The word “castle” brings to mind the powerful medieval battlements or stately manors of pre-modern Europe. Though no true castles exist in the American Midwest, castle-like buildings and mansions are scattered throughout the heartland. With their picturesque stone walls, towers, and turrets, these structures ignite visitors’ imaginations. None would be complete, of course, without a horrifying or romantic tale. Mysterious Heartland has researched these locations all over the Midwest and has found several with spine-tingling ghost stories. Which will prove to be the most haunted of them all?
10. Mound Hill Park Castle
Elk Mound, Wisconsin
Sometimes crudely referred to as “Dead Mailmen Haunted Castle,” this stone tower was constructed in 1937 atop Mound Hill, the second highest hill in Wisconsin. Its summit is 1,220 feet above sea level, and the 25-foot tower was intended to be an observation deck and picnic pavilion. In 1938, it was dedicated to deceased Dunn County letter carriers because it had been built over the site of a previous memorial that included soil taken from every mail carrier’s route. The park was closed from 1987 to 1994 because of problems with the steep road leading to the tower. At some point, probably when it was abandoned, it developed a reputation for being haunted. A photo of the tower is prominently featured on the cover of Haunted Chippewa Valley by Devon Bell. According to Bell, it is rumoured that a young man fell to his death in the 1980s, and visitors have reportedly felt sick and heard strange screams and laughter in the vicinity of the tower. Mists and odd lights have also been reported. According to an even wilder legend, a dragon is buried in the hill under the tower, making this setting very medieval indeed!
9. Hartford Castle
“Hartford Castle” is the colloquial name for a mansion that formerly stood on a tract of land just outside of Hartford, Illinois, across the river from St. Louis. The mansion’s actual name was Lakeview, but few besides the original owner referred to it as such. The original owner was a French immigrant named Benjamin Biszant, who built the imposing home for his bride, an Englishwoman whose name has apparently been lost to history. Eventually, Biszant’s wife died and, perhaps, the pain was too much for him to remain at Lakeview. He sold the mansion and moved west. A number of owners and tenants occupied the estate until the last owners abandoned it in the 1960s. In 1972, vandals destroyed the interior, and a fire ravaged the grounds a short time later. Today, the Hartford Castle is nothing more than a hole in the ground, surrounded by concrete debris and a shallow moat. Several of the original gazebos remain behind.
8. Squire’s Castle
Willoughby Hills, Ohio
Deep in the North Chagrin Reservation on River Road in the northeastern suburbs of Cleveland, sits the hollowed out shell of Squire’s Castle. This stone edifice once served as a carriage house for Standard Oil co-founder Feargus B. Squire. Built in the 1890s, it was intended to be one part of a larger estate, but Squire never finished the project. The Cleveland Metroparks acquired the 525 acre property in 1925. According to legend, Feargus’ wife Rebecca stayed in the tiny castle and used to wander the rooms at night carrying a red lantern. One night, a mounted hunting trophy startled her and she broke her neck falling down the stone stairs. To this day, visitors see the red light of her lantern shining in the darkened windows. In reality, Rebecca Squire died in Wickliffe, Ohio in 1929. After years of vandalism, park staff gutted the carriage house, leaving behind nothing but its stone walls. Rumour has it that the castle used to have a basement, and that it can be accessed by way of a secret entrance.
7. Chateau Laroche
Also known as the Loveland Castle, Chateau Laroche was built beginning in 1929 by a Boy Scout troop leader and medievalist named Harry D. Andrews. Andrews had served in southwestern France during the First World War and was inspired by the castles he saw there. A labor of love, he painstakingly added to the structure with his own hands over the course of several decades, using stones from the Little Miami River and cement bricks moulded using milk cartons. He named it Chateau Laroche, which means “Rock Castle” in French. He died of injuries sustained in an accident involving fire in 1981, and left his castle to his Boy Scout troop, the Knights of the Golden Trail. Strangely, the Loveland Castle quickly attracted ghosts, even when Andrews was living there. He reportedly heard footsteps in the hallways at night, saw shadows move, and heard someone knocking on the door—always when he was alone. One winter, he opened the door expecting to see footprints in the newly fallen snow, but it was undisturbed. An egg-shaped ghost with glowing eyes reportedly inhabited a willow tree next to the castle. Since his death, volunteers have heard the bathroom door slam shut on its own.
6. Easton Castle
Aberdeen, South Dakota
The Easton Castle, so called, is a yellow brick home built in 1886 or 1889 by C.A. Bliss, owner of the Artesian Hotel. It was originally a 30-room, three story Queen Anne style mansion. In 1902, its new owner, Carroll Francis Easton, covered the exterior in yellow bricks. The Eastons employed a young woman, who happened to be the niece of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, as a housekeeper. It is believed that Baum based the character of Dorothy on her. After Easton and his wife died, his son become a recluse and shut himself up in the home. It slowly deteriorated and locals began to whisper that it was haunted. According to authors Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk, the ghost of Baum’s niece is believed to haunt the third floor. The ghost of Mrs. Easton has also been spotted, and creaking footsteps have been heard throughout the house. Incredibly, at least one person claims to have been chased through the house by a knife-wielding phantom. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the owners of Easton Castle opened it for tours around Halloween, probably contributing to the legends.
