Toledo, OH – Do houses have memories? Why is it that in some places, people can feel an electric energy, can feel the house live around them, while in others, there seems to be nothing but walls and a roof? Truly, some houses are unassuming but have witnessed extraordinary events. Others, though grand in scale, lack the love and passion to give the house a personality, a life, of its own.
Then, every now and again, one comes across a building so grand, so full of energy, that even the casual passer-by can feel the house’s life pulsing in it like a beating heart. Once filled to the brim with faith, now with creativity, the love and passion poured out within its walls have given the house more than just an important cultural spot in Toledo, Ohio. They’ve given it a few permanent residents.
Imagine, for a moment, you are Uncle Creepy. Yes, the lord and high ruler of Dread Central. Imagine the power, the prestige, and the glory, and drink it in. You find yourself in Ohio, visiting what appears to be the perfect home to fit a stature such as yours. It’s located in the old West End, is 113,000 square feet of Gothic beauty, and has been the home of artists, actors and performers for many years. From the two ornate turrets that flank the main door to the Addams-family-style widow’s walk, it’s the type of place about which people dream. There’s only one problem that would send Uncle Creepy screaming out the front door. It’s haunted. By nuns.
The massive structure on Collingwood Boulevard was built more than 100 years ago as a convent, home to the Ursuline Order of the Sacred Heart. Completed in 1905, the building was as ornate as anything anyone had ever seen. After a few years, it became the home of the Mary Manse College, then the St. Ursuline Academy, both of which were boarding schools. However, the cost of keeping up such a grand building proved to be too much for the order, and it was left vacant for many years.
During the time in which it stood vacant, the house was left to ruin, often becoming the object of homeless squatters and also reportedly of occult activity that took place in the basement. Then, in 1985, Pat Tansey rented the building from the nuns with the idea of building a cultural center. It took him many years and a great deal of renovation, but his hard work and patience paid off. He was eventually able to purchase the property, as well as a few others adjacent to it, to create what is now known as the Collingwood Arts Center.
Whether a person believes in ghosts or not, there is no denying that there is something special going on at the art center, and in several of its buildings. Anyone who studies allegedly haunted locations knows that places where tragedy struck, places where faith and emotions run high, and places where the creative spark is called down often is ripe for a haunting. The art center has seen it all, and according to some, is still seeing it.
According to published reports, the main building is host to a variety of spectral apparitions, including several phantom nuns. One such nun is reported to haunt the attic area, where she has been seen sitting and sewing happily away. Described as friendly, she’s reputed to wave and smile at the living before vanishing. While she doesn’t often interact with others, there are some that have reportedly caused quite a bit of alarm.
One such entity, believed to be the spirit of a nun who hanged herself in the basement, is most often described as angry and filled with hate. Her usual stomping grounds include the center’s theater, where she stands in the third row of the balcony, scowling at performers, and in the halls of the main building. In her book Haunted Ohio III, author Chris Woodyard details an encounter with the spectral nun in which a resident was engulfed in a “molecular windstorm” that filled her with rage and hate, then left her feeling ice cold. Reports of the angry nun span back to the 1950’s, just after she is reputed to have killed herself.
There are two more entities, both reputed to haunt the basement area, and are the apparent products of some sort of conjuring that went on while the house was abandoned. The first, described as a “dark man,” floats about the stairwell to the basement, making those who encounter him feel anxious. The other, a dwarfish figure in a hood, has the reputation of being a prankster, haunting the hallways and basement area just for giggles. Though he’s never hurt anyone, he seems to take great joy in getting shrieks of fright.
Far from the only entities in the house, there are at least two that seem to keep to the Gerber House portion of the center. The first, a woman in white, has been theorized to be either a bride who died before her wedding day or a novice who perished before taking her full vows. While she stays to the back and front parlors, the second, actually a group of children, run about the hallways of the second floor hiding in closets and playing with each other. It is theorized the children died during one of the outbreaks of Typhoid which claimed the lives of many youngsters.
In 1985, Pat Tansey began to lay the groundwork to save the massive structure from land developers, and established the Collingwood Arts Center. Within its walls, not only can people see works of art on canvas or photography, but also music and theater thrive. In addition, the center rents rooms at a discounted rate to local artists. It boasts a 608-seat theater, studio rentals, and even an outreach center for the arts. Ask the owners if the building is haunted, you’ll get the “official word:” “If such paranormal activity exists, it merely adds to the unique flavor and ambiance of one of the largest and oldest structures in Toledo’s historic Old West End.” Having said that, there are dozens of report from visitors, residents, and others who swear they’ve encountered the restless spirits in the building. Several paranormal enthusiasts have come away from the building with odd photos and many a strange tale to tell.
The spirits within the building are always present, always watching those who walk within her halls. While the building itself lends to a more creepy vibe during the evening hours, paranormal experiences have happened during broad daylight. It seems then that the best times to visit are during one of the center’s many events. Tuesday nights, it seems is reserved for open-mic poetry nights, while other nights are reserved for film showings. Other performances and gallery showings pop up from time to time. The real reason to visit this incredible piece of history is for the one confirmed thing that goes on there: The art.
To find out more about the Collingwood Arts Center, check out their website here.
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