by Matthew Gorman - October 2008
Last month's Campfire Tales started readers of this column on a haunted tour of the Midwest, otherwise known as the heartland of these United States. I had explained how an impressive six out of the top ten most haunted spots in the U.S. exist within midwestern states. So far on our ghostly gallivanting throughout the Midwest we've dropped in at the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis, Missouri, an edifice haunted by its former occupants, the tragic members of the wealthy Lemp family. Also in Missouri we explored the phenomenon of the enigmatic spook light that can be observed traveling through the dark of night near the town of Hornet.
Next, we hopped on up to the great state of Illinois where two more of the top ten most haunted locales make their home. Omitting from last month's article a description of Bachelor's Grove Cemetery in Midlothian, Illinois as it had been covered in depth in a previous installment of Campfire Tales ("Cemetery Spooks", Vol.6, Issue 62) we wrapped up the first portion of our Heartland ghost tour with the Hickory Hill Mansion in the town of Junction, Illinois where the tormented souls of tortured slaves still hold court. And now, ghost fans, without further ado, I bring to you the final two spine-chilling stops on our journey through the haunted Heartland. Cue eerie laughter.
Our penultimate stop on our haunted escapade takes us to the Buckeye state of Ohio. There in the small, unassuming community of Viscilla stands the J.B. Moore Family Home, a home that is known today by a far more sinister moniker, The Viscilla Ax Murder House.
In the dark of night on June 10th, 1912, Josiah Moore, his wife, their four children and two of the Moore children's friends who had been staying the night were brutally murdered while they slept in the family's home. The killer employed an axe that belonged to Mr. Moore as the murder weapon, but it was only Sarah Moore, Josiah's wife, who met with the sharp end of the deadly implement. It appears that all of the other victim's were actually bludgeoned to death with either the hilt or the flat side of the axe. And while it was the coroner's finding that a single blow killed each victim, in an overwhelming display of savagery the killer continued to pummel the faces of each victim with Josiah's axe until their skulls were shattered and their facial features were rendered nearly unidentifiable.
The graphic murders sent shockwaves throughout the tiny town, pitting neighbor against neighbor as suspicion abounded. But while there were several suspects during the course of the police investigation the crime was never solved. Fingerprinting was a fledgling science at the time and there was certainly no national database to rely upon, and DNA evidence had not even been imagined at that point in history. Thus, a crime that may have been easily solved in our modern age will likely remain forever shrouded in mystery.
After the grisly goings-on that occurred upon that fateful eve, however, it seems that the house has retained some phantom vestiges of the horror that occurred within its walls. Throughout the years tenant after tenant of the home have reported all manner of paranormal phenomenon within the dwelling.
During the 1930's, a young newlywed couple named Homer and Bonnie Ritner rented the home. Bonnie was first to become aware of the ghostly disturbances when she would awaken to what sounded like someone walking around inside the house at night. Not long after, she began to see the apparition of a man wielding an axe appearing at the foot of her and Homer's bed each night. Homer at first assumed his wife might be a bit hysterical until he began to experience the phenomenon for himself. The couple fled the home without even getting back their damage deposit from then owner, Bert McCaull. This occurred the very same day that Homer Ritner had gone to see his landlord at the Pool Hall McCaull owned to discuss his plans to vacate the premises. Upon this visit, McCaull produced a gruesome keepsake that he had somehow obtained, a piece of Josiah Moore's skull, from a cigar box that he kept behind his bar. After McCaull had relayed the events of that tragic night in 1912 to Ritner, Homer quickly returned home, gathered up his wife and their belongings and fled Viscilla never to return.
The hauntings continued throughout the years, including an incident in the late 1960's where a tenant claimed that while sharpening his pocketknife it flew from his grasp and then turned around in midair and stabbed him in the hand. The man also had two young daughters who frequently reported hearing the sounds of children crying in the house at night and how they would often find their clothing pulled from their drawers and strewn throughout their room.
Other reported phenomenon include moving objects such as falling lamps and ladders, a closet door that allegedly opens and closes on command, and a "Love Lies Bleeding" plant that bloomed for two years during a restoration of the house and died immediately after the work was completed. The Viscilla Ax Murder House is also said to be a hotbed for EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) and video evidence. In addition, psychics visiting the home have claimed to make contact with the spirits of the murdered family.
For the last leg of our journey we need not even leave the state of Ohio, our final stop is the United States Air Force Museum in the city of Dayton where many of the airplanes and helicopters on display there, vehicles once used in historical missions and battles, are said to be haunted by the military men of yesteryear.
The Hop-along is a military helicopter that was active in skirmishes during both The Vietnam War and in Korea, and the bloodstains of the pilot who was killed inside of the craft can still be observed on the seat where he met his end. Late at night janitors working at the museum have reported seeing his apparition inside the cockpit flipping switches as if he is still operating the whirlybird even decades after his untimely demise.
The Black Maria, another helicopter, was used to rescue soldiers during The Vietnam War as well as flying many secret missions. Its entire crew was killed when the craft was riddled with enemy fire and it is said that they still haunt The Black Maria to this day. At night their dying moans can be heard emitting from within and their phantoms have been observed inside the helicopter on numerous occasions as well.
The Strawberry Bitch is a B-24 that fought in World War II. Many staff members believe that the airplane is haunted by the phantom of a former gunner as the craft's belly guns are said to rattle inexplicably. A custodian working at the Air Force museum even claims that he was hit in the face by the ghost late one night. Strange lights often appear aboard The Strawberry Bitch as well.
The entire flight crew allegedly haunts another World War Two-era B-24, Lady Be Good. The men all perished when Lady Be Good was shot down in the Libyan Desert in 1943, but one member of the crew managed to walk an astounding 120 miles through the desert before succumbing to the elements! The ghosts of Lady Be Good's crew are said to wander through the entire museum in stark contrast to the majority of the museum's ghosts who tend to remain within their respective vehicles.
Bockscar is the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki, Japan. It is said that the phantom of a small Japanese boy can been seen running by the plane at night. Perhaps this specter is the embodiment of the suffering of the Japanese people in the wake of this tactically unnecessary atrocity.
Finally, a POW exhibit at the museum is said to make visitors feel physically ill and overcome by dread, although this might be a natural response to witnessing the trappings of such inhumanity.
Well Hell, I suppose that concludes our ghostly tour of the Heartland, a part of our country that I admittedly had little interest in exploring until finding out about the plethora of haunted spots that make their homes here. Now, I might just be planning a cross-country tour! I hope you enjoyed our little romp, my freaky friends. I bid you adieu with a reminder to keep your eyes, ears and also your minds wide open; the dead are all around us.