories get, the more delicious the fright. For who has time and gas money to go to Amityville, New York? Or even to the notorious Hans Tiedemann mansion (alias the Franklin Castle) in downtown Cleveland, where William Krejci lived, when dark rumors and spine-tingling accounts can haunt you right down the street? 

Here are some of the local rumors. Keep in mind that in the boo! business, actual facts are sometimes more tricks than treats, and the rise of the internet (just the latest version of tabloid media) has conjured many tall tales just for fun. Still, in the Halloween run-up, any ghostly gazetteer of Hinckley should have these sepulchral shades:

Hinckley Historical Society

The site of the Hinckley Historical Society, at 1634 Center Rd., was the former location of the Hinckley Town Library (until a new location under the Medina County Public System opened in 2003). And before that it was a private home, built in 1845 by the Stouffer family.

During its 1973-2003 career as a public library, the address had regional notoriety as an abode of ghosts, particularly a woman in an archaic blue dress and a man in a tall black hat. Tradition has affixed to the two phantoms the identities of Nelson and Rebecca Wilcox, a brother and sister who lived in a cabin that stood before the erection of the Stouffer house.

In the most famous yarn, one of the library administrators was sitting a traffic stoplight outside after hours one night and beheld a clear view of Rebecca – or at least a women in an antiquated, long blue gown – visible through the library window. She appeared to be seated on the library’s staircase. Supposedly, books and small objects were also regularly moved around by unseen hands.

Dave Manley, president of the Hinckley Historical Society, has heard all the tales during his 25 years with the group. “And I can tell you I’ve never seen anything, and neither have our officers.

“…The closest we’ve come is that in the Historical Society one of the rooms was set up as a classroom. And there was a dummy dressed as an old-fashioned schoolmarm. And it’s possible someone could walk in and be momentarily startled before realizing it was just a dummy.”

Now filled with memorabilia, publications and preserved archives of early residents, the Hinckley Historical Society perseveres, with preparations for Hinckley’s bicentennial year of 2025. Watch for the launch of a fresh website.

The Whipp’s Ledges “asylum”

“Does anyone know how to get here?? I spent the entire day in Whipps Ledges and found nothing,” goes a plaintive posting by “Josh” on the web forum GhostsOfAmerica.com. He was referring to an old mental institution moldering in what is now the Hinckley Reservation of the Medina County Metroparks. Now, goes the mythology, spirits of dead children peer from eldritch windows, disembodied voices echo in decaying cells, and a miasma of evil permeates the vicinity.

Other postings on the GhostsOfAmerica site proceed to describe the abandoned asylum in Hinckley in dungeon-esque detail. Still more complain they cannot locate it. But to Dave Manley, of the Hinckley Historical Society, the explanation is simple: people must be doing too many mushrooms.

There never was a mental institution in Hinckley, especially at Whipp’s Ledges – also known as Worden’s Ledges, for the pioneering family of Hiram Worden, an early landowner and specialist in stone carving, particularly tombstones (that could only have helped the legend along). Hiram Worden’s eldest daughter, Nettie, was 80 years old when she married a suitor of 63, a bricklayer named Noble Stuart. It is recorded that the union was much opposed by her friends and family. Nettie died after only a year of married life. She had title to the property, which was thus inherited by the much `younger’ widower Noble.

From 1944 the 1948, Noble Stuart did something that eclipsed the previous melodrama. In a burst of creativity, he began carving into the jagged sandstone cliffs that protruded in several striking formations on his real estate. Stuart sculpted out a sailing ship, a bust of baseball star Ty Cobb, a Bible, a sphinx, Hiram Worden himself, and more. Today many Whipp’s Ledges hikers pilgrimage to see the rather puzzling collection of folk art, whose cryptic presence has lent an otherworldly tinge to the trails.

The smallish, whitewashed Worden home stood until 2017. “We had custody of it for a while,” said the Historical Society’s Manley. “Then the [Cleveland Metroparks] did, but the parks wanted nothing to do with it and eventually tore it down.”

Manley thinks the abandoned house inspired the “asylum” rumors, as well as ill-remembered details of Noble Stuart’s life, plus a syndrome known well to folklorists wherein tall tales from one region somehow migrate to another.

Here, the ghost children recall the legends of Gore Orphanage Road in Vermilion (a long story; William Krejci explains it well), while the dilapidated asylum mirrors the Broadview Developmental Center in southern Cuyahoga County, a onetime VA, tuberculosis hospital and institution for the mentally handicapped that was torn down in 2006. It was also said to be quite haunted.

The hitchhiker in the raincoat

There are rumors that among the many issues with which Hinckley police have to deal, one is beyond the reach of mortal law enforcement.

On Highway I-71, which passes near the Hinckley-Brunswick border, a male hitchhiker with dark hair and wearing a light tan raincoat has been reported. Motorists who decide to offer the stranger a lift are startled when they pull up beside the man and see him turn transparent.

The “vanishing hitchhiker” is a classic ghost-folklore urban legend repeated all over the country. The usual version (dramatized on film, even in a vintage popular song) involves a fetching female hitchhiker of melancholy demeanor, who sometimes disappears from the back seat or asks to disembark at a cemetery. A twist ending often involves a left-behind garment or her bereaved parents revealing that she is a ghost. Hinckley’s vanishing hitcher seems at least more straightforward about it. ∞

Photo: The Hinckley Historical Society building, which once served as the community’s library, is said to be haunted by Nelson and Rebecca Wilcox, two siblings who lived in a cabin that was once located on the property. Photo submitted.