By Marjorie Hopkins
Special to the Tribune-Star
“It’s creepy and it’s kooky, mysterious and spooky, it’s all together ooky,” the Wa-bash Va-al-ley!
Believe it or not — words similar to the old “Addams’ Family” TV show theme song are not far from truth in describing this region that seems to have a high concentration of the paranormal in its legends and modern-day stories — from documented bigfoot sightings, to a long-distance phone call made from inside a tomb, to a ghost at a cemetery you meet after climbing 100 steps — if you dare to count them! Even our state parks have a few notorious spooks within their seemingly peaceful wooded wonderlands.
So, if you’re in the mood for a good fright, some spine-tingling tales and a scream or two mixed in, check out these popular spooks — or spoofs — of the Wabash Valley!
Below are just a few — in no particular order.
‘The Dark Fantastic’
One mile west of Bellmore, in the 1860s, tales of strange happenings brought people from everywhere to view a house that even from its beginnings had unexplained incidents. This story is actually told in a book written by author Margaret Echard and published in 1947 by Doubleday. The house belonged to Echard’s great grandfather and his family. The book’s introduction reads: “In my great-grandmother’s house in Indiana, shortly after the close of the Civil War, a series of extraordinary events transpired which were never satisfactorily explained. The house was [renown] for its hospitality and witnesses were not lacking to testify to the strange disturbances that in time became legend. Those disturbances are recorded in this novel as the subject experience of the characters, and to that extent the work is founded on fact.”
During the building of the home, it is said that tools would disappear overnight and turn up in unexpected places, a chimney that was built one day was found demolished in the morning but the really strange things took place once the house was inhabited. Legend has it that one night all the clothes from the house were found wrapped around the trees outside, apparently sucked out through open windows and wrapped tightly around the trees — much too high to have been a prank and on limbs too small to hold a human. The house became a major point of interest to locals and travelers alike and the happenings have never been explained. Although the house is long gone, the legend lives on and is preserved in “The Dark Fantastic.”
Long distance call
A popular scary tale prevalent in the Wabash Valley is the legend of the long distance phone call — made from inside a mausoleum and from a dead man! Terre Haute Superintendent of Cemeteries Lennie Snyder confirms the published versions of Martin Alonso Sheets. Snyder said Sheets, in the 1800s, was apparently a man who was terrified of being buried alive. So, in an effort to avoid that, he had a telephone installed in his mausoleum at Highland Lawn Cemetery. Not only a telephone, Snyder said, but a rocking chair, side table and a bottle of whisky.
The plan was, according to legends, that if Sheets was somehow mistakenly buried alive, when he revived, he would make a call for a ride and while waiting for his ride, he would sit and have a drink! Several years later Sheets’ widow was found dead in their home in a hallway beside a telephone that was off the hook. Apparently some startling call had induced a heart attack. When Mrs. Sheets was interred, the story says, and the mausoleum opened, the phone inside beside Mr. Sheets was also off the hook. Was the heart attack producing call from her long dead husband? Legends say it was! Snyder has his doubts. “Sometimes stories can get really embellished through the years,” he laughed.
100 Steps Cemetery
One Hundred Steps Cemetery is a secluded graveyard that sits high above the road with many gravestones dating back to the 1800s. Old, broken stone steps lead up to the cemetery, giving this graveyard its nickname. Legends say that if you dare count the steps to the top, the ghost of the graveyard’s first caretaker will appear and show you the manner of your death. If you count the steps down and the number doesn’t match the number you counted ascending, the prophecy of your death will come true.
There are no longer 100 steps but probably at least 60 steps that are in decent shape. The rest are broken or buried. Reports are many of people being pushed to the ground on their descent by an unseen hand as well as other “spooky” happenings. If nothing else, the secluded, eerie setting of the graveyard, especially at night, is enough to spook a person!
This cemetery, officially known as Carpenter’s Cemetery, is located in Clay County, just west of Indiana 340 and U.S. 40 on County Road 675. It is reportedly well-watched by local officials, especially in October. So beware!
