"The most haunted village in Ohio" says ghosts are just part of the charm
Whitney Fordyce tended to the lunch rush that piled into the Hammel House Inn’s downstairs restaurant on a Wednesday in early October. Her ponytail bobbed as she darted from table to table topping off drinks and taking orders.
The inn was completely booked leading into the fall weekend.
It always gets this busy this time of year, said Fordyce, who manages the bed and breakfast. Part of that has to do with the guests that don’t check into the 200-year old inn. This is said to be one of the village’s most phantom-filled buildings. The historic bed and breakfast is embracing it.
“It's definitely something that we go to, that we think about, especially during the slow season,” Fordyce said. “It helps. Every little bit of the haunted type of thing helps, it really does.”
The inn draws people into the restaurant by being a stop on the local ghost tour. And when the tourism slows in the winter, its five bedrooms will be full of ghost hunters, trying to contact the dead.
It’s not just the Hammel House that capitalizes on the creepy. In addition to being the “antique capital of Ohio” and hosting an annual Sauerkraut festival, Waynesville is known for being full of ghosts.
A haunted history
The small southwest Ohio village doesn’t shy away from its spooky reputation, said Paula Dytko, who helps to create ghost tourism, like walking tours and ghost hunting classes, all around Waynesville.
“The whole town is haunted. It's not a couple buildings,” Dytko said. “I always say we have an extra layer of hospitality that you just can't see.”
Dyyko has always loved the supernatural, and when she began researching the small village’s past, she said she couldn’t believe the amount of haunted history it held.
The village was established in 1797, before Ohio was even a state, and it’s chock full of spooky stories.
From the supposed ghost cat that roams its streets to the apparition that appears in the upstairs window of an old tea room, there’s just something about Waynesville that Dytko said makes the quaint village prime for the paranormal.
Perhaps the town’s slower pace of life, she said, suits the ghosts.
“People still run tabs at the grocery store here. Like, it's still very old school. We slow things down here,” Dytko said. “So they can stay in their way of life, kind of.”
Bringing in visitors
More than just giving goosebumps, Dytko said the town’s ghost stories help local businesses, like Hammel House, by drawing people in.
Some of the boutique shops around town are rumored to be haunted, including Buckeye Charm, a family-owned shop that opened in February 2020. In the late 1800s, the boutique was a Catholic Church, where a priest is said to have died from a heart attack.
“We had no idea that Waynesville was considered the most haunted [village] in Ohio,” said boutique owner Jona Powell. “Maybe they should tell you that before you buy property. We found out the hard way, I guess.”
When Powell realized her family might not be the only ones occupying the shop, she was wary about whether to broadcast the presence of ghosts to shoppers.
But, ultimately, the family decided to share the stories with the town. The former church is the last stop on the ghost tour. It was even featured on “Ghost Nation,”a paranormal investigation show. Powell said that publicity got them online orders from around the world.
“It really helped put Waynesville on the map and give Waynesville a lot of publicity, coming out of COVID,” she said.
The unearthly visitors also play a real hand in preserving the small village’s history. Ghost tours are hosted by the local history museum, Museum at the Friends Home.
Of course, the old Quaker meeting home that houses the museum is supposedly home to spirits as well. But, Board President Linda Morgan doesn’t mind. The museum doesn’t get any state or federal funding, she said, and it’s completely volunteer-run. So, talking about its darker history helps keep the lights on.
“We don't want to turn into some kind of ghost mausoleum type. We're really a history museum,” Morgan said. “But it pays the bills.”
She hopes the tours get people excited not just about the terrifying, but about the village’s positive contributions. It played a role in the invention of the Stetson cowboy hat, and the Quaker town was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
“There’s some interesting people that came from or lived here in Waynesville that contributed to the world, not just this little town,” Morgan said.
Between the money from the walking tours and its ghost-hunting classes, the museum actually has the funds to restore another historic Waynesville site: the village’s first firehouse, which has fallen to disrepair. The museum will resurrect the old structure into a community gathering space.
“It's like we're finally taking a deep breath,” said Dytko, who volunteers with the museum. “We’ve made it. We’ve got a little cushion. What more can we give back?”
It takes a lot of help to keep the small village’s history alive. So, the people here are thankful for the boost from beyond the grave.