For years, the gothic mansion known as "Franklin Castle" has been called the most haunted house in Ohio. During its long and strange history, the ghost stories have become an integral part of the lore. For years, tales have been told of doors that explode off their hinges, lights that spin on their own, electric circuits that behave erratically, the inexplicable sounds of a baby crying and even a woman in black who has been seen staring forlornly from a tiny window in the front tower room.
There are many ghosts here, the legends say. But what dark deeds caused this house to become so haunted? Are the stories of the murders committed here actually true, or the stuff of legend?
Franklin Castle is an eerie structure of dark and foreboding stone that has long been considered a spooky place by architects and the general public alike. There are over thirty rooms in the castle's four stories and the roof is designed in steep gables that give the place its gothic air. Secret passages honeycomb the house and sliding panels hide the doorways to these hidden corridors. It is said that a thirteen-year-old girl was once murdered in one of these hallways by her uncle because he believed her to be insane. In the front tower, it is told that a bloody ax murder once took place and it was here that one of the former owners found a secret cabinet that contained human bones. The Deputy coroner of Cleveland, Dr. Lester Adelson, who examined the bones shortly after they were found in January 1975, judged them to be of someone who had been dead for a very, very long time. Did they date back to the years of the original owners of the house?
It is hard to separate fact from fiction at Franklin Castle but we do know that a German immigrant named Hannes Tiedemann built the mansion in 1865. Tiedemann was a former barrel-maker and wholesale grocer who had gone into banking. This new source of wealth allowed him to spare no expense in building the house and he soon moved in with his wife, Luise. Over the next few years, Luise gave birth to a son, August, and a daughter, Emma but life in the mansion was never really happy. By 1881, it had become tragic.
On January 16, 15 year old Emma died from diabetes. In those days, death from the disease came as a horrible, lingering starvation for which there was no cure. A short time later, Tiedemannís elderly mother, Wiebeka, also died in the house. Over the next three years, the Tiedemannís buried three children, one of them just eleven days old. Rumors began to spread that there may have been more to these deaths than was first apparent.
To take his wife's mind off the family tragedies, Tiedemann enlisted the services of a prominent architectural firm to design some additions to the mansion. It was during this expansion that the secret passages, concealed rooms and hidden doors were added to the house. Gas lighting was also installed throughout the building and many of the fixtures are still visible today. A large ballroom was also added that ran the length of the entire house and turrets and gargoyles were also incorporated into the design, making it appear even more like a castle.
The hidden passages in the house also hide many legends. At the rear of the house is a trap door that leads to a tunnel that goes nowhere. Another hidden room once contained a liquor still, left over from the Prohibition era. During the 1920ís, the house was allegedly used as a speakeasy and warehouse for illegal liquor. The most gruesome secret uncovered in the house came from another of the hidden rooms. Here, an occupant found literally dozens of human baby skeletons. It was suggested that they may have been the victims of a doctorís botched experiments or even medical specimens, but no one knew for sure. The medical examiner simply stated that they were "old bones".
On March 24, 1895, Luise died at the age of 57 from what was said to be "liver trouble". Rumors continued to spread about the many untimely deaths in the Tiedemann family, especially when Hannes married again a few years later. By that time, he had sold the castle to a brewing family named Mullhauser and had moved to a grander home on Lake Road. The following summer, Tiedemann decided to vacation at a German resort and there he met (or some have suggested became re-acquainted with) a young waitress named Henriette. He quickly married the woman and lived just long enough to regret it. He divorced her and left her with nothing.
By 1908, Tiedemannís entire family, including his son, August and his children, had passed away. There was no one left to inherit his fortune or to comfort him in his old age. Tiedemann died later that same year, suddenly stricken while walking in the park one day. It is believed that he suffered a massive stroke.
Tiedemann's death did not end the speculation about strange events in the house however. Legend had it that Tiedemann had not been the faithful husband that he appeared to be. There were stories of affairs and sexual encounters within the vast confines of the house that were only whispered about. Tangled in the distasteful stories were also rumors of murder.
One of the bloody tales was told about a hidden passage that extended beyond the castleís ballroom. It was here that Tiedemann allegedly killed his niece by hanging her from one of the exposed rafters. The stories say that she was insane and that he killed her to put her out of her misery. But itís possible this was not the truth because others maintain that he killed her because of her promiscuity. He discovered her in bed with his grandson, it is said, and she paid the ultimate price for this transgression.
Tiedemann is also said to have murdered a young servant girl on her wedding day because she rejected his advances. Another version of the story says that the woman who was killed was Tiedemannís mistress, a woman named Rachel. She accidentally strangled to death in the house after Tiedemann tied her up and gagged her after learning that she wanted to marry another man. Itís possible that Rachelís spirit is the resident "woman in black" who has been seen lurking around the old tower. Former residents say that they have heard the sound of a woman choking in this room.
More blood was spilled in the house a few years later, after the Mullhauser family sold the castle to the German Socialist Party in 1913. They used the house for meetings and parties, or so it was said. However, the legends of the house maintain that the Socialists were actually Nazi spies and that twenty of their members were machine-gunned to death in one of the castle's secret rooms. They sold the house fifty-five years later, and during the time of their residence, the house was mainly unoccupied.
