Haunted Portage: Tales of Ghosts and Witches Abound
By STEVE WIANDT and Briana Barker Reporters
Oct 28, 2018 at 12:01 AM
Ghosts and apparitions appear all year round, according to believers, but tales of haunted happenings seem to hit fever pitch around Halloween.
Local paranormal historian Richele Charlton said Kent is a hotbed of ghostly activity, and it has been for a long time.
“Much of the downtown area is haunted,” said Charlton, who has been involved in the Kent Ghost Walk for 11 years. “Kent’s long and varied history and the Cuyahoga River help to create an atmosphere conducive to spirit activity.”
Three tribes of Native Americans called the area between Kent and Streetsboro home. Early settlers opened mills along the river. A canal system ran through the city, giving way to the railroad. During prohibition, Kent had a mafia and a corrupt police chief as liquor was illegally moved in and out. The 1970s brought more unrest as students protested the Vietnam War.
“There were families that moved here and called Kent home,” Charlton said. “As with most families, there were times of great happiness and times of sorrow.”
In addition to Kent Ghost Walk, Charlton helps organize Kent Paranormal Weekend. She works with several paranormal teams including the Haunted Housewives which leads the Kent Paranormal Ghost Hunt each year. The team was a winner in the Travel Channel Paranormal Challenge, Charlton said.
Charlton said she believes the Kent Stage, located at 175 E. Main St., is the most haunted building in the city. There is a group of spirits that haunts the 91-year-old theater on a regular basis, she said, and other ghosts have come to visit. She and her husband, Tom Simpson, own and operate the theater which is primarily a concert venue but also shows movies.
“The guardian spirit of the theater is, Woody (Albert DeVos), who passed away on Christmas Eve in what is now used as the Green Room,” she said. In a YouTube video posted by EctoVision Paranormal, Charlton tells of an incident where invisible hands prevented her from walking into the theater’s basement where there was flooding and shoe could have been electrocuted.
Charlton said there is a large “shadow man” named Thomas that guards the theater wings and has been seen by hundreds of people, a “perky” spirit named Josephine that used to “live” in an apartment above the theater but now spends a lot of time in the dressing rooms.
The Empire shop, located just up the street at 135 E. Main St., is also “very haunted,” she said.
“The original owner of the building met his demise when he tried to run across the railway tracks late one evening, tripped and was hit by a departing Erie locomotive,” Charlton said. “His spirit is there as a caretaker along with the ghost of a young girl by the name of Alice Ann.”
According to Charlton, the Kent Historical Society, located at 237 E. Main St., has a “wonderful” group of caretaker spirits. “It is a fantastic place to explore and check for energy,” she noted. Many of the other businesses and homes surrounding the downtown area have paranormal happenings, as well, Charlton added.
There are spirits along the banks of the Cuyahoga River, too, she said, and sometimes haunted walks are held on the boardwalk at night. Those are called History, Mystery and Murder Walks.
Stories of haunted houses often last longer than the structures themselves. A Portage Pathways column published in the Record-Courier five years ago by then-editor Roger DiPaolo tells about one of the first buildings in Ravenna that was erected in 1809 on what is now Park Way near the present site of Ravenna City Hall.
Known as the old yellow house, the home was considered a grand building in its day, but later became known as a haunted house. By then it had been relocated to South Meridian and Maple Lane. Among its owners after it moved was Dr. Isaac Swift, Ravenna’s first doctor who ran a drugstore uptown for 45 years.
Swift and his wife opened their home to a young lady who was being treated for a disorder that may have been epilepsy, according to the column. According to one account, one day while the Swifts were away, the woman hanged herself from a rafter in the upstairs room where she was staying.
Her body was found hanging 10 feet from the floor by a caretaker who said he had heard “groans of distress” coming from the room, but upon his arrival the woman was dead.
“Shortly thereafter, the Swift family told their neighbors of strange noises coming from the vicinity of the room,” according to an account shared by historian John Lowrie, one of the founders of the Portage County Historical Society. “Rattling windows, moaning sighs, creakings, rustlings, and shrieks, enough to drive anyone out of their mind. The Swift family moved, but the legend of the lady ghost remained.”
Another reportedly haunted Ravenna site is the former Record-Courier office on North Chestnut Street. Circulation Manager Gary Hurst recalls hearing stories from various staffers that the building was haunted by a ghost named Lydia Lord Davis, daughter of the original owner of the home. The building was a private home, then a funeral home, before becoming the newspaper office.
Hurst said that while he never experienced any such activity, he remembers stories from people who claimed to see an apparition, or who felt chills on the back of their neck while in the basement.
One of those was Laura Nethken, community news coordinator for the Record-Courier. She recalled that she sometimes could hear footsteps walking along the hall upstairs if she was in the old building very early in the morning. One time, wondering if there was someone else getting an early start at work, she went upstairs to see who might be in the office and found no one.
“It was very creepy,” she said.
Davis, an educator and missionary, died in Oberlin at the age of 85, in 1952. It is unclear why people think she haunts her former Ravenna home. The building, now vacant, served as a recording studio for a time after the Record-Courier moved to Kent.
According to the Ohio Exploration Society, screams, both low- and high-pitched, can be heard coming from the woods on Streeter Road in Mantua at all hours of the night. Witnesses claim to have been chased from the woods by an invisible entity and some have seen red glowing eyes that quickly vanish. However the group doesn’t specify where along Streeter Road these apparition exist, as Streeter Road runs from Nichols Road west to Route 44.
Several websites suggest that a witch was buried in or near West Branch State Park and now haunts the area. One former resident of the area said more than 20 years ago when she was growing up in the area, boys used to bring girls into the area to make out, with the tale of a witches grave, but she never knew if it was true. Legend has it that a woman accused of being a witch was killed by stones being placed on her body until it was crushed and then her grave was also covered by stones that over time have settled and scattered. People have claimed a woman in a black dress and scarf can be seen running or roaming through the woods.
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Thank you to David for notifying us of this article that appeared in the Record-Courier, and to Steve Wiandt and Briana Barker for including the Ohio Exploration Society in their article.