It’s that time of year again! Here are nine Indiana haunts that’ll keep you up at night. Just a reminder, though, it’s illegal to go to some of these places yourself — and we don’t advocate trespassing — but the stories themselves are quite thrilling!
Big Tunnel (Tunnelton)
“Oh, yeah, we parked the car. Turned off the lights. … When we turned them back on, there were people moving across the tracks in the distance,” said the store employee. I’d just stopped into the shop for a quick look, but we got to talking haunts, and he seemed to know them all. Like Big Tunnel. About an hour south of town, past Oolitic and Bedford, rests Tunnelton, a town named for the many train tunnels built through the hills nearby in the second half of the 19th century. On River Road, just east of town, sits the largest of them, aptly named Big Tunnel. It’s said to be inhabited by spirits. Accounts tell of many accidents during construction that seem to fuel the tunnel’s connection with the dead. Many say a construction worker was decapitated during the building process. Still more accounts say that workers dug into a burial site, sending coffins crashing through the tunnel roof. At any rate, to visit the Big Tunnel at night is “something you’ll only do once,” he said.
Story Inn (Story)
On the map, Story is a little pocket on the eastern edge of Brown County State Park. There’s a single stop sign, drooping trees, a handful of refurbished country homes, and an 1800s gas station converted into a bed and breakfast with vines holding fast at the windows. It’s a place locked in time. While the past is palpable, the ghosts who continue to haunt its grounds today make it even more so. I recently heard about one of the many eerie happenings at the inn. “I walked past a bookshelf and heard a noise behind me,” a witness told me. “My husband turned white. ‘Did you see that?’ he said. ‘The books just flew off the shelf. … They didn’t fall, they threw themselves off it.’” This is just one of many eerie happenings at the inn, the most notable of which is the Blue Lady, who is said to appear in the mirror of the first guest room on the second floor when a blue-lighted lamp by the bed is switched on. Sometimes she even appears without the lamp.
Stepp Cemetery (Martinsville)
Driving on Forest Road just off Old State Road 37, I came to a gravel pull-off. It’s detectable only by a rusty metal barricade connected to a low stone wall with a path beyond it that goes about a hundred yards into Morgan-Monroe State Forest. At the path’s end is Stepp Cemetery, abandoned and wistful with several crumbling headstones, thorny plants, and a somewhat chair-shaped tree stump at the clearing’s center. I was there in the daytime and it was almost pleasant, but the air was so still that the cemetery seemed to stay in place as the rest of the world turned. The origins of Stepp’s haunt are up for debate, but it’s said that after nightfall an ethereal woman sits on the stump and watches over the graves of her husband and daughter. Both of them were killed prematurely — her husband in a mining explosion, her daughter in a car accident several years later. When the woman was alive, she used to come to the cemetery each day and talk to them as if they were still living. She was slowly driven to madness. And she still hasn’t let go.
Central State Hospital (Indianapolis)
My friend Ariel explored this place once. “We went there in high school,” she said. “There’s a police station right by it, but we just brought cameras and said we were art students. They let us right in.” Central State, now a decaying heap of low brick buildings on the west side of Indianapolis, was once the site of a hospital for the mentally ill, beginning in the mid-1800s. By 1928, it housed nearly 3,000 patients. In its prime, it was a beautiful facility — Victorian-style living units, fountains, even a community garden and a billiards hall. But amid the peaceful setting were riotous patients locked in the basement of the Pathology building, who endured regular treatments of shock therapy and lobotomies. And underground tunnels connected the entire 100-acre campus — at least some of which still exist today. “There’s a serious eeriness,” Ariel said. “There’s an energy that a lot of stuff happened here.” Modern accounts tell of a woman screaming in the night. Rumor in the city is they plan to tear it all down soon. Time will tell if its past goes down with it.
100 Step Cemetery (Cloverland)
It’s definitely not 100 steps, I thought, as I slowly climbed the crumbling, partially grass-covered concrete steps wedged into the hillside of Cloverland Cemetery about 40 miles northwest of Spencer. As cemetery lore told me to do, I tried to count the steps. At most, it was 60, but many of them were in pieces, so it was impossible to tell. The surrounding woods were wet with morning fog, and, when I reached the top, I stood between two tall tree trunks that seemed to create a doorway facing the field below. According to the stories, if it were midnight, I should’ve been met by the groundskeeper’s ghost, who would show me a vision of my future death. I would then descend the steps, counting them all the way down, and if I again counted 100 (which is presumably the number I got on the way up), the vision would not come true. However, if I counted a different number, I would die exactly as the groundskeeper showed me. Further still, if I skipped the stairs altogether on my way back down, the devil himself would have pushed me to the bottom, leaving a red handprint on my back. “Thank god it’s noon,” I said to the leaves.
