Category: Cemeteries

The Slaying of 16-Year-Old Maria Buel by Her Stepfather Ira West Gardner

Trigger Warning: This post contains accounts of sexual abuse and fatal injuries to a minor

I tend to avoid such high profile topics, focusing instead on the tragedies that have been forgotten with time, however this case is very near and dear to my heart. Also, I have much I wish to say about this case. 

My interpretation of Maria

Maria’s Ballad

As a child, I had such a fondness for history and genealogy and this being before the internet age, my paternal grandmother supplied me with all the tools to sate my appetite for making great discoveries. She had a book from the 70’s entitled “Mecca”, a history of my hometown, that was written by Thomas Kachur, a local and acquaintance to my grandparents. I loved this book and spent hours soaking in its wealth of information on my township’s history. My grandma knew of my adoration for this book and eventually bequeathed it to me when I was a teenager. Today, it is one of my most treasured possessions. In one part of the book, Kachur included several poems written by Mecca locals in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He stated that though the poem I have transcribed below was written about the murder of a Gustavus girl that had occurred one township over in 1832, it was discovered among local papers. That poem, typed on paper, read:

Attend, my friends, whilst I relate
In rustic verse Maria’s fate.
A lovely girl of fifteen years,
In health and beauty she appears.

She was her mother’s fond delight,
She was charming, beauty bright,
Who would have thought she would so soon
Been sent to molder in the tomb.

The cloudless skies appeared serene,
And not a fear to intervene,
Her hopes were bright for happiness,
She hoped to live and die in peace.

But, oh, alas, her hopes soon fled,
A storm soon gathered round her head
And burst upon her in her bloom,
And sent her to her silent tomb.

Think, oh my soul, that dreadful night
Which filled her heart with dread afright
To think her father, here would be
And force her to act impiously.

In silent watches of the night,
Came to her bed with footsteps light,
“Maria, let me lie with thee
Of blood relation we are free.”

“Of blood relation we are none
You have adopted me your own,
How can you then my bed defile
Since I am your adopted child.

“O, cruel father,” she did say,
“Unto your bed return I pray,
Don’t let such thoughts as those arise
Your Maker’s laws thus to despise.”

Unto Maria then he said:
“I will return unto my bed,
If you will ever silent be
I’ll come no more to trouble thee.”

This solemn vow he soon forgot
His Maker’s law regarded not,
He plunged in sin beyond degree,
And ruined his own family.

She told her mother of her distress,
And of her father’s wickedness,
And that at home she could not stay
That she had better go away.

He hearing this flew in a rage
To murder her he did engage,
She fled for life to neighbors near,
Saying: “Protect me, my friends most dear.”

The neighbors they did her protect,
And kept him from that wicked act.
He, through persuasion, homeward went,
His wicked heart was not content.

In crime he was not satisfied,
He went and lay by the wayside
Thinking that she would pass that way
By morning light, or break of day.

He then in a deceitful mood
Feigned himself kind and good.
He wished her to come home again,
Her goods and clothing to obtain.

By the persuasion of her friends
She lamb-like went unto her end.
Alas it fills my heart with grief
To think that she had no relief.

Her mother went to bring her home,
With fear and trembling she did come,
Her father met her at the gate,
Where he deliberately did wait.

Maria, can’t you stay with me.”
“No, sir,” she said, “that cannot be.”
He from a pocket drew a knife
And pierced her heart and took her life.

He pierced her heart, the blood did flow,
And with sarcastic smile said: “Go
You, yesterday, outwitted me,
Today I have outwitted thee.”

“Oh, cruel father, how could you
Your hands in innocence imbue!
How could you set that fatal snare,
And take the life of one so fair!”

You guardian step-fathers beware
Of those entrusted to your care,
Treat them with tenderness and love
And merit blessings from above.

Ira West Gardner was the man
Who formed this base and wicked plan,
No fear of God before his eyes
Defied the ruler of the skies

Maria F. Buel was her name,
She was a girl deserving fame
Alas, she met a cruel end
By him who ought to have been her friend.

His counselors for him did plead
But in his case could not succeed,
So dark and bloody was the train,
That guilt on him did still remain.

Full testimony did appear
And when the jury came to hear
In verdict they were soon agreed
That he was guilty of the deed.

Your time is short on earth to stay,
Prepare for death without delay.
Though you no pity showed at all
May God have mercy on her soul.

– Author Unknown

This poem was written in 1843, over ten years after Maria Buel was murdered by her step-father, Ira West Gardner in Gustavus, Ohio. The author, so moved by Maria’s plight, took pen to paper to record a romanticized version of the events leading up to and after her death. This is the version passed from generation to generation of locals to who cannot hear the name of Gustavus without recalling Maria Buel, a name that has become synonymous with the town of her murder. 190 years after her death, she is still remembered, her innocence and the senseless manner of her death capturing hearts all around. 

Today, Gustavus is a bucolic farming community of less than 1,000 residents, mostly open with its pastures and crop fields. In Maria’s time, Gustavus was still heavily wooded in most parts with thick underbrush that settlers had begun clearing for farmland when the first white man arrived thirty years prior. The first settlers had built their homes at Gustavus center and fanned out from there.

On a stretch of lonely road lays a tiny cemetery, one of three in the township. The most popular grave sits closest to the roadside, set away from the rest, an intricately-carved stone marking the place of her eternal rest. It reads: 

In memory of the young, beautiful and innocent Frances Maria Buel who was butchered by her stepfather, Ira W. Gardner, on Aug. 8, 1832 in the 16th year of her age.

The poem on the bottom was written by the murdered girl’s friend, Phoebe Gilder. The complete poem that Phoebe wrote read, “Death chilled this fair fountain ere sorrow hath stained it; T’was frozen in all the pure light of its course; And she sleeps till the sunshine of heaven unchains it; to water that Eden where first was its source; When rising again with bright seraphs attended; May she join that blest throng forever on high; Where vile thieves and murderers must be ever excluded; And where pleasure abounds with never a sigh.”

The Gardner Family

Ira West Gardner was born on August 4, 1797 in Lee, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, the son of Varnum and Mehitable Tuttle Gardner. He came to Ohio and married Anna Logan on Oct 17, 1824 in Ellsworth (once part of Trumbull County but now lies inside the boundaries of Mahoning County). According to the research of Cleveland based author and historian, William G. Krejci, Anna was likely the daughter of William and Lucretia Logan of Ellsworth. William Logan was Ellsworth’s first Cooper—a maker and repairer of casks and barrels—and died during the war of 1812. Anna’s mother remarried to Isaac Allen in 1815. Anna told Gardner she was a widow before they married and she brought to the marriage her daughter, Frances Maria Buel, and a son of which nothing is known. Maria was born in 1816.

They came to Gustavus at some point, as Gardner appears in the tax records in the years 1828-1832. He did not own much property, renting a home from his neighbor, Riverius Bidwell, and had two horses worth $40 each and one cow worth $8 to his name.

Gardner is described as having a unique character, good-humored, but often finding himself in a depression. His depression was due to both family troubles and financial hardships. Bidwell gave him a series of loans to get him out of binds. Gardner was known to avoid labor and any hard work in particular, so no doubt he brought much of his financial trouble on himself.

In 1826, Gardner took his wagon loaded with wheat from home and when he returned later that day, he was bleeding profusely from a head wound. He said he had fallen from the wagon and hit his head. He refused a doctor, but he was restless during that night. Both his wife and his brother, Elisha Gardner, tended him and found him to be quite out of his mind. After this incident, he complained of having headaches.

In 1827, Elisha Gardner visited Gardner while he was recovering from jaundice. Gardner had a blind man living in his house and when he tried to introduce this man to Elisha Gardner, he did it in a manner quite bizarre that it stood out to his brother for years to come. 

When Gardner discovered that Maria and her sibling were illegitimate and not a product of a previous marriage, he argued with his wife and went outside where he sat under the cover of some hedges. Elisha Gardner came to him and found his brother in a terrible mood; sullen and brooding. Gardner told Elisha that he had only just discovered the illegitimacy, and because he and Anna had no children of their own, the shame was unbearable. He wanted to leave and go to Michigan, but Elisha told him that would not be a good idea. Gardner then said he would go to sea instead and travel far away from this place, but again Elisha talked him into reason. Gardner eventually made his way back into his house but refused to sleep with his wife for many nights afterward. Anna told Elisha that she was afraid of Gardner and asked him to stay, so he slept at the house a few nights until Gardner’s treacherous demeanor dissipated.

The Gardners apparently reconciled to a certain point, seeing as in following year, Anna gave birth to a daughter, Jane, born in 1828, and a son, Giles, born in 1830. 

Gardner should finally have felt at peace, now having two legitimate children, but he continued to have little respect for his wife and her first two children, especially Maria. He treated her like chattel; a possession to be used at his pleasure and not at all like a human being, a daughter to be loved and protected. 

It is said that Maria was very beautiful, of prepossessing countenance. Surely, she caught the glances of the neighborhood boys and men alike, but Gardner was jealous and possessive of his step-daughter. In June of 1832, she had fallen ill and Gardner refused to obtain medicine for her because he discovered she had gone to meeting with a Mr. Roberts. Gardner told her she was sick due to her going with this man. A neighbor calling in to see Maria at the time of her illness witnessed this exchange of words.

Either before or after this incident involving Maria’s illness, Gardner, Anna, and Maria attended a camp meeting with a friend, Mr. Wilson. On the drive home, Gardner urged the horses to a hasty gallop. Anna asked him to slow the horses, but he ignored her. Mr. Wilson then tried to speak with Gardner, but Gardner gave a half-hearted response, appearing as though his mind was elsewhere. When Anna later recalled this event, she said that he seemed so angry that “he drove off scorching the road.” 

These camp meetings, or revivals that the Gardners attended, were extremely popular on the American frontier before many churches were founded. As a wave of the Great Awakening swept the country to stir hearts and minds that had grown stale, people from all over came together in a central area to experience religion over a few day’s time. People who lived too far to commute each day lodged together at the dwelling of the host or camped outside during the night and it was a great way for people to meet others from different townships. One of the circuit preachers at these revivals was my great-uncle, Rev. Isaac Winans, who stood on the scaffold at the execution of Ira West Gardner the following year.

We do not know when Gardner’s sexual abuse of Maria began. It may have been that summer, perhaps even earlier. I wonder if Gardner observed Maria with Mr. Roberts at the camp meeting and did not like what he saw, which is why he drove home so recklessly. Largely in part of the poem that was mass-produced and read far and wide throughout the Mahoning Valley, many assume Gardner made only unwelcome advances to Maria that she rebuffed, though the text hints that more went on. We know by the account from their neighbor Bidwell that Gardner most likely raped Maria at least once. In Bidwell’s statement, Maria confided to him that Gardner “had criminal intercourse with her in a manner that would send him to the penitentiary”. When Bidwell confronted Gardner with these accusations, he told Bidwell that they were not true. This claim by sexual predators that their victim is lying is a tale as old as time and is not only the reason many criminals were never punished, but why many girls, boys, and women stayed quiet and lived with the abuse. Though this still goes on today, we know better, and have rape kits and DNA to assist with truth-finding. For Maria to have a voice and speak out against her abuser was unheard of for her time and though we think of her as a helpless victim, she had a certain strength about her too. 

