Location: Madison Seminary is sits quietly at 6769 Middle Ridge Road surrounded by trees and many well-kept flowers gardens and ornamental shrubs in Madison, Ohio at the intersection of Highways 84 and 528 in Lake County, five miles west from Geneva in Ashtabula County.
Description Of Place: The Madison Seminary is an historical four-story red brick and white gabled Federal-style structure in Northeast Ohio. It consists of three wings which were constructed at separate periods in its history and consists of almost a hundred rooms. Once used as an office building, much of the main floor has restored while upper floors and rooms are in uneven states or restoration. Several of the upstairs rooms are vacant and devoid of furniture.
Ghostly Manifestations: Some people believe in haunted houses and cemeteries and some people don't. Is it just your imagination or is it true? Are there ghosts and spirits with us, or is it the wind and the ground settling below us? In Madison, Ohio, there is a large old building that has been around since 1859, and that several people speculate to be haunted. Several people here have reported sensations of being watched, while others have seen figures wandering through the location just out of eyeshot. Several people have reported being intimidated by the top floor.
The building's exterior offers up no hint of its rich history or the range of emotions from its occupants, who once called it home. The dated interior hints that time stopped decades ago, as the hallways lead to empty rooms harboring the secrets of its residents during its 160-year history. If the walls could talk, there would be one man willing to listen.
"What I do know is I have been in this building my own fair share of times since the Late Eighties, and it was quite the spooky place back then." Former owner Greg Finlayson comments. "When I was there, it had high ceilings, paint flaking off the walls, big heavy doors that squeaked when you opened and shut them, and dark long hallways and lots of strange sounds from other rooms... Yes, everything you need for a ghost to live in...."
For years, people been saying that the location was haunted, as well as that a lot of people died in the old building. Several of the people who died here were eventually buried next door in the cemetery near the house. Between 1978 and 1992, the Madison Township Office Building as well as the Madison Township Police Station had been located here.
"Back in 1991, I was a news writer for the Lake County News-Herald and covered several Madison Township trustees meetings in that building." Local retiree Roger Baxby reports. "I recall after one meeting, the trustees invited the press to tour the second floor where their offices were. We were gathered in, I believe, the clerk's office, where she was trying to demonstrate the wonders of a new laser printer the township had recently purchased, but couldn't get this wonderful new miracle of modern technology to turn on. She soon noticed it was unplugged and remarked, "Well, that's strange - I never unplug it"...so she plugs it back in and punches the power button, but nothing lights up. We smug journalists exchanged a few snarky glances between us, thinking typical government ineptitude, but at that moment, one of the ladies starts complaining about sudden coldness in the tiny room, and we all seem to feel oddly uncomfortable and start edging toward the door. I guess Finlayson's mention of an unexplainable "pressure," as if being watched, kind of describes the sensation. Personally, I was happy the trustees moved to their new digs shortly after that."
Over the years, people have described hearing children playing inside, sounds of women in conversation and footsteps here. Foremost, people have seen a spectral woman in white flitting up the stairs to the third floor. As a result, no one likes to go up there. On the third floor, it is far more likely to experience something than any where else in the country.
"Claims that the building is haunted go back many decades, and it was these stories that drew my attention to the place." Madison resident Carl McFarland is the founder of Great Lakes Paranormal. "I had to ask permission to conduct a paranormal investigation inside the building. "I don't get scared during investigations, and when I see something, I want to go after it and see what it is."
While McFarland may not be bothered by the haunting tales, others are, and some plainly refuse to talk about the building or their experiences. Growing up, 17-year-old Darla Castle spent a lot of time in and out of the seminary back when it was owned by her grandfather, Gregory Finlayson, who also co-owns the local Darling Tree Nursery and the Caswell Grocery Store. Castle remembers when she was younger running loose through the structure and exploring all the tiny closets, back stairways and rooms against rooms, but when she got older, she started realizing something wasn't right with the building, though she could not explain what.
