Haunted St. Louis
THE GEHM HOUSE
The House on Plant Avenue
Aside from the Lemp Mansion, there is probably no haunted house in St. Louis as famous as that of the former Henry Gehm house in Webster Groves. This private residence is located along the 300 block of Plant Avenue, a quiet suburban street where nothing much out of the ordinary happens. If you were driving along this street, with no hint of the history of the homes here, it is unlikely that you would imagine any of them to be haunted. One of the houses though hides a secret. It is a house and in most ways, it is simply a house like all of the others on Plant Avenue. There is one difference however, this house is haunted.
Bart Adams originally built the house on Plant Avenue as a summer retreat in 1890. As mentioned though, it is best remembered as belonging to its second occupant, a slightly eccentric man named Henry Gehm, who resided in the house from 1906 to 1944. Gehm was involved in the railroad car business and his company was actually responsible for building the first gondola car. He also leased many of his cars to traveling circuses, which all journeyed by rail in the early 1900’s. Because of his connections to the circus folk, many have come to believe over the years that Gehm was somehow involved with that business, but this is apparently inaccurate. It is also not true that Henry Gehm died in the house on Plant Avenue. Despite tales to the contrary, he died an excruciating death from cancer of the spine and passed away in a hospital.
There is a part of the legend of the house (the importance of which will be apparent later in our study) that was true though and it was that Gehm did hide gold coins in various places around the property. He was said to have often dealt in gold coins and because of the bank failures during the Depression, he preferred to keep his valuables at home. This story about Henry Gehm was told and re-told so many times over the years that even the current owners have been plagued by visitors to their home who ask to look for "buried treasure".
But what of the ghosts? And how did this come to be considered such a haunted house?
The ghostly tales that have made this house famous have their beginnings in 1956, when the S.L. Furry family purchased the house. It was Fannie Furry who first noticed some of the peculiarities about the new house. It started quite suddenly and eerily as Mrs. Furry began to be awakened each night, literally shaken awake by unseen hands, at precisely 2:00 in the morning. On one occasion, she clearly heard a hammering sound on the headboard of the bed that was so loud that when she turned on the light, she expected to see that it had been broken and splintered into pieces. However, it looked as though it had never been touched. Soon this strange sound, as well as the shaking, was joined by the sound of something beating against the windows as night. She could find nothing that could be causing the noises.
One morning, she came downstairs to find that a heavy light sconce that had been attached to the wall was now mysteriously lying on the floor. These strange incidents were followed by the sounds of footsteps that paced up and down the stairs, day and night, as if someone were looking for something and could not find it. The footsteps always ended on the upstairs landing. Fannie would have assumed that the sounds were nothing more than her imagination if she had not experienced the other bizarre happenings. Odd things continued to happen, often involving other members of the family, including her skeptical husband.
The years passed and the Furry’s managed to get used to the strangeness of the house. Too much work, money and care had gone into the place for them to simply give it up and they were reluctant to admit that they could be chased out by a ghost. A wave of shock must have passed through the parents though when their three year-old daughter suddenly spoke up with a chilling question one morning at breakfast. "Who is the lady in black who comes into my room at night?" she asked them. Her mother demanded to know what lady she was talking about, as they had received no visitors, and the little girl replied that she was an old lady in a black dress who led a little boy with her by the hand. A little later, she began to speak about the lady in black again. She told her mother that the lady would sometimes spank her with a broom, "but it doesn’t hurt".
As any parent would be, Mrs. Furry was upset by these new and startling revelations. After nine years of residing on Plant Avenue, the Furry’s found another house and moved. The house was once again for sale but it didn’t remain empty for long.
In November 1965, the Walsh family rented the house and moved in with two of their three children, ten year-old Wendy and 20 year-old Sandy. They had not been told anything about the house by the previous residents and noticed nothing about it that was out of the ordinary... at least at first.
A short time after moving in, Clare Walsh was preparing dinner one night in the kitchen. She was alone in the room except for the family dog, who suddenly began to behave very strangely. She glanced over to see the animal cowering and shaking with fear. Disturbed, she tried to see what was causing the animal to behave in such a way and that’s when she saw the image in the doorway. It was white and hazy and roughly the same shape and size as a person. It shimmered into the living room, wavered for a second and then vanished. She was immediately convinced that she had seen a ghost!
After a little time passed, Clare put the apparition in the kitchen out of her mind, especially after nothing similar happened in the days that followed. She couldn’t forget about the weird sounds that seemed to roam the house at night though, or the unmistakable presence that she felt in the house with her. After one more night of footsteps roaming up and down the stairs, she became determined to find out about the background of the house.
She broached the subject with a neighbor couple over dinner in February 1966. She casually asked them if anyone in the past had ever mentioned anything odd about the place. When questioned herself, she confessed the weird things that had been happening, including the footsteps that wandered through the house. It’s almost like they are searching for something, she added.
The neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Kuru nodded in understanding. They told Clare that they had almost bought the house she was living in a couple of years before but the man who lived across the street had talked them out of it. He had once been a frequent guest in the home and had been there often enough to come to believe the house was haunted. The Kuru’s then decided to buy the house next door instead. Clare continued her investigation by talking with the man across the street. He had his own ideas about what was going on there. He explained that a past owner of the house had hidden valuables in a number of places all over the house. He was convinced that the man’s ghost had come back and was now searching for the treasure.
Clare began watching for out of the ordinary things to happen in the house and she remembered that the attic door refused to stay closed. She began searching the area and discovered that the stairs to the attic had a step whose tread would lift off, revealing a hiding place beneath it. Perhaps the stories of secret hiding places and treasure were true?
In the days and weeks to come, Clare kept a careful eye on the attic door. On one occasion, Mr. Walsh came down with the flu and slept in a separate bedroom from his wife. While Clare was resting, she heard the attic door open and close four times during the night. More time passed and Mrs. Walsh, her husband and her children continued to hear footsteps and the door to the attic creaking open. Once she realized that the empty hiding place was there, Clare began to realize that the steps on the stairs paused at that tread each time. The following morning, the attic door, which had been securely closed the night before, was standing wide open.
One morning, Clare went up to the attic and closed the door again, then continued preparing breakfast in the kitchen. For some reason though, she had the urge to return to the attic again. She found the door once again standing open and she stepped into the room that they had always just used for storage. The last time that she had seen it, everything had been carefully arranged, but on this morning, Clare was startled to find that everything had been moved about. The heavy chest of drawers that was sitting against one wall had been opened and one of the drawers was hanging loosely on its slide. Clare stepped over to it and saw that it was filled with blueprints. She picked up one of them and saw the name at the bottom that said "Henry Gehm."
Strange events continued to occur. The footsteps went on marching up and down the stairs at night. One morning, the breakfront in the dining room was found open and the drawers had been re-arranged. Clare’s dresser was found open and her clothing scattered one morning. This seemed to mean that her youngest daughter’s account of seeing someone opening and closing her mother’s dresser was true after all. Oddly, she later learned that her and her husband’s bedroom had once been the bedroom of Henry Gehm. If it was his ghost who was searching the house, perhaps he had mistaken her furniture for his own and had gone through on a quest for his missing gold coins.
The family began to discuss the situation. As far as they could tell, there were at least two ghosts in the house. There was the man with the solid feet who searched the house (Henry Gehm?) and apparently a child. Of course, the Walsh family had no idea about the woman in the black dress that had been seen by the Furry’s daughter or the little boy that she led about by the hand. More months passed and the incidents continued. The door to the attic swung open and closed, the footsteps wandered the staircase, muffled cries were sometimes heard in the darkness, a typewriter in Wendy’s room began operating by itself, lights turned on and off and the family dog, who had been a peaceful animal during the entire seven years they had owned him, had become an addled and frightened shadow of his former self.
It finally got to be too much for the Walsh’s. The ghosts could have the place if they wanted it. The Walsh’s decided that they would build a new house, an "unhaunted" one, that no one else had ever lived in before. They never planned to inherit the ghosts of previous owners again!
Soon after, they contacted the owner about their intentions to leave and as soon as their new home was completed, they moved out. Even on the last day though, they heard the sound of footsteps climbing the stairs, pausing at the hidden tread and then fading into oblivion.
Today, the house on Plant Avenue is owned by June and Robert Wheeler, who have raised three children in the home and rescued the place the place from the dim prospects of rental property. In addition, they have also researched the history and haunts of the house and have corrected some of the myths and misconceptions of the place, like the fact that Henry Gehm was not the builder of the place and that he did not work for the circus. They were also able to track down the fact that he often used gold coins and had apparently hidden them around the house.
The Wheeler’s have no doubt that the house is haunted and at one time, had a dog who behaved in the same way the Walsh’s dog once acted. He would sometimes stand at the top of the stairs, nose pointed and tail in the air, as if he were glaring at something that no one else could see.
Their son, Jack, also once saw the apparition of a man in old-fashioned clothing in his bedroom and also reported (long before he knew anything about the haunted history of the house) that he had been awakened in the night by his bed shaking. The other members of the family have had experiences of their own, including strange sounds in the attic, moving bed covers, indentions on the mattress and a hazy shape that appeared one day in the pantry and had June Wheeler convinced that someone had dumped flour all over the floor. She was stunned when the white haze vanished!
And so the haunting of the house on Plant Avenue continues. Is one of the ghosts here Henry Gehm? Or is it another phantom altogether? And who are the other spirits? Are they Henry’s wife and perhaps a child who perished long ago? Records do show that Gehm lost a six year-old grandson during the time that he resided in the house. Could he still linger here, perhaps looking for a playmate among the children who have come here over the years?
The mysteries remain.. as does the reputation of one of the most renowned haunted houses in St. Louis.
Webster Groves is a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri and the Gehm house is located in the 300 block of Plant Avenue. The exact location of this private residence has never been released.
© Copyright 2002 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
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