It is believed that they may have rented out a portion of the house however, as a Cleveland nurse recalled several years ago that she had cared for an ailing attorney in the castle in the early 1930's. She remembered being terrified at night by the sound of a small child crying. More than forty years later, she told a reporter that she "would never set foot in that house again."
In January of 1968, James Romano, his wife, and six children moved into the house. Mrs. Romano had always been fascinated with the mansion and planned to open a restaurant there, but she quickly changed her mind. On the very day that the family moved in, she sent her children upstairs to play. A little while later, they came back downstairs and asked if they could have a cookie for their new friend, a little girl who was upstairs crying. Mrs. Romano followed the children back upstairs, but found no little girl. This happened a number of times, leading many to wonder if the "ghost children" might be the spirits of the Tiedemann children who died in the early 1880's.
Mrs. Romano also reported hearing organ music in the house, even though no organ was there and sounds of footsteps tramping up and down the hallways. She also heard voices and the sound of glass clinking on the third floor, even though no one else was in the house. The Romanoís finally consulted a Catholic priest about the house. He declined to do an exorcism of the place, but told them that he sensed an evil presence in the house and that they should leave.
The family then turned to the Northeast Ohio Psychical Research Society, a now defunct ghost-hunting group, and they sent out a team to investigate Franklin Castle. In the middle of the investigation, one of the team members fled the building in terror.
By September of 1974, the Romanoís had finally had enough. They sold the castle to Sam Muscatello, who planned to turn the place into a church, but instead, after learning of the building's shady past, started offering guided tours of the house. He also had problems with ghostly visitors in the mansion encountering strange sounds, vanishing objects and the eerie woman in black.
He invited Cleveland radio executive John Webster to the house for an on-air special about hauntings and Franklin Castle. Webster claimed that while walking up a staircase, something tore a tape recorder from a strap over his shoulder and flung it down the stairs. "I was climbing the stairs with a large tape recorder strapped over my shoulder," Webster later recalled and then told how the device was pulled away from him. "I just stood there holding the microphone as I watched the tape recorder go flying down to the bottom of the stairs, where it broke into pieces."
A television reporter named Ted Ocepec, who also came to visit the castle, witnessed a hanging ceiling light that suddenly began turning in circular motions. He was also convinced that something supernatural lurked in the house. Someone suggested that perhaps traffic vibrations on the street outside had caused the movement of the light. Ocepec didnít think so. "I just donít know," he said, "but thereís something in that house."
Muscatello's interest in the history of the house led him to start searching for the secret panels and passages installed by the Tiedemann's. It was he who made the gruesome discovery of the skeleton behind the panel in the tower room. This discovery apparently had a strange effect on Muscatello as he started becoming sick and lost over thirty pounds in a few weeks. He was never very successful at turning the place into a tourist attraction and eventually sold the place to a doctor, who in turn sold the house for the same amount to Cleveland Police Chief Richard Hongisto.
The police chief and his wife declared that the spacious mansion would make the perfect place in which to live but then, less than one year later, abruptly sold the house to George Mirceta, who was unaware of the houseís haunted reputation. He had bought the castle merely for its solid construction and Gothic architecture. He lived alone in the house and also conducted tours of the place, asking visitors to record any of their strange experiences in a guest book before leaving. Some reported seeing a woman in white, babies crying and lights swinging back and forth. One women even complained of feeling like she was being choked in the tower room. Strangely, she had no idea of the legend concerning that room and the death of Tiedemannís mistress.
Even though he had a number of strange experiences while living there, Mirceta maintained that the castle was not haunted. If it was, he told reporters, he would be too scared to live there. "There has to be a logical explanation for everything," he told an interviewer.
In 1984, the house was sold once again, this time to Michael De Vinko, who attempted to restore the place. He claimed to have no problems with ghosts in the house but surmised that it may have been because he was taking care of the old place again. He spent huge sums of money in restoration efforts. He successfully tracked down the original blueprints to the house, some of the Tiedemann furniture, and even the original key to the front door, which still worked. Even after spending all of the money though, the house was put back on the real-estate market in 1994.
The castle was sold again in 1999 and the new owner once again attempted to restore the place, even after an arson fire damaged it badly in November of that same year. Work continued throughout his ownership, as he hoped to open the place once again for tours. But had the blood-soaked past of the house left a mark that was still being felt in the present? When asked if the castle was really haunted, the owner admitted that he was not sure that it was, or if he even believed in ghosts at all. However, he did say that many of his friends and family have had had odd experiences here. "Most of them involve either unexplained sounds, or difficult-to-describe feelings."
He added that the castle was not a scary place, but it was a little creepy, especially in the middle of the night. "I've heard strange sounds and hoped to see something or hear something that would prove to me that ghosts exist, but so far it hasn't happened," he said. "So far it's been no spookier than sleeping alone in any old house that creaks in the wind or has rattling pipes."
According to a July 2003 edition of the Cleveland Plains-Dealer newspaper, Franklin Castle sold once more and the new owner, a local land developer, has hopes of converting the place into a social club. When completed, he also plans to offer ghost hunters a chance to spend the night in this legendary haunted house, using the new bed and breakfast facilities that are scheduled to open in May 2004. We'll keep you updated about what we find out!
©Copyright 2003 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
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