"When you would come into the building, you'd feel kind of strange inside it, as if there was some kind of a pressure on you. You feel like you're being watched, even when you're by yourself." She replies. Years later, she would hear the stories about her grandfather's building, including some from her grandfather.
"He would be working in his office, and he would hear children and groups of people in the building at night," Darla recalls. "One night, it was so loud he thought the building alarm was going to be set off from all the noise."
Indeed, the local proximity alarms often go off, and police show up to search the grounds and then the building, which is often locked up tight, but they never find anything. A few times, they comment on the sheer presence of the building even though they never find anything.
"I don't mind coming into the building. I have seen and heard many strange things, but nothing bad has happened to me." Baxby adds.
Lake County Administrator Richard Beard, who had an office in the building when he worked for Madison Township several years ago, said he believes there is some kind of activity going on inside the spooky edifice. Beard said that even though he never saw a ghost, he and several other employees did experience several unexplainable things, including hearing footsteps in hallways, doors opening and closing, and the intense feeling of being watched. He said several employees claim to have seen a woman walking in a second-floor hallway or standing at a second-floor window.
Beard recalls the time Channel 3-Cleveland was reporting and filming there, when cameras stopped working. At the same time, recording devices would record conversations and minutes later play back the conversations to stunned news crews.
As the news anchor stood on the front steps of the Ohio Cottage, Beard, who was with the anchor, said she noticed her voice recorder recording their conversation. He said she became frightened and quickly moved away from the area. Within seconds, he said a piece of glass from the upper fan-shaped window slipped out and shattered where she had been standing moments before.
"She was really shaken up over that and wanted to leave right there" He said.
Beard also recalls a college student hired for summer work quit in the middle of a job after claiming that an angry voice kept telling him to leave.
One group of people who wanted to see for themselves whether the building was haunted, decided to stay overnight in the building. In the middle of the night, Beard said the group was overcome by a rotten stench that prompted them to run for fresh air.
"I really believe that there is something paranormal or a group of paranormal things in that building." He adds.
Over the years, several police officers also have made claims of strange experiences and of seeing someone in a window. One officer said police dogs brought into the building for training would cower and whine in certain rooms and resist going up to the third floor. While many strongly believe something or several things of a paranormal nature exist in the building, there are many who refute those claims. If so, why is it that some have had unexplainable experiences in the building and some haven't.
McFarland comments that while there is no paranormal book to refer to, theories help to answer some nagging questions.
"Not all people are tuned into paranormal activity or seeing ghosts, and not all will hear or see the same thing if something happens in the presence of both parties at the same time. "He concludes. "The most common theory for some individuals who don't see spirits, ghosts or an apparition is because they don't have an open mind to such beliefs or that another dimension exists. Another theory is that some of us don't possess the ability to see or experience things.
"However, that doesn't explain why people who don't believe in ghosts are often seeing things while people who do believe struggle so hard to catch proof. One might surmise that ghosts can choose who can see them or that they just occasionally get careless."
McFarland recalls a recent incident where a local electrician exploring bad wiring in the building went up to the third floor to check the lines up there and walked into an unlocked room, surprising a tall pale woman with dark eyes and dark hair wearing a long white dress floating a foot off the floor. She was just floating there in the room, and upon getting discovered, she charged at him through the door and vanished in the hall. Not staying to tell anyone his story, he came racing and stumbling down the stairs, eventually throwing up in the grass outside the building. A co-worker had to come to finish the job for him.
"This building dates back to people from the Civil War era and was a prison and an institution for the mentally insane. You have all the energies of that turmoil and all of it within one building, and it becomes a perfect catalyst and battery for paranormal activity." McFarland believes there is truth to the claims made over the years. He and his team, which includes his wife, Mary, along with his brother, Gordon, and Jean Thomas, already have conducted three investigations here.
McFarland believes the location could be haunted by residual hauntings (place memories) involving phantoms replaying events trapped in the fiber of the structure like a giant DVD getting replayed by seasonal and meteorological conditions; however, he speculates, when these energies are strong enough, they can hold or trap surviving personalities here, like the female presence seen so often. Just who she is, no one is sure, but several people have felt touched by icy cold fingers or felt themselves being watched and become too scared to look behind them. She doesn't seem dangerous, but she definitely delights in scaring the living.