5. Witch’s Castle
Also known as Mistletoe Falls, legend and real-life horror cross paths at the ruins of this abandoned stone house in the woods off Upper River Road. According to legend, a coven of witches lived here in the founding years of Utica. It is unknown how many witches resided within, but numbers range from three to as many as nine. Terrified, the townspeople trapped the witches inside and burned them to death. Today, all that remains are the stone walls, cellars, and staircases overgrown with underbrush. Visitors have reportedly heard and seen the ghost of a raven-haired adolescent girl wearing a white dress. “Witch’s Castle” has become a hangout for local teens and it is rumoured that black rituals still take place there. In January 1992, these ruins were one of the places where four teenage girls tortured 12-year-old Shanda Sharer before ultimately stabbing and burning her to death.
4. Henderson Castle
Kalamazoo’s historic Henderson Castle was built in 1895 by businessman Frank Henderson. His company produced medals and decorations for secret societies, fraternal organisations, and the military. He spared no expense on this Queen Anne style home on West Main Hill overlooking downtown. After his death, the house passed through several owners. It soon developed a reputation for being haunted, and it has appeared in at least three horror films. Both Frank and Mary Henderson are believed to haunt the home, along with the ghost of an adolescent girl. A travel writer for the Detroit Free Press described being woken by someone tapping her on the arm. When she opened her eyes, she heard someone say “go away” from the darkness. The owner’s son witnessed an apparition of a lady wearing a Victorian dress in what was formerly Mary Henderson’s changing room. Other guests have heard footsteps and seen a phantom dog. Today, Henderson Castle is an upscale bed and breakfast.
3. Frankenstein’s Castle
Also known as Witches’ Tower or Patterson Tower, this strange stone turret overlooks Dayton’s Community Golf Course from Hills and Dales MetroPark on Patterson Avenue, south of the University of Dayton. No one is quite sure when it was erected or who built it, but prior to the 1960s, the tower had a roof and was open to visitors. After a fatal accident (some say suicide), however, the gate over the entrance was locked. During a thunderstorm in May 1967, two teenagers, a boy and a girl, sought shelter in the tower. They were coming down the stairs when lightning struck the tower and travelled up the railing. The resulting explosion killed the girl and severely burned the young man’s face. According to legend, their blackened outlines could still be seen on the stone wall for weeks (or even years) after the accident. There are other rumours that a witch hung herself in the tower. Some visitors report seeing two glowing spectres in the windows, orbs, or the misty figure of a lady in white. The lady has been seen on several occasions, sometimes without legs.
2. Voorhies Castle
Piatt County, Illinois
“Voorhies Castle” is the colloquial name for a mansion built between 1900 and 1904 by Nels Larson. The mansion was designed to resemble a Swedish chalet in Queen Anne style. The town of Voorhies, however, was named after Jack Voorhies, whose brother and he owned most of the land on which the village would be built. Larson quietly built a small empire while working for Voorhies, and eventually owned the town. A large clock tower used to sit on the property, but a tornado destroyed it in 1976. To this day, it is said, the sound of a clock chiming can be heard on March 29, at the exact hour Nels Larson died. In addition to his two children, there were rumours that Larson had a third that was developmentally disabled. People whispered that Larson locked this child in a secret room somewhere in the mansion. While one or more secret rooms have been discovered, Larson’s decedents deny any such child ever existed.
After Larson died in 1923, the mansion sat abandoned for a number of years, until it was sold in 1967 to the Illinois Pioneer Heritage Centre and opened for tours. Caretakers heard strange sounds and saw shadows moving in the mansion, and a paranormal investigation was conducted there. A married couple purchased the Voorhies Castle in 1972 and publicly acknowledged it was haunted, but they were forced to abandon it six years later. After a succession of owners, Steven Seitz, a political science professor at the University of Illinois, purchased the property in 1999. While renovating the mansion, he discovered a small toy unicorn sealed in the wall—just one more mystery hidden in this unique building.
1. Pythian Castle
In 1913, the Knights of Pythias, an American fraternal organisation and secret society, built this structure from Carthage Stone quarried in the Ozark’s. It was originally called the Pythian Home of Missouri and was used as an orphanage and retirement home for children and widows of members of the organisation. According to legend, children staying at the castle were forced to crawl through a steam tunnel to deliver laundry to an adjacent building. During World War 2, it was commandeered by the US government for use as a recovery home for wounded soldiers. Soldiers staying there during WW2 reported hearing screams and seeing the ghosts of children. One veteran heard a conversation taking place on the second floor, though he was alone. The Pythian Castle was recently purchased by a private owner and opened up for tours. The building has since been featured in TV shows like Ghost Lab and Haunted Collector, and the documentary Children of the Grave.