"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

This account of a multi-faceted haunting appeared in the "Butte Weekly Miner," February 1, 1888:
Vincennes (Ind.) special: Mrs. Dell Freeman, of this city, keeper of the boarding house exclusively for women, finds herself without boarders owing to the strange sights and sounds seen and heard about her premises. At first the demonstration was confined to unusual rappings and noises at night, growing more frequent as time passed. Then the inmates would rush in terror from their rooms, claiming that cold hands had been laid upon their faces. On such occasions knocks on the headboards of the beds elsewhere became more violent and loud throughout the house.

The noises were like pistol shots or bullets crashing through the transoms. A tall, spare man, dressed in a white robe, was seen in the basement by three inmates at once. Mrs. Freeman made a statement today in which she says she has no fear of the strange visitations, though admitting that they cannot be accounted for. She says that once a sound of a crying child was heard coming from a corner of the room in which she sat. The sound gradually changed into a blood-curdling groan. Two persons besides herself were present. A flash of blue light arose from the corner, revealing the face of the sparely built man before mentioned. This man has appeared a dozen times in the full light of gas, but has disappeared when any one present moved. At night, on several occasions, in different rooms, the same man, lying in a coffin and borne by two spectral pallbearers, passed in review before occupants. The most startling event of this seemingly incredulous story is substantiated beyond doubt. Last Monday night Mrs. Freeman, after retiring, felt a quantity of some warm fluid apparently falling from the ceiling and striking her upon the shoulder. Upon lighting the gas she was horrified to find her gown and bed-clothing smirched with quantities of warm clotted blood. Her clothing has been subjected to washing, but the stains cannot be removed. Mrs. Freeman's strange experience is the talk of the city. The utmost vigilance on the part of two policeman, especially detailed, fails to unravel the mystery.

Another article in the "Cincinnati Enquirer" offered a few additional details:
For several days seemingly incredible stories of supernatural manifestations at the house of Mrs. Dell Freeman, on Water street, Vincennes, Ind., have engaged the attention of the curious. Police circles were first apprised of the ghostly visitations, with a request to keep the matter quiet, but so mysterious and hideous were the apparations that annoyed the inmates of Mrs. Freeman's home that they could not be concealed, even by those who had not experienced them.

Realizing that the mysteries of the haunted house were worth an investigation, your reporter called on Mrs. Freeman, and elicited the following story from her:

"My house many years ago was the finest in the city, and my mother lived here when a child. I have been living here only a few years. I don't believe in ghosts, but that strange and unearthly things have taken place within these walls during the past two weeks I cannot deny, as much as I would like to."

Mrs. Freeman then went on to state that she, as well as others, had been appalled by the appearance of phantom arms and legs and only portions of faces, which seemed to flit through the various rooms. These apparitions, she said, came generally in the dead of the night. She, however, however, did not feel much frightened at the manifestations, but when invisible hands rapped on her bed and shook the bedstead as though it would fall to pieces she felt uncomfortable.

Said she: "These supernatural visitations occur in their most violent form between the hours of 4 and 5 o'clock in the morning. Of late they have been so frequent and so annoying that none of us have been able to sleep. The doors and windows of the house are securely fastened, and yet the specters seem at times to come from every quarter. Knocks and sounds and startling reports of pistol shots are heard all through the night. Loud reports of a pistol are sometimes heard on the outside and the balls come crashing through the transom and strike the head of my bed with such force as to shiver it to pieces, and when we look there is not a trace of a thing. A tall man, sparely built, has been seen in the basement, I had a brave fellow to watch the thing, and he followed it around the cellar for a while, when it vanished like a puff of smoke."

Assuring the reporter that it was not a flight of imagination, Mrs. Freeman continued: "A sound is heard as if an awakening child is crying, but when we look the baby is asleep. The sound then proceeds from the corner of the room, and then grows into a horrid, fierce groan, and finally a weird, sickening blue light flashes from the door to the ceiling and disappears amid awful groans. I have heard whispers in my ears all night long. I have frequently seen a tall man standing at my side and have been startled by the suddenness with which he appeared and disappeared. Guitars have played soft music in the rooms at different times and our clock has played the prettiest tunes I ever listened to. Others heard the same."

