NORTH RIDGEVILLE - Three days after Tom Kelly purchased the former Century Tavern building, he started hearing footsteps on the floors above him when he was working alone inside.
At first he thought the steps were part of the music playing on the radio while he was working. “I turned the music to another song,” Kelly said. “But I still heard the steps.”
Kelly’s experience is, apparently, not an isolated incident at the 201-year-old tavern on Center Ridge Road. Previous owners and workers have experienced similar incidents dating back decades.
Kelly, owner of Carstar Auto Body Repair Experts next door, and his girlfriend Lynne Keller, a waitress and bartender at the Century Tavern about 11 years ago, have had other experiences they think might be ghostly.
So, who did the new owners call? You guessed it: ghostbusters in the form of five paranormal investigators from the Toledo Ohio Ghost Hunters Society.
Led by the society's co-founder, Harold St. John, the group searched the three-story building on a recent steamy Saturday night to see what they could find — or debunk.
St. John’s team consisted of case manager Rebecca McClenathen, investigator Carmen Kosmider, and her husband, Dan Kosmider, gauging the temperatures and electromagnetic pressure, and Jeff Keith on technical support.
The paranormal investigation team takes a scientific and objective approach to investigating paranormal activity through documentation and research and by using electronic equipment. During their investigations, team members collect data with photographs, audio and video recordings, electromagnetic field (EMF) readings, infrared thermometers and anecdotal reports.
Two producers of Toledo-based Boo Productions filmed the visit with three others who split into two groups with the investigators.
“I believe there are bodies buried there,” said St. John, who has been a paranormal investigator for 45 years.
"I'm an open-minded skeptic," he added. “I'm sure the building has seen a lot of sadness. It goes back to slavery, the Civil War and Prohibition in the early part of the 20th century — some illegal things likely were going on in there then.”
The building was constructed in 1818 and opened as a stagecoach inn by Philander Terrell about 1820, according to the North Ridgeville Historical Society. Travelers could enjoy drinks and meals before spending the night in one of three bedrooms on the second floor.
The building is also rumored to have been an Underground Railroad stop for slaves who used tunnels in the basement on their journey to freedom.
There are other tales that might explain some ghostly events. Two men were believed to be hanged in Sandusky for killing a woman who lived in the building in 1834. Their deaths came after the hanging of the woman’s husband, who was falsely accused of her murder. And at least two black children, believed to be boys, were allegedly shot and killed behind the building in the mid-1800s.
Oh, and let’s not forget the reported stories of a double-fatal stabbing inside the bar in the 1960s and a man dying after he fell down the basement stairs in the 1990s.
"We think there's a ghost in the basement and in the attic," said Debbie Akin, who was returning to her parents' former business and her former residence for the first time in nearly 25 years to help guide the investigators and explain some extraordinary paranormal incidents that happened to her years ago.
Akin’s parents, Larry and Maxine Wohleber, owned the bar from the early 1980s to the late ’90s. Akin lived above the business with her first husband and young son at the time. One night, she said her son’s electric battery-operated toy car started on its own and zoomed across the floor. She couldn’t turn it off. Another night, her husband was away on a hunting trip, and she heard snoring coming from behind a closed bedroom door. The deadbolt on the door to their home was locked.
“That was the scariest night,” Akin said.
When her dad and others drove past the bar at night after it was closed, they often saw the attic lights on. Wohleber would call Debbie and ask her if she left the lights on again. She would insist that it wasn’t her or her family turning them on.
Even at the age of 90, Grace Boehm well remembers the one “ghostly” incident she experienced when she and her husband, Pat, owned the bar, Pat and Grace’s, from 1971 to 1982.
“I was tired that night and told Pat I was going to go upstairs and lay down,” said Grace Boehm, who now lives in Florida. “When I was lying on the bed, all of a sudden, I heard this heavy breathing above me and just felt the presence of someone above me. Our dog, a Boxer named Baby, ran in the bedroom, jumped on the bed and started growling …
“Hearing other stories about how the bar supposedly was haunted, I just said, ‘Whoever you are, you better get out now and leave us alone because we’re good people,’ Boehm said. “I heard a loud ‘boom!’ like somebody fell or dropped something and was going to call Pat downstairs to ask what it was, but I thought he might tell me I was hearing things.”
“Then, when Pat came upstairs, he asked me what that loud noise was.”
Boehm also said her husband would leave a shot of whiskey on the bar for the ghost.
“Pat would always ask me if I drank the shot because when he went back down to the bar in the morning, the shot glass would be empty,” Grace said.
In the early 2000s, former bar manager Veronica Darby would place a burning candle on the bar and command, “If any ghosts are in here right now, blow the candle out to let me know you’re here.” Without a breeze or draft in the bar, the candle would go out, she said.
Kelly said that when he was sleeping after he heard the footsteps, he woke up and looked out a window of his nearby home and noticed that the sign in front of the tavern building was on. But he said he hadn’t flipped the switch.
Most recently, Kelly and Keller said their friends visited with their puppy earlier this summer to see how work was coming along on the building. Kelly plans to renovate the building and rent it for possibly another bar business.
When they went down to the basement, the 9-month-old German shepherd lost interest in jumping on them and started sniffing along the floor and stone wall where a tunnel had been blocked off. Suddenly spooked, the puppy ran up the stairs, sat at the top and wouldn't come back down, Kelly said.
During the investigation, St. John carried an Ovilus, a mechanical sensing device that allows the user to communicate with the dead. It works by using sensing equipment that measures temperature and electromagnetic fields. These readings are combined and each combination of readings corresponds with a database of words. The Ovilus then allows the deceased to speak the words.
The investigators asked questions in attempts to engage any spirits, such as “Why are you here? What do you want? Did something bad happen to you? Can you tell us your name?”
That night in the tavern, several names and phrases came through the “Spirit Box,” a piece of equipment that activates words from the split-second scanning of 250 radio stations. The name Nick was heard, as were “three, “alleged,” “open hand,” “It’s time,” “Bury me” and “Get out.”
TOGHS paranormal investigator Carmen Kosmider, participant Melissa Schneider and Boo Productions producer Jeff Schlachter said they felt something touch them in the basement.
“I felt a tug on the back of my shirt,” Kosmider said. “I turned around, but nobody was there.”
St. John said, “Carmen has been an investigator for quite some time, and she’s never said she was touched by anything during an investigation. I’m trying to figure it out. I would like to turn the claims that have happened over the years into explainable facts. We’ll see.”
Schlachter said last week after reviewing his findings that he and the ghost hunters will share information and possibly return to the building for further investigation this month.
When Schlachter and four other people in his group were in the basement, he said that one of his recorders picked up a voice that said, “Hear us.”
“It definitely was an EVP (electronic voice phenomenon), a voice that was caught on the recorder that we didn’t hear in the room,” Schlachter said. “We’re still sorting through stuff. There’s more questions than answers at this time.”
The former bar and restaurant was closed for about 18 months before Kelly purchased it from David Kaiser of Florida-based Sherry Tavern Inc. in May.
"I'm somewhat of a skeptical person, but I think something is going on in there," Kelly said. "We don't mind if there's a ghost here. Why is he here and what does he want? Or is there some unsettled soul who just can't completely cross over into the spiritual world they are supposed to be in?"
But will the Toledo Ohio Ghost Hunters Society deem the building haunted?
TOGHS investigators hope to have some answers soon.
"I want us to pick up a voice on one of my digital recorders or see a spirit appear on one of my full-spectrum video cameras," St. John said. “If we can pick up a disembodied voice … Spirits are real, and every now and then, we capture them.”
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