"I could be sitting there, and I would hear the phone silently dial numbers at random, and all of a sudden I hear a voice on speaker saying, "Hello." and then I have to assure this person I didn't call them, and that my phone is actually strangely, which it actually is." Richard Beard comments.
Other common problems he said are with the lights, which turn on by themselves in different parts of the building, even though the wiring has been checked several times. He has also frequently heard sounds of people talking and footsteps, but most of the time, he just ignores it.
"I'm always expecting someone to suddenly emerge at the bottom of the stairs or from out of the hallway, but no one ever appears." He sighs tiredly. "I've heard doors open and close when the place was supposed to be empty, water running from somewhere up stairs going on and off and lights on upstairs in rooms without light bulbs as I leave and look up to the second and third floor. We've had people come out to check these things repeatedly, and no one can ever find a reason why it keeps happening."
Several people have come here expecting to see something, often leaving in a huff when nothing happens and calling the place a giant hoax. There is no sure fire time to know when stuff happens. Despite an effort to predict the ghostly routine, activity is frequently random and unpredictable, as is the identity of the apparition that occurs. Different witnesses describe the apparition as a young girl while others think its a young woman. Whether the seminary has two ghosts or one is uncertain. Great Lakes Paranormal tried to placate her with a doll that has since started popping up through the structure. She has been seen in a closet, posed sitting in halls, left in chairs of locked rooms and even left staring out of the third floor windows.
"If you ask me..."Darla Castle wraps. "The scariest freaking thing about the place right now is that creepy doll. We can never find it when we look for it, and yet a day later, we'll discover it sitting at the bottom of the stairs where someone will see it."
History: The Old Madison Seminary dates way back to 1847 when it opened as a boarding school, providing high school and beyond education to people of Lake and surrounding counties. Few written records survive this period. By 1859, a brick structure had been added to the east side of the original structure, and the original frame structure was converted to a boarding hall. At one time, some 150 students were enrolled in the Seminary. The Madison Seminary buildings would serve students from 1847 to July 1891.
By Nov 10, 1891, the name of the facility officially became the Madison Home, purchased and owned by the Ohio Women's Relief Corps, a women's group of the Grand Army of the Republic, and was used to assist Civil War veterans, wives, widows, and their families who had been displaced by the Civil War. The WRC constructed the western most section on the site of the original wooden structure of the school in 1891. The name on the doorway arch is Ohio Cottage. In 1904, WRC donated the building to the State of Ohio in 1904 when the organization could no longer afford to maintain it, and it officially ceased operations on June 30, 1962 when it was taken over by the Ohio Department of Mental Hygiene and Corrections. Widows still living here were returned to their relatives or would placed in private nursing homes. Several of the residents were much saddened at the verdict, since they had no living relatives to look after their requirements.
In the Sixties, the institution was called Opportunity Village. A one-story addition connecting the other buildings was constructed, although another may have been built in 1989. Opportunity Village housed some selected honor inmates from Ohio Women's Reformatory in Marysville; these inmates worked as staff at the facility, learning skills as nurse's aids and other occupations. During this time, the structure was also used as an extension of Apple Creek State Hospital and housed mentally-impaired women, most of whom could care for themselves. For few months in 1964, the seminary served as an extension of Cleveland State Hospital for the aged.
Opportunity Village was closed in 1975 and the Lake County Commissioners purchased the building from the State of Ohio. In the late Seventies, Madison Township leased the facilities from the county to house its offices. It is around this time that the first rumors of the place being haunted started, but unsubstantiated stories go back even further to the turn of the century. In 1981 Madison Township purchased the building from the county, with the understanding that the county would buy it back when Madison Township no longer had use for the facility. Eventually, Madison Township became involved in designing a new Administration Complex to be located on Hubbard Road. Since then, the Lake County Commissioners has agreed to buy back the old facility, but their plans for the location have yet to be determined. The facility is on the National Historic Register although demolition has been considered since the facility and the two additional buildings do not meet required fire, electrical and plumbing codes.
