Friday, March 18, 2016


The True Story of Franklin Castle

In the middle 1990s, when I began writing about ghosts and hauntings across the Midwest, there was one house that I was frequently referred to by people in Ohio – Franklin Castle. Officially known as the Tiedemann mansion, the unusual structure had long been called the most haunted house in the state. During its long and rather odd history, the ghosts became an integral part of its lore. For years, tales were told of doors that exploded off their hinges, lights that spun around on their own, electrical circuits that behaved erratically, the inexplicable sounds of a baby crying, and even a woman in black who had been spotted staring forlornly from a small window in the front tower room.

According to local tales, there have always been ghosts in this house. And this should come as no surprise considering the dark deeds, murders, and diabolical events that have been linked to this place. But how many of those stories are true, and how many are merely the stuff of legend? 

Hannes Tiedemann
At the edge of Franklin Boulevard in Cleveland, you’ll find the castle – a place where it is hard to separate fact from fiction. It’s an eerie and forbidding stone structure that has long been considered a spooky place by history buffs, architects, and the general public alike. Rising high above the street, its stone tower looms over the property. The exterior is adorned with menacing gargoyles and for decades, its windows were dark and filled with shadows. There were originally over thirty rooms in the house and intricate carvings filled the interior. The entire third floor was a grand ballroom and the top floor offered sweeping views of the city and Lake Erie.  

And, of course, there were the rumors. Secret passageways, it was said, honeycombed the house and sliding panels were used to hide the entrances to these hidden corridors. It was claimed that a young girl was once murdered in one of these hallways by her uncle, because he believed her to be insane. In the front tower, a gruesome ax murder had once taken place and it was in that tower that one of the former owners found a secret cabinet that contained human bones. Cleveland’s Deputy Coroner, Dr. Lester Adelson, examined the bones in January 1975 and stated that they were very old, and definitely human. Many believed that the forgotten bones had been left there by the house’s original owner, a successful banker with a penchant for evil.

Hannes Tiedemann was a German immigrant to Cleveland, who started out as a barrel-maker and a wholesale grocer. He later turned to banking and founded the Euclid Avenue Savings & Trust, which made him very successful and very wealthy. He decided that he wanted a grand home that befit his newly acquired social status and hired the famed Cleveland architectural firm of Cuddell and Richardson to build it for him. When the house was designed in the late nineteenth century, Franklin Boulevard was one of the most upscale residential areas in Cleveland, perhaps second only to Euclid Avenue’s so-called “Millionaire’s Row.”

The house was built over the period of 1881-1883 and it was meant to not only provide an upscale residence for his family, but also to provide a temporary place for friends, family, and others emigrating from Germany to stay when they first arrived in Cleveland. The house replaced an earlier house on the property, which was torn down during the construction of the castle. Hannes moved into the house with his wife, Louise; his mother, Wiebeka; their children, August, Emma, and Dora; and several servants. More children were born, but the stories say that life in the castle was never happy. By 1891, it had turned tragic.

In January 1891, Tiedemman’s mother and his daughter, Emma, died within weeks of one another. Although Wiebeka’s death was from natural causes, Emma died from diabetes. In those days, death from the disease came as a horrible, lingering starvation for which there was no cure. Over the next three years, the Tiedemann family would bury three more children, one of them just 11 days old. It truly seemed as though the family was cursed.  

To take his wife’s mind off the tragedies, Tiedemann began extensive renovations on the house. It was during this expansion that the ballroom was added to the third floor, as well as the turrets and gargoyles on the exterior, giving the house a more castle-like appearance. Gas lighting was also installed throughout the house and, the legends say, so were the secret passages, concealed rooms, and hidden doors. Unfortunately, though, the hidden passageways and secret chambers in the house have vanished with time – if they existed at all. No trace of them can be found today, other than a small stairway that was used by the servants to get from the kitchen to the front door, which were commonly found in large homes of the era.

