October is a great month for ghost stories, mysteries, alien sightings, etc. Anything that can be categorized as “creepy” is more appealing during the weeks leading up to Halloween.
Hamilton County Historian David Heighway, author of “Hidden History of Hamilton County,” knows more than a few creepy stories from the past. Although he’s skeptical of supernatural explanations, he said weird, “alternative” history is interesting to explore.
Heighway said that as county historian, a lot of what he researches focuses on demographic changes and industrial influences.
“But I find that when I do programs, people want to hear this kind of stuff — they really want to hear the oddball stories and I can find them,” he said. “There’s lots and lots of oddball little bits that are in (old newspapers), and as I’m studying the big-picture stuff and all of the major changes and things, oftentimes I’ll run across a little comment or a little side story, a little paragraph or two, on these oddball incidents. And I’ll put them aside and then I can go back to it and try and find out what all is going on.”
These historic mysteries can turn into ghost stories over time, but Heighway said there’s usually some sort of mistaken identity or deception involved.
“So far, the only one that I haven’t really found (an explanation for) is in 1906. Up in Atlanta, there was a bridge that used to go over the railroad track just north of town,” he said. “There was a big viaduct right there, and in 1906, a bunch of guys were walking and using that bridge. I don’t know why — I mean, it’s all flat land — but they were on there and there was a mysterious figure that appeared in front of them, all dressed in black with a black kind of hat that sort of covers his eyes and then he just sort of vanished.”
Another story involved aliens rather than ghosts. UFOs, to be more specific. Heighway said it was the late 1940s, and glowing lights were seen leading north over Noblesville, observed by the sheriff, his wife, the deputy sheriff and others.
“Nobody was able to explain that one,” Heighway said. “My personal theory is that it was probably some new jet coming out of Bunker Hill Air Force Base in northern Indiana. But who knows?”
One of the creepiest stories is completely true: Grave robbing in the early 1900s.
“They were stealing bodies from cemeteries all over central Indiana to sell to the medical schools in Indianapolis,” Heighway said. “It was a huge thing and there have been a lot of different people that have done research on it.”
And some Fishers residents were involved. In his history blog for Hamilton East Public Library, Heighway writes that one of those grave robbers was Wade Hampton West, who fought in the North Carolina infantry during the Civil War. He later moved to Henry County, and then Hamilton County, where he killed another man in a tavern brawl in Fishers — then known as Mudsock. He was acquitted of murder based on his plea of self-defense, the blog post stated.
In 1902, West was arrested again, this time for grave robbing. During his trial, a neighbor was called as a witness.
“The young man testified that while walking through a patch of woods on his land he accidentally came upon West boiling something in a large kettle,” the blog post stated. “It turned out to be ‘the body of a rather low, heavyset man with the head missing.’”
West was convicted and sentenced to 10 years but died in prison.
The City of Fishers also has gotten into the Halloween spirit with its “Fishers Frights” blog posts, highlighting creepy stories specific to Fishers. The most recent focuses on persistent rumors of ghosts haunting the historic buildings of Conner Prairie.
“In the hallowed halls of the Conner House, particularly during the winter months of the Hearthside program, several employees have reported uncanny experiences,” City of Fishers Marketing and PR Manager Kara Hall writes in the Oct. 12 blog. “Some claim to have spotted a gentleman draped in a long coat with a hat casting a shadow over his face, mysteriously appearing either inside the house or wandering the front porch. Equally eerie are tales of a lady with flowing gray locks haunting the upstairs chambers.”
Other “Fishers Frights” posts focus on the Ghost of Cheeney Creek, hauntings at Heady Hollow and the story of the Trittipo family, who survived multiple bomb attacks — not a ghost story but frightening all the same.
To read more, visit thisisfishers.com/category/fishers-frights.
Spooky tales for October nights
Hamilton East Public Library Public Services Librarian Heidi Herald put together a Halloween-inspired book list. Below are a few of her suggestions for creepy October reads.
- “Wicked Fishers” by Robert Bowling. A history of Fishers’ lawless past.
- “Haunted Backroads: Ghosts of Westfield” by Nicole Kobrowski. Kobrowski reveals creepy, unnatural, and frightening supernatural stories that are part of Westfield’s history and allure.
- “Cursed Circle City” by Nicole Kobrowski. This book brings to life the history and haunted Indianapolis icons in an easy-to-read book.
- “Haunted Backroads: Central Indiana and Other Stories” by Nicole Kobrowski. This book includes stories and many high-quality pictures of sites, people and possible hauntings.
- “Haunted Indiana” by Mark Marimen. Four volumes containing a collection of Indiana ghost stories.
- “Haunted Hoosier Trails: A Guide to Indiana’s Famous Folklore Spooky Sites” by Wanda Lou Willis. When settlers first came to Indiana before 1800, the Miami, Delaware, and Potawatomi tribes who already inhabited the region had a long tradition of stories about tragic death and haunting spirits. Pioneers added their own tales, and these traditions have been passed on to us, joined by modern folk tales that raise the hair on the head and startle the imagination.
- “Ghost Stories of Indiana” by Eldrick Thay. Indiana, Crossroads of America, is known as a place rich in folklore, where spirits and ghosts intermingle with the lives of ordinary Hoosiers, often with strange and frightening consequences.
- “Haunted Hoosier Halls: Indiana University” by Kat Klockow. Tour Indiana University’s spooky Bloomington campus and Southern Indiana’s haunted houses and creepy corners.