Perhaps Gardner attempted to rationalize his behavior to Maria, as we know predators to do, in a way to break down his victim so that she will both succumb and stay quiet. I wonder if he reminded her constantly of her illegitimacy and told her she was worthless, having little opportunity to marry a man of good standing. He may have said she should be thankful for the attentions he gave her because that was all she deserved and nothing more. We see in the way that he withheld medicine from her, that she or her mother had little say in any matter. Gardner had to be in complete control of all situations and when Maria finally defied him, the loss of this control sent him spiraling into red-hot fury.

Darkness In August

On August 4th, a Saturday night, Gardner went out without a coat and stayed away from home the entire night. His wife considered this unusual behavior for him and she did not know where he had gone.

During the 6th and 7th of August, neighbors noticed Maria running from home, disheveled, barefoot, and without a handkerchief to cover her shoulders with. She would return home, only to be seen running away again as if Gardner was playing a game of cat and mouse with her. She finally took haven with a neighbor, Harlow Mills, telling him of the treatment she had received at the hands of her step-father. Maria’s mother went to Mills and implored him to talk to Gardner as she had apparently had no success or was too timid to talk sense into her husband. Mills went to Gardner to discuss the discord in the family and attempted to come to peaceable terms. Mills spoke with Gardner at long length and told him that perhaps it would be best for Maria to go off on her own. She was no longer considered to be a child and if she did not wish to stay at the Gardner home any longer, she should not be forced to live there.

Gardner agreed to these terms, yet as soon as he discovered Maria was hiding at Mills’, he told Mills to send her home at once and without the company of the farmer. Gardner wished to speak to Maria in private. However, some time after Mills left for home, he returned stating that Maria had denied Gardner’s request. Maria’s mother again pleaded with Mills and asked him to help restore the peace. Sometime later, Mills came back to the Gardner’s for a third time, this time bringing along his wife. Anna alerted Gardner to the visitors and told him that the Mills wished to speak with him.

“I do not want to talk,” Gardner replied. “If Maria comes home, things will go well; if not, they will go wrong.”

When the Mills went home and walked towards the barn, Maria ran out in a fright, telling them that Gardner was coming. They saw Maria’s step-father approaching from a distance and Mills told Maria to stay put. When Gardner walked up, Mills hindered him from coming through the barn door. Gardner asked Mills why he could not come in.

Mills replied, “If you intend to kill her as you threaten, you shall not do it here.”

Gardner said, “I do not wish to hurt her; merely to converse with her.” 

Feeling that Gardner indeed was not a harm after all, Mills finally allowed Gardner to come inside the barn and talk to his step-daughter. We do not know what passed between them, but Gardner left without incident after having the chance to speak with Maria. Awhile later, Gardner asked Mills to come to his house and though he did, they did not come to any sort of agreement. 

Another neighbor dropped in at Gardner’s requesting Maria’s shoes and handkerchief so that he could take them to her. Gardner was adamant that Maria could not have any of her belongings unless she returned home. 

Throughout that entire day of August 7th, Gardner was on a rampage, searching all over for Maria. She was forced to move her hiding place, perhaps multiple times to escape the threats he made on her life, lest she return home. The people of Gustavus took great pity on her, not only hearing the intimations of abuse and sexual impropriety on Gardner’s behalf, but also witnessed the manner in which he tried to track Maria down, promising to kill her when he found her.

“I will be revenged of her if I have to follow her to hell, “Ira said to one of his neighbors. “You outwitted me last night but I will outgeneral you yet.”

Another neighbor who was hiding Maria stopped him from approaching, and Gardner said to the woman, “I will see her if I have to wait this seven years. I sent word by my wife that you had outwitted me last night, but I will outmatch you yet, there is no mistake about it. I must see her and will have my revenge if it is not this eight years.”

Gardner asked this same neighbor if any men were at home and she told him that no, only a boy was there.

Gardner then said, “Maria has got to go home and live contented or I will be the death of her—I will have my revenge. You may think you can get her so far away that I cannot find her; but that will be of no use for I can find her—I will follow her to the end of the earth.”

I personally see not only Gardner’s possessiveness of Maria in his words, but his abject narcissism. We see how he constantly makes proclamation that he is able to outwit anyone who stands in his way of getting to her. 

He asked the neighbor if he could come inside to see Maria, saying, “I may as well see her first as last, for see her I will, one way or another. She has got to go home with me, or I will be the death of her.”

Maria alas drew up the gumption to return home for her belongings and ask permission to leave home permanently on the evening of August 7th. Following her were two young men who had come at the bidding of both her and her mother. Coming inside, they spoke bluntly with Gardner and told him his threats must desist and he must let Maria go, for she wished to leave and leave at once.

The young men having made their point, Maria turned to leave, but Gardner made her come back, insisting she was not allowed to go.

To the young men Gardner said, “I suppose I know what you came for and you may as well go home.”

Maria replied, “I hope they have come to help me. If not, I shall always feel hard towards them.”

“I suppose they have come to help you away,” said Gardner, “but it is of no use, for the first one that puts his hand on me is a dead man as quick as he does it.”

“You would not kill me,” countered one of the men.

Gardner said, “Try it and you will see. I don’t want you to interfere with my family concerns.”

Fearing her step-father had no mind to let her go, Maria knew she must escape and made for the nearest window. Before she could jump out, Gardner issued her back and forced her to sit down.

“You cannot go from here,” he told her, “and if you do, you will go a corpse.”

Realizing the situation was worse then they thought, the young men decided Gardner could not be persuaded by discussion alone. One of them went out and came back inside, having armed himself with a garden hoe. The threat to use it as a weapon was enough that Gardner finally stood down and allowed Maria to go, but that did not keep him from later attempting to seek her out. Gardner continued his rampage late into the evening, but was unsuccessful in finding her.

In the morning of August 8th, Gardner went to Bidwell’s house and asked if Maria was there. When Bidwell told him she was not there, Gardner went on searching at the house next door and Bidwell followed him there. Bidwell told Gardner Maria was old enough to leave home at her will and Gardner must stop harassing her. He also told Gardner, if he was worried about his responsibility for Maria’s financial future, Bidwell himself would post bond to the overseers (similar to our present-day welfare agents) to sustain the girl. Gardner declined Bidwell’s offer and asked him to speak to Maria and persuade her to come come.

Bidwell asked, “If she comes home, would you let her have her clothes, treat her well, and let her go in peace?”

Gardner convinced Bidwell that he had no intention of harming Maria, that he felt terrible of what occurred between him and his step-daughter, but his abuse of her was not true. He said he had been in such a passion when he spoke words of vengeance but he truly did not mean them. Gardner assured Bidwell that if Maria came home and stayed a few days to give the appearance that the situation was now peaceful, she could then leave on her own accord. 

Bidwell told Gardner that Maria would not consent to stay and doubted she would accept such an agreement. Finally, Gardner told Bidwell that if Maria came home that day, she could leave with her clothes before sundown. Bidwell made Gardner promise to cause no harm to Maria and when he did, Bidwell went and fetched Maria. He brought her home and Gardner greeted her at the fence, appearing calm and pleasant. Maria felt safe enough due to Gardner’s good humor and having Bidwell at her side, so she proceeded into the house with the men and went to be with her mother.

Gardner and Bidwell had work to do on the township roads, so went off where they worked until noon time. During this time, Gardner hardly labored, was quiet and brooding, and spent the majority of the time seated on a log as if deep in thought. The men returned to the Gardner home for dinner, most likely dining with Maria, Anna, Maria’s unknown brother (if still living), and the Gardners’ two small children, but Gardner ate nothing. I can imagine the tension felt at that table, especially between Maria and Gardner. No doubt Maria felt incredibly uncomfortable having to endure such a reunion with her step-father after all the ill he had wished her. The fact that Gardner refused to eat surely made the situation more unbearable and I wonder if he stared at Maria or off into space; perhaps a bit of both. In any case, it seems no words passed between them.

After the meal, Bidwell reposed on a bed, while Gardner and Anna went into the yard to discuss the great matter at hand. When they came back to the house, Anna bid her daughter to come outside and after they had their own conversation in the yard, Maria left to go to another neighbor’s. It appears that these conversations bore no resolution and appeased neither Maria or Anna on Maria’s safety. Maria did not take her clothes with her as presumably Gardner had not allowed her to do so. He wanted her to have a reason to return.

Gardner asked his wife what she and Maria had decided and Anna was adamant that Maria did not wish to stay. Gardner asked Anna to request Maria come home once more so that he could have a chance to speak with her.

“If she comes,” Anna asked, “you will let her have her clothes and go in peace?”

He replied, “It shall be done, but I cannot alter my feelings towards her.”

Anna seemed satisfied and went to the neighbor’s to fetch her daughter home, a mistake I am certain she lived to regret. Gardner remained inside the door of his home and Bidwell watched from the bed. Gardner turned and began to walk towards Bidwell, paused, turned back, and then went outside.

In the front yard, Maria and her mother approached the fence and Gardner came to meet them at the opening and exchanged some words. They began to walk towards the house with Anna in the lead, Gardner second, and Maria following. The Gardners turned the corner of the house, but suddenly Gardner turned back and ran to Maria. He grabbed her shoulder with his left hand and with his right plunged a large butcher knife into Maria’s chest. Maria cried out shrilly and Gardner withdrew the weapon. He then drove it in and out of her stomach, all within a matter of seconds. Maria ran. Bidwell rushed out of the house after hearing the scream and watching the horror unfold, immediately overtook Gardner, causing him to drop the knife. Maria had made it a distance of eight feet when she looked back at her step-father and fell to the ground, unconscious.

Gardner said, “I have done the work thoroughly, there can be no mistake about that and now I am satisfied. I deserve to die and shall have to and am willing to, but I will never be hung.”

Maria’s mother, surely going to her daughter, cried out, “Did I call her home to see her butchered? Lord Jesus, have mercy on her soul!”

Apparently it had happened so quickly that Maria’s mother was confused on how it occurred. She asked her husband why he did it and what he used to take Maria down.

He replied, “I did it with that knife, which I kept in my pantaloons pocket.”

Maria’s mother spoke to her daughter, perhaps holding her as she said, “Poor creature, you could not stay home, if you would!”

She then looked at Gardner and said, “I know what caused you to kill her, but should never have told you.”

Though it is merely intimated here, we know what Maria confided in her mother, the fact that she was sexually abused. We could blame Anna and ask why she did not better protect Maria and not immediately leave Gardner, taking the children with her. At the very least, could she have brought Maria her clothes, or smuggled them to her when Gardner was not around, so that Maria would not have to come for them? But Anna was most likely a victim of abuse herself, heavily controlled by her husband and living in constant fear of him. Now before her, revealed the great lengths he would go to to satisfy his pride.  

