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
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.
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
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
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
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
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!
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
Official Punderson Manor website can be found by clicking
And here's another park
webpage on Punderson.
Check out Forgotten Ohio's webpage on Punderson Manor by clicking
webpage contains an interesting account of one young man's visit to the
webpage on Punderson Manor. Pure fluff, but entertaining nonetheless.
local history on Punderson.