Five haunted places in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, to see before you die (or after you die)

Though an appetite for horror films and fantasy fiction has always been strong in Cleveland, the paranormal and northeast Ohio would seem an unlikely pairing. This was a pragmatic manufacturing/industrial town. A city of shop floors and second shifts and sub-contractors. A city of trade-union-management negotiations, of forced busing and teacher walkouts, of pinning community pride on the wavering prowess of the sports teams, of trying to get by in a recession. Who has time for spooks in a nuts-and-bolts city?

A lot of people, actually. We may be no New Orleans or Savannah, Georgia, with moss-covered plantations and rumors of vampires and buried pirate treasure. But ghost stories can be found here, complete with a handful of haunted-Cleveland tours usually ramping up for business in September and October.

Still, hardscrabble Cleveland's changing urban environment has sometimes been as unkind to the undead as it has been to the living. One of the citys most widely circulated ghost stories broke into local headlines in 1957. In a manner suggestive of the later Amityville Horror hysteria, an Afro-American family said they had to flee their rented suite in a declining apartment-residence called Mason Court, after being terrorized by moaning sounds at night, and a close encounter with the spectral sight of a bloody, clutching hand sticking out of pile of rubbish in the cellar. Even Cleveland Police were called to investigate; depending on how tall the tale went, officers either actually fired shots at the clutching hand, or just heard unexplained noises.

In any case, Mason Court is no more; after being talk of the town for a few years the building was demolished and the address, around East 40th Street, south of downtown, is now factory cold-storage facilities and somewhat shabby warehouses. The hood does not lend itself to gawking ghost-tour sightseers.

However, other Cleveland scenes of hauntings and high weirdness do persevere,

The Franklin Castle
4308 Franklin Blvd.

Construction on the reigning "haunted mansion" of Cleveland began in 1864, on behalf of German-immigrant banker Hannes Tiedemann. The Franklin Castle looks the part, with its stonework and Gothic filigree, though the truth is that rumors of ghosts did not really materialize until 100 years later, with The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby compelling Cleveland media to look for the local equivalent of an Addams-Family residence. Certainly bad luck has haunted the varied and colorful owners, one of whom was Judy Garland's last husband. Another was a Yahoo! exec whose plans to restore the place went offline when a homeless man from the monastery next door accidentally gutted the Castle with his DIY campfire. The latest talk is of drastically rehabbing the whole thing into apartments; in the meantime, plenty of gawkers see figures in windows and gardens. And homeless folk still tell of odd German-speaking people who shouldn't be there, but the monks order them to shut up about it.

Grays Armory
1234 Bolivar Rd.

A squat, castle-like building constructed in 1893, Grays Armory housed the city's militia, as well as serving as an indoor sports arena, music hall and meeting/training grounds for the Civil Air Patrol and the Cleveland Police. As a memorabilia-crammed military museum, the place is worth a visit even without attendant legends of a resident ghost named (arbitrarily and whimsically) Patrick. A live-in custodian of the Armory in the 1970s supposedly saw a uniformed specter (all black and white, like an old photo) walk through a wall on the third floor. Eyewitnesses - make that nosewitnesses - have sensed the favorite pipe tobacco of the Grays Major Lou Grosser, after his death (and funeral on the premises).

The Cleveland Federal Reserve Building
1455 E. 6th St.

Cleveland's handsome stone Federal Reserve Bank was built in 1923 at the busy junction of E.6 Street and Superior Avenue. It is an open secret among employees that weird things happen inside (besides the interest rates), and none of the hundreds of employees are supposed to speak openly about it. Elevators particularly seem to stop at certain floors on their own accord, and a housekeeper in 1992 claimed to have seen the apparition of a woman in 1920s "flapper" clothing on the eighth floor. Somehow a name and legend was attributed to the resident ghost: Matilda Rose Brennan, a casualty of the stock market Crash of 1929, still hanging around. Meanwhile the place isn't open to ghost tours or paranormal investigators (unless things get so bad they really need the money).

Playhouse Square
1501 Euclid Ave.

Local psychics, including the famous Mary Ann Winkowski, have cited the Playhouse Square performing-arts complex as Cleveland's single most ghost-ridden site. Built throughout the early 1920s as lavish movie/vaudeville houses, and nearly torn down for parking space in the blighted 1970s, Playhouse Square's iconic auditoriums - the State, Ohio, Palace and Hanna Theaters are now downtown showcases, with great showbiz history. Earnest rumors of ghosts are an amusing, persistent sideshow. "Cold spots" have been felt, and spooks hanging around the footlights include an elegant, top-hatted toff at the Palace invisible from the waist down (witnessed during downtime of an after-hours wedding party), a disappearing man in the Hanna balcony, and a phantom fellow in a distinctive green fedora hat. The venues are so packed on a big night who knows who - or what - is really strolling the aisles?

Johnny Mango
3120 Bridge Ave.

Johnny Mango, on the near west side, with its world cuisine and bustling patrons and one-dollar "Taco Tuesdays." Still, the place has had rumors of bad vibes arising from a set of hostile shades of folks who all died in violent deaths in the vicinity at varies times in the 19th and 20th centuries. Chief among them: "Margaret," rumored to have been a casualty of a trolley-car accident nearby in the late 1800s. There should be a footnote that ever since "Ghost Whisperer" Mary Ann Winkowski gave the spirits therapy some years ago, the atmosphere is supposed to be much friendlier to mortals. The food rocks, either way.

Charles Cassady Jr. is the author of Cleveland Ghosts (Schiffer Publishing). Either he has never seen a ghost or he is seeing ghosts all the time but is too preoccupied with his job search to notice.