H.H. Holmes Home in Irvington (Indianapolis)
I was getting a fade in a downtown Indianapolis barbershop, when the barber and I got on the subject of H.H. Holmes. With his savage deeds chronicled in the Erik Larson book Devil in the White City, Holmes was a serial killer who lived in Chicago around the time of the 1893 World’s Fair. He bought a pharmacy building and transformed it into what became known as his “Murder Castle.” Specially constructing it to include trapdoors and hidden rooms, he offered the building as a hotel to guests visiting the city, though many of them never left. “He lived here, too, you know — in Indianapolis,” the barber said. “When they caught on to him in Chicago, he moved to Irvington and rented a house. They say he killed the son of his accomplice there, quartered him, and burned the pieces. Buried the rest in the yard. He left that night.” Since then, people have experienced drawers opening on their own, slamming doors, and thin whispers with no apparent owner in the home, located in the 5800 block of Julian Avenue in the Irvington neighborhood. “Gruesome, huh?” he said. “As hell,” I agreed.
The Irish Lion (Bloomington)
“Oh yeah, it’s haunted all right,” said the employee on the phone when I called The Irish Lion, the popular pub and restaurant on West Kirkwood. “I’m looking at my co-worker right now — she’s raising her hand in agreement, too. It’s haunted.” The Irish Lion is located in a building that was once an 1800s tavern and brothel. Inside, you’ll find dark-wood booths, mounted deer and wolverine heads, dim lighting from antique wall lamps, and enough scotch and whiskey to curl your nose hairs. Adding to the Irish flavor is fare such as shepherd’s pie and coddle stew. Patrons and staff have given several accounts of disturbances on the second floor, which was converted to a banquet hall a long time ago. In one account, a woman walked through the empty banquet hall to use the upstairs restroom. Suddenly, the sound of an exuberant party rose to full tilt behind her. However, when she chanced a look, everything went quiet and the room was as empty as before. Furthermore, servers tell of cleaning the bar at closing time and coming in the next day to find broken glass, as if there had been a fight. Many believe the women who worked in the brothel are to blame for the pub’s scares. If you ever walk by it, perhaps you’ll see one of them beckoning from the upper windows.
Edna Collins Bridge (Greencastle)
At DePauw University, my alma mater, I always heard stories of students driving out to the Edna Collins Bridge at night to test its legend. So when I went by myself, I had reservations that it was nothing more than a trivial game. Pulling up at sundown, I noticed the bridge’s construction was typical of the area — wood slats doused in red paint, hovering over a silty creek, and barely fitting the gap between poorly paved roads. Apparently, in the early 1920s, little Edna’s mother would drop her off there and leave her to play while she went into town. In the evening, her mother would return, drive onto the bridge, turn off the car, and honk three times to signal Edna it was time to go. One day, her mother returned at dusk but Edna did not appear. After a thorough search, Edna’s body was discovered downstream in a thicket. Some stories say she was murdered; most say she drowned. These days, all who park on the bridge at night and honk three times are said to see Edna’s spirit, who often leaves handprints on the cars that come by. I tried it myself and was met with a very eerie silence and faint hoo’s from the surrounding woods. “Just cows …,” I thought, as I backed up and sped quickly away.
Indiana’s Stonehenge (Elkinsville)
Before making it to Indiana’s Stonehenge, which sits at the top of Browning Hill just east of Lake Monroe, I asked at least three people for directions. Each time, I was corrected with the term “Browning Mountain.” The hill doesn’t clear 1,000 feet … but it does cast a shadow over the near-deserted town of Elkinsville, some of which was submerged in water in the 1960s when Lake Monroe was filled in. But what’s truly baffling is what sits on top of the hill. I climbed the unmarked path to the top, winding through still woods and past leaves that seemed to float on webs through the air. Finally, I came upon a group of sectioned boulders, some the size of cars, laid in a circle some 40 feet across the hill’s top — Indiana’s Stonehenge. The place seemed to be holding its breath. Many say it was a ceremonial site for Native Americans. Others think the stone was quarried about 85 miles away and brought here by ancient peoples. Whatever the case, accounts of UFO sightings and meetings with Bigfoot are common in the area. One legend tells of “The Watcher,” a Native American spirit who roams and protects the hilltop at night. On my climb back down, I came inches from stepping on a fat black snake resting in the path, and I jumped out of my socks. That was enough for me.
[Editor’s note: The hills and hollers of southern Indiana are filled with legends of spirits, haunts, and ghosts (often known in these parts as “haints”). And there are plenty more stories — Portico’s, Indiana Memorial Union, and Read residence hall, for starters. Do you have a legend to share? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook.]