I faced two distinct fears when I spent the night in a local bed and breakfast rumored to be haunted:
Would I actually make contact with someone — or something — from beyond at the Mansion View Inn in the Old West End?
Or would I neither see nor hear anything unexplained with my sundown-to-sun-up stay yielding as much paranormal evidence as a box of Boo Berry cereal?
It would seem that my second fear was mostly realized — with an intriguing, notable exception.
As with all good ghost stories, a proper set-up is required.
Mine doesn't begin in a forest cabin retreat near a stagnant lake or in a recently purchased home built on an Indian burial ground. It starts with an inquiry to John DuVall, the 46-year-old the caretaker of Mansion View Inn, and his agreeing to allow Blade photographer Amy E. Voigt and me to stay the night in the 10,000-square-foot home.
Located at 2305 Collingwood Blvd., Mansion View Inn was built in 1871 and was home first to Charles Reynolds and later to Jay K. Secor, both members of prominent Toledo families. The mansion was converted to 15 apartments in the 1950s, and was reverted to its original state in the 1980s for a conversion to a bed and breakfast. The Mansion View Inn features 18 rooms, six and a half bathrooms, six fireplaces, and more than 75 windows over three floors, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is also rumored to house more than one spirit who refuses to check out. In the three and a half years Mr. DuVall has lived there, he said he's seen the ghostly image of a woman materialize and then disappear only inches from his face, a disembodied hand on top of a staircase post, and heard faint laughter coming from the front parlor. He's had music blast at him from an alarm clock as soon as he walked into one of the guest rooms. He went to turn off the radio but it was already off, even as the music blared. And the alarm was set for several hours later in the morning.
Perhaps more troubling was the identical experience of two women from the summer of 2010. Each woman stayed in the Ludwig Room, No. 301, each was alone, and each checked out early. One left that night and the other early the following morning. Both said they heard whispers surrounding the bed followed by someone pushing against side of the mattress. Neither woman knew the other, and the incidents happened a month apart.
Voices from beyond
Jason Schneider, co founder of Lake Erie Paranormal, a local group of retired and current law enforcement officials that investigates area homes and businesses purported to be haunted, has also experienced paranormal activity at Mansion View Inn.
Among their findings: documented recordings of a little boy faintly saying "mom" and in a later recording "Andrew," as well as a different voice in another session saying "soldier." Perhaps the most intriguing EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) Lake Erie Paranormal has captured at the Mansion View Inn is in the parlor room: three loud knocks followed by a whispered "Hey."
Mr. Schneider's team also photographed an unexplained image of what appears to a Victorian-era woman walking into the dining room and looking over her shoulder as if acknowledging the camera behind her. Other guests have reported seeing a pair of Victorian-era boots on the fourth step of the back stairs leading to the servants' quarters, now the apartment Mr. DuVall shares with Jeff Witt.
"It's never disappointed," Mr. Schneider told me over the phone in a last-minute list of pointers before my investigation began.
And so it was that Blade photographer Amy Voigt and I checked in to Mansion View Inn just after 7:30 p.m. on a nippy Monday in early October.
After a quick tour of the bed and breakfast by Mr. DuVall's partner, Mr. Witt, 48, Amy and I decided to get some shots of the staircase where guests had seen the shoes and Mr. DuVall saw the ghostly hand.
Amy set up a tripod and set her camera for a minute-long exposure so it could soak in all available light. And that's when our night proved most interesting. There was nothing on the staircase, yet after the first shot the image on the camera's digital screen showed a blob of white light in the middle of the staircase.
Amy shot the staircase again and the unexplainable bright blur was still there. I marched up the stairs and stood just to the right of where the illuminated glob was, as we'd seen on her camera screen. There was nothing on the stairs. No light reflection from a nearby light fixture or from outside the facing window. It was simply dark carpeting on the stairs. I put my foot down where the glow was and Amy took another photo which shows the light fading away. In the two subsequent photos with me standing in the same spot on the stairs, the light is gone. These photos were all taken roughly a minute apart.
After that I went down the stairs and stood behind the camera as Amy took a few more long exposures. The light manifested itself again, though it had moved slightly to the right where I had just been standing. And in the next photo it was gone. The ball of light — whether a trick of light or not — never returned in our several return photo shoots of the stairs. Try as we might, we could never duplicate the curious image.
Talking to furniture
The rest of the night was, as I feared, uneventful. Amy and I spent several hours in three of the Mansion View Inn rooms in EVP sessions: the Ludwig Room (301), where the two women fled; the Virginia Room (302), where a loud bang was heard while a female member of Lake Erie Paranormal was there alone conducting EVP sessions, and the parlor room, where the spirit of a woman may have been seen and heard, as well as the voice of the young boy.
After watching several hours of paranormal groups on popular television, I guess I expected something — anything. Instead, I spent hours in a dark room talking to furniture. (I'll refrain from the now tired Clint Eastwood joke.) I thought I'd try to contact the boy, so I placed a small shiny blue ball in the middle of the room and asked him questions such as his name, age, what happened to him, and if he knew where his parents were. The ball never moved and my digital recorders never picked up anything in my hours' worth of recordings,
While I was in the Virginia Room, Amy spent time in the Ludwig Room hoping to elicit a similar paranormal fright as the two women claimed. She had the same paranormal experience, which is to say none.
As the hours went by, I found myself encountering sleepy eyes and yawns more than spirits, and we left just before the sun appeared.
But I knew at least I had something to show for my efforts: a mysterious white blob on the stairs that, oddly enough, we captured in the first few minutes of the investigation. While it wasn't necessarily a ghost, it was at least something unexplained, ergo, paranormal.
The photos were shown around the newsroom with mixed results: some thought it was strange, others dismissed it as "lens flare," or a reflection.
So I met with Schneider over lunch to have him take a look. The 39-year-old has been spent 16 years as a deputy with the Lucas County Sheriff's office. He said most of those in Lake Erie Paranormal are, like him, "skeptical believers," who investigate two to three hauntings a month, with only a handful of those deemed paranormal.
"More often than not there's a reason something is happening," Mr. Schneider said.
But after examining the photos, he was as perplexed by the bright light image as I was. Mr. Schneider then compared our stairway photos to similar shots his group took in almost identical circumstances and none of his photos featured the ghostly blur. He also wondered about any possible reflections from a mirror or window, but ruled those out.
"To me it looks like a glare or a reflection," Mr. Schneider said, "but there is nothing there that could cause it."
In the end, he said the pictures could be classified as paranormal.
"I think it is a good picture. Whether it's a ghost or not — it can't be explained."
Contact Kirk Baird at email@example.com or 419-724-6734.