On April 30, 2010, producers of a TV-reality show called "Seven Dark Nights" contacted the owners of the location for their series where six strangers would be locked in the location for seven days to record and document paranormal activity here in return for prize money. However, despite the episode being edited together from their footage, it never aired as several of the contestants had nervous breakdowns or inexplicable stress attacks after fleeing the location. Although they were contractually unable to sue for damages, several police and business agencies sued Blue Moon Productions and Tandamount Pictures, the creators of the TV-pilot on grounds of creating unsafe living conditions among other charges. The case was subsequently settled out of court; the footage was instead released as a short film named "Seven Nights Of Darkness."
Identity Of Ghosts: No one knows who the female apparition is haunting the location. One legend concerns a young girl who was left behind and died here when the structure was a boarding school. Another rumor is that she is a female patient was was abused and neglected here when it was Apple Creek State Hospital while yet another rumor is that both the young girl and the woman are two forms of one unidentified entity.
Investigations: Carl McFarland and the Great Lakes Paranormal Group has undertaken three investigations here. Two have taken place at night and one in the afternoon, although investigations usually take place at night for several reasons.
"Most paranormal equipment is made for nighttime use, such as infrared cameras and thermal imaging equipment. This type of equipment works for nighttime lighting and is better able to gather manifestations, anomalies and apparitions than just a typical camera during the day. "McFarland replies. "Secondly, we find night hours to be more active than the day, possibly because it is in a silent environment, unlike during the day when ambient noises are more obvious."
During the day, the team typically goes through looking for locations high with electromagnetic energies and use those areas to set up their field digital cameras and voice recorders. They also search the building for temperature drops to figure out why so many people describe cold spots and sudden drafts. Theory has it where cold spots occur that they are locations where ghosts are absorbing energy to cause activity to occur. A lot of activity can be busted more easily during the day; daytime also helps to resolve problems that are harder to fix in darkness.
"We had all kinds of problems with things not working right during our first investigation." McFarland adds. "Our cameras froze up, and when we took the batteries out and replaced them, the cameras were still stuck on the same frames which is highly unlikely because this equipment completely reboots itself when batteries are changed."
Once the equipment began to work, more than 800 random photos of hallways and rooms were taken, along with recordings of different areas. Orbs and dust are easy to tell apart; orbs have their own luminescence and flight patterns. Shadows often take a bit longer. At night, camera footage can exaggerate and extrapolate things that aren't really there, however, one photo of a second-floor hallway taken during the day has drawn gasps from those who have seen it. In the photo, there appears to be the silhouette of a women holding up a tray, as if carrying it to tend to someone in another room.
"I was taking random photos of this hallway and saw nothing unusual at the time." Gordon adds. Though his team did not register any temperature drops, it did capture other interesting photos and recorded electronic voice phenomena (EVP) of what McFarland believes to be a women's voice. "Mary was asking questions and after playing back the recording, we heard sounds like a woman is trying to respond to the questions, but she sounds like she is speaking with an alliteration we can't understand.
The second nighttime investigation again resulted in cameras not working at the same time in certain spots of the building; yet, once cameras were moved to different location, they began working. Several photos on the upper floors contained orbs that reappeared in different places in each photo, and while digital recorders did once again pick up a woman's voice for the second time as she responded to an investigator, this time her voice was drowned out by silence as if she was standing in the middle of a tunnel and trying to talk over the echo of her own voice.
"I definitely think there is some paranormal activity going on in there, and we're going to continue investigating the building to find out what exactly is going on in there."
Source/Comments: Seven Nights of Darkness ( 2010) - Activity loosely based on the actual Madison Seminary in Madison, Ohio, Mansfield Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio and Northern State Hospital near Seattle, Washington.
The actual Madison Seminary was also featured in a Fourth Season episode of the TV Series, "My Ghost Story," on Bio Channel.