Cleveland's Franklin Castle has the distinction of being known as Ohio's most haunted house. It is a big, dark building with stone walls, a turret, and a six-foot wrought iron fence. Hans Tiedemann, a german immigrant who got rich from his barrel-making business and later the banking industry, built the house in the mid-1800's. The count varies, but it was supposed to have 21 rooms. It also featured a fourth floor ballroom accessible by its own staircase, marble fireplaces, dumbwaiters, wine cellars, and numerous hidden passageways.

The house has been a clubhouse for a German Singing Society, home to a German Socialist organization, a doctor's office, apartments, a party house, and even a home to bootleggers.

The ghosts here are numerous. In a small room at the rear of the house a pile of baby skeletons was found, supposedly the victims of some inept doctor; today, babies can be heard crying the walls. There was a mass murder when some of the Nazis were machine gunned to death in a political dispute; their discussions can be heard throughout the house. There are rumors of an axe murder in the front tower room, the victim of which is occasionally seen standing in the window. The secret passageways around the ballroom are said to be where Tiedemann hung his illegitimate daughter Karen. Karen's ghost is the main one seen in the castle, usually in a third floor room known as "the cold room" because it stays ten degrees colder than the rest of the house at all times. Karen may have lost her life in a fight between her father and her boyfriend and then been hung from a rafter to make the death appear self-inflicted. She was just thirteen, but her ghost is often described as a woman, garbed in black, tall and thin and eerie, and often seen by people in the neighborhood.

Karen's ghost was often encountered by staff of the Universal Christian Church, which made an attempt to occupy the building after buying it in September of 1975. A UPI news story which ran a year later details the church's efforts to turn it into a soup kitchen by charging for ghost tours and overnight stays in the haunted castle, as well as Rev. Tim Swope's own brushes with the paranormal there. Famed parapsychologist Hans Holzer also relates his thoughts about the ghosts that reside there--particularly the thin lady in black, the erstwhile Karen Tiedemann. Click below to view the article for yourself.


From the Mansfield News Journal, June 8, 1976 pg. 5A

There's more: Tiedemann's three babies died mysteriously in the house, as did his fifteen-year-old daughter Emma, of diabetes. His wife died from liver trouble here. A servant girl was supposedly killed in the servants' quarters on her wedding day for refusing Tiedemann's advances. He is said to have shot his mistress Rachel for wanting to marry another man; the choking sounds of her death can be heard in one of the rooms.

The owners of Franklin Castle have been subject to its many hauntings. The children of a couple who lived in the house for a while asked for a cookie to give to their friend, a little girl who wouldn't stop crying. Mrs. Tiedemann is said to have possessed the wife of one of the owners for a period. No one stays long.


The most recent owner, Michelle Heimburger, was 25 when she paid cash for the Castle in April of 1999. Its worth is currently in the neighborhood of $350,000. Michelle grew up in Cleveland but made her fortune in Silicon Valley with a little firm called Yahoo! Inc. She had owned it for barely half a year when, in the earliest hours of November 8, a vagrant lit a fire inside and ended up burning the place to the tune of $200,000 in damages. (The arsonist later served a five-year jail term.)

So, for a long time, the castle stood empty. Heimburger, the absentee landlord, put off doing repairs for more than a year; the Plain Dealer reported on the situation in a piece headlined "Franklin Castle Risks Demolition"; read it here. During that time the place was hung with construction lights and cordoned off but nearly 100% unguarded--this despite the fact that its side door often stood wide open all through the night. It was during this time--exactly the time when the newspaper article ran--that my friend Hoss and I managed our own personal self-guided tour.

I was tipped off to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by a very nice guy named Matt who works nearby and sent me some great pictures. (Matt went on to start Ohio Lost, one of the all-time greatest "weird" Ohio websites.) I was too excited to pass up the chance to explore a place with a history so dark and hauntings so established that famous parapsychologist Hans Holzer has investigated it. So one night in late July Hoss and I got into his truck and drove from his place in Toledo, along the lake shore, into the city of Cleveland. We found Franklin Avenue with startling ease, located the house, and parked at the curb across from it. It stands facing a T-intersection in what isn't exactly a slum, but certainly isn't the nice neighborhood this house probably stood in when it was built. It is amazing to think that Abraham Lincoln was president when the house was first inhabited.


