Classic Columbus Ghost Stories: James Thurber's Unwelcome Housemate

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Thurber House

Though packed with the history of his life, it's not James Thurber who purportedly haunts the author's one-time home. Thurber himself believed the house was possessed by a spirit, and he humorously described his experiences in 1933's "My Life and Hard Times," in a story in which he changed the home's address to avoid scaring off future tenants. We spoke with a few Thurber House experts about their spooky experiences in the East Side abode-and got their take on who may be wandering the halls.

Anne Touvell,Thurber House deputy director

One story we'd always heard was that, years before Thurber moved in, a man and his wife lived in the home, and the man got a strange phone call saying, "Go home, and you'll find your wife in the arms of a strange man." He comes home, finds that and ends up shooting her and then shooting himself. But that's not the real story. In 1904, Thomas Tracy Tress, who was a prominent jeweler in town, lived here with his wife. One night, he was upstairs with his wife and someone named Miss Tina Ackerman-I've always wondered who she was-and Thomas' wife mentioned something about his gun, which was sitting out, being dangerous. And he said, "Oh, but it's not dangerous, it's not loaded, see …" And he put it up to his chest and shot himself. So, someone did die here, though not as sinisterly as we originally thought. However, a ghost group came in here once, and the electronic voice phenomenon they recorded was clear as day. They asked the air, "Did you accidentally shoot yourself in this house?" And, I swear, the voice came back on the recorder saying, "Ask her."

Jan Williams,volunteer and tour leader

This whole block was the Ohio Lunatic Asylum, which was built in 1838 and burned down in 1868. And in that fire, seven people died. So, this whole block has experiences. Our cleaning people, who also clean the other buildings on the block, they say they've had stuff happen. They won't clean at night anymore. One of our writers had a dog, and it kept barking and barking at the corner in the front room; it wouldn't let her near that corner.

Doreen Uhas Sauer,Columbus Landmarks Foundation education outreach coordinator

When you think about it, Victorian Village, Italian Village, German Village … they all started to come up around the same time. And we began getting calls from people saying, "We've been working on our house, and we think we're not alone." We started stringing together these stories-from the Kappa house, from the Kelton house-and Thurber was always part of that. What was interesting, over time, is that I accepted it for the same reason other people did; I'm a Thurber fan, but I had always approached the home from that perspective. Then, I started hearing little rumblings about the writers-in-residence being uncomfortable. The neighborhood at that time was still a little isolated, so I didn't know if that played into it at all. But it all started to take on … I don't want to say a darker side, but it became apparent Thurber himself had really believed in this, and that he had changed the home's address for a reason. I think, in some places, there's something there. It's hard to deny. -As told to Jenny Rogers