Classic Columbus Ghost Stories: Politics Never Die

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Abraham Lincoln

Unsurprisingly, the Capital City has its share of ghostly lawmakers, activists and their ilk.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincolnvisited the Ohio Statehouse twice during his lifetime, in 1859 and in 1861, en route to Washington as the president-elect. During this visit, he attended a ball in his honor. Former Gov. Salmon P. Chase (1856–1860), Lincoln's political rival, was there that night. So wasKate Chase, his daughter. "The story is that she had set her cap to dance with the president-elect, but the only person dancing with the president was Mary Todd," says Chris Matheney, the Statehouse historic site manager. He picks it up from here, sometime in the term (1886–1890) of Gov. Joseph Foraker.

"Late one night, Foraker was the only person in the capital. He's sitting at his desk when he hears, of all things, music. He leaves the governor's suite of offices and follows the sound, but something's nagging him in the background. He goes up into the rotunda. Though he could hear the music, the only thing he could see was this shaft of moonlight coming through the great glass seal. The music begins to pick up, and it seems to be coming from the senate chamber. He dashes up the steps to the balcony and he suddenly remembers what was nagging him: The waltz reminded him of when he was a young man, in February 1861, when the president-elect visited. The music reached a crescendo. And as he looked down at the senate floor, he saw two phantoms. One, a very tall man with a beard and a young woman wearing the fashions of about 20 years previous. He surmised he was looking at the ghost of Abraham Lincoln and the spirit of Kate Chase, having their dance on the floor of the senate."

The Keltons

Fernando Cortez Kelton and his wifeSophia Stone Kelton, who built their house at 586 E. Town St. in 1852, were ardent abolitionists and made their home a stop on the Underground Railroad. Fernando was an honorary pallbearer when Lincoln's funeral stopped in Columbus. Today, the house is a lovingly preserved museum and event location. That it is haunted is one of the worst-kept secrets in the city. Terri Potenzini, a former events coordinator, tells of her encounter:

"I was getting ready to leave. I was in the driveway, waiting on rush-hour traffic on Town. I peer up and in that room in the southwest corner-we always called it Sophia's Room-I saw something. I thought, is that some sort of ruffle in the curtain? It was a woman with a black period dress on and a black hat. I could see it was a person. It was exactly the way Sophia is portrayed in this portrait in the house. I kept running down the logic-the alarm's not going off. I looked away for a second, looked back up, and it wasn't there."

Potenzini believes Sophia might wait by the window for her son, Oscar, who was killed in the Civil War. "Fernando went to go pick up the body-that's what they did, go south to wherever the battle was and pick up the body and bring it back north. Sophia didn't take it very well, and she spent a great deal of time in this bedroom in mourning."