Halloween is fast approaching, and you know what that means – all manner of spooky and frightening stories! Over the years, we’ve had a few of our own tales of ghosts here at Wylie House.
The first documented story we have is from 1914, and recorded in 1937. The Wylie family had moved out in 1913, and Professor Amos Hershey and his wife, Lillian, were living in the house. The story goes that when they moved in they found a section of work near the attic door and over the attic stairwell where the plaster had never been finished. After some inquiry, the Hersheys discovered that the original plasterer had been working at the house when he found out that his wife had died. He rushed home to see her one last time, and grief-stricken, committed suicide by jumping down a well. Supposedly at the time, no one could be found to finish the plaster job because it was claimed the house was now haunted. Mrs. Hershey had the plaster in the stairway finished in 1914, but left the spot above the doorway unfinished out of respect for what she called “the hant.” She apparently reported no ghosts ever bothered her.
In 1986, Betty Landreth recalled the time she had spent at the house with her grandmother, Lillian Hershey. She claimed that every night footsteps could be heard up on the second floor, always around midnight. One night, Betty decided to try sleeping upstairs in the southwest bedroom. Although it has been claimed by another person that Mrs. Hersey did not believe in a ghost or was not bothered by it, Betty recounts that her grandmother refused to sleep upstairs because of the ghost. When Betty slept upstairs, she heard the clock chime midnight, then heard footsteps descend from the third floor, walk down the hallway, and proceed down the main stairway. After a couple of nights, Betty decided to resume sleeping downstairs. It was her opinion that the ghost was likely that of the plaster worker who had killed himself and that he walked the halls at night in despair. In Betty’s version of the story, he had hanged himself. She commented that no harm or damage was ever by the ghost.
In the 1960s, Wylie House was underwent a major renovation. During this time, several strange occurrences took place. Footsteps were heard (most often in the upstairs hallway), previously closed doors were inexplicably opened, and lights were turned on when no one was in the house. The campus police were asked to check up on the house, but no prowlers were ever discovered. One night a police officer found himself locked into a room on the second floor, and claims to have heard footsteps running up to the third floor.
Although John Dixon, the restoration supervisor, did not take these events seriously, many of the workmen refused to work alone in a room. However, his opinion changed one day when he was alone in the house heard a loud noise in the kitchen. The kitchen was still under construction, so he hurried in to see if something had collapsed. He found that the contents of a wheelbarrow had been scattered all over the floor, there was mortar dust clouding the air, and the kitchen was freezing cold.
Later during the reconstruction, a brick mortared into the wall was found to have a curse against the Wylie family carved into it. Dixon insisted that the brick was not a fake, because as someone who worked with historic structures, he was certain that the brick had been mortared at the time the house was originally built. Dixon would not say what was written on the brick, only saying that it was crude language and not appropriate to be recorded in the archives. With workmen as witnesses, Dixon smashed the brick with a hammer. No further incidents occurred after that point.
The most recent ghost sighting took place in 2002. Two men from the IU carpenter shop were in the house rehanging doors when one of the men reported briefly glimpsing a woman standing about a third of the way up the stairs. He noted that she was wearing a long, full, yellow dress, but didn’t get a closer look at her hair or face to be able to determine an age. He only saw the woman out of the corner of his eye. He stopped short in the doorway to the parlor and asked the other worker, “Who was that?” but there was no one there. Neither of the workmen seemed frightened by the experience.
So who knows? Maybe the next time you drop by Wylie House for a visit, you’ll hear the sound of footsteps. As far as we know, only one visitor, a little boy, has ever claimed to have seen anything ghostly – but maybe you’ll be the next lucky one that does. Or maybe the only ghosts here at Wylie House are the ones in our heads as we walk through the house and imagine the family going about their day to day lives. Either way, Happy Halloween!
-Allison Haack, Graduate Student Volunteer