Of course, the absence of such mysterious passages tends to cast doubt on some of the more heinous stories of the house – that Hannes Tiedemann used the tunnels for his sexual indiscretions and even to commit murder. In one tunnel, leading away from the ballroom, Tiedemann was supposed to have murdered his niece by hanging her from a rafter. She was insane, it has been said, and he did it to put her out of her misery. He is also supposed to have murdered a young servant girl on her wedding day because she spurned his advances. Another version of this story claims the murdered woman was actually Tiedemman’s mistress, killed because she wanted to marry another man. Some say she is the woman in black who haunts the tower room. But, if there are no “secret passages” in the house, do the stories of the murders committed in them – stories that seem to form the foundation for the ghost stories in the house – have any truth to them at all?

Even without them, however, there was still plenty of death and tragedy linked to the house. On March 24, 1895, Louise Tiedemann died at the age of 57 from liver failure. Hannes remarried a short time later, leading many to speculate about the circumstances of Louise’s death. Soon after, Tiedemann sold the castle to a local brewing family named Mullhauser and moved to a grander home on Lake Road. His second marriage did not last long. He divorced her after only a year, leaving her with nothing. 

By 1908, Tiedemann’s entire family, including his son, August, and his grandsons, had passed away. There was no one left to inherit his fortune or to comfort him in his old age. Tiedemann died later that same year, suffering a massive stroke while walking in the park one day. Had the curse been lifted from the house, or was more tragedy coming?

The “Haunted House”
In 1913, the Mullhauser family sold the castle to the local German Socialist Party, who officially used the house for meetings and parties. Rumors quickly spread, though, that the Socialists were actually using the place as a headquarters for spy efforts during World War I. Years later, a German shortwave radio was allegedly found hidden in the rafters. The infamous “secret passages” were claimed to be the scene of a brutal murder during the Germans Socialist occupation of the house.

The house was mainly unoccupied during this time, but it’s possible that they may have rented out at least portions of it. During an interview in the 1970s, a Cleveland nurse recalled that she had cared for an ailing attorney in the castle in the 1930s. She remembered being often terrified at night by the sound of a small child crying. More than 40 years later, she told a reporter that she "would never set foot in that house again."

In January 1968, the German Socialist group sold the house to James Romano. Romano, his wife, and their six children, soon moved into the mansion, a place that Mrs. Romano had always been fascinated with. They planned to open a restaurant in the house, but soon changed their minds. On the very day that the family moved in, she sent her children upstairs to play. A little while later, they came back downstairs and asked if they could have a cookie for their new friend, a little girl who was upstairs crying. Mrs. Romano followed the children back upstairs, but found no little girl. 

Mrs. Romano also reported hearing organ music coming from different parts of the house, footsteps in the hallways and on the stairs, disembodied voices, and the sounds of people coming from the former ballroom. The Romanos consulted a Catholic priest, who declined to do an exorcism, but told them that he sensed a bad presence in the house. He advised them to leave. Instead, they turned to the now-defunct Northeast Ohio Psychical Research Group, who decided to investigate the castle. If the stories are to be believed, one of the ghost hunters actually ran screaming from the house in the middle of the investigation.  

After enduring years of ghostly activity, the Romanos had reached their limit by 1974, and sold the house to Sam Muscatello, who was eager to cash in on the castle’s eerie reputation. He began offering guided tours of the house and making notes about alleged encounters by visitors with the woman in black, strange sounds, vanishing objects, and cold spots in the castle. He also used the media to generate publicity and once, during a live segment on Cleveland radio, host John Webster had a tape recorder pulled off his shoulder and thrown down a staircase. Webster later recalled, "I just stood there holding the microphone as I watched the tape recorder go flying down to the bottom of the stairs, where it broke into pieces."

Another time, during a television piece, crew member Ted Ocepec witnessed a hanging ceiling light that suddenly began turning in circular motions. Someone suggested that perhaps traffic vibrations on the street outside had caused the movement of the light. Ocepec didn’t think so. "I just don’t know," he said, "but there’s something in that house."