Maria’s breath lasted ten more minutes until she expired. It is not mentioned in the reference material whether or not a doctor was summoned. In any case, he would not have reached Maria before she died. By this time, neighbors had begun to congregate in the yard. A man passing by had watched the entire ordeal, leaving three witnesses to Gardner’s crime.

Gardner stood satisfied on his lawn and commented to a neighbor standing nearby, “I have killed her and my life must go for hers.”

She replied, “If you are willing it should go so.”

He said, “It must, willing or not willing, for I was determined to kill her since yesterday morning.”

One of the young men that had been guarding Maria at Gardner’s house the night of August 7th approached Gardner and Gardner said to him, “You ought to have kept her away for a day or two until I got over it, knowing as you did that I was in a passion.”

Gardner went on to say, “I told you you outwitted me last night, but that I would match you yet. I have done it and got my revenge. I have committed the crime and expect to be punished.”

When the other young man walked up to Gardner, Gardner said, “I have now outgeneraled you as I told you I would. I did the deed and did it effectually.”

When neighbors discovered he had been carrying the knife on his person the last two days, they asked him why, and he replied, “It was to scare her and make her think she had got to live at home and I had not a mind to kill her but a few minutes.”

Gardner said to Bidwell, “You have helped me out of a great many difficulties. Can you help me out of this?”

A few minutes later, it appeared Gardner displayed his first sign of remorse when he bellowed, “Oh, that she could again stand on her feet and breathe as she used to. I would give ten thousand worlds if I had them, if she could.”

Neighbors held Gardner at his home, but he did not put up a fight or try to escape. It was Mills who contacted the sheriff and Jedidiah Burnham, Bidwell’s brother in-law, wrote a warrant for Gardner’s arrest. Constable Anson Moore came to the house and arrested Gardner without issue.

While on his way to prison, Gardner told Bidwell—who accompanied him to jail in Kinsman—that the moment he had turned back when Bidwell had been lying on his bed was the moment Gardner had mind to put away the knife he carried in his pocket so he would not be tempted to use it. He said a voice whispered to him he should not kill her at that time, but his want of vengeance proved too great to heed this plea. 

The day following the murder, an axe and a pitchfork were discovered in the corner of Gardner’s fence near the road. When questioned, Gardner said he had placed them there on August 7th and would have killed Maria that night if had known where she was. 

Maria’s body was examined, perhaps by the one of the local doctors at the time. Her wounds were two inches wide and six inches deep. She was laid to rest in East Gustavus Cemetery, along Gardner Barclay Road, an ornate stone—likely paid by the township—erected in her honor.

The Trial

Gardner’s hearing was held before Justice of the Peace Abraham Griswold in Kinsman and he was taken to the jail in Warren.

During his initial examination before the magistrate, Gardner refused counsel, declaring, “I want no counsel. I have nothing for them to say. I have committed the deed. She was innocent and has done nothing to cause me to do the deed.”

Nevertheless, Gardner’s appointed defense attorneys were Joshua Giddings and Benjamin Wade. Prosecutor Roswell Stone was assisted by David Tod. The witnesses for the defense were Elisha Gardner, Chester Lewis, Buel Barnes, Dr. Asahel Jones, Dr. Peter F. Allen, Dr. F.T. Allen, Martin Meacham, Russell Hotchkiss, David Smith, Levi Smith, General Smith, Archibold Black, Jeduthan Farnam, Mrs. Farnam, and Charles Reed. The witnesses for the prosecution were Riverius Bidwell, Thaddius St. John, Willis Roberts, Joseph Wilson, Erastus Cone, Harlow Mills, Amos Mills, and Dr. Peter Allen.

On August 26, 1833 Gardner’s trial took place at the original courthouse in Warren, the county seat, overseen by Judge John C. Wright and lasted one day. His defense team tried to enter a plea of insanity as evidenced by his head injury eight years earlier as well as his odd behavior through the years. Witnesses said Gardner had acted deranged ever since his knock in the head. His head was examined by a number of physicians who found what appeared to be a depression in one area and a protuberance in another. They were inconclusive on whether the formations were caused from injuries or were congenital defects. 

Friends and neighbors backed up the notion Gardner was insane, believing his head to be much affected. A Mr. Lewis who had been walking along the road with Gardner the winter before the murder, stated that Gardner suddenly staggered off the side of the road, nearly into the ditch. He then appeared fine, returning to the roadway, telling Lewis he had been seized by a sudden pain in his head.

The same Mr. Wilson who had sat in the Gardner’s buggy when Gardner went tearing out of the camp meeting, said he had known Gardner to have two different sides. On one side he was good natured and “sociable” and on the other “he refused to answer questions and was more like a silly man than a wise one”.

When Gardner was observed walking along the road on the morning of the murder, neighbors said he turned his head from side to side, as if searching. When asked what was wrong, he responded that he had lost his horse, which was not true.

To counter the claim of insanity, many neighbors came forward, having known Gardner for several years, and stated that he had never exhibited any sign of derangement. He seemed to be a decent man for the most part, despite all of his troubles.

The Sentencing

The jurors were James Duncan, Tinus Brainard, Lucius Sackett, Philo Chedester, John Hall, Fred Moherman, Benjamin Robbins, John Northrup, Richard Osborn, Henry Winans (my great uncle), Horace Flower, and Henry Holley. The judge charged this group of twelve men with deciding whether Maria’s murder was premeditated and therefore first degree murder, or performed in the passion of anger to be labeled second-degree murder. The jury left to deliberate at 6:30 p.m. and returned at 8:45 with a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. The defense argued for a new trial because the verdict was against the evidence of possible insanity on Gardner’s part. The judge overruled this motion. 

The Sandusky Clarion
Nov 13, 1833, Wed · Page 3

Judge Wright said, “Ira West Gardner, you have been accused by the grand jury of your county, on their oath, with having purposely, of deliberate and premeditated malice, murdered Maria Gardner, otherwise called Maria Buel, by stabbing her in the body with a knife…an offense which our law denominates murder in the first degree, and punishes with death…The facts proven, present a case of uncommon enormity. The object of your cruelty was a young woman, the daughter of your wife, who had been reared in your family, and looked up to you as a father, for support and protection. For some reason, not very satisfactorily shown in the proof, she, for a short time before her death, evinced a strong desire to leave your roof, under circumstances which induced her friends to believe she was in fear of you. You pursued her, avowing a determination to be revenged, if she did not return to your house, and continue to reside there. Finally, just before her death, you caused her mother to go to a neighbor’s, whither she had fled, to persuade her to return, and with a butcher-knife, met her on the way, at noon-day, and plunged it twice into her body, barbarously murdering her, and when your object was accomplished, you exulted in the deed, and rejoiced that you had obtained your revenge. The act was wholly unprovoked…it is necessary that you should suffer an ignominious death, that others, warned by your example, may be afraid to commit crime. Be persuaded, then, to employ the few moments remaining to you on earth, in making your peace with God…It now only remains for me to pronounce the judgment the law has provided for your crime. It is: That you be taken from hence to the common jail of the county, and that you be safely kept. That on Friday, the 4th day of October, in the year of our Lord 1833, you be taken to the place of execution, and between the hours of nine o’clock in the morning and 4 o’clock in the afternoon of that day, that you hung by the neck till you are dead. May God have mercy on you!”

Gardner returned to his jail cell where the sheriff’s mounted guard, Richard Sparks Holeton, stood watch over Gardner. While he waited for his execution day, friends and family came together on his behalf and submitted a petition to Governor Robert Lucas, asking that Gardner’s execution be delayed until the next legislature could commute his death sentence. The reasons they gave was that first, they did not believe Gardner to have premeditated Maria’s murder and instead had killed her in a fit of passion; the second being that they believed Gardner to be insane. Drs. Francis T. Allen and Ashel Jones had made considerable inquests into Gardner’s family and discovered therein a hereditary predisposition to insanity, though could not say that Gardner was truly himself insane. Governor Lucas, despite lacking faith in the evidence within the petition, delayed Gardner’s execution for nearly a month, until he could be satisfied whether the people of Trumbull County wished Gardner dead or alive. Alas in late October gallows were constructed near Red Run, just up the street from Oakwood Cemetery.

The Execution

Google aerial image of how the intersection of South and Chestnut Streets appears today

November 1, 1833 proved a fine day for an execution. An estimated twelve to fifteen thousand spectators swarmed the scene like a modern day sporting event. Throngs of people joined together at the intersection of South and Chesnut streets in Warren, parents bringing their children, absenting them from school, and vendors sold food as well as souvenirs to remember such a day. Warren’s first band played a dirge and a light infantry company led the carriage carrying the criminal as if they were in a parade.

“At 12:15 he was taken to the gallows in Sheriff George Mygatt’s carriage, and the procession was large.

The company was formed in the following order: Cavalry, three companies of riflemen, field music, Eolian and Euterpian music, light cavalry in a hollow square in which were the prisoner, sheriff, clergy and physicians (and his brother-in-law, Mr. Smith), followed by four companies of riflemen.

Gardner bowed to several acquaintances during the ride to the gallows, and on arriving mounted the steps “firmly and with composure” at one o’clock. With him on the gallows were the sheriff, brother-in-law, and Reverends Mack and Winans of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Bruce Stevens, The Niles Daily Times, 1976

Sheriff Mygatt, a man of 35 years, had led Gardner to the scaffold, having worked up the nerve to do so, knowing he was leading a condemned man to his certain death and would have to complete the task himself. Rev. Winans, one of the ministers standing behind Gardner, was my great uncle and the brother of Henry Winans who served on the jury. After the group reached the hanging place, the soldiers from the light infantry surrounded the scaffold as guards. Reverend Mack spoke a sermon before the large crowd. It is said that onlookers crammed elbow to elbow on a two-acre hillside and boys climbed trees to see above the masses. Ira joined the crowd in the singing of several hymns. Another sermon was preached, perhaps this time by Rev. Winans, followed by the final prayer. Gardner asked for another prayer be spoken for his soul and his wish was granted.

The entire procession having lasted well over an hour, everyone but Mygatt and Gardner vacated the platform. Gardner refused the overcap when Mygatt attempted to pull it over the condemned man’s head and requested to wear his beaver hat instead. Mygatt acquiesced. Mygatt placed the noose around Gardner’s neck; the rope being attached to a large overhanging tree branch, and stepped down off the platform.

Mygatt said, “Mr. Gardner, your time has come.”

At 2:25 p.m., Mygatt swung an axe down through the rope holding the trap door and when the rope severed, the door opened, sending Gardner plummeting downward. The long-drop method had yet to be invented, so the short-drop method was used for Gardner’s execution, and upon dropping, he slowly strangled to death. He was thirty-six years old. Alas, Maria received her justice from the grave, for all the turmoil, terror, and pain her step-father had caused her.

The crowd watched for half an hour as Gardner hung, putting up no struggle, his shoulders moving on occasion. Mygatt cut the rope holding Gardner’s body at 2:56 p.m. The men loaded the body into the wagon of Josiah Smith, Gardner’s brother-in-law. Smith planned on burying Gardner in Gustavus, but the locals forbid it and Smith interred him in Old Kinsman Cemetery. The Kinsman locals were outraged and over many day’s time threatened to dig up and destroy the body. By cover of night, Smith dug up the body, placed it in his wagon and drove it up to Ashtabula County to the farm he shared with his wife, Gardner’s sister Sabrina, in Williamsfield (the township directly northeast of Gustavus). There, between two fields, Smith buried Gardner’s body, and to this day, the exact location is not known. 

Riverius Bidwell

Photo from the History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties,
Volumes 1-2 pg 292

The neighbor and friend who cared so much about the welfare of the Gardners left Gustavus in 1834 and relocated to Kinsman. Bidwell had been born in 1790 in Connecticut and came to Gustavus with his family in 1812, making them some of the first settlers in the township. Bidwell, who was said to be “of Herculean strength, clad in plain but cleanly homespun, a huge head of seven and seven-eighths dimension, with benign countenance under a straw or wool hat”, became a prominent and successful citizen. In the early to mid-1820’s, he was appointed treasurer of Trumbull County, which in that day included the top portion of Mahoning County. His duty proved a huge undertaking and two years in a row he spent weeks walking barefoot, collecting taxes from every resident in the county. Once he had made the collection from thirty-five townships, he walked all the way to Columbus, Ohio to deposit the funds with the Auditor of the State. Bidwell, a man of many trades, was also the Justice of the Peace and postmaster of Gustavus and in his absence, his wife Eunicia carried out his duties at the post office. Bidwell was also in charge of the construction of roads, turnpikes, and bridges. It is my inclination that when Gardner helped Bidwell in working on the road, either clearing it or making repairs, it was so Gardner could work off his debts to Bidwell. The morning before Maria’s murder when Gardner sat beside the road while Bidwell labored, Bidwell did not chide Gardner or order him to get back to work. We clearly see Bidwell’s unerring patience and strong Christian faith in the way he treated Gardner and his family. In a photo of Bidwell, we see a man with kind eyes who carries the appearance of worry in the furrow of his brows and the weight of the world on his shoulders. He died in Kinsman in 1871.

Who Was Maria?

We know plenty about Gardner, but it is his victim, Maria, whose voice has been lost. We know nothing to little about her; no anecdotes from Maria’s friends or mother exist on who Maria was. Was she shy, quiet and thoughtful, often lost in daydream? Was she outgoing and talkative? Was she moody and anxious? Was she helpful to her mother with household chores and caring for the Gardner’s small children? We know she led a difficult life, living in poverty, and her mother marrying an awful man when Maria was eight years old. Anna was in her teens when she gave birth to Maria and was unmarried and living with her mother in Ellsworth. We know for certain that Maria was a close relative to Lydia Buel Chidester of Canfield and Lucinda Buel Fitch of Ellsworth due to an article from the Mahoning Dispatch. Their brother, Jesse Buel, was constable of Ellsworth at the time Maria was born, so I strongly believe him to be Maria’s biological father, a theory that is backed up by other local researchers. It seems he had no interest in marrying Anna and by the time she married Gardner, Jesse Buel had moved to Michigan, married, and had other children.

We also have Anna, who was a victim too. Not only did she suffer the moods and control of her husband, Gardner, but was present when he drove a butcher knife twice in and out of her beloved daughter. She lived with the incredible turmoil and guilt for a short time until the toll on her body became too much. It is believed that she perished in the years following Gardner’s execution soon after moving to Kinsman, buried in an unknown grave. Her orphaned children were taken into separate homes by the locals. Giles was adopted by Reuban and Parintha Herrick and Jane by the Kinsman family. We do not know what became of Maria’s other brother, but it is possible he died young, perhaps in Ellsworth. Though Giles died before having children, Jane lived to give birth to one son before passing away. It is possible Anna and Gardner have descendants through him, making Maria a great aunt. 

The Crime of Sexual Assault

Earlier I mentioned that in Bidwell’s statement, Gardner “had criminal intercourse” with Maria. Besides this mention in the court documents, never is it brought up again. Gardner’s criminal behavior before the murder was not a subject of interest in the trial. Instead, it was Gardner’s murderous rage because Maria told her mother, who obviously told Gardner, perhaps confronting him over the accusations, that took center stage. When Gardner discovered that Maria had told the neighbors of his lasciviousness so that they would protect her, the information fueled the fire of his rage all the more. His threats of violence to Maria and those who sheltered her, guarded her, were the topic of the case, as the prosecution made their angle of premeditated murder. The court did not attempt to unveil information of Gardner’s illicit passions because molestation and rape, as long as it occurred within the same household, was not yet a crime. In fact, sexual assault did not become a punishable offense until later into the 20th century.

 “The complexity of sex crime laws derives from a historical background of bias against women. The legal history of rape is particularly ignominious. Under English common law―from which our laws developed―rape was a crime against property, not person. A woman’s reproductive capacity, in the form of her chastity, was considered property and was essential to establishing patriarchal inheritance rights. A woman’s sexuality was owned by her father and transferred to the man who became her husband. Rape laws protected the economic interests of men; therefore, rape was originally considered the theft of this property. The bodily integrity of the woman was irrelevant.”

Rape and Sexual Assault in the Legal System

We see here that Gardner felt he owned not only Anna, but Maria too. As her step-father, he legally owned Maria’s body, a sickening thought. We have thankfully come a long way since then, but too late for so many poor souls, including Maria. Her only escape from Gardner would have been to marry, and thus be owned by someone else. Women in that age were completely dependent on the men in their life and at the mercy of their moods.

I do not believe Gardner to have been insane when he murdered Maria. I do believe that he suffered from depression, but he knew exactly what he was doing when he sexually assaulted Maria and when he carried a butcher knife in his pocket for days before he finally found the opportunity to drive it into her tiny body. I believe the only mental illness he suffered from that skewed his sense of reality was narcissism. Towards the very end, he believed himself innocent and mourned the loss of his freedom and his life. He thought of himself as better than everyone else, and could “outmatch” anyone who stood in his way. He thought that pleading insanity could spare him the death penalty. The only remorse he ever felt was for himself, not for Maria, not for Anna, and not for the path of destruction he left in his wake. He deserved every second of the agony he experienced while dangling at the end of that noose. I am not the only local who feels this way. Many who grew up in and around Gustavus who knew the story feel an unbridled rage towards Gardner. We feel so close to Maria, having grown up on the same soil, and we remember what it feels like to be sixteen. At that age, you feel that you have your entire life ahead of you. We could not imagine enduring the fear, the anxiety, the stress that Gardner put her through. I imagine her little heart racing with terror and the agony that she felt as those heartbeats faded into stillness.


Either imaginations ran wild or residual emotions from the murder remained behind, because after the murder, locals claimed the Gardner house was haunted. Some people refused to cross by it after dark and the home fell into abandonment and dilapidation, leading to its eventual raze.

Every October, The Fine Arts Council of Trumbull puts on the Warren Ghost Walk, a walking tour of downtown Warren that begins at the First Presbyterian Church. Actors depicting the ghost local figures, both historical and tragic, tell their stories from various locations around downtown Warren. Though the characters and cast switch out from year to year, Maria and her mother Anna are constant figures, standing on the steps of Warren City Hall (once the Perkin’s mansion which was used after the original city hall burned in 1916), to tell the tale of Maria’s murder. Maria is often portrayed as timid and quiet while her mother does most of the talking, the anger apparent in her voice. 

East Gustavus Cemetery

A view of East Gustavus Cemetery from the road.
Maria’s stone is the first one at the far right of the photo, far away from the other markers.
Copyright Ashley Armstrong.

I received the inside information from my long-time friend Robin Hartman, whose father’s side of the family lived in Gustavus since the mid 1800’s, that someone placed a cenotaph stone in the rear of East Gustavus Cemetery for Gardner. Robin pointed out the general area where she remembered the stone to stand during our first visit to the cemetery together. She recalls believing Gardner to be buried there or just outside of the cemetery. Robin told me of how as a child, whenever she would visit Maria’s grave, she would notice Gardner’s grave marker in the small cemetery, and at each visit, more of his stone had been chipped away by vandals. She said that sometime in the 90’s, Gardner’s stone completely disappeared, either having been stolen or removed by the township, what was left of it anyways. 

The back of the cemetery in the general vicinity of where Gardner’s stone once sat.
Copyright Ashley Armstrong.

Maria’s stone fared no better. Visitors intent on taking a piece of Maria for themselves, chipped off hunks of her stone to keep as a talisman of sorts. By the 1890’s, the stone was in a pitiful state:

The grave of the beautiful Frances Maria Buel is sadly neglected. It is enclosed by a rude picket fence, fast falling into decay. The gate thereof is off its hinges and leans against the falling slab of stone which bears the inscription. Even from the grave itself grows a briery bush. But one monument to the departed which is indeed a grand monument is a great maple tree which stands just at the head of the grave and spreads its broad branches in all directions.

The Akron Beacon Journal, 1897

The township finally replaced Maria’s original stone with a fine replica and her vandalized marker was curated for display in Gustavus Town Hall. Today, you can still see small fragments of her original stone scattered around the base of the replica.

Gustavus Town Hall, copyright Ashley Armstrong

It seems Maria has had little opportunity to rest in peace in the nearly two hundred years since she departed for the afterlife. I cannot be certain of when it began, possibly in the 20th century, but local kids thought it fun to go to the cemetery and would swear at her in the hope that vexing her spirit would cause her to turn up and chase the offender away. Combined with the desecration of her stone, I am appalled that anyone would find any thrill in treating hallowed ground this way, ground where an innocent young body is interred. Maria and all who are buried there deserve to be treated with respect. No one should use her tragic death to seek their Saturday night entertainment. So far, Maria’s new stone is unmarred and I hope it remains as such.

A view of East Gustavus Cemetery from the back of the cemetery
Copyright Ashley Armstrong

A kinder legend declares that if you approach Maria’s grave and ask her how she is doing, she will answer you. Robin says that she once tried this as a child and the air turned frigid while an eerie feeling overcame her. She otherwise finds the cemetery very peaceful, as is my experience when I visit the place. I encourage anyone to visit Maria’s grave and ask her how she is doing. Do not be surprised if you receive an answer.

A pile of broken gravestones and debris behind the cemetery.
The large stone bears the name of Bidwell’s son, Caleb, who died at the age of 25.
Copyright Ashley Armstrong


  • A thousand thank you’s to local author and historian William Krejci for solving the mystery of who Anna’s parents were and to local historian and fellow researcher Gavin Esposito for providing the details on Anna and Gardner’s children, Jane and Giles and pointing out Gardner’s final resting place in Williamsfield.
  • Reports of Cases at Law and in Chancery: Decided by the Supreme Court —The State vs. Ira West Gardiner[sic] pages 392-406
  • History of the Western Reserve, Volume 1 (execution of Ira West Gardner), pages 197-198 by Harriet Taylor Upton
  • History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Ohio, Volume 1 (History of Gustavus), page 421 by Joseph Green Butler
  • Historical Collections of the Mahoning Valley (Riverius Bidwell), pages 337-338, by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society
  • Atrocious Murder: Constitutional Whig. [Richmond VA], August 28, 1832
  • Trial of Ira West Gardner: Delaware State Journal, advertiser and star. (Wilmington, Del.), September 06, 1833
  • Old Poem, Historically Interesting, Made Public: Niles Evening Register, Page 4, 1923-10-08
  • Vienna Clock Factory Boomed Before Mines: The Daily Times, Page 5, 1963-06-27 
  • Dancing, Hanging Drew Large Crowds: The Daily Times, Pages 1-2, 1976-07-10
  • The First (and Last) Trumbull County Hanging: The Daily Times, Page1, 1976-07-10 
  • Light Infantry Organized: The Niles Time, Page 4, 1991-10-07
  • The Chidester Family: Mahoning Dispatch, Fri, 23 Apr 1897, Article No. 14, by Dr. Jackson Truesdale
  • Under a Maple – There Sleeps Beautiful Frances Maria Buel: The Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) · 21 Aug 1897, Sat · Page 8
  • Marriage Record of Ira Gardner and Anna Logan: Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013,
  • Ohio Tax Records, 1800-1850,
  • RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THE LEGAL SYSTEM: Presented to the National Research Council of the National Academies Panel on Measuring Rape and Sexual Assault in the Bureau of Justice Statistics Household Surveys Committee on National Statistics, June 5, 2012, By Carol E. Tracy, Terry L. Fromson, Women’s Law Project, Jennifer Gentile Long, Charlene Whitman, AEquitas

Mesopotamia Walking Tour

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Mesopotamia is one of the most picturesque and quaint townships in Northeast Ohio. Its rich history is held up with pride by the locals and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has one of the oldest and largest Amish communities in the country. The End of the Commons General Store is a historical landmark. Established in 1840, it is the oldest general store in Ohio and walking through its door is like stepping back in time. Traveling to the general store for old fashioned candy or a malted milkshake proves a novelty for children that live in the area. I myself once looked forward to an annual visit to the store on a hot summer day. A popular tourist destination, visitors from all over come to experience the nostalgia that the general store evokes. The surrounding homes in the town square, or Commons as it is thusly called, have historic significance as well and the center green is the site of many annual festivities including the Maple Syrup Festival and Ox Roast.

When Robin and I hear about a historic walking tour of Mesopotamia, or “Mespo” as the locals call it, we leap at the opportunity for a little adventure in the vicinity of our hometown. We meet with a group of other historians at the Old Stone House for the event that was organized by the Trumbull County Historical Society. The tour is hosted by Darcy Miller, owner and operator of the Old Stone House Bed and Breakfast just south of Mesopotamia Commons on Rt 534. She serves coffee and cinnamon buns and is as warm and friendly as the atmosphere of the bed and breakfast.

Virgin Earth

When our tour group assembles in the kitchen of the house at 10 a.m., Darcy provides us with a brief history of Mesopotamia and the Old Stone House. She relates how Pierpont Edwards acquired the acreage that eventually became Mesopotamia when the Connecticut Land Company distributed land. He appointed his son John Stark Edwards, a lawyer, to settle the unbroken wilderness. Soon after clearing away some of the trees and dense underbrush, settlers came to roost, if not temporarily then for good with their descendants walking the same rich earth decades later.

Darcy speaks of a tribe of Indians that remained in the area well after the settlers rooted themselves in Mesopotamia. They were of possible Chippewa descent, but were known by their totem, the Massasauga black rattlesnake. The white settlers did not care to be neighbors with the Indians, criticizing their ways of dress and customs. Attempts to Christianize them failed and their old chief Papua was known for bothering the settlers for food and drink. Before the war of 1812, the Indians vacated the area but following the war, they returned to camp just north of where the Commons sits today along the Grand River. One day, some of the settlers came to the camp and discovered the Indians gone temporarily. They took it upon themselves to send a message by vandalizing the camp, carving the silhouette of an Indian in the bark of a tree and shooting it in the head. When the Indians returned, saddened by the destruction and threats of violence, they proclaimed their desire to live in peace. They carved the figure of a white man in another tree trunk and let it be, but this proclamation was for naught as they soon gathered up their belongings and moved on, never to be seen in Mesopotamia again. 

The Old Stone House

Darcy estimates that the Old Stone House was built around 1823 because the 1824 tax records listed a dwelling on the property. She tracked down as many historic documents as she could to discern information on the prior owners of the home. It had been built by Jesse Holcomb, grandson of Hezekiah Holcomb, original owner of the property. George Arnold was also an owner before Mark and Aysley Ford acquired the property. Two of their sons, Hiram and George, continued living there after they reached maturity and inherited the property upon their parents’ deaths. Subsequent to the brothers’ deaths, the house was passed down to their nephew Jesse Ford while their other nephew Elsworth inherited the surrounding land. Eventually, the home was taken into possession by the Webbs and most likely passed through many hands in the decades before the Millers took on the establishment.

Google aerial map of Old Stone House

Darcy purchased the Old Stone House in 1985. She came here from Ontario, married an ex Amish man, Sam Miller, and together, they renovated the building that would become their home and later a bed and breakfast. Her mother teased her about moving far away into the middle of one of the biggest Amish communities in America, but Darcy was smitten with the property from the start. The structure is two stories tall with three bedrooms, one on the first floor with a king size bed and two bedrooms on the second floor with queen sized beds. The walls of the home are nearly two feet thick, but the stones are porous, leaving one to feel the chill breeze through the house on blustery winter days. Built in the Greek Revival style, circa 1815, the home is not only a thing of beauty for those passing by, but a historical landmark. An apt description of the house was written by historian Chris Klingemier from Hartford Township, Ohio, who specializes in architecture:

 “The stone house sited atop a rise south of Mesopotamia center is a 1-1/2 storey, two room deep center hall house, a common type found in both Pennsylvania and New York. What is uncommon is the quality of the stone and stonework. The facade of the building used stones carefully selected from one strata of the quarry, all exhibiting purple & blue mineral bands. The doorways are exceptional, with dressed stone used for the elements normally rendered in wood. The layout and scale of the interior, as well as the selection of strap and pintle hinges for doors, suggest a Germanic influence. Stone houses were rare in the Western Reserve and few survive, making this one of the most important early structures in the region.” 

Chris Klingemier

While performing renovations, the Millers preserved as much of the original woodwork as possible and today the home is full of charm and warmth. They have added a large addition onto the back of the house to accommodate a large living area. I am unable to snap photos while inside the home because there are so many bodies crammed into the space. We tour the home and go upstairs where we crowd on the landing, peering into the quaint rooms that Darcy has decorated so lovingly. 

Hiram & George Ford and Legends of Ghosts

Darcy regales us with the tale of the Ford brothers who lived here over a century ago. Hiram and George Ford lived alone for many years, operating the successful farm they inherited from their parents. Neither of them married or had children. They got along so well, that upon Hiram’s death in 1871, George could no longer bear to live there alone and walked away from the home and all his belongings in it. From then on, locals avoided the Old Ford Place as stories it was haunted took on a life of their own. Another rumor indicated money was left hidden in the house, but no thief or curiosity seeker had been brave enough to find out for themselves for fear Hiram’s ghost would chase them away. 

Due to rumors and legends, word of mouth as well as publications have misidentified these brothers as John and Jerry Ford, including a Plain Dealer article on the subject and in the book Legends and Lost Treasure of Northern Ohio. However, this inaccuracy most likely originated from an oral history passed down through the decades and like a game of telephone, the brothers’ names transformed. So in these publications’ defense, it is understandable that they would repeat these legends as told. In any case, the story continues on to say that decades after George, or “Jerry” abandoned the house, his niece asked him if she could take a look inside and he gave her the key. The year was 1900, or so it goes.

“Once inside, the niece experienced a sort of time warp. Entering the house, everything —all the way down to the dirty pots on the stove was left exactly as it had been thirty years prior. Lavish furnishings, clothes, and newspapers were virtually untouched.

“As the niece and her mom rummaged around the house, they stumbled upon a dark wooden chest. Inside, the pair found numerous faded legal documents, including deeds, bank records and medical records. Most interesting, they found a tin can with gold and silver coins totaling to $500.”

Legends and Lost Treasure of Northern Ohio, page 59

The niece and mother left without the coins and on a return trip, discovered that someone had broke in and stolen them.  To this day, locals continue to believe money is buried or hidden somewhere on the property. Rumors the home is haunted abound, though as Darcy tells her tale, she does not reveal if she has lived in the presence of ghosts through the past decades. A member of the press is on our walking tour taking notes as Darcy speaks and no doubt interviews Darcy at the close of the tour. This evening, an article will be published in the Tribune Chronicle that states Darcy has not seen any ghosts.

William G. Krejci reveals differently in his book, Ghosts and Legends of Northern Ohio. He begins by setting the record straight, not only to correct the brothers’ names, but to say that George had no niece by blood. Instead, he believes the women in the story to be his nephew’s wife Grace Ford and her mother Julia Brigden. Also, George died in 1896, so the year could not have been 1900 when the house was reopened, but an earlier date.

Krejci visited the Old Stone House and personally interviewed Darcy for the story in his book that was published in September of 2019, a month after our history walk. Darcy told him that initially the house had no activity to speak of, but things became noisy, most likely during renovations. Darcy sometimes hears noises of an unexplained origin and guests have even witnessed the ghost of a young boy in the house. Krejci states that paranormal investigators have stayed the night in the house, capturing EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) and photo anomalies. With this information in hand, it makes sense why Darcy told the Tribune writer that she has not seen any ghosts on the property. Though she has heard noises, it has only been guests that witnessed the apparitions, not Darcy herself.

Google aerial map of the center of Mesopotamia

The Town Hall

As soon as we tour the house, Darcy directs us to our cars and we drive north to the old Town Hall that sits on the southeast corner of Routes 87 and 534. We park in the gravel parking lot behind the tall, red-bricked building. Stepping over the threshold into the two-story structure, we are taken to a period where neighbors come together for fellowship and entertainment. We take the stairway to the left of the interior entryway that leads upstairs into a large auditorium. A stage occupies the north end of the room while the floor slopes upward toward the south end of the room, an intentional construction detail to allow people sitting in the back to see over the heads of those in front. The seats have been pulled off to the sides of the auditorium as pieces of the ceiling fall away to scatter the floor with debris. The grand stage, once the center of excitement, is empty and coated in dust. I begin to imagine the political debates and Christmas programs that once took the stage, among all manner of community events and festivities.

A Walk around the Commons

We begin our walk around the commons of Mesopotamia village, starting with a stop at the Mesopotamia Historical Museum & Meeting House. Built in 1846, it was originally a Spiritualist Church. Nowadays, the Historical Society conducts their meetings in this building. Today during our tour, it hosts a rummage sale. Darcy explains that the upstairs of the meeting house holds boxes of historical documents that have been unfortunately water-damaged from a leaky roof. An upcoming project of hers will be to rummage through these boxes and salvage anything she can. 

Methodist Church, built in 1830. Interior restored in 1960.

From here, we walk next door to the Methodist Church built in 1818 and take a peek inside. The pastor explains that the pews are not original and that initially the church had the box type pews where men and women were separated. He also points out the antique chandelier that that forms a focal point towards the front of the church.

Fairview Cemetery & Artist Howard Brigden

The Western Reserve Chronicle,
June 2, 1869

Behind the Methodist Church lays Fairview Cemetery. With the first burial in 1818, most of the stones are made from white marble with their inscriptions worn away with time. However, many unusually shaped stones carved from sturdy granite stand out among the rows.

Born on November 29, 1841, Howard Bridgen was a local carver, political cartoonist, and satirist. He was the son of Charles Brigden and Mary Ann Sperry and enlisted in the Union Army where he served as a spy. He suffered a broken arm and upon discharge, he returned to Mespo where he made his living as an artist. Though he had guidance from his mentor, Walter Supple, Brigden had natural talent that many considered even genius.

Front and back of stone carved for Ira & Charlotte Sperry and their two-year-old son Ira

One of his first carvings was the eagle atop the Soldier’s Monument that stands on the Mespo Commons green. He also carved many of the ornate stones in Fairview Cemetery, including his own, a towering monument depicting a bear climbing a rock precipice. Shell–shaped stones mark the graves of family and friends, a trademark theme of Brigden’s. He even carved a trough that once sat on the village green but now rests against the outside wall of the meeting house. The front of the trough reads, “The Devils Own Hogs: John. D., Mark A., J. Pierpont” which expressed his disdain for tycoons with fortunes amassed by predatory means. The two names on the ends are John D. Rockefeller and John Pierpont Morgan Sr. (J.P. Morgan), but for the life of me, I have no idea who Mark A. could be. If anyone help me out with this one, I would be most grateful.

Brigden married Elsie Belden on February 18, 1865 and they had two sons, Earl and George. He died September 24, 1913 at the age of 71 after a long and memorable career. 

Howard & Effie’s stunning monument
The Western Reserve Chronicle, November 7, 1866
The Western Reserve Chronicle,
May 13, 1868
The Western Reserve Chronicle,
July 20, 1870

Dio Reynolds & Scarlet Fever

One of the most popular of Brigden’s sculptures in Fairview Cemetery is “The Dog Who Waits for His Master”, a black stone dog sitting vigil by the grave of its owner, Dio Lewis Reynolds, a six-year-old boy. It is said that when Dio died on March 12, 1875 and was buried in the cemetery, his dog often came to lay on the grave. Brigden later carved the sculpture in the loyal dog’s memory. Legend says that Dio died falling out of an apple tree and many publications have perpetuated this myth. For example, a Star Beacon article from 2012, reads:

“Nearby, in the Fairview Cemetery, many examples of Brigden’s stone carving skills mark the graves of cherished citizens. The most poignant of these stands as a memorial to Dio L. Reynolds. Dio was 6 when he died from a fall out of an apple tree. His dog was inconsolable, and for weeks lay under the tree, his paws holding fast to Dio’s hat. Brigden’s carving captures in stone that heart-breaking love between a dog and his master.”

“Sir Henry’s Last Ride” by Carl Feather of the Star Beacon, Feb 19, 2012

A romantic tale to be sure, but historical documents prove otherwise. When I track down Dio’s death certificate on, it names his cause of death as scarlet fever. 

Effie, Mearle, and Dio lined up in a row

Scarlet fever is a disease causing sore throat, fever, throat abscesses, and in children it can progress very quickly to the point where they succumb in 48 hours from the initial symptoms. It can be highly contagious. In the historical epidemics, infected dairy workers handling unpasteurized milk were found to be the cause of many outbreaks. Cemeteries from far and wide show the evidence from scarlet fever epidemics throughout history. Fairview Cemetery is one of them. Just months before Dio’s death, Howard Brigden lost a niece, Mina Tay Brigden, from the disease and two-year-old Bertie Easton perished from the illness in the same month as Dio. 

On December 28, 1874, the newspapers in nearby Hiram, Ohio reported an unusually malignant epidemic of scarlet fever sweeping through their town in the months prior, taking children of all ages, even multiples from a single household. A scarlet fever epidemic killed at least twelve young children in Jackson County in southern Ohio and several children in Ashtabula County just north of Mespo in the same month that Dio died. Cincinnati lost hordes of children to the disease throughout the year of 1875. These being just a few examples of how the epidemic devastated communities and destroyed families.

Unfortunately, Dio’s family suffered many tragedies. Dio’s parents, Job Reynolds and Altha Lewis, married on July 16, 1864 and lost Dio eleven years later. Dio’s brother Mearle died at age 2 months, 27 days in 1880 and his sister Effie died from pneumonia on April 28, 1885.

Clark Cemetery

After circling the commons and noting the nostalgia brought on by the rows of historic homes, including the Lyman House, we pass the general store and turn the corner to walk around route 87. We turn into the driveway of a private home where Darcy notifies the owner of our arrival. The man is not feeling up to coming out to chat, but allows us to stroll through his backyard and up a hill into a wooded area. There, covered in underbrush is an old burial ground. Clark Cemetery had once been a family cemetery and only a handful of stones remain, some inscribed with the manner of death. Isaac Clark, aged 22 years, died from an explosion of a cannon in 1844. Ruben Clark, aged 39 years, was struck by lightening in 1850. Bearing an unusual name, little Almond Clark died at the age of 2. The first known burial is Ephraim Clark who died in 1830, so Fairview Cemetery predates Clark Cemetery. Find A Grave lists twenty-four graves in all, though I suspect there are more.

With our final stop at Clark Cemetery, our tour is over and our group disbands, many returning to the End of the Commons General Store. Robin and I spend a great deal of time in the cemetery before heading back to the commons. The general store holds a feast for the eyes, and the stomach too. Besides unique toys and other novelties, the general store boasts the best fry pies around, jams and jellies, natural peanut and almond butters, a large candy and soda collection, maple sugar sweets, and ice cream and deli sandwiches that are served at the café. Adjoining rooms hold shelves of kitchenware, soaps, liniments and other remedies, beauty items, and home décor. I encourage anyone to visit Ohio’s oldest general store as you will not be disappointed with their selection and atmosphere. Be sure to take a walk across the commons and view Howard Brigden’s amazing sculptures at Fairview Cemetery as photos simply do not do them justice. Also, if you need a place to stay, I highly recommend the Old Stone House Bed and Breakfast. The Old Stone House is located at 8505 State Route 534, Mesopotamia, Ohio 44439.

The Trumbull County Historical Society began their second Saturday history tours in the summer of 2019 and I hope that they continue them in 2020. If so, I will visit as many as I can, if not all of them, and share my experiences with you.  


  • History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties, Ohio by Williams (H.Z.) & Bro, p. 497
  • History of the Western Reserve, Volume 1by Harriet Taylor Upton
  • Ghosts and Legends of Northern Ohio by William G. Krejci, p. 79
  • Legends and Lost Treasure of Northern Ohio: Brother Bonds by Wendy Koile, p. 57-58
  • “Sir Henry’s Last Ride” by Carl Feather of the Star Beacon, Feb 19, 2012
  • Howard Brigden Find A Grave:
  • Dio Lewis Reynolds find a grave:
  • Dio Reynolds, Mina Tay Brigden, & Bertie Easton Death Records: “Ohio, County Death Records, 1840-2001.” Database with images. FamilySearch. : 18 April 2017. County courthouses, Ohio
  • Scarlet Fever Epidemics of the 19th Century by Alan Swedlund and Alison Donta
  • Jackson County Deaths In March: The Jackson Standard. (Jackson C.H., Ohio), June 17, 1875
  • Hiram Correspondence: The Democratic press. [volume], January 07, 1875
  • Ashtabula Deaths: Ashtabula telegraph. (Ashtabula, Ohio), March 26, 1875
  • Walking Tour of Mespo Engages History Buffs by Beth Shiller, The Tribune Chronicle, August 11, 2019

Reichard Cemetery & Hell’s Hollow

Though most people imagine hauntings to be attached to a building, some paranormal events can occur out in the wide open as if the spirits are attached to the land itself. I have been witness to some unusual activity surrounding Reichard Cemetery and Hell’s Hollow down the road from the burial ground. Before I tell my account of this spooky spot, I will describe the location to the best of my knowledge.

Coordinates for Reichard Cemetery:
Transfer, Pennsylvania 16125
Latitude:         41.3486578
Longitude:       -80.4981224

Coordinates for Hell’s Hollow:
West Salem Township, Pennsylvania 16125
Longitude:  -80.498315

Reichard Cemetery at night

Just over the Ohio/Pennsylvania border in South Pymatuning Twp. (city of Transfer, PA), walking distance from Orangeville, sits an old cemetery at the entrance of South Barry Road. Reichard Cemetery is named for the prominent headstone of the Reichard family that stands in front center, a family that remains in the vicinity to this day.  A cemetery of cultural and historic importance, it appears the first burials took place in 1869. Many of the stones are crumbling and illegible with some in the back of the cemetery becoming lost in the woods. It is a dismal place, but aren’t all old cemeteries places of unease?

The dense treelined gravel road of Hell’s Hollow

Past the cemetery, continuing down S. Barry Rd., you pass through the intersections of Rutledge Road and and Darien Road before hitting a point with a sign that declares “No Winter Maintenance”. This is where South Pymatuning Twp. turns into West Salem Twp. and the pavement disappears as the road turns to dirt. It is inadvisable to venture after this point when it’s wet because your car can become mired. It is all farmland at this area of the road with fields on each side. A wooded section lies where the road winds around a curve before a small bridge. The bridge is directly before a steep upturn in the road and past that are more fields before running into a purely wooded area. Here, homes begin to dot each side of the road and S. Barry Rd. winds through the woods for quite some time before running into Rt. 358 (Vernon Rd). The wooded area surrounding the bridge is where the local kids claim Hell’s Hollow sits.

Now, let’s address some of the local legends surrounding this area:

Local youths say that the cemetery was once moved from another location because it sat too close to a creek and when the water rose, it eroded the dirt and coffins began popping up out of the ground. All the graves had to be dug up and relocated to the present location on the corner of Barry and Carlisle roads. This seems an unlikely story, but if you’ll allow me to segue for a moment, this did happen to my great-great-grandpa’s coffin when he was buried too close to Mosquito Lake in Hillside Cemetery (Bazetta, Ohio), and he had to be relocated up the hill.

Another story is that a little neighborhood girl used to play in the cemetery and was often seen frolicking between the tombstones. One day, she didn’t return home and was discovered dead in the cemetery. I have no idea if this story has any validity or when it was supposed to have occurred, but she is alleged to have been buried there.  

 Many legends surround the spot where the bridge is in Hells Hollow, though I doubt there’s much truth to most of them. Apparently, in the 1800’s, a man was walking along S. Barry Rd. when he spotted his wife riding with her lover on a horse driven carriage as they crossed the bridge. The husband challenged the other man to a duel and so they fought. As the husband swung his sword around to chop off the man’s head, his wife threw herself between them to stop it and was immediately decapitated. In his rage the husband killed the other man as well. In a different version of the story, the husband shot his wife in a house that used to stand near the hollows and left her to bleed to death for two days.

This story could have been a molestation of a true event that occurred in the neighboring township of Vernon, OH on May 27, 1867 when William Holcomb was killed by gunshot. His friend, James Saywer, was present at his death and said that Holcomb had accidentally shot himself while squirrel hunting. However, Sawyer had been seen dallying with Holcomb’s wife the past year while Holcomb was in ill health. They were frequently observed riding in a buggy together as they drove to and from singing school and lyceum. Sawyer’s statement was doubted and he was charged with murder. After a lengthy trial where many friends and family were questioned about the so-called affair, no inappropriate behavior was confirmed, and Sawyer was acquitted. Read my post about the case here.

Another legend about the Hollow was that in the 1920’s, the hill leading down into the obscured gulley was a popular make out spot for the local teenagers. A bachelor farmer lived nearby and was enraged at their antics. After several times of walking into the ravine and yelling at the teenagers to get off of his property, they continued to return, laughing all the while at the crazed lonely farmer. The farmer planned his revenge on prom night when he knew the teens would return to the Hollow to make out. He murdered all of them but was not prosecuted due to lack of evidence. Fingers continued to point towards him throughout the years and he never moved away or was convicted. He had no guilt to flee from and was instead very satisfied with his gruesome crime. 

Yet another story is of the man that committed suicide by hanging himself from the large tree that grows next to the bridge. A more modern account is that of a young woman who crashed her car at the sharp turn before the bridge and was killed when she was thrown from the vehicle. 

Besides the account of the two lovers riding in a buggy (albeit in Vernon, OH and not West Salem, PA), I have not been able to find any data to back up these stories. If anyone has insight on whether these stories have some truth behind them, please drop me a line.

If the stories do have some truth to them, perhaps it would explain the legion of ghosts that haunt the Hollow. I have heard accounts of people who braved going there and heard voices and fell into trances. Everyone has a different experience there at each visit. It is described as such an evil place that it could be a gateway to Hell, hence it’s name. Without further digression, this is my story about Hell’s Hollow and Reichard Cemetery:

When I was 18-years-old, I spent almost every weekend night at the local Perkins Restaurant with my best friend Theresa drinking coffee and chatting. We quickly made friends with a group of individuals our own age that were from Hartford Twp., OH. Our common interest was ghosts and the Hartford kids mesmerized us with the stories of Hell’s Hollow and Reichard Cemetery. Hartford is on the OH/PA border and adjacent to Pymatuning Twp. where Reichard Cemetery lies. West Salem Twp. is the township north of Pymatuning where Hell’s Hollow is located.

At this point in our young lives, Theresa and I had never before seen a ghost, despite reveling in a good ghost story, and we had never been ghost hunting. I had been in plenty of so-called “haunted” buildings and never experienced anything, so would require evidence to become a true believer. One night in late February of 2004, the Hartford group invited us ghost hunting and we accepted without hesitation, the thought of a thrill shivering down our spines. We left the restaurant sometime after midnight and piled in our vehicles, setting off on the thirty-minute drive to eastern Pennsylvania. 

Outbuilding on farmland in Hell’s Hollow

On our first visit, we did not venture into the cemetery, but drove down a curving hill amongst a heavily wooded area and parked on a bridge that ran over a creek. We nervously stepped out of the car into complete darkness but for the glow of the moon as the ravine ran steeply below us. We stood there uneasily and I never felt such a feeling as I had in visiting all the other “haunted” spots I had before. My legs immediately weakened and were shaking as if my muscles had turned to jelly. I pointed my camera off of the one side of the bridge and the flash lit up the whole area, blinding all my friends. Our new friend Steve said he felt as if someone was watching him and we all agreed that we had the eerie sense of being watched. We turned and faced the other direction and our new friends pointed out how something didn’t look right. It was simply an uneven, wooded ravine with spots of snow. But something wasn’t right; the Hartford group and Theresa saw a spot that glowed brighter than the snow and knew that it wasn’t snow. I was the only person that couldn’t see it. I lifted my camera the same as before and shot it, but something must have not liked getting their picture taken. The moment after my flash went off and I moved my eye from the viewfinder to look upon the landscape, I saw a white filmy streak race up the side of the tree and disappear into the branches. It wasn’t an animal as it went too fast and was floating parallel to the tree. It was not even a second that this happened, but we all witnessed it and knew it wasn’t the camera. We were so terrified, that we returned to our cars and went home.

Under the bridge

We revisited the Hollow the following night with five of us in one car. This time the atmosphere seemed surprisingly calm and nothing frightening took place. During our visit, flashes were going off every second as we all took photos with our cameras and phones. We walked in circles, going up both hills from each end of the bridge, scouring the area.

The creek

Afterward, we returned to the car and drove the short distance to Reichard Cemetery. Being young and ignorant, I had no clue that it’s illegal to enter a cemetery after dark, so I do not recommend doing the same. Of course we had great respect for the cemetery and had no thoughts of causing damage or any harm; we were simply there to ghost hunt. The cemetery felt incredibly eerie and the air was thick and heavy as we continued taking pictures. 

I felt unbalanced and I tripped over myself several times. We were only there a few minutes before we left and went back to Perkins to review our photos. I had a film camera, so I wouldn’t see my evidence until I had them developed. Our new friend Jeff showed us the pictures he had taken on his phone and what we saw was beyond belief. Almost every photo had something in it; smoky coils in places that we had not seen originally. In the cemetery pictures, Theresa pointed out something that I said realistically, “Oh, that’s just the light reflecting off of the tombstone.” But Theresa showed me another picture of the exact same angle and there was no tombstone, just the headstones in the background. I looked at the weird picture I had thought was a tombstone and as I looked closer I realized that I could see right through it. Also, as we examined it more closely, we noticed how oddly it looked like a close-up of a torso. The other pictures had oddly shaped curls of mist way up in the air and no one had been smoking. One odd photo caught our attention when we realized we could see a face in the mist! Looking closer, it appeared like a skull to me. I gawked at it, frozen in shock. I saw a grinning face, details appearing like nasal-labial folds (the creases running from the nose to the corners of the mouth), prominent cheekbones, a visible jaw line and even a brow ridge. The eyes were sunken hollows, empty and threatening, but that eerie smile was like the skull was taunting us.

Anomaly on upper left of photo
Anomaly on right side of photo

We were “freaked out” —the expression we used repeatedly to each other while we sat at Perkins shaking in our boots. While we talked excitedly, three nearby booths full of kids heard our story and begged us to lead the way to Hell’s Hollow. We were crazy to comply given the long drive, but gas was cheap those days and we had nothing better to do. Our group piled in one car and we led an entourage of three other cars through the uncanny back roads of eastern Ohio. When we arrived at the Hollow, we parked our cars on the dirt road before the hill that dipped down into the actual hollow. Before we got out of the car, Lenny, who was driving said, “My car doesn’t do that,” and we noticed him holding his key in the air with the engine still running. We knew such a thing had happened before to others visiting the Hollow, so we just guffawed as he put the key back in the ignition and shut it off. When we walked out into the darkness we noticed that there were many young adults, around twenty. The atmosphere was as calm as it had been on our earlier visit, but we watched in horror as the group of kids stood on the bridge cussing and throwing down their cigarettes, simply being loud. 

From there, we drove to the cemetery, but a few of us hung back and stood on the road while everyone else went in. That cemetery felt evil at that hour of three o’clock in the morning and I did not want to step foot into it. While we had behaved solemnly on our earlier trip, the new kids were the opposite, acting very loud, cussing more, smoking more, throwing their cigarettes down carelessly amongst the graves and just carrying on far too much. One husky kid was slashing a sword into the ground, making quite a racket. They definitely angered someone or something…very much. Jeff called us into the cemetery for a group picture, so we reluctantly trudged up the steep ground up into it. After he took the photo, the husky kid began having a conniption and told everyone to leave as quickly as possible. 

Theresa and I remained in the back of the cemetery by the time almost everyone else made it to their cars. We were cool and calm, just taking our time coming out and were laughing at how the husky kid was seeing things. About twenty feet in front of us we could discern our friend Ben walking with his girlfriend Amy. 

Suddenly we heard Ben screaming bloody murder. He shouted, “Lenny! Get over here right now! We have a downer!” 

Theresa and I stumbled upon a body just laying on the ground in the thick darkness. It seemed so out of place that we were shocked and confused at the same time. How could a corpse have gotten there and remained unnoticed? Theresa and I looked at each other in absolute bewilderment, each thinking the same thing as we called one another’s name.  At first we thought it was an apparition. However, when Lenny and the other kids rushed to the scene, shining their phones through the darkness, Theresa and I realized it was Amy passed out cold on the ground. She had been walking with Ben before she suddenly fell to the ground and he tripped over her.

Lenny was an EMT and so knew what to do. He turned her over onto her back and said, “Amy, can you hear me?” 

She moaned, opening her eyes halfway, but suddenly shot upright, eyes wide open. The same second she sat upright, she slumped right back over onto the ground unconscious. Lenny turned her back over, noticed she wasn’t breathing and remained calm. He tilted her head back to open her airway so that she could start breathing again. Amy was half-conscious as Ben and Lenny lifted her up and carried her to her car. Theresa and I stood helpless and began to cry uncontrollably, from both shock and relief.

In a few moments Amy came to and was fully conscious so Ben asked her what happened. She said she felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to the back of her head and the only people walking behind her were me and Theresa, but we were pretty far away and would never harm anyone. We had not seen it occur having thought we were stumbling over a dead body. 

Theresa and I tearfully got back in the car and road back to Perkins with the husky kid. As we drove back, the husky kid said, “Omigosh, I saw a freaking little girl running around the cemetery right before Amy got hit. That’s why I freaked out and told everyone to get the hell out of there. I saw a white streak and hair flying out behind her.” 

I replied, “What? You saw the little girl? She used to play in the cemetery but one day they found her dead.” 

He became even more upset and said he didn’t know anything about a little girl. It was so distressing that I immediately began crying again. I later wondered out loud if perhaps the little girl had died by getting thunked in the back of the head by someone or something.

The next morning after a very restless night, I got my pictures developed. There was nothing, absolutely nothing at all on the pictures. They were just pictures of the dark woods, no odd shapes or anything and I wondered how real our experience was or if there was some explanation. 

