Ghost Walk introduces locals to the characters of Kent’s haunted past

Mark Oprea

Editor’s note: This story was updated to make corrections on October 28, 2014.

In the middle of Parker Mathews’ ghost story, it sounded like a door slammed on the second floor of his 19th century home at 131 Columbus Ave. Parker’s 12 guests turned to him at the bottom of the staircase for an explanation.

“It must be the doctor,” he said.

Mathews’ Victorian-style home, which he is the third owner of, was first owned by physician Joseph Krape when the house was built in the 1860s. Then the doctor died.

Although it’s been more than a century since Krape passed, Mathews and medium Stephanie Allison said the doctor and his wife, Bessie, have not left.

“He’s still very much here,” Allison said. “Just a while ago, I saw him standing right here in our doorway, right in front of me. It scared me senseless.”

The home was just one of several stops on the annual Kent Ghost Walk held Friday, Oct. 10 and Saturday, Oct. 11. Guides dressed in black capes led groups via candlelit lantern on an hour-long tour along the Cuyahoga River and to bars, stores and manufacturing plants in Kent that claim to host spirits from another world. At each location, psychics, mediums and historians helped illuminate the not-so-normal stories of Kent’s haunted past. 

Before the tour began, Greg Janik, an employee at the Kent Stage, set the eerie tone for the moonlit walk that lie ahead. Standing on stage in the center of a cloud of fog, Janik told of his encounters with well-known spirits at the old Kent theater, including cranky “Woody,” and the nameless homeless man, who Janik said was murdered in the orchestra pit of the Kent Stage many years ago. In a harrowing tone, Janik sent participants off with a stern reminder.

“Be afraid,” he said. “Be very afraid.”

The first stop was The Empire of Magical Thought on Main St. In the back room of the spiritualist shop, which sells amulets and Tarot cards, sat medium Samantha Wilmoth, better known from her workplace Phoenix Rising. Wilmoth, in addition to giving impromptu readings of group members, told stories of those that haunt Empire as if she were talking about close friends. 

Wilmoth introduced groups to 9-year-old “Alice,” whom she said has a penchant for occasional mischief, “poking boys in the butt” being one of her favorite playful activities. And to ease the “caretaker spirit” Charlie — and his love of woman — Wilmoth and fellow employees of Empire like to leave the ghost a shot of whiskey — sometimes two.

“It helps calm him down a bit,” Wilmoth said.

Wilmoth also had some DIY tips for future harbingers of household spirits that may be bothersome, something, she said, that doesn’t require the assistance of a professional like herself. In actuality, she said spreading a few common ingredients around the house might be the fix. 

“If you’ve got a place of bad energy in your home, get out the sea salt, get out the sage,” she said. “You don’t need to pay someone to do it for you.”

After Wilmoth’s sound spiritual advice, groups moved on to hear Kent local Zak Ellsworth tell the story of “Mr. Gallagher,” a lucrative, late 19th-century businessman who, as the story goes, used to bury his savings in a dusty pickle jar behind the building Scribbles Coffee now inhabits. The current owners of the building got suspicious when they heard the sounds of feet dragging in the alleyway late at night. As far as Mr. Gallagher’s money, Ellsworth said, no such stash has ever been found.

“If you all are still curious, $5 will buy you a shovel,” he said to the group. “If you don’t mind digging.”

Groups also toured the factory-sized, vine-covered building on Gougler Avenue, currently home of Dale Adams Enterprises, Inc., a business dealing with metal shaping and vintage automobile restoration. After Adams and his coworkers began noticing misplaced machine parts and strange noises, the metal worker began to question his lifelong skepticism. Adams and his wife brought in MaryAnn Winkowski, a paranormal investigator popularly known as the Ghost Whisperer. She combed Adams’s shop from top to bottom, searching for “negative energy” and potential spirits. With nothing substantial after Winkowski’s diagnosis, Adams, and his dog Duke, don’t seem perturbed by anything haunting the century-old building.

This doesn’t mean the entire Adams family is ready to deny any ghostly existence.

“You’ll have to talk to my wife about that,” Adams said. “She’s more into it than I am.”

After a dark walk along the Cuyahoga River, groups stopped at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Gougler Ave. to hear about several appearances of the pastor, often seen in the stain-glassed windows by ushers who’ve wandered around the altar past service hours.

At the Secret Cellar, chefs and hostesses told guests about storage items hopping off shelves in the office and spirits wandering around the bar area. Jessica Cox, a chef at the Secret Cellar, told groups about an experience she had one night prepping in the kitchen by herself. Walking out to the bar area after chopping onions, Cox froze when she heard the sound of a knife hitting against her cutting board. Both her and the bartender, she said, were freaked out.

“It literally shot a chill right up my spine,” Cox said. “I was like, ‘If I am out here, then who is in the kitchen chopping?’ Needless to say, I was not going back in the kitchen.”

Even at the Pufferbelly, one of the last stops of the night, interactions with the inexplicable are frequent for photographer Jason Noble, whose studio occupies the top floor of the once-functioning train station. Noble’s run-in with the ghostly kind ranges from flickering lights to a jukebox that turns itself on in the early morning hours. One time, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” started blasting from the restaurant, something “really, really cool” for the paranormal enthusiast, he said.

Noble, who admits he’s captivated by the other-worldly presence, told groups of his curiosity with a recurring spirit in the train station. Noble claimed to have captured on film Mrs. Elmer Elgin – a woman who used to spend hours looking out from the top-floor window – who died sometime in the late 1800s. He showed groups a photo that depicts the apparition of a woman in a voluminous Victorian skirt, a dark shadow in his dimly-lit hallway. Even a veteran photographer like himself couldn’t falsify the picture by restaging it.

“Being a photographer, my inclination is to debunk everything,” Noble said. “But with my 18 years of photography experience, we were unable to recreate the image.”

For many investigators that have flocked to the historic Kent Stage and the Pufferbelly — both well known in ghost hunting circles — in the past, the notion of “debunking” paranormal activity comes first on the agenda. Many go to great lengths to find out the truth behind other-worldly experiences.

Among many of the paranormal investigative societies throughout the Midwest is the Munroe Falls Paranormal Society, one of the largest groups of its kind in Ohio. Eric Haney, the founder and lead investigator at MFPS, who was present at Friday’s Ghost Walk, said that his team of 16 investigators takes a “scientific approach” to uncovering the truth behind ghost sightings and haunted houses. With a supply of costly EMF readers and radiation detectors, Haney and his crew note that certifying any odd activity as “other-worldly” is actually the last choice on their assessment.

Rather than shove off criticism from non-believers, Haney said a similar mindset is actually beneficial to the goal of his group. In fact, he nurtures doubt readily. 

“There’s a healthy dose of skepticism that all of us have,” he said. “And I like to say that I encourage skepticism. Because until we get in there on the scene, and debunk whatever it is, or declare the case paranormal, we try and first prove that whatever the cause is is logical.”

Haney and his group of ghost hunters, along with the psychics, mediums and empaths — individuals able to read emotions easily — that work in Portage Country, prove that investigating the unknown can be a serious business, a skilled pursuit to find out the timeless mystery of what happens after death.

For psychic and empath Luna Hart, who was a part of the Ghost Walk, investigating abnormal energy and communicating with the spiritual world is much more than just a hobby. For Hart, the mystery behind the unexplainable is why this is her life.

“There is so much more to life than what lies outside our own heads,” she said.

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected].