(Orig. Published 8/14/2005)
Often times, we come across haunted sites with pretty simple legends told second-hand by persons who did not actually witness the events. Yet, Punderson Manor is markedly different from the typical Ohio haunts. First, there appear to be approximately a dozen different sightings associated with this English Tudor mansion located in Geauga County near Newbury. Yet, in many instances, there are not always clear answers as to the identities of the apparitions. Second, many of the hauntings date back 30 years or more, encountered by credible (sometimes skeptic) people who seemingly have no awareness of any prior, eerie history regarding the mansion. Third, research has turned up some fascinating facts that tend to lend credibility to some accounts, and in other instances only further add to the mystery of this area.
To understand the haunted reputation of Punderson, one must first go back to a time before the mansion was built. The mansion rests on grounds located near Punderson Lake. Punderson gets its name from Lemuel Punderson, who in 1802 settled with his wife Sybal Hickox in the area that was once known as the vast Connecticut Western Reserve. One of his wife’s prized possessions was a rocking chair, which Sybal brought with them on their wagon trip from Connecticut. Once settled here, Lemuel opened a distillery and grist mill with another business partner and built a home by Punderson Lake.
Nearby the Punderson estate was the Josh Burnett Tavern, which was a popular drinking hole until it burned mysteriously in 1885. Some say children died in the fire, but there is no evidence to substantiate this claim. Also nearby the Punderson estate was the Wales Hotel, an amusement park, a small zoo and a steamboat ferry. Apparently, it was quite an attraction for small children and their families until it closed down in the early 1900’s. There is no particular grisly event associated with this turn-of-the century entertainment center, but its existence may explain some strange occurrences witnessed years later.
Punderson and his wife are buried on a hill by Punderson Lake. It is unclear what happened to Mr. Punderson, but local legend holds that one day he got inside a “golden bathtub” and drifted out into the lake. He then pulled the plug (literally) and drowned, resulting in one of the most unusual suicides we have ever heard. No one knows what happened to Sybal’s rocking chair following her death, although it eventually made its way to the Geauga County Historical Society, where it is on display at its museum.
Following Punderson’s death, the property then transferred to W.B. Cleveland. Cleveland built a small wood frame house on the site of the mansion. Little is known about Cleveland’s occupancy of the land. Sometime later, Cleveland transferred the property to his son-in-law. His son-in-law, in turn, sold the property to Karl Long, a Detroit business man. Construction of what is now known as Punderson Manor began in 1929. However, Long soon lost his fortune in the Great Depression and was unable to finish the project. Some say Long killed himself in the Manor, but research does not support this claim. Eventually, the property reverted to the State in 1948.
After extensive renovation, the manor was opened to the public in 1956. It had then undergone a second renovation (which included the addition of a new wing to the mansion) and was re-opened to the public in 1982. The sleeping areas were now divided into two areas. The old “tower” section, and the new quarters.
It was during this time–the late 70’s to early 80’s–that talk of hauntings and other strange occurrences started to surface. Of course, there may have been sightings prior to this time. However, the first serious investigation and documentation of these paranormal events were conducted by Robert L. Van Der Velde, who interviewed employees, investigated the manor and researched its history for a period of five years through 1983.
The amount of information that Van Der Velde uncovered seems pretty compelling:
In 1977, a teenage African American girl drowned in Lake Punderson. One year later, a caravan of gypsies from out of state camped near the lake. During the evening, its elders saw a “a young black woman, covered with seaweed, [emerge] from the darkened waters of Punderson Lake.” Her apparition was then seen walking for a few yards before returning to the water and disappearing. The group reported the incident to the Park Ranger and told him that they would never come back.
A custodian, who was a skeptic, was seen driving wildly one night from the mansion by the Park Ranger. When asked what happened, the custodian replied that his TV had suddenly went blank, and the lights started turning on and off without explanation. Then, the custodian heard loud, repetitive knocking on his bedroom door. When he opened the door, he saw no one in the hallway. At this time, Punderson was closed to the public in the winter, and presumably no one else had access to the mansion except for the custodian and the rangers. According to the Park Ranger, the custodian–pale and wild from fright–said, “I’m not going back to that hotel tonight! It’s haunted!”
While making rounds one winter evening, the rangers walked up the main circular staircase. They then noticed that the hall had turned cold, and one of the rangers remarked that there was a problem with the heating system. Then, they heard the laughter of a woman. When the laughter stopped, the hallway turned warm again.
A former employee was sleeping in one of the rooms in The Tower when she awoke and saw a “bearded man dressed in shabby clothes” at the foot of her bed. When she tried to kick at this man, her foot went right through him. She then watch him disappear through a wall.
Another ranger making rounds at the mansion spotted a strange man in the dining room. He chased the man into the basement storage room, which had no exit. However, the man disappeared.
The night auditor received complaints from visitors about noises coming from the bedroom next to her. However, the room was unoccupied.
The night auditor reported other strange events, including: rattling chandeliers, pictures falling off walls, and doors opening and closing on their own.
A psychic who claimed to have made contact with a ghost in the Tower stated that one of the male spirits refused to leave the manor until the rocking chair was returned. The psychic’s description of the ghost fit that of W.B. Cleveland, the gentleman who used to occupy a house on the site of the mansion.