Muscatello began searching for the alleged secret passages in the house and that was when he found a pile of human bones behind a panel in the tower. Although few deny that real human bones were removed from the castle, whom they belonged to and how they ended up there has been debated. Some took the bones as proof that Hannes Tiedemann was the murderer that legend claimed him to be, but others, however, believe that Muscatello stashed the bones there as “evidence” behind the haunting at Franklin Castle. 

Unable to make the castle into the tourist attraction that he had hoped it would be, Muscatello eventually decided to sell the place. It was purchased by a doctor, who later sold the house – for the same price he paid for it – to Cleveland’s Police Chief Richard Hongisto. The chief and his wife declared that the mansion would be the perfect place to live but then, less than a year later, they abruptly sold the house to George Mirceta, who knew nothing of the mansion’s reputation at the time. He bought the castle because of its gothic architecture, but soon learned that it was alleged to be haunted. Following in the footsteps of the Sam Mustatello, he started offering tours of the place.

Mirceta lived alone in the house, but had many visitors. During his tours, he asked his visitors to record any of their strange experiences in a guest book before they left. Some claimed to see a woman in white, others a woman in black. Some told of hearing babies crying, or seeing things move about. One woman even claimed that she felt like she was being choked in the tower room. Mirceta admitted that he couldn’t explain all of his experiences in the house, but he maintained that it was not haunted. If it was, he told a reporter, he would too scared to live there. "There has to be a logical explanation for everything," he told an interviewer.

To the Present Day
In 1984, the house was sold again. It was purchased by Michael DeVinko, who almost immediately began making major renovations to the house. DeVinko, whose stage name was Mickey Dean and who was the last husband of singer and actress Judy Garland, spent close to $1 million restoring the house over the next decade. He claimed to have no problems with the resident ghosts, but surmised that it may have been because he was taking care of the old place again. He successfully tracked down the original blueprints to the house, some of the Tiedemann furniture, and even the original key to the front door, which still worked. Despite all this, DeVinko still decided to move out and put the house up for sale in 1994. 

The castle was sold again in 1999, but was torched by an arsonist soon after, causing substantial damage to the place. The new owner spent a large sum of money in repairs but was never able to complete the restoration of the house. During the time that he worked on the house, the owner stated that he was unsure if it was haunted, or whether he believed in ghosts at all. However, he did say that many of his friends and family had odd experiences in the castle. He added that it was not a scary place, but it was a little creepy, especially in the middle of the night. He said, “I've heard strange sounds and hoped to see something or hear something that would prove to me that ghosts exist, but so far it hasn't happened. So far it's been no spookier than sleeping alone in any old house that creaks in the wind or has rattling pipes."

In 2003, the house was sold once more and the new owner, a local land developer, announced hopes of renovating the mansion and turning it into the Franklin Castle Club, with a restricted membership. But three years later, it was discovered that there was no truth to the “plan.” No repairs had been made and photographs that had been publicized were either close-ups of individual pieces of architecture, or were older pictures from other sources. No work had been done, no memberships sold, and there were even claims that the house had been used a location for filming pornography. The owners were no longer permitted to allow anyone on the property.

Five more years passed and in July 2011, it was announced that the castle had been rezoned to allow it to become a three-family dwelling, and a sale was pending. It was purchased later that year by a European tapestry artist named Chiara Dona dale Rose. A permit was granted for residential exterior alterations in 2012 and local news sources reported that it was to be converted into a multiple-unit property. Renovations have been made, but it remains a work in progress, and closed to the public.

Is Franklin Castle truly as haunted as the stories say, or are the legends of the house simply tall tales that were overblown by previous owners to get paying tourists in the door? At this point, no one can say for sure. As more of the incorrect history of the house has been debunked, the source of the ghost stories becomes harder to find. But if we dismiss the stories of Hannes Tiedemann as a brutal killer and the tales of secret passages and mysterious murders, does that mean the castle is not haunted at all? No, I don’t believe that it does. No matter what, the castle is a place that is marked by both tragedy and death and the events of the past may have certainly left an impression behind. As with other legendary spots, it may turn out that Franklin Castle is just as haunted as we have already heard that it is – just not for the reasons that myth and legends about the place like to claim.

By Troy Taylor / American Hauntings
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