There are a lot of macabre aspects to doing architectural research. Sometimes it is because of the location of a structure, sometimes it is the structure’s appearance and sometimes it is the stories associated with a structure. Here is a virtual “tour” of the “spookiest” sites I’ve discovered while doing my research.
1. Lynch Monument
The Lynch monument was commissioned by Patrick Lynch to mark his family’s burial plot on a high point in St. Agnes Cemetery in Syracuse, NY. I think that this site is sublime for a couple of reasons. Its location, in a cemetery on a pine-wooded hill, on the edge of the city, gives it a physically dark character. There is something particularly moving about the finely carved “resignation” figure at the top of the monument. Part angel and part goddess, it seems to have descended from another world to welcome people to their final resting place.
2. Ostrander Ranch
In a remote part of west Texas, Syracuse businessman, Welton Ostrander, had Silsbee design him a large ranch home in the early 1880’s. It is still standing, used as a corporate retreat and hunting lodge. Ostrander left the home abruptly and his cattle business failed shortly after the home was constructed. Without a clear explanation for why Ostrander left the home, locals filled in the blanks with their own sinister fabrications of what might have happened.
3. May Memorial Chapel
In the middle of Rosehill Cemetery, in Chicago, is a beautiful chapel that Silsbee designed for his friend, Horatio May. May became ill and died while on a trip to Germany and the chapel is his final resting place. Besides its location, there are two features of the building that seem particularly creepy. First are the carved faces of angels that seem to peer down at chapel visitors. They give the impression that the architecture has a life of its own. There is also a large mound behind the structure. It contains a vacant crypt, a receiving vault, to store bodies during the cold months, when the ground was too frozen to dig.
4. White Memorial Building
Many of Silsbee’s structures are adorned with fantastical animals. The White Memorial Building, in Syracuse, NY is adorned with more of them that any other known Silsbee structure. From winged creatures that grasp the building with their talons to gargoyles and dragons on the walls and cornices to small scale-covered aquatic creatures at the base, almost every part of the building has a small supernatural inhabitant.
5. Samuel Slade Residence
One January, after a night of dinner and celebrations at a nearby home, a group of men and women decided to go sledding down the ravine in Highland Park, Illinois. After several trips down the hill, the men in the party decided to do a trip alone. The toboggan veered into a curb and thrown into a deep ravine. One of the men, Martin Kehoe, was gravely injured, with a fractured skull. He was brought up the hill to the Slade residence but was never revived. Some say that on cold snowy evenings, when the wind is blowing just right, you can hear the howls and cries of “help” rise up from the Ravine.
6. Leavenworth Mausoleum
On a rise in Dedication Valley, in Syracuse’s Oakwood Cemetery is one of Oakwood’s most beautiful monuments; the Mausoleum of Elias Leavenworth. As if the location and building type weren’t macabre enough, Leavenworth’s final resting place became the site of a tragedy during its construction. In early 1881, a derrick collapsed while placing stone for the monument. Little Falls resident, Richard Farrell was under the derrick at the time and his skull was crushed during the accident.
7. Hammond Residence
Distraught over troubles with the finances of his business, the National Bank of Illinois, William Hammond woke very early one January morning. Dressed in only an undershirt, coat and trousers, he descended the stairs to his home, put on a pair of over-shoes and left the home. While walking toward Lake Michigan, less than a block away, he tore up memoranda and other bank business letters pertaining to a deal with his creditors, Farson, Leach & Co., leaving a trail along the Evanston beach. After pacing up and down the beach for several minutes, he entered the lake, never to return. A friend and lawyer had testified that Hammond had become deranged in the days leading up to his suicide, likely driven mad by the collapse of his bank.
8. Barber Residence
Banking seemed to be a dangerous profession at the turn of the century. Bryant Barber was the owner of the private Barber Brothers Bank in Polo, Illinois. Like Hammond, Barber’s bank received notice of a shortage of $300,000.00. On an early November morning, Barber instructed his driver to a bridge over the Rock River, near Grand Detour, Illinois. Halfway across the bridge, he instructed the driver to stop. Barber got out of his vehicle, went to the walkway and jumped off of the bridge. Bryant’s body was ever recovered. Odd sightings of Bryant soon followed, as people claimed to see him going about a “new life” in a new town. As soon as a report would surface, Barber would disappear. The owners of the Barber Residence keep a scrapbook of Bryant Barber sightings and have included many items of conjecture about Bryant’s life after he jumped into the Rock River.
9. John Bemis Residence
There have been no reports of ghosts at this home. This may be due to the fact that, like the White Memorial Building, it is guarded by several mythical creatures. On the peaks of each gable of the home are perched several large cats. These same wild cats are also carved within the balusters of the home. Though not haunted, the home has a formidable appearance and looks like something out of a Gothic novel.
10. Oakwood Mortuary Chapel
Like the May Chapel, the Oakwood Mortuary Chapel has a spooky setting and design. This stone structure, built in 1879, has many Gothic features and is decorated with a dragon and carved spider webs. It was the location of many memorial services and also has a vacant receiving vault. Many spirits probably haunt this place but only one is known to have actually died at the chapel. One day, when a caretaker was preparing the crematorium for use, he was overcome by noxious fumes. His body was found later that day, at the foot of the stair to the crematorium. The chapel and crematorium are no longer in use and sit vacant in picturesque Oakwood.