A Haunted History of Columbus, Ohio

Cozy Ghosts

A Haunted History of Columbus, Ohio

by Nellie Kampmann

Haunted America, Charleston, SC, 2011

112 pp, $19.99

Review by Sarah Stegall

“Even for ghosts, there’s no place like home.” — Nellie Kampmann

I don’t believe in ghosts, but then I don’t believe in dragons, either. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a good ghost story or The Hobbit. Even the most rational person can get a thrill out of a juicy ghost story told around a campfire deep in the woods, or in front of a fire on a winter evening. Now, just in time for Halloween, comes a collection of ghost stories one might almost call cozy: spooky enough to thrill, but not gory enough to keep you up nights. Nellie Kampmann’s A Haunted History of Columbus, Ohio not only delivers some deliciously spine-tingling ghosties, it does so with a warm empathy that, in the end, gives the book more of the flavor of Caspar the Friendly Ghost than the malevolent spirits of Amityville.

Classic ghost stories anchor the spirit to a particular place: the haunted castle, the cemetery, the execution ground. In classic fashion, therefore, Kampmann begins with a short history of the capital of Ohio. Columbus, the largest city in Ohio, started out as a compromise and grew by means of prisons, hospitals, poorhouses and insane asylums. It also featured in the abolitionist Underground Railroad that helped runaway slaves escape to the North. Notable public figures, such as Lincoln-era Secretary of State Salmon P. Chase, lived in Columbus. Kampmann organizes her book by location, almost by neighborhood, so the result is a rich collection of ghost anecdotes that reads like a tour guide of supernatural Columbus.

The ghosts are not run-of-the-mill spooks. There’s the haunted clothing of a costume shop, which frightens the girl who dares to try it on. There are friendly ghosts and friendly ghost-keepers, including one man who nonchalantly pours drinks for his otherworldly visitors. There’s the invisible band playing tunes in an empty courtyard. A haunted vacuum cleaner runs without electricity. There are more conventional ghosts, as well: weeping maidens, Civil War era soldiers revisiting their earthly stamping grounds, as well as a Native American ghost (Chief Leatherlips). What we don’t get is rattling chains (although a few teacups rattle), bloodsoaked walls, or gory apparitions.

All this makes for comfy reading. Kampmann’s attention to history and location serves her well, as the histories of the people — and ghosts — of Columbus ultimately weave together, into a picture of a community that embraces both the living and the dead. By the time you finish A Haunted History of Columbus, Ohio, you’ll feel you’ve lived a lifetime — and an afterlife — in this spirit-friendly city.

Copyright 2011 by Sarah Stegall. All rights reserved.