COLUMBIA CITY — Haunted houses and ghost stories are a common place this time of year. Halloween can evoke spooky tales, but some stories hit close to home. There are a few urban legends that originate in Whitley County. Some are told in whispers and shared around campfires.
The circumstances surrounding these tales are not confirmed to be factual. That doesn’t mean the encounters themselves are not true. Those who have faced fear down and stood toe-to-toe with Whitley County’s paranormal would agree — truth lies within perception.
Columbia City’s Haunted Jail is a favorite among local thrill seekers. But the costumed actors and thrill-seeking patrons aren’t the only ones walking the halls of the old jail.
The legend of the jail’s haunting is said to come from a former inmate’s death while incarcerated at the jail.
According to a book by Jennifer Zamaites, “Ghostly Tales from American’s Jails,” members who work at the haunted jail in the off-season have reported paranormal activity.
Accounts of noises such as footsteps and scraping along walls have been reported. In the building, there is a certain door the ghost prefers to have open. If the door is shut, witness said, they have come back and the door will be open again.
Investigators from the paranormal group Indiana Ghost Trackers have been at the jail site. The group reported after entering the front door, cameras lost battery power, cell phones went dead and flashlights lost illumination.
According to Zamaites, workers with the paranormal group reported taking a break in the costume room while visiting the haunted house. As they congregated there, the group witnessed a chain mail costume move on its own, and heard the sound of a male voice talking indistinguishable words coming from the corner of the room.
On the uppermost floor, an apparition was seen coming down the stairs from the jail to the sheriff’s part of the building. This account was observed by a sheriff who lived there before the jail was moved to new quarters, according to Zamaites.
The culprit is said to be the spirit of Sheriff Frank Allwein.Paranomal reports said Allwein was a sheriff at the jail and is still traumatized over the hanging of Charles Butler.
Charles Butler was the son of George W. Butler, M. D. and his wife Margaret A. Clover. In a drunken rage, Butler shot his wife in the back, while she pushed their son out the door to safety, in 1883.
Butler was caught by authorities and jailed at the Whitley County Jailhouse. In March of 1884, when Sheriff Frank Allwein was out, and the Allwein family was entertaining guests, Butler and four other inmates silently escaped through the grub door used for the second floor cells.
They went to a corner cell on the second floor and removed a section of stone, leaving an opening to the roof. Using tied- together blankets as a rope, they quietly lowered themselves to the ground and temporarily escaped.
Butler was tried in court on May 12, 1884, and convicted by a jury of twelve farmers. Despite the overview of a special execution jury, when Butler was hung from a ready-made gallow, he didn’t fall hard enough to break his neck.
After 10 minutes of slowly strangling to death, he blacked out and was cut down. He was brought into one of the front rooms of the jailhouse. His heart stopped three minutes later.
It is said the execution scarred Sheriff Allwein and now, after his death, the sheriff’s ghost is left to wander the jail, forever tormented by the hanging gone wrong.
Ghost of Victor Cooley
Pook Road runs through South Whitley off of Ind. 205 and is said to be the location of many deaths. Near the corner of Pook Road and CR 350 W. reports say that after crossing the railroad tracks there is a bridge. The bridge is the location were two men had killed Victor Cooley.
The story goes on to say men dragged Cooley down to the creek and drowned him.
Cooley died on Oct. 16, 1988, and it is reported that he haunts the bridge to this day. There is supposedly a plaque on the bridge where he died. Reports say the ghost can be encountered after 3 a.m., more so on the anniversary of his death.
Near the railroad tracks, legend has that a ghost will approach vehicles parked near the tracks. Handprints on the cars’ glass and cars moving seemingly on their own has been reported.
Curse at Whitko
Whitko High School was being built in South Whitley, the location of the school positioned construction workers at the edge of South Whitley Cemetery, off Ind. 14
The story has it that a construction worker was confronted by an old woman. She told the construction worker harm would come to a student each year the school was open. When the construction worker turned around, the old woman disappeared.
The apparition was speaking on behalf of the other cemetery residents, upset that the construction of the school was upsetting their final resting place. (Editor’s note: The school was not built over any of the existing gravesites.)
At Camp Whitley, Tinkum Cabin is said to be haunted. There is a nearby cemetery and campers have hear the story told over and over of “old man Tinkum.”
Tinkum was supposedly a traveling salesman that lived in the area around the camp 200 years ago. Rumor has it that he died in a fire while asleep in his home and still haunts the grounds of the camp to this day. The fact that the camp is located in a secluded, wooded area adds a fear element to the story.
In the midst of these haunting tales, Halloween can be a safe and family-friendly evening. For more tales of paranormal activity in Whitley County, visit www.twistedhauntedhouse.com .