Cemeteries often hold an aura of fright about them, and One Hundred Steps Cemetery does not stand alone in its haunted reputation. In this area you can also check out Poland’s Zion Church Cemetery that is supposedly haunted by a ghost that runs out in front of passing cars apparently trying to prevent them from entering the graveyard. And Boone Hutchinson Cemetery in Reelsville reportedly has a ghost of a 1950 police officer who guards the cemetery carrying an eerie blue light. There is also the Crying Baby Cemetery in Rockville where people throughout the years have reported hearing a mother screaming and her baby’s crying response in the empty graveyard.
Located in Diamond, near 100 Steps Cemetery on a lightly traveled road, an old viaduct, highly marked with graffiti, is one of the legendary Hell’s Gates. Stories tell of a train derailment that resulted in a host of spooks left in this place to haunt. If you drive into this single-lane tunnel, stop your car and flash your lights three times and continue through the tunnel, turn around and go back through stopping midway and waiting for up to 10 minutes, reports abound of spirits knocking on your car windows, blood running down the tunnel walls and mumblings from ghosts. If you see your name begin to glow on the wall, you will surely die by morning, according to the legend. The really dangerous part of Hell’s Gates is if someone tries to sit in the dark in this viaduct because it is a one-lane tunnel — you could very well meet your death that night in a car accident!
Stiffy Green, a.k.a. Stiffy Green Eyes, is one of the oldest and most popular of spooky tales from the Wabash Valley. It is told that this little bulldog was the pampered pet of John Heinl of Terre Haute florist fame. Heinl became alone in life except for his “faithful” companion Stiffy Green who guarded him by day and by his bedside at night. They were said to be inseparable companions and were seen nearly every night walking the streets of Terre Haute. Friends never approached, though, as Stiffy was adamant and ferocious about protecting his master. When Heinl passed, the dog was said to attend the funeral and graveside ceremony at Highland Lawn Cemetery where he was then adopted by a family member. He would not stay in his new home but faithfully made his way back to the mausoleum over and over again until Highland Lawn Cemetery workers decided to build him a house behind his master’s resting place and to care for him so he once again could be next to his master.
Within several years, Stiffy too died, and family and friends were said to have had the little dog stuffed so he could remain by his master’s side even in death. It is said that through vandalism the dog disappeared, but nighttime visitors to Highland Lawn reportedly often hear the little dog barking near the mausoleum and see the shadowy figures of a man and his little dog with piercing green eyes walking the cemetery on a nightly constitutional.
In actuality, Stiffy Green currently lives in the Vigo County Historical Museum at 1411 S. Sixth St., in Terre Haute. Museum Director Mary Lee Hagan said they try very hard not to burst too many bubbles; “We try to let people down very gently,” she said, “but Stiffy Green was never a real dog.” He was and is concrete! Stiffy, Hagan said, is a concrete lawn ornament that sat on the family’s porch. The Heinl family moved him from the Heinl home out to guard Mr. Heinl’s tomb when the elderly gentleman passed away. But vandalism, some of which damaged one of Stiffy’s green glass eyes, caused the family to move him to the Vigo County Museum where he now guards Mr. Heinl’s replica mausoleum — faithfully. There are however, Hagan added, reports of people hearing a barking dog at the Heinl mausoleum on dark nights in the cemetery — and sightings of glowing dog eyes and shadowy figures of a man and dog walking the cemetery. So, the somewhat-changed legend lives on.
The blue hole
Most are familiar with the phrase “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Well, the appropriate line for a three-acre lake outside of Prairieton would be: “pirates and ghosts and monsters, oh my!” From reports of it being a bottomless pit that sucks visitors into its deep blue hole to Wabash River pirates storing gold and treasures in its banks and alleged caves to being a Chicago mobsters’ one-time hide-a-way, this seemingly peaceful lake has spooky legend after spooky legend attached to it. Other stories include the lake being a source of disposing of dead bodies to the home of a monster similar to “Nessie” of the Loch Ness tales.