We returned to Hell’s Hollow and Reichard Cemetery several times that year, but it was quite some time before I had another experience.  

Ruins of a structure in the wooded area behind the cemetery

In the fall of that same year, our friend Jeff claimed to have had an odd occurrence during a visit to Reichard’s cemetery a couple of weeks before my return there. He went with his girlfriend Jen, his best friend Frankie, Frankie’s girlfriend Anne, and their psychic friend Chris. They walked through the cemetery and took photos, but nothing happened, so they went home. In the car, both girls began having trouble breathing and were on the verge of fainting. The following day, Chris called Jeff and told him that he sensed a ghost had followed them home from the cemetery and stayed with Jeff and Jen. This thing stayed with them all the following day, apparently as they ran errands. Chris was able to tell them exactly where they had gone to that day including a particular store and that the ghost was with them. Chris had never been told that they went out much less what exact store they went to. 

Chris had Jeff, Jen, Frankie, and Anne meet with him later that day and informed them that the spirit was after Jen. Apparently Chris was extremely clairvoyant and could pick up details that no one else could. He said the spirit was an old man in a top hat and long coat who carried a cane. His eyes glowed red when looking at Jen but when he looked at Anne his eyes were green and he liked her because she was a virgin and Jen was not. The spirit never entered any buildings the group went in but stayed outside. He never followed Frankie and Anne but was attached to Jen. Chris said that the spirit wished to return to the cemetery but had lost his way and the only way for him to go back was for the group to take the trip to Reichard cemetery. Chris said that the spirit hovered over the car and never entered the vehicle. The group returned to the cemetery and the spirit was gone. 

It’s an interesting account and spooky at that, but I was not there to witness any of it and therefore cannot vouch for its validity. The same applies to the following account:

In November, Jeff’s group returned to Hell’s Hollow. He apparently took a video camera to the Hollow and recorded a strange incident that our group watched soon after. The video was a play-by-play of Jeff, Jen, and Anne as they walked through the graveyard. They then drove to the Hollow where mere minutes after stepping out of the vehicle did they hear a huge, horrible noise that mysteriously did not record on the video tape. They described it as a high whistling trill, the same sound made from a rope when a person is hung. Jeff then recorded the huge tree off the side of the bridge do something that a tree could never do just by itself. The large branch close to the bridge bent down at a powerful angle all the way to the ground without snapping. It was as if a huge weight had yanked down on the end of it. Was this proof that the legend of someone hanging themselves in the hollow was true? Immediately the camera shook wildly as the group jumped in the car, breathing heavily as they booked it out of there. I personally couldn’t make out much from the video because it was so dark and I couldn’t hear anything other than their terrified voices, but they swear it actually happened.

The apparent hanging tree next to the bridge in Hell’s Hollow

That same month, I returned to the Hollow late one night with Lenny, our friend Steve W., Lenny’s sister and two of her friends. We passed by the cemetery and got out of the car briefly in the Hollow. The air felt as uneasy to me as it always had, but nothing of interest happened. We got back in the car and Lenny continued to drive along the narrow, winding dirt road. It curved dangerously up and down, the sharp turns around cliff-like hills not as frightening as it had been the first time we had travelled down the road in mud and ice. 

Apparently, when the group of kids from Perkins had visited previously, two of them had spotted a ghostly Indian. As we discussed this, a dog suddenly bolted out in front of us and refused to move as it barked ferociously at the car. Lenny tried to move forward but the creature refused to budge for five minutes. In that five minutes, the people in the backseat turned around and they all saw something strange. Some of them saw the filmy figure of a girl while others saw a shadow that appeared human like. As Lenny crept the car forward, the dog was nudged to the side of the road and we took off. At the fork in the road ahead, the dog sprinted forward and charged in front of the car again, forcing Lenny to slam on his brakes. After awhile, the dog backed off and we were able to make it to the main road with no other occurrences after that. 

On a subsequent visit to the cemetery, I had a brief experience that caused me to wonder if something was truly there. The cemetery sits up on an incline and while walking into it with the ground rising up from the road, my legs became heavy and my chest tightened. This is a rare feeling I now recognize when I know I’ve stepped into a very haunted location. At the time, I thought it felt like walking through a barrier. The air felt thick and suffocating as if something didn’t want us there.

 One of our last visits to Hell’s Hollow and Reichard Cemetery was especially interesting and we had a large group with us that night. We met at Perkins as usual and piled into Lenny’s Bonneville and made our way out to the Hollow. We passed the cemetery and continued down Barry Road, past the bridge, up the hill into the field where Lenny turned around. Unfortunately, his car became stuck fairly deep in the mud and three of the boys got out and pushed the front of the car while I steered. Finally, we parked down on the bridge and got out to take pictures. It was calm and quiet, so we headed back to the cemetery. 

Our group walked calmly through the gravestones and for the first time, I wasn’t feeling sensations of dread. It was quite warm out for November and the moon was so bright that it was almost as bright as daylight. My friend Rachael said she felt very drawn to a particular old stone with most of its engravings worn away. After wandering around for some time, I stood in the old section of the cemetery next to Jeff, who suddenly turned away, noticeably upset.

Lenny ordered all of us out so that he and Jeff could investigate without interference.  The rest of us stood in the roadway, watching them walk around the cemetery and disappear into the darkness near the rear of the graveyard. I chatted with Theresa and Rachael before Rachael remarked that as she watched the grave she had been drawn to, she saw someone dart through that section of the graveyard. I thought: the last time somebody saw something running through the cemetery a girl was knocked unconscious. Lenny finally emerged from the cemetery with Jeff trailing behind. I watched Jeff drag himself down the hill, sobbing, before he nearly fell over in a spasm of coughing and spitting. Lenny caught his arm before Jeff stumbled back up on his feet and walked towards us. 

I asked him if he was okay as I put my hand on his arm. He looked at me with glazed eyes as if he had never seen me before. 

He blinked and squinted several times before offering a confused, “Wha-what?” He began rocking himself, lamenting over and over, “I’m okay. I’m okay.” He was acting completely out of character.

There was silence on the drive back to Lenny’s house with nothing but the sound of Jeff crying. When we arrived there, we stood in the garage and goofed off in an attempt to lighten the mood. As we laughed, I heard Jeff muttering to himself and his eyes were closed. Lenny leaned forward, listening and Jeff looked up at him to say, “Something about spirits floating around…I dunno…spirits floating around us?” 

He continued muttering while Lenny told him, “That doesn’t sound right.” and “No, that still doesn’t sound right.” 

Finally, Jeff said something like, “Open my eyes so that I may see.” 

The rest of us decided that the conversation was between Lenny and Jeff and therefore did not intrude. As I drove Theresa back to Perkins, we concluded that they must have heard a voice. 

The next day, I talked to Jeff and Lenny, but neither offered much information about what happened and refused to talk about their experience.  All Lenny would say was that something happened that they couldn’t explain. I asked him why he ushered us out of the cemetery and he said because he did not want us to get hurt. The only information Jeff would offer was that he was was feeling much better.

It wasn’t until later that Jeff would talk about his experience and this is what he said in his own words: 

 “I believe that there was something in me at the graveyard. I felt it leave when I fell out into the road. It just left this sadness in me. [When] we all started walking into the graveyard, nothing really happened to me. [But then] I stepped on a spot near the big tree and instantly my legs disappeared. My legs usually go numb but not that sudden. I stopped and I got a sharp pain right under my left rib cage. I could breathe and all, but it was hot air, like if you turn the stove on when your body is cold and you take a deep breath of the heated air. I closed my eyes and tried to catch my normal breath. I started walking but it felt like my legs weren’t moving. I could see everything and everyone. It looked like if you were sitting in a movie theater and all you can see is the screen. Everything outside of the screen was black. I saw Theresa, Rachael, Ashley, and maybe Steve standing at one grave. I started chanting something. I felt like I was screaming it but no one looked. I believe I walked past the group and went towards the back. I took a right and walk towards the little girl’s grave then took another right from it. Still my legs weren’t moving by me but they were walking me. All of a sudden, I walked right into Lenny. I didn’t see him at all. I just saw everything else. I stopped chanting and looked up at Lenny. All of a sudden, I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness and started to cry. It felt like I had to go somewhere and Lenny stopped me…someplace important. Then Lenny instructed everyone out of the graveyard and we walked around. We watched the back right corner and I could feel sadness. I couldn’t stop crying. Both Lenny and I could see a white house there. It was brightly glowing with light. I could see the details from the door to the two windows. We walked to the tree where I started to feel different. Lenny pointed out a single streak of ice drifting down the one side. Lenny touched it and said he felt cold. I placed my right hand on the ice and it was burning. I placed my other hand on the tree and closed my eyes and placed my forehead on it. Again, the sadness came back stronger. I started crying. Lenny soon escorted me out of the graveyard. I stopped right at the edge of it and I couldn’t move forward. In my head, I couldn’t hear a voice but something told me, “Don’t go”. I looked at everyone standing by the cars. You were all looking at me with concern. I could see everyone’s eyes looking into mine. Then I thought loudly in my head, “But I want to go”. Again, I felt it say, “Don’t go with them! Don’t!” and then I screamed in my mind, “No! I want to go to them!” All of a sudden I coughed and hunched over. I was trying to push myself forward and out of the graveyard. I felt something leave out of me. It was like you were laying in a bed on your stomach and someone rips the heavy blanket off of you fast. As soon as that happened I fell forward out of the graveyard. I tried to catch myself and Lenny caught me by my arm. As soon as it left my body, I felt like a big piece of me was taken out. It was as if we were one and it left me. I could feel the hole in my body and all that was left there was sadness. We got in the car and left. I was trying my hardest not to cry in front of everyone in the car. But I still cried. Then later in the garage, Lenny asked me what I was chanting. I tried to think as hard as I could but suddenly a massive headache took over.  The right side of my brain felt like a giant black void was on it applying huge amounts of pressure on it. That night while I was trying to sleep, I kept thinking about what happened. After several replays of the event, I now strongly believe that the reason why I couldn’t feel my legs moving was because it was trying to lead me somewhere and I cried because Lenny stopped me.”

 He said he had felt the spirit directing him towards the large tree that had ice running down it.  Theresa said that she had followed him, curious about what he was picking up. She said she also went to the tree and when she touched it for a few minutes everything went silent and all she could hear was her own breathing. As she continued following Jeff, she said he wasn’t talking at all, but he claims he was chanting and his voice turned into a scream that no one could hear. 

He believes that in that moment, he experienced psychic awakening—when a sudden surge of psychic energy that has slowly manifested in someone is quickly brought to the surface.

That was 15 years ago and though we returned to the spot a few more times, we quickly outgrew it. Because it was so long ago, I base much of our experiences on being young and easily excitable. Someday I will go back and get a more mature read on the place to judge whether there is truly something there and will provide a follow up story when I do.

If anyone has anything to add about Hell’s Hollow or Reichard Cemetery, knows the true history behind the spots, or has an experience they would like to share, please contact me!