While searching for the rocking chair, workers and Van Der Velde discovered a network of tunnels and and crawlspaces beneath the mansion. (Note: Could these have provided easy access to the rooms by a prankster?) Inside, they found smashed furniture. Before they could explore any further for the missing rocking chair, the blue prints to the mansion mysteriously disappeared.
Perhaps the most fantastic report centers upon the manor’s dining room.
Late one night in 1979, three employees witnessed what they claimed be a man hanging by his neck from a rope in the rafters. The man appeared to be dressed in “lumberjack” clothing and rotated slowly from the rope, his fingers twitching. The apparition lasted for an incredible three hours, before it faded with the rising sun.
Some speculate that this apparition may be that of Karl Long, the original builder of the mansion. However, there is no evidence to substantiate that Karl Long ever killed himself, much less in the manor.
Interestingly, Van Der Velde did later discover that an old, tall tree used to grow on the spot where the dining room now stands. This, coupled with the man’s “lumberjack” clothing, fuels the imagination as to who this apparition might be.
Another employee heard the sounds of children laughing and running around her in one the the Tower’s meeting rooms. However, no children could be seen.
(Note: This occurred during the summer, so it *may* be possible that the sounds of visitors elsewhere in the building carried into this room).
The infamous spiral stairs.
In addition to Park Rangers who witnessed strange laughter and cold spots, Van Der Velde also interviewed the night auditor, who claimed she saw a female apparition “wearing an old-fashioned, bluish grey cape and bonnet and floor-length dress.” The woman in Civil-War era clothing then floated up the stairs and left behind ice-cold air.
The employee also witnessed the same female apparition several times later, sometimes accompanied by children running around her. When the employee made eye contact with the woman, “she opened her cape and swallowed up the children in it and faded away.”
On another occasion, this employee saw a mischievous, giggling little girl dressed in pink hiding behind the rails of the staircase, who then disappeared.
The hallway leading to The Tower suites.
Based upon reports by employees and visitors, it would seem that practically every room on this wing is haunted.
However, the most notorious room is the Windsor Suite (or, Blue Room).
According to Van Der Velde, a banquet manager was assigned to the Tower’s master bedroom. This bedroom, formerly known as the Blue Room, is considered to be the most haunted room in the manor. The manager reported a heavy fan floating across the floor toward him. Doors would burst open on their own. Another employee heard moans coming from the room when it was empty. On another occasion, he felt someone sit down on the bed next to him. As he said, “You could hear the springs of the mattress compress and see the depression in the blankets.” The room would turn ice cold in the summer….so cold that frost would appear on the windows (Note: The manager did have the air conditioner running, although it is unclear whether it would have run cold enough to cause frost). Another night, he woke up suddenly with the feeling that someone threw cold water on him.
Most incredible of all, during Van Der Velde’s investigation, the manager scraped off the blue paint on the Blue Room’s old-fashioned bath tub, only to find gold paint beneath. Could this be Punderson’s legendary golden tub?
Since Van Der Velde’s investigation of Punderson Manor, the ghost tales continue. Guests still complain of noises coming from unoccupied rooms. One couple reported feeling the weight of several people sitting on their bed. Children are heard running the hallways (but if this is a family lodge, is that any surprise?). The manor itself hasn’t gone out of its way to publicize the alleged hauntings, but it doesn’t discourage the paranormal clientele, either. After all, one of Chris Woodyard’s books on Punderson Manor is prominently displayed in its gift shop.
And what of the apparition of the Civil War era ghost? The property was built long after the war. Could she be a residual spirit, tied to the place under different circumstances further back in time? Or was she the manifestation of the night auditor’s active imagination? And what about the children–are they simply the regular guests who lodge at the mansion, or are they linked to the zoo and amusement park that used to exist nearby?
Van Der Velde himself was cautious about some of the tales he heard. He acknowledged that a secret passageway between the Blue Room and main areas may have accounted for some of the strange events (That passageway is now sealed). It certainly would have provided the opportunity for a few bored employees to play a joke on one of their co-workers. He also acknowledged that many claims–such as Long’s suicide and a tavern fire that killed children–had no basis in fact. On the other hand, some of his sources, including Park Rangers, seem credible and not likely to simply make these tales up.
We had the opportunity to visit and explore Punderson in May 2005. While we did not encounter any restless spirits, it is definitely one of the more creepier places we’ve been to, and is quite beautiful. For anyone looking to spend the night in one of its guest rooms, it would certainly be worth the trip. Just don’t linger in the dining room for too long!
Sadly, Robert Van Der Velde passed away in 2003. His son, however, was kind enough to provide us with an extensive, well-written research article authored by his father, which was the main (and invaluable) source for this webpage. That article, “The Ghosts of Punderson,” was written by Mr. Van Der Velde in 1985 for Cleveland Magazine, but was never published.
The Official Punderson Manor website can be found by clicking here.
And here’s another park webpage on Punderson.
Check out Forgotten Ohio’s webpage on Punderson Manor by clicking here.
This webpage contains an interesting account of one young man’s visit to the manor.
Another webpage on Punderson Manor. Pure fluff, but entertaining nonetheless.
Some local history on Punderson.