"One night the bookcase doors opened softly, and in the full glare of the gas a strange man, with black, curly hair, broad face and broad shoulders, arose from behind the bookcase. On the first motion of one present he vanished and caused a woman to faint."

Several nights ago, after Mrs. Freeman had retired for the night, quantities of warm blood fell on her body from above and ran down her arms to the ends of the fingers. It stained her nightclothes and pillow, and the stains will not wash out. An investigation of the room failed to show whence the blood came. The most horrifying of all these spectral disturbances is the sight of a black velvet coffin without a lid, in which the form of the dark man referred to above is borne across the room. by spectral pallbearers.

This "ghost story," as startling as it may appear, is not exaggerated, and is given just as it was related.

Somewhat to my surprise, I've been unable to find anything more about the lively doings at Mrs. Freeman's. However, I did uncover a bit of background information about the lady herself. Even before her establishment acquired ghosts, her life seems to have been one long round of excitement. As you may have guessed, her boarding-house "exclusively for women" was, in fact, a brothel, and one that was a magnet for trouble.   In 1880, one Samuel Besheares brutally attacked a man named John Fitzgerald inside her "bagnio," leaving the latter with injuries that were thought likely to be fatal.

In March 1883, Dell shot a Frenchman named Levi Laboute in the forehead as he was "trying to force an entrance to her house." Fortunately, "the wound, though severe, is not necessarily fatal."  One newspaper predicted that as a result of the shooting, "The French boys will make it hot for Dell."

Two years later, two men named William Clarke and Jacob Vorhis got into a quarrel in the Freeman establishment, causing Dell and her girls to kick the obstreperous visitors out. When they were out on the street, the fight intensified, ending when Clarke fatally stabbed Vorhis. (Clarke escaped capture, and I have not been able to determine if he was ever caught.)

In 1888, Mrs. Freeman was charged with selling liquor on a Sunday, but owing to the absence of the prosecutor and his witnesses, the case against her was dismissed.

In 1889, our Dell was--for once--on the right side of the law.  She brought a successful lawsuit against the proprietor of Green's Opera House after he refused to sell her a reserved seat ticket.  On the other hand, in that same year she was also fined for "keeping a house of ill-fame."

Meanwhile, Dell's brother, Irwin Gammel, spent years going in and out of prison for various offenses (one newspaper described him as "one of the most desperate crooks in the county") until he died trying to escape the Knox county jail in 1901.

Ghosts seem to have been the least of Mrs. Freeman's problems.


  1. What a great tale! If you have the original article from the Cincinnati Enquirer (and I can't find it in my rather cranky Cincinnati database) you might check to see if the story is followed by the initials "T.P." All the lurid little details, particularly about "warm fluid" and blood stains are favorite motifs of that mystery author. He/she wrote loads of horror/gothic/ghost stories for the Enquirer and I'd be surprised if this was not one of them. Also, the Cincinnati Enquirer had a particular animus for Indiana and seemed obsessed with showing it in a bad light. Wonderful find!

    1. I haven't been able to find the original of the "Enquirer" story, either. This was a reprint from the "Oakland Tribune."

      It's funny how a lot of the old newspapers liked to mock certain towns. I've gotten no end of entertainment from what the old "St. Louis Post-Dispatch" had to say about Alton, Illinois, which they essentially depicted as a town full of cranks, half-wits, and lunatics.

  2. Considering what you found out about Dell and her 'hotel' its not surprising there were ghosts around - it must have been hard for the dead to not get woke up with all the other stuff happening.

  3. Some of the images and sounds conjured up by the article are creepy indeed, especially the sound of the crying child become a groan, and the man stepping out from behind a bookcase. But my thoughts as I was reading your addendum were identical to yours: ghosts are just a small bit of what Mrs Freeman had to deal with. (But at least those troubles were probably not her fault.)


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