At first we crept along the left side of the house, in the little garden which belongs to the grounds. The windows on this side were all boarded up, and the pointy gate separated us from the house. The garden had been overgrown with weeds and vegetation. We had to hide in the shadows for a while because of a party or something going on in the house next door; the last thing we wanted to do was get the police called on us. Below is one of the daytime shots sent to me, of the left side of the house.


Next we took a walk around the block. The old stable building out back seemed to have a light on inside; this was the first sign that someone might be inside the building, which we had assumed would be uninhabited. We didn't want to run across a rent-a-cop or security guard of some kind.


We came back around and looked at the house from the front. A side door was open, with light pouring out of it. The fence had a gate which opened for the driveway, which was currently occupied by a long construction-type dumpster. At the place where the dual gates met the bars were particularly far apart, and they had blocked it by threading a rope back and forth across the gap. After untying the rope we slipped inside and approached the open door as quietly as we could. A newer house was located very close to this side of the castle, and at one point we heard somebody using the bathroom through one of the windows.

For a long time we thought there was someone inside the castle because we kept hearing noises coming from inside. We peeked through cracks in the boards over the windows and saw nothing but a well-lit, junk-strewn room, but each time we got close a noise came from inside, and we could just imagine the rent-a-cop reading his newspaper in there. We were so sure, in fact, that we went back out onto the sidewalk, re-tied the rope barrier, and threw rocks at the doorway to try to get whoever was guarding the place to come outside, in the hopes that the guy might at least give us a tour. When no one came out Hoss crept up and looked inside. No one was there.



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Finally we entered the building. The light inside was coming from construction lights, the kind attached to an orange cord with metal housings around the bulbs, strung throughout the house. They were obviously working on it. Details on the remodeling project are available at the official website of Franklin Castle, put up by the current owner.


The rooms on the first floor were strewn with construction trash: pieces of drywall, strips of paneling, dust, garbage. One corner room was papered with what looked like old newspaper clippings but turned out to be the pattern on the wallpaper, like the tables at a Wendy's.


A back room contained the heating system and massive pipes. Off of this was a basement door with a note on it. The note was old-looking, and it said that there were dogs down there. We knocked and called to the dogs, and even though we didn't hear anything, we didn't want to take the chance. Dogs are one of my big phobias when in an abandoned building.


Up the main stairs we passed the front door and then came out in the big front room. It had a fireplace and seemed mostly clean. Further back in the house there was some fire damage, but it was in the process of being replaced with new wooden framework.

The third floor contained another big room, and a few rooms which were unidentifiable because the interior walls were mostly missing. This was also true of the fourth floor, where, I've read, there was once an entire ballroom. The half of this floor where the ballroom must have been was piled with bricks and pieces of wood, and the roof was mostly missing, having been replaced by blue plastic tarpaulins.


I've heard that this is one of the particularly haunted places, since Tiedemann's daughter was hung in one of the secret passages around the ballroom. There was wooden framework along the edges of the ballroom area, and room on the other side for what might have been a secret passage, but it was hard to say with the house in this state. This floor is also the most fire-damaged, with its missing roof and several severely scorched places in the back.


We sat on the fourth floor for a while and tried to talk to the ghosts, even calling them by name. Nothing happened. We didn't hear any babies crying or Nazis arguing; no ghosts appeared. Going back through the house we tried splitting up, but neither of us had an experience. Neither did we see any hidden passages, although as I said, the house was basically gutted when we visited it. The closest thing to a secret passageway we saw while we were there was the entrance to a crawlspace at the back of a hall closet on the first floor.


Overall, not bad. No ghosts welcomed us, but it was an interesting place to see. My thanks to Hoss for accompanying me, but most of all for making the arduous drive both ways.



UPDATE:

The Club That Never Was

As of 2006, Franklin Castle appears, on the surface, to have been fully restored and made headquarters of the Franklin Castle Club, an exclusive private meeting place for people too rich to associate with the lesser classes. They even claim to administer a Florida Beach House and yacht, as well as limousine service for members of the exclusive club, memberships to which cost $5,000 or so.

At first I assumed all of this was true; after all, I read it on the internet, and if that's not rock-solid information I don't know what is. However, it was deduced through conversation with an observant co-author of mine that the "Franklin Castle Club" appears to be an elaborate ruse. The club does not seem to actually exist yet (if it ever will), and the website is a fascinating exercise in wordplay and misdirection. The verb tenses constantly shift between present and future--for instance, answering the question, "How many memberships will be available in the club?" with, "The club is offering 400 memberships at this time." (Emphasis mine.) The owner does go so far as to say that memberships have been sold, and "most people have found the cost to be well worth the added value to their lives." Attempts to contact the proprietors on any topic, from general inquiries about the building to trying to secure one of these "memberships," go universally unacknowledged and unanswered.


