From our earliest days, man has been fascinated by the unknown. What happens to us after we die? Is there an afterlife? Are there spirits of the dead among us? Questions like these have been pondered since the dawn of time. This curiosity has led to the field of paranormal investigation.
Established in July 2016, National Ghost Hunting Day is held on the last Saturday of each September. This date was chosen by design as it coincides with the start of the Halloween season. Since its inception, National Ghost Hunting Day has been celebrated with its signature event, the “World’s Largest Ghost Hunt.”
During this event paranormal investigators in 13 different countries investigated several sites rumored to be amongst the most haunted in the world. Many of these investigations were streamed live online. Some of these have also been posted on Youtube. Two of these sites were in Hartford City. Both are owned by twin brothers Rich and Dann Allen. The old Blackford County Jail and the speakeasy located in the Ervin-Campbell Building were investigated by Eclipse Paranormal, an Indiana based group with members living in the South Bend and Indianapolis areas. I had the pleasure of accompanying them during a portion of their investigation.
The first Blackford County Jail was a log cabin located on the courthouse square. The old jail was built in the 1870’s. There are 6 cells in the main cell block. Their walls are made from granite that was brought down from Michigan and are well over a foot thick. Beginning in 1877, it was also the home for the Blackford County Sheriff.
The jail’s most famous visitor was John Dillinger. The famed gangster would frequently visit local sheriff departments under an alias in order to see what he might be up against while planning his bank robberies. Dillinger visited the jail while planning his robbery of the bank in nearby Montpelier.
In over a century of operation, only two prisoners ever escaped the jail. This was done more recently, when a new drainage system was being put in for the cell block in order to bring it up to the standards of the time. Over the years, many tragedies have occurred within the sturdy old building. Executions were not uncommon, when the weather was not suitable outside, hangings would be done inside.
In 1977, there were three sheriffs over a short period of time. In February, Sheriff Harold L. McCollum died of Cancer. Two weeks later, his successor Edward W. Townsend suffered a fatal heart attack while in his office at the jail. Dow E. “Gabe” Coons was then named Sheriff and remained in the position until 1982.
Dann Allen, Rich used to work there prior to its closing, has owned the jail since shortly after it closed. “I was here for two years before I saw anything unusual,” he stated. “One night, I was laying in bed. I saw a rather large gentleman wearing a white shirt enter the room. He paused at the foot of the bed and looked at me,” he continued. “I later described him to a friend who was more familiar without the history of the building and he said that sounds like Ed. Townsend’s niece worked nearby so I described the man I saw to her. She showed me a photo of the former Sheriff and that was the man I had seen!”
One enters the cell block through a one-way, turnstile-like revolving door of heavy iron bars, one of only two such doors known to remain. There are six small cells, each containing a cot and a toilet. There is a table and chairs near a pair of old pay-phones. “The first cell-phone,” the brothers joke. The walls are solid granite and well over a foot thick tunneling through them would be nearly impossible. If one did manage to get through you would be on the catwalk around the cells where the guards would easily find you. In the holding area, some of the paint has peeled away revealing graffiti left behind as people awaited their fate. “One of the prisoners hung himself in the middle cell over there,” stated Allen.
The basement features an area of tunnels commonly referred to as “the dungeon” where the most unruly of prisoners were kept. It is also very easy to see this being used for “interrogation.” The tunnels are very cramped and there is an area similar to the cell block above where the “cells” have been closed off by stonework for unknown reasons. The walls are made of Indiana limestone. The area is pitch black and the atmosphere is quite creepy.
While investigating the cellblock, the investigators noticed a small set of wind chimes hanging on one of the pay-phones moved slightly as they asked questions of anyone who might be present in the jail.. A small ball placed in the hall also rolled on its own. A crystal pendant held by Eclipse Paranormal Founder, Jenn Jacobs seemed to move in response to questions asked by the investigators.
In the basement, the group used more recent ghost hunting techniques. Along with a couple of the small balls, motion detectors and other devices, including a teddy bear that lights up and asks random questions when approached, were placed in the hallway. The bear asked questions quite often, which was somewhat creepy at times. On several occasions, the motion detectors sounded with no visible cause in response to questions asked by investigators. Some of the investigators also heard a growling sound and felt as if someone was standing near them.
During the days of Prohibition, people visited the speakeasy in the Ervin-Campbell building at the corner of Washington and High Streets that was at one time the home of Ervin’s Store, to find a different kind of spirit. Are some of these visitors still there? The former speakeasy was painted in the school colors of black red and white during a period when Blackford High students used it as a sort of clubhouse and meeting place. The walls are covered in some graffiti from this period. The Bruin mascot is painted on the old bar, the logo of the band Metallica is boldly painted on one of the walls.
Visitors have claimed to hear music, and even the sound of a crying baby in the old speakeasy. More than one investigator has placed some alcohol in a shot glass on the bar and returned later to find the now empty glass turned upside down with no signs of spillage. Some have also had encounters with a foul-mouthed spirit known as “the grumpy old man.”
During the investigation, Jenn felt uncomfortable in the area near the bar. She also got an impression of a blonde woman with curly hair and a flowing dress that she felt was a singer in the speakeasy. She also felt the presence of a man of color named Isaac whom she believes was lynched. An imaging app on the smartphones of investigators also indicated the presence of some unusually shaped beings in the speakeasy.
At both sites, investigators heard knocks in response to their questions. As of press time, The investigators had yet to review all of the recordings and data they collected. While I did not see any apparitions at either site, my pen did quit working while I was taking notes only to work again later when the investigators were taking a break. At one point I also felt the hair on my legs stand up. There was also a time or two where I felt a slight drop in the temperature near me. These may just be coincidence, but something unseen did set off the motion sensors. Do spirits still roam these historic Hartford City haunts? To quote a popular TV show about the unexplained,”the truth is out there.”