Cleveland, Ohio A cast-iron gate encircles the yard around an old Gothic mansion in the most unlikely of places. From atop the stone walls, gargoyles peek down at passers-by while black boards mask the windows and doorways. It may look abandoned, but there are signs of renovation all about with a sign proudly proclaiming that the historic castle will soon open its doors. A brave person might venture into the shadow of the overhang, pressing his ear to the door. He might hear babies crying from within, music coming from an old pipe organ, and a voice that tells him to come inside. It begs the question: Are the boards and fence there to keep the curious out or to keep the evil in?
When people think of Cleveland, they most often think of baseball, football, and modern life far removed from things macabre and spectral. But there is more to this old city than just the Indians and the Browns. There are sections of town where skyscrapers are seen in the distance and shadows pool on the sidewalk like puddles of ice, just waiting for an unwary misstep, to chill one to the very soul. Along the street that bears its name sits just such a place. Mired in a dark history, Franklin Castle's thirty rooms and four stories hold numerous secrets, and it still stands as one of the most haunted homes in Ohio.
In 1865 a German immigrant named Hannes Tiedemann, a former barrel-maker and wholesale grocer who went into banking, built the lavish home and soon after moved in with his wife, Luise, and his mother, Weibeka. Over the next few years the Tiedemann family was blessed with the arrival of two children, August and Emma. Serenity, however, was not long lived in Franklin Castle, as by 1881 the seeds of things to come were planted.
The first casualty of the house was fifteen-year-old Emma, who died of complications due to diabetes. Since death from such diseases was commonplace at the time, not much thought was given to it, but soon after, Tiedemann's mother also died within the walls of Franklin Castle. Over the next three years Hannes Tiedemann buried three more children, the youngest of which was just eleven days old, and rumors began to spread that perhaps there was more to the deaths than originally thought.
Tiedemann enlisted the aid of a prominent architectural firm and began to add on to the house. Over the next few years a ballroom was added on the fourth floor along with a honeycomb of hidden rooms and secret passages. Stone gargoyles were also added to the roof, giving the place a more sinister and castle-like design. It was within one of the secret passages that the first overt murder took place in Franklin Castle, and the victim was Hannes' own niece. Some claim the child was insane, and he simply put her out of her misery. Others tell a different tale in which Hannes caught the girl in bed with his grandson and made her pay the ultimate price for her promiscuity.
In 1895, only a few short years after the death of her last child, Luise died at the age of 57. Hannes' remarriage a short time later gave rise to the rumors that something more than liver disease had ended her life and kindled the old notions that there were too many untimely deaths within the house's walls for it to be coincidence.
Tiedemann sold the house in 1895 to the Mullhauser family and died within a few years of a massive stroke.
Less than twenty years later the Mullhauser family sold the castle to the German Socialist Party, which used it for official meetings and such, though many believed they were actually Nazi spies. More blood was spilled within the walls of the house when twenty of the Party?s members were executed by machine-gun in one of the castle's secret rooms. Though they owned the house for nearly fifty-five years, most of the time the house was vacant.
In January of 1968 James Romano and his family bought the house from the German Socialist Party and immediately began experiencing unexplainable phenomena. His children befriended a "little girl in the attic" who did nothing but cry in a dusty corner, but no child could ever be found. This event continued unabated despite the Romano family calling on the aid of a priest and even the Northeast Ohio Psychical Research Society. In the middle of the night on their first night of investigation, one of their team members fled the house in terror. Shortly thereafter, while investigating strange noises, Mrs. Romano discovered a hidden room, and inside she found the skeletons of at least one dozen babies.
The Romano family sold the house to a man named Sam Muscatello, who was intrigued by its reputation and history. He began to explore the house in earnest and made a most gruesome discovery. Behind a sliding panel inside the castle's turret, he found a man's skeleton. The discovery affected Muscatello in a strange way as he became sick and quickly lost nearly thirty pounds in only a few weeks.
The house continued to switch hands with each owner staying for less time than the last and often selling at a loss. Reports of babies crying through the night and unseen visitors pacing the halls continued to perpetuate until 1999, when Michelle Heimburger, who was well-aware of the castle's reputation, bought it with plans of renovation.
Restless souls abound in Franklin Castle, the most prominent of which is the "Lady in Black." In life her name was Rachel, a serving girl in the Tiedemann household and, rumor had it, Hannes' lover. On the day she was to be married, Hannes flew into a jealous rage and strangled her in the ballroom. He then stashed her body in one of the secret passages. She has been sighted in the turret windows as well as dancing through the fourth floor ballroom. A paperboy once went to the door of the house and knocked. He heard a voice calling to him to "come on in." When he did, he discovered no one home, but a woman in black sailed down the stairs past him, disappearing into an adjacent room.
Another ghost is that of the child who interacted with the Romano family. She was always crying, they said, and the children seemed quite fond of her. The Romano's sold the house, however, after the child warned them of an impending death in the family.
In addition, the sounds of babies crying can be heard at night in the house as can the sounds of an organ being played despite the fact that no such instrument is in the house. Other phenomena that have been recorded include footsteps on floors where there is no one and the main chandelier spinning about without any outside influence.
With the help of real estate investor Charles Milsaps and architect Robert Maschke, this beautiful mansion is being restored to its former glory. Owner Heimburger had slow going of it as part of the house was set ablaze by an arsonist a few years ago, but the renovations continue. The house was opened as an exclusive club in the spring of 2004.
The Franklin Castle Club is a private club serving lunch and dinner to its members. Its rooms have been made into private dining rooms and a club, leaving the ballroom for large functions. Initial plans for opening the building to ghost hunters may have been abandoned, but the building itself is quite visible from the street, and the beauty of the old castle still shines through.
See you in two weeks!
Original artwork by Bill "Splat" Johnson