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ARCH tour unveils haunted Fort Wayne
Ghosts, spirits and other creepiness on the ARCH bus tour
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
If you were looking for the archetypical ghost story, you couldn’t do better than Fort Wayne’s very own “Lady In White.”
“She fulfills all the things you want from a good, mysterious story about a location,” says Angie Quinn, Executive Director of ARCH, Allen County’s organization for architecture preservation and community heritage. Quinn says that in the 1880s, people on downtown Main Street saw a woman wearing long, flowing white garments walking west, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. She walked to the middle of the Main Street bridge, then vanished. People thought she had jumped. The police were called, but they couldn’t find anyone. A week or so later, she was spotted again, with witnesses reporting the same thing. “There was an article in the newspaper,” Quinn says. “The story really caught people’s eye.”
If that caught people’s eye, what happened next really set the community going: the Lady popped up on a carriage, with horses. “According to the newspaper article, it seems like she was out of control,” Quinn says. “The horses were just flying. Once again, she got to the middle of the main street bridge and disappeared.”
The next time, the police were ready for her. An officer approached the woman, and she took off running through West Central. “They threw a blanket over her — probably something to do with Victorian codes where you don’t want to grab a woman, that sort of thing — in an alley off College Street,” Quinn says. “And, as the newspaper report says ‘…the blanket fell to the ground, empty’…” Dun-dun-DAH!
The “Lady In White” is just one story you’ll be able to hear about ghostly Fort Wayne on ARCH’s Haunted Sites Bus Tour of downtown on Saturday, October 29th. “Some of them are real ghost stories, some of them are just kind of creepy stories,” says Quinn.
It turns out, Fort Wayne is practically crawling with lost souls doomed to wander in a strange sort of half-life that’s neither this world, nor the next. And there are lots of great ghost stories associated with the area, too.
Angie Quinn’s avid interest in folklore inspired her to gather the material for the tour, digging up old newspaper stories about the Lady In White and other spooky local legends. She says the many local ghosts fit in perfectly with ARCH’s mission of historic preservation and heritage; history and creepy tales just seem to go together. “There are people who are serious ghost hunters, and they’re looking for one type of a ghost story,” Quinn explains. “I’m someone who likes local history, and I think folklore is an aspect of that. I have an interest in stories about places in town, and in some cases those include creepy ghost stories.”
Another highlight of the tour is the Mason Long House, the subject of more recent hauntings. Quinn won’t give up the exact location. “I’ll just tell you it’s on Columbia Street,” she says. “But there have been several newspaper articles over the past 40 years where the owners report things that go bump in the night.” The alleged haunter, Mason Long, was a legendary gambler and scoundrel in the 19th century, notorious throughout the Midwest. Out of the blue, he decided he was going to change his ways. He gave up the gambling and the booze, and became a best-selling author, writing books on the dangers of his wayward lifestyle (Save the Ladies was an especially popular title) and going on the lecture circuit. “I think the question is, why would a reformed gambler want to haunt a house?” Quinn says. “But the place is really, really haunted.”
The tour also takes in Lindenwood Cemetery, host of the burial spot of Homer Van Meter, John Dillinger’s right hand man, whose gravestone has been swiped a dozen times, and jail house flats, haunted by Sam McDonald, the last man hanged in Allen County.
And as for the Lady In White? The mystery remains. “There was someone who later was a civic leader in Fort Wayne, who claimed that when he was a teenager, he and another friend did the whole thing with something called a magic lantern, which is a really early projector that showed sort of like a shadow image,” Quinn says. “But you couldn’t get this image to go all the way over to a bridge, so people thought, “yeah. Sure. Uh-huh.’”
Though Quinn says nothing about the Lady In White has appeared in a newspaper since the account of the police chase, it remained a potent local legend, with people watching that Main Street bridge just to catch a glimpse of any mysterious apparitions.
Maybe she’ll make an appearance for the tour…
Haunted Sites Bus Tour
Saturday, October 29.
Board the bus at the Swinney Homestead at 5:45, 7:00 or 8:15
Families welcome at 5:45 and 7:00 (scarier stories at 8:15 for grown-ups)
Tickets available beginning October 15, $10 adults and $5 for children 12 and under.