When Jonas Seaman migrated from new Jersey to Ohio in 1803 and opened The Golden Lamb Inn on Broadway in the newly-platted village of Lebanon, he could never have imagined that more than two hundred years later his establishment would still be offering food and lodging for weary travelers. Nor could he have imagined that some of his guests, even after so long a period of time, would still be there.
But they are.
Much has been written about The Golden Lamb, and for good reason. The whole parade of American history not only passed by the inn’s doors, it stopped to rest awhile. The inn has hosted ten U.S. presidents: John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, both Benjamin and William Henry Harrison, Grant, McKinley, Hayes, Garfield, Taft, and Harding. Other notables who have stayed there include: DeWitt Clinton, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Horace Mann, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Clement Vallandigham, William Dean Howells, Cordell Hull, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and James Whitcomb Riley.
Some of these people have left more than just their signatures in the guest register. Their spirits still occupy the rooms of The Golden Lamb.
One such spirit is that of Clement L. Vallandigham, a celebrated U.S. congressman from Ohio during the Civil War. Vallandigham rose to fame as the leader of the Peace Democrats, a group that in 1863 issued a statement declaring that the war “against the South is illegal, unconstitutional, and should not be sustained.” The Peace Democrats, and other anti-war groups collectively called “copperheads,” were seen by the government as obstacles to the war effort, and every attempt was made to silence them.
General Ambrose Burnside, commanding the Department of the Ohio, issued a general order that any person committing “expressed or implied” treason would be subject to a military court and could be punished by death or banishment. His first test case was Vallandigham.
Shortly after he gave an inflammatory speech in Mount Vernon, Ohio, on May 1, 1863, a party of soldiers came to Vallandigham’s house in Dayton in the middle of the night, knocked down the door, and dragged him away, leaving behind his hysterical wife and sister-in-law. His arrest set off violent civil rights protests; his supporters rioted in the streets and burned down the offices of Dayton’s Republican newspaper.
In Cincinnati, a military court found Vallandigham guilty of “having expressed sympathy” for the enemy and having uttered “disloyal sentiments and opinions.” President Abraham Lincoln, embarrassed by the public furor over the Vallandigham case but unwilling to undermine one of his generals, supported Vallandigham’s banishment rather than death by firing squad. On May 25 a contingent of Union cavalrymen under a flag of truce escorted Vallandigham to Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s lines south of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
All this time, Vallandigham had been campaigning for the Ohio governorship. After his banishment he managed to eventually sail to Canada, where he continued his campaign from exile, though unsuccessfully. In 1864, he returned to Ohio unmolested.
The Vallandigham Dining Room is a small parlor on the second floor of The Golden Lamb. Long white curtains were pulled back from the single window overlooking the street. A large table surrounded by six chairs was set with a snowy white tablecloth. A colorful flower arrangement rested on the table. A fireplace was set against the far wall and near it, hung against the red floral print wallpaper, was a portrait of Clement L. Vallandigham. He gazed out at me from the gilded frame, a handsome man with a full head of hair and a luxurious moustache. The curtains reflected in the glass covering the portrait draped over his head like a shroud.
It was in this room that Vallandigham accidentally shot himself to death. In the hall outside the door there is a framed newspaper account of his tragic-comic death. Years after his return to Ohio and his failed run for the governorship, Vallandigham was a practicing lawyer. He was in Lebanon representing a man named McGeehan, accused of shooting another man, named Meyers, to death. Vallandigham’s defense rested on the premise that the dead man had actually shot himself unintentionally.
Vallandigham was discussing the case with his associate, an attorney named McBurney. A local newspaper tells what happened on that night, June 16, 1871. Vallandigham “picked up a revolver and putting it in his right pocket, drew it out far enough only to keep the muzzle touching his body and snapped the hammer. The weapon exploded and sent its deadly missile into the abdomen at a point almost corresponding with that in which Meyers was shot. Mr. Vallandigham exclaimed that he had taken up the wrong pistol.”
