Did you hear that?” my daughter, Rosie, asks as we climb a wooden staircase in the Anchorage, a former mansion on the outskirts of Marietta, in southeastern Ohio. “It sounded like a low grumble.”
My thoughts suddenly shift from capturing pictures of the 22-room house, which sits atop a hill overlooking Marietta, to a black-and-white photo I saw in a previous room. Could the low grumble be coming from the ghost of the man wearing the white suit?
“Douglas Putnam,” I find myself saying aloud.
“What? Who?” says Rosie, tightly grasping the worn handrail.
“He’s the original owner,” I say. “But don’t worry. I think he’s a friendly ghost.”
History and hauntings
A healthy respect for the “other side” is well advised during a visit to Marietta, which dates to 1788 as the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory. History and hauntings go hand in hand here, as the city’s storied, well-preserved past provides ghosthunters a spooky year-round playground.
Hidden Marietta, a ghost-tour company that offers nine unique experiences around the city, documents the eerie locations where the past meets the present. There are ghost trek tours, a special flashlight tour of the Anchorage, a ghostly tour of the Lafayette Hotel, vintage photo-taking, sites for tarot card readings, even opportunities to use your own paranormal search equipment during overnight stays at the Anchorage, the Lafayette, and nearby Blennerhassett Island.
For some, it’s a scream vacation.
“I think there are a lot of people who are into ghosts and spooky stuff and just like to go out and hear the weird and unusual history, and that’s kind of where our passion is,” says Megan Keller, who co-owns Hidden Marietta with four other women.
Nowhere in the city is the relationship more prevalent than at the Anchorage, where we may or may not have run into Putnam — the great-grandson of Gen. Israel Putnam, who fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War. Douglas Putnam built the Anchorage in 1859 for his wife, Eliza. It’s now the home of the Washington County Historical Society and Hidden Marietta, and a portion of ghost-tour sales goes toward preservation of the old property.
Ghost sightings are common at the Anchorage, Keller says. Some report seeing children. Others see Putnam, once the wealthiest man in Marietta, wearing a top hat.
Douglas and his brother, David Putnam Jr., were well-known abolitionists in Marietta. “Douglas Putnam fought for the freedom of slaves and for equal rights for women,” Keller says. “Even in his 80s, he went around and petitioned for women to be able to attend Marietta College.”
The house served as a private residence until 1962, then operated as a nursing home for 23 years before it was acquired by the historical society.
Most who do see and hear a spirit there believe it’s Eliza, the original lady of the house, who died in the home three years after it was built. Her funeral was held there. Ghost hunters report seeing her wander about her beloved home, speaking in a soft voice or singing quietly.
Behind the scenes
There’s a lot to do in this pretty city. Earlier in the day, Rosie and I took a sightseeing tour aboard a mahogany trolley. We rolled along brick streets and passed impressive Victorian homes. We learned about the Start Westward Monument, commemorating the Northwest Territory’s creation in 1787; the Ohio River Museum; and the Mound Cemetery. The cemetery has an ancient burial mound, called Conus, at the center that’s surrounded by a graveyard brimming with the graves of more Revolutionary War officers than in any other cemetery in the country.
Harley Noland, operator of Historic Trolley Tours and a longtime Marietta resident, is a bit skeptical of all the supernatural hype. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” he says. “I give history tours in Marietta.”
Yet the area’s rich history makes it ripe for spooky tales. Hidden Marietta offers three ghost treks downtown, from June through October.
The original Front Street Ghost Trek includes a stop at the 77-room Lafayette Hotel, which was built in 1918. The ghost tour ventures into areas that are normally off-limits, such as the servants’ staircase and the basement. “I’ve never heard anything scary,” says Sheila Rhodes, general manager of the Lafayette. “It’s usually something funny or the ghost is trying to mess with you. If we have a ghost, it’s friendly.”
But the Lafayette’s third floor is one mysterious place. Former owner Durward Hoag and his family lived in the hotel’s penthouse, and rumor has it that he’s still watching over his domain. If you’re in Room 312, you might hear rumblings from Hoag’s son, who spent a lot of time there sobering up.
Or so it’s said.
The Lafayette’s ballroom is the site of the annual Paranormal Expo in January, when enthusiasts of the supernatural gather to share experiences and tour the area’s haunted offerings.
Everywhere you go in Marietta, it seems someone has a ghost story to share.
We met Tommy Hickey, chef at the Levee House. “From what I understand, at one time this was a brothel, and I guess this pretty wealthy oil tycoon used to come here and frequent the bar and then head up to the brothel. His teenage son didn’t like his father’s infidelity, so he cut his father’s head off with an ax.
“One night I was bent over the kitchen sink, and I saw something pass by the door. I thought it was customers, so I came running out, but there was nobody here. It’s happened to me four times.”
Once would have been enough for Rosie and me, but, fortunately, we made it out of the Anchorage unscathed.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Hidden Marietta, 424 George St., Marietta (at the dead end of George Street), is open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The Curiosity Shop is open 6–10 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Saturdays and offers monster- and paranormal-themed books, paintings, ghost-hunting equipment, spooky jewelry, and more.
The group offers a variety of regularly scheduled spooky tours on most weekends through summer and fall, including both daylight and flashlight tours of the Anchorage, behind-the-scenes tours of the Lafayette Hotel, and ghost treks through various areas of the city.
Call 740-538-8996 or mail firstname.lastname@example.org for information or to book a private tour.