In the News

Dispatch: Tour of ‘haunted’ Downtown mansions offers ghost stories, goosebumps


For more than 30 years, the “Ghosts of Town-Franklin Tour” has provided history lessons and scares in the historic Downtown district. The next event takes place Wednesday, Oct. 30.

When Andrea Morbitzer moved into her home Downtown on Franklin Avenue more than three years ago, she received an unexpected visit as she carried items up the steps.

“I swear someone was behind me,” she said.

Appearing to sense the same presence, her dog, George, glared down from his perch at the top of the steps. Without turning around, Morbitzer, 60, threw her elbow back in self defense.

She didn’t make physical contact with anyone, but she and her daughter quickly decided they weren’t alone in the house. They picked up on a “male energy” and the ghostly presence of a little girl, who they say lives in the backyard.

Things only got stranger later that year when she saw a group of figures approaching her property with lanterns. Morbitzer quickly discovered, though, that these figures were real-life people on a ghost tour, and she regaled the group with tales of her own otherworldly experiences.

“This is a special neighborhood, that’s for sure,” Morbitzer said.

The neighborhood is Town-Franklin — named for Town Street and Franklin Avenue — and the “Ghosts of Town-Franklin Tour” has been hosted by Columbus Landmarks for more than 30 years. The next tour kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Topiary Park gatehouse.

Over the course of two hours, participants walk through the historic area, which once was a thriving enclave of well-to-do residents in the 19th century. Taking in the myriad architectural styles among the houses — including Italianate villa, French Second Empire and Chateauesque — is like traveling back in time.

“It represents everything atmospheric about Halloween and fall,” said Doreen Uhas Sauer, who is in charge of education and outreach at Columbus Landmarks, which promotes and preserves area landmarks and neighborhoods. “Our (tour) is a little bit of history and a little architectural gossip, and nothing we ever made up, seriously. They were stories that came to us, and we have just repeated them.”

The little girl allegedly haunting Morbitzer, whose home is not part of the tour, may or may not be the same one sometimes spotted in a hallway at the Kelton House Museum & Garden, 586 E. Town St., which is highlighted by Columbus Landmarks.

“When she turns around, she has no eyes,” said Uhas Sauer, who has collected stories from Town-Franklin residents, building owners and others spending time in the area over the years.

The Kelton House, built in 1852 by dry goods merchant Fernando Cortez Kelton, is a Greek Revival and Italianate house that has been the residence of multiple generations if the family, including noted suffragist Belle Coit Kelton and interior decorator Grace Kelton, who once worked for Jacqueline Kennedy.

Though more information about who the little girl might be is unknown, the ghost of Fernando Cortez Kelton’s son, Oscar, has been identified. He served in the 95th Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War and was killed in battle in Mississippi. Oscar Kelton haunts the garden and has been seen smoking outside, according to stories people have told Uhas Sauer.

Other stops included on the tour are the Snowden Gray Mansion, built in 1852 at 530 E. Town St.; and the former site of Players Theatre Columbus, founded in 1923 on Franklin Avenue.

According to Columbus Landmarks volunteer Kylie Smith, tour participants who don’t know each other sometimes will tell the same ghost story or report the same experiences related to particular stops.

“That’s when I start to think, ‘OK, there’s really something going on,’” she said.

Guests have shared some of their own general thoughts about ghosts as well.

“I’ve learned about ghosts that ride you, that try to suck the breath out of you,” Smith said.

Someone once told her that a ghost will leave only if its clothes are packed up and transported in a moving van.

“And there are no ghosts in mobile homes,” Smith said. “You pick up all this crazy stuff after a while.”

Because the event has been operating for so long, it has attracted regulars, some of whom attend multiple tours hosted by Columbus Landmarks, which include a “Haunted Spirits Tavern Tour” and an “Autumn Walk at Green Lawn Cemetery.”

Ultimately, the experience is more about exploring the neighborhood, learning history and enjoying a fun night out than experiencing something supernatural, tour leaders said.

“I would always say it’s kind of like the thinking person’s haunted tour,” Smith said. “If you see a ghost, it’s like an added bonus.”