Apparently, Vallandigham had two pistols on the table, one loaded, the other unloaded and, in his excitement to demonstrate to McBurney how Meyers could have killed himself, grabbed the wrong gun. Vallandigham’s 9 p.m. telegraph to his doctor is both poignant and stoic: “Dr. Reeve—I shot myself by accident with a pistol in the bowels. I fear I am fatally injured. Come at once.
—C.L. Vallandigham.” He died at the inn the following morning.
Vallandigham’s ghost is a regular at The Golden Lamb.
De-De Bailey, a manager at the inn who has worked there for twenty-seven years, told me that his profile once appeared in a window in a photo taken upstairs.
“It was very clear,” she said. “You could see his eyes, nose, his moustache. It was definitely him.”
This is no small admission for De-De. In all her years at the inn, she had never seen a ghost, nor witnessed any ghostly activities, until only a few weeks before I paid my visit to the inn.
“Of course, I knew all the stories and I knew that many people had seen ghosts here, but I was always skeptical. Until now,” she said.
She told me that she had been talking with one of the servers in a dining room on the ground floor. She walked away from the server and was at the opposite end of the room when she clearly heard a deep sigh behind her.
“I turned around fast because it scared me, but there was no one there. The server hadn’t seen or heard anything, but I know what I heard. It was a human sound, maybe a man. After all these years something finally happened to me. I couldn’t believe it.”
De-De thought that maybe the ghosts were worried about the repairs going on at the inn. Only a month or so before, a roofing contractor had piled up too much roofing material in one spot on the old roof and part of it collapsed. It wasn’t the ten-foot hole left in the roof that damaged the inn as much as the water that the hole let in. The inn was only closed a few days, but repairs were still going on, and De-De thought they upset the ghosts.
“They’re used to being closed in here. Maybe they’re telling us how much they don’t like being exposed,” she said.
That could be. Ghosts are often agitated when buildings are renovated, damaged, or remodeled. Paranormal activity always seems to increase in such circumstances. That heightened activity may explain why De-De was only now experiencing paranormal events, though the inn has long been haunted.
Was that sighing the voice of Clement Vallandigham’s ghost? It’s possible, especially since he’s actually been seen at the inn. A server reported seeing a man dressed in old-fashioned clothes and wearing a “tall hat”—possibly an 1860s style stovepipe hat—in the Corwin Dining Room on the second floor, and a housekeeper said she saw a man matching that description sitting on a bench in the hall on the fourth floor. Both descriptions of the man strongly resemble Vallandigham.
Some people claim, however, that the male ghost may be that of Ohio Supreme Court Justice Charles R. Sherman, the father of Civil War General William T. Sherman. Justice Sherman died suddenly at the inn at the age of forty-one, leaving his wife and eleven children penniless. As a result, most of the children were put up for adoption. Such guilt would lie heavily on a man’s soul and might cause him to remain earthbound, forever seeking forgiveness.
As I was talking to De-De in the lobby of The Golden Lamb, some of the other staff members gathered around. It was a warm and sunny Sunday morning and most of the guests had already checked out. The restaurant was not yet open for lunch, so things were quiet. The stories started coming fast and furious.
De-De told me that one night auditors saw a little girl on the staircase right there in the lobby—and she suddenly disappeared. Another auditor had seen several chairs in the closed dining room suddenly fall over at the same time.
Cherie came up from the inn’s gift shop in the basement and stood behind the counter, listening.
“Would you like to hear a gift shop story?” she asked. She told me that one of the employees seemed to attract spirits in the gift shop. Several times, a row of stu=ed animals would throw themselves off the shelf at her.
“I don’t just mean one or two animals. I mean the whole shelf,” Cherie said. “They would actually leap off the shelf at her when she went by. I saw it once for myself. I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
I shuddered at the thought, remembering the gruesome television show When Stuffed Animals Attack.
“There’s more,” Cherie said. “One day I was talking to a customer about the ghosts and I told her that I didn’t really believe in them. Just when I said that, the cash register started up all by itself and spat out this crazy receipt, nothing but “X”s and “O”s, gibberish. I showed it to the manager and he didn’t know what to make of it.”