Common throughout the country are bigfoot sightings, but the Wabash Valley has had more recorded than its share. As recent as 2001 near Terre Haute, it is said that bigfoot walked the Wabash Valley. Reported sightings of a giant ape-like creature with up to 18-inch footprints — and sometimes families of these huge creatures — have been spotted among the woods and peaceful byways of Indiana and the Wabash Valley since 1839.
In 1972 on a farm in Roachdale, a farmer and his wife reported that a bigfoot laid siege to their entire farm. In the 1970s there were reportedly 35 sightings of these hairy, large creatures. In 1980 there were 34 claimed sightings in Indiana with one being near the White River in Vincennes. In 1990 there were 18 recorded sightings in Indiana, and in 2001 a bigfoot family was reportedly sighted in Seelyville, right outside of Terre Haute. Be on the watch! October could be a perfect time for a new sighting with the leaves off the trees, a crispness to the air and a cold winter on the approach. Bigfoot could be in search of winter supplies!
Shades of Death Park
The book “Weird Indiana” tells of the legend behind the state park we know today as Shades State Park. According to authors Mark Marime, James A. Wills and Troy Taylor, Shades was not originally named as such because it was a peaceful shady place, but was called “Shades of Death.” Two legends tell of a horrific past for this now quiet area. The first story tells of a young wife of an early settler who had been abused by her young drunkard husband until she couldn’t stand it any longer. Once when she found him in a drunken stupor she returned that abuse by striking him in the head with an axe. The husband was reportedly buried in the woods we know as Shades. There are also stories of a bloody battle between the local Miami Indians and another unnamed Indiana band. The legend is that a battle of more than 600 men took place in the Shades woods and when it was over only 12 men remained. Either story explains well how it came to be known as “Shades of Death.” Gate attendant Jenna Page says not many people seem to be aware of the eerie tales. Even though, it can get kind of spooky at night in the park and the trees can make eerie shadows, Page admitted and laughed a little. But she went on to say “I’m a country girl and I’m not scared of too many things.” However, a light-hearted camping trip to the area might take on a whole new meaning after hearing these bloody tales!
Not be outdone, nearby Turkey Run Sate Park has its own spooky tale of death in the woods. The Indian Under a Rock tale explains that one of the last Indians to remain in the area had become a transient and went from home to home to seek food and shelter.
An unwanted advance at a young woman in her home brought her husband to such anger that he hunted the Indian down in the woods now known as Turkey Run, where he shot him. The Indian fell to his death but was trapped under a rock near the river and was left to decay. “Haunted Hoosier Trails” author Wanda Lou Willis suggests it might not only be because of safety the park warns of no swimming in the river; it could possibly be because the Indian’s spirit is still there seeking revenge for his ill fate.
Not only are our state parks a source of spookiness, but our colleges also are alive with tales of the creepy. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Indiana State University and DePauw University all have their tales of horrors and hauntings.
To name a few, check out the Faceless Nun, Barfing Barb and the Ghost of Governor Whitcomb in the fore-mentioned books or search online for more information on those tales.
Spook Light Hill
Near the town of Diamond on Indiana 362 between Rosedale and Brazil, a legend exists of a father with a lantern searching for his daughter who is said to have met her fate during the horse-and-buggy days when a shortcut home through the woods ended with an accident that decapitated her.
Some have reported seeing a moving light in those woods when facing Indiana 59 on the third hill. It’s said that if you flash your car lights three times and then turn them off, you can see the father with that lantern searching for the girl.
Spooks or spoofs? You decide. But in the end you might find that: “It really is a scr-e-am - - - the Wa-bash Val-la-ly!”
There are many other “ghostly” legends — from Linton’s Poor Pollie to Greencastle’s Locust Hill to Parke County’s Peek-A-Boo Ghost to the Preston House to the Wabash River’s Indian Orchard. There are far too many local tales with an edge of eerie to list in this story. You can check them all out in the books “Weird Indiana,” “Haunted Hoosier Trails,” “Hoosier Folklore,” and at the following websites:
You also can check out a file on local folklore and legends at the Vigo County Public Library in the archives. This file is scheduled to be digitalized and at some point might be unavailable for a short time, according to a library spokeswoman.