Furthermore, there's nothing which indicates that the images of plush furniture along the top of the main page at FranklinCastleClub.com (shown above) really show the renovated interior of the building. The Interior Photos section exhibits nothing but close-ups of details in the woodwork and fixtures--mantels, doorframes, doorknobs, newel posts.


Weirdest of all, whoever put this piece of fakery together stole several pictures from my website, including one sent to me by Matt which shows the glow-in-the-dark Halloween mask he hung in an upstairs window. Nothing on FranklinCastleClub.com gives proof of a completed renovation in any way.

Fake Renovations and Amateur Porn

Then Cleveland Plain Dealer reporters Michael O'Malley and Joan Mazzolini dug into the story, and the rumors I'd been hearing from NE Ohio website readers and my co-author James turned out to be correct--even the weirdest ones. The real deal at "Ohio's most haunted house" is even more bizarre than some of the ghost stories.

You might recall that Michelle Heimburger, the most recent owner, was being prosecuted back in 2000 over "the slow pace of repairs." Michelle lives in Canada, according to the newspaper, and doesn't seem to concern herself much with this piece of Cleveland property. Meanwhile, a guy named Charles Milsaps was left in charge of the place, living in the carriage house out back and paying the utility bills in exchange for overseeing renovations. Whether or not he actually planned to turn the building into an upscale club (some neighbors don't like the idea), he was responsible for the pastiche of stolen pictures, half-truths, and outright lies that is the "Franklin Castle Club" hoax. (Read the article that brought everything to light here.)

No significant renovations have been done to the place, but Milsaps apparently had enough work done to default on his bills to two area contractors, resulting in liens being placed against the property. An interior designer took him to court over the $11,500 he's owed, and the Cleveland Lumber Co. claims $1,650.

Milsaps has, however, found time to use the carriage house--and possibly the Castle itself--to make amateur pornography. His confusing profile/profiles and string of contacts on MySpace leave no doubt that he's having fun up there, though not the kind of fun that other people in the neighborhood might approve of: his company, Voodoo Media Group, has produced at least two lesbian porn movies he sells online. But they're not strictly girl-on-girl, as an apparently pseudonymous "talent scout" makes clear in his profile; he claims to handle "all of our gay, bi and straight male talent." The same pseudonym left a public message on MySpace recently which said, "All the girls/guys say HI and of course we miss you around the Castle."

Meanwhile, not a single membership to the "Franklin Castle Club" has been sold. The castle looks a lot like it did when I visited it less than a year after it was torched. It doesn't even have running water.

Now (October 2006) the Plain Dealer reports that the Castle may end up on the Sheriff's Department's auction block, since Michelle Heimburger has $14,000 in unpaid property taxes and Chris Milsaps has accumulated about $13,000 in liens and judgments for unpaid construction bills.

A fake renovation...it's really pretty fascinating, don't you think? Somewhere between ballsy and unbelievably stupid. But in the end it looks like the whole thing is going to fall apart for the amateur pornographers and proprietors of the fake club.


Franklin Castle.com - Official Site
The Franklin Castle Club
Mansfield News Journal article: "Church to Occupy Haunted Castle"
Cleveland Plain Dealer article: "New Strange Doings at Franklin Castle"
Cleveland Plain Dealer article: "Boarded Up Franklin Castle Haunted by Foreclosure, Liens"
Cleveland Plain Dealer article: "Franklin Castle Risks Demoliton"
Ohio Lost: Matt's website




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Sources

Kercheval, Nancy. "Church to Occupy Haunted Castle." Mansfield News-Journal. June 8, 1976 pp. 5A.

O'Malley, Michael. "Boarded Up Franklin Castle Haunted by Foreclosure, Liens." Cleveland Plain Dealer. October 4, 2006.

O'Malley, Michael and Joan Mazzolini. "New Strange Doings at Franklin Castle." Cleveland Plain Dealer. June 20, 2006.

Petkovic, John. "Ghosts, Haunts, and Urban Legends." Cleveland Plain Dealer. October 31, 2000 pp. 1A.

Vishnevsky, Zina. "Franklin Castle Risks Demolition." Cleveland Plain Dealer. July 31, 2000 pp. 2B.