Geri Wilson was running a vacuum by the counter when she joined in the conversation. She turned o= the vacuum to tell me about her encounter with the ghost of Sarah, or at least with one of Sarah’s family members. Geri had been cleaning rooms on the fourth floor, the floor where most ghostly events occur.
“There was no one else on the floor but me and I heard a man’s voice call, ‘Sarah!’ It was a deep, authoritative voice, and for some reason I was certain it was the voice of Sarah’s grandfather,” she said. “I don’t know why I felt that, but I was sure it was him.”
Sarah was the daughter of Albert and Eunice Stubbs. Albert died when Sarah was just a child, and her mother moved them into The Golden Lamb, which had recently come under the ownership of her brother-in-law, Isaac Stubbs, who purchased the inn in 1841. They lived on the second floor in what is now the Presidential Dining Room. Sarah lived at the inn for several years, grew up, and had a family of her own, eventually dying in old age. Some people believe that it is Sarah who haunts the inn as a little girl.
Today, Sarah’s childhood rocker and a small table she owned are displayed in a little room called Sarah’s Room. Later, when I went upstairs, I stopped at Sarah’s Room, which is now kept as a museum to the memory of a long-ago childhood. Looking through the window in the door to the room, I saw a small child’s bed with an old-fashioned dress laid carefully upon it, a sled, a doll crib, dolls, and other toys.
Geri also told me about another housekeeper working on the fourth floor who heard what she described as the sound of a tricycle in the hall and heard a little voice call out, “Sarah’s back.” She rushed out into the hall, but there was no one there.
There is another theory as to the identity of the little girl ghost. In 1825, noted orator and politician Henry Clay was traveling through the area with his wife, Lucretia, and Eliza, their youngest daughter. Clay, who was at that time President John Quincy Adams’s Secretary of State, was on his way to Washington. Eliza fell ill during the trip and the family found lodgings at The Golden Lamb. A doctor was summoned, and he said that the little girl was too sick to travel. The family remained in Lebanon for several weeks until the doctor finally declared that little Eliza would, in fact, recover fully.
With the duties of his cabinet position pressing upon him, Clay departed for Washington, not without concern about leaving his daughter and wife at the inn. He was less than twenty miles from the capitol when he read in a newspaper that his daughter had died. The little girl was buried in a local cemetery, and the heart-broken Lucretia returned to the Clay home in Lexington, Kentucky, alone. It wasn’t until the 1890s that descendants of Henry Clay finally brought the girl’s remains home to the family burial plot in Kentucky.
So, it could very well be that little Eliza is still a presence at The Golden Lamb. And maybe she has company. Maybe there are two little girl ghosts, keeping each other company, playing hide-and-seek in the dark and silent hallways of the inn.
I wandered the different guest floors, peering into the unmade rooms, each of which bore the name of a famous inn guest. There were only a few other housekeepers on duty besides Geri,so the floors were mostly empty as I explored them. There was something melancholy about looking into these dim rooms, full of brooding antique furniture, and seeing the disarrayed bedcovers. In the absence of any persons in the room, one could imagine that there had been no guests at all, at least no flesh-and-blood guests. It could just as easily have been the ghosts of the inn who had slept there, comfortable in death as they had been in life.
I saw Geri sitting on the carpeted stairs between floors. She was waiting for the last guests to check out before making up their room. I sat beside her on the steps.
We talked some more about ghosts and she told me a few stories she had heard from her native Louisiana. Geri was sixty-eight years old but hadn’t worked at the inn all that long. Still, in a short period of time, she had had her share of paranormal events. In addition to hearing the voice, she has also heard doors opening and closing in empty rooms on the fourth floor.
“Have you ever experienced these kinds of things before in your life?” I asked.
“No. I’m a born-again Christian,” she said. “And I know people say I shouldn’t believe in them, but what are you going to do? They’re here.” She shook her head slowly. “They’re here.”
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