I've known Lonna Kingsbury for almost a decade and if she says a place is haunted, I believe her. Lonna is an artist, actress, and writer who has been involved with many arts projects in the Cincinnati area over the years. One of her current projects is an acting role. She plays Catherine Colin, the wife of abolitionist Levi Colin, in a production at Heritage Village called Cincinnati’s Runaway Slave. The drama, now in its fourth year, tells the stories of the escaped slaves who made their way to freedom during the Civil War via the Underground Railroad, and the people, such as the real-life Colins, who aided them along the way. Catherine Colin hid runaway slaves in the cellar of her house.
There could be no better location for the production of the play than Heritage Village Museum, located in Sharon Woods Park in Sharonville. Here, eleven authentic nineteenth-century buildings have been collected from all around Ohio, re-creating a village complete with a church, doctor’s office, general store, railroad station, and several homes of different styles. The Runaway Slave drama moves from building to building, completely engaging the audience in the drama.
In September 2002, Lonna was at a play rehearsal at Heritage Village. The cast was assembled in the church, which is at one end of the village. Lonna was to be interviewed on television the next morning in costume, so she left rehearsal early and made her way to the Hayner House, where the costumes were stored.
“It was dark,” Lonna said, “and the Hayner House was way at the other end of the village. I could see the white columns in front of the house dimly glowing in the distance.”
Lonna was alone as she crossed the village and stepped up onto the porch of the Hayner House.
I had visited Heritage Village many times in the past, especially during Christmas, when the village is decked out in its holiday finery and hot cider and cookies can be found in the Hayner House. At those times, the Victorian-style house would be ablaze with lights and decorated with ribbons, bows, and Christmas trees.
But I had never been there alone on a chilly September night, when the house probably looked more like something out of a Charles Addams cartoon than it did a welcoming abode from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
I could imagine Lonna fumbling with the key in the dark as she unlocked the door.
“I’ve been in and out of that place so many times that I know my way around by heart,” Lonna said. “I wasn’t afraid.”
She had been told by someone in the cast that her costume was hanging in a closet in the center room on the ground floor. She didn’t bother with a light since she knew her way around so well. When she opened the closet, her costume wasn’t there.
“I stood there for a moment, wondering where else it could be, and that’s when I heard the sounds,” Lonna said. “I heard party talk, voices and laughter. I heard the clinking of glasses.
“My first thought was not of ghosts. I just thought people were in the house having a party. I turned on the lights. I could still hear the party sounds, so I went to check it out.”
Lonna went from room to room, flicking on lights as she went, but she could not find anyone. Still, the laughter and voices persisted.
“Now I was sure that someone was playing a joke on me, someone from the cast. I was calling, ‘Come on, guys, come on out,’ as I went around the house, but nobody showed up. I could still hear the sounds. I went through the entire house. Nothing. Yet, there was a party going on that I wasn’t privy to. Finally, I went back to the front door and stepped out on the porch. There was no one outside the house either, and that’s when the realization that I had actually been alone all the time hit me. I went back inside for a moment, but there was only silence. The party was over. At the other end of the village the other cast members were still at the church, but here I was entirely alone.”
Sometime later, Lonna told the others what had happened to her at the Hayner House. They all denied any knowledge of the event, but none of them were at all surprised.
“You have to remember that all the buildings at the village came from somewhere else and that each of them have their own particular histories,” Lonna said. “Who knows what happened inside them or what stories they could tell?”
Lonna said that other people working at or visiting the Hayner House have felt cold spots in the upstairs offices that cannot be attributed to air conditioning or drafts. Psychic researchers recognize such cold spots as evidence of a ghostly presence. It is also not unusual for the lights at Hayner House to turn themselves off and on at will. Electrical disturbances are also associated with ghosts who may “feed” off electrical sources.
People have also heard footsteps walking back and forth on the second floor of Elklick house, the house that is used to portray the Colin house in the Runaway Slave production.
“There is one man in the cast who won’t go inside Elklick house unless someone is already inside or goes with him. He’ll wait outside the house until someone shows up,” Lonna said.
No one knows the identity of the ghosts that may be producing these phenomena in Heritage Village, nor has anyone yet attempted to research the ghostly history of the various buildings. Since ghosts frequently become active when their environments are damaged or altered in some way, especially through renovations or remodeling, there could very well be ghosts at the village. After all, how disrupting would it be to have your home ripped off its foundation, with you in it, and hauled many miles away to be turned into a museum?
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