If you were to ask most locals to conjure up an image of Put-in-Bay in their mind, they would most likely summon a summertime scene of people dancing, laughing, swimming, and taking copious shots of alcohol. Well, maybe some patrons might think of the scenic state park campground or the quaint shops or Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. The image in my mind, though, is quite different. I see deserted streets, barely-full bar stools, and cold mid-fall winds pushing around dead leaves. You see, a party atmosphere is not very conducive to paranormal investigations. Fringe Paranormal goes to South Bass Island in November, when the carefree carousing is over for the year, and with a much different idea of a good time.
For anyone living outside northern Ohio, let me explain that Put-in-Bay and South Bass Island are basically two names for the same place – Put-In-Bay being the name of the village, South Bass the name of the island that houses it. South Bass one of a cluster of islands in Lake Erie just north of Sandusky, Ohio. Although it is small (2.48 square miles or 1,588 acres), South Bass was a significant player in the War of 1812 when Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry sailed his troops from Put-in-Bay harbor to defeat the British in the Battle of Lake Erie. Today it’s known for its summer tourism. A lot of that tourism could include wholesome experiences such as camping in the state park and visiting unique venues such as the Chocolate Museum and the Butterfly House. However, the majority of Put-in-Bay’s fair-weather clientele seems to enjoy activities that include the likes of a swim-up bar or a firetruck bar, which you can find on the island, along with “the longest bar in the world” at the Beer Barrel Saloon. And, even though paranormal investigations thrive on the quiet and low-key, this party atmosphere is how Fringe Paranormal became the first ghost hunting group to investigate on South Bass Island.
Back in 2010, Fringe welcomed new member Fred into the fold. Fred’s job at the time was beer delivery guy, and one of his routes included, you guessed it, Put-in-Bay. When his island patrons discovered Fred was into the paranormal, stories of strange happenings began to flow. With Fred as the middle man, Fringe and Put-in-Bay made a connection. One thing led to another, and in April of 2011, we had our first date with paranormal island destiny. Members of Fringe, along with members of our sister team Weston Paranormal, loaded up our equipment, hopped a ferry from the mainland, traveled across Lake Erie, and started what has become an almost decade-long relationship with a haunted island.
April on Put-in-Bay reminds me of early August for teachers. You slowly start to get back into a routine as you realize that soon your time will no longer be your own. When we got to the Park Hotel, one of the island’s oldest structures and the establishment that has become our base camp for investigations over the years, we saw this idea first-hand. A skeleton crew of staff had begun airing linens, putting out stock, and completing light housekeeping tasks. After a tour of the hotel and hearing the claims of paranormal activity, we chose our rooms. The beds in the rooms were stripped and unmade, but we had brought blankets and sleeping bags and were allowed to scrounge for whatever else we might need. Over the years, this tradition has not changed. We’ve learned to bring more comfort items such as Keurigs and space heaters if we want them, but picking a bare-bones haunted room to stay in each year has always been compelling. Like the person who’s under the mask in each Scooby Doo episode, it’s still a mystery as to where the activity will occur each season in The Park Hotel.
My fondest memory of being the first “Ghost Busters” (their term) on Put-in-Bay, though, has to be the enthusiasm shown by the community. A thrilling phenomenon took place as we sat in the parlor of the Park Hotel the Sunday morning after our investigation, and it was not of the paranormal variety. As we were debating on which ferry to take home, business owners, life-long residents, and curiosity-seekers dropped by to see how our weekend went and to share stories of their own. Later in November of that same year, we were invited to not only investigate the Park again, but the Put-in-Bay Brewing Company as well. We’ve gone back every year since, always in November, when the island still has residual human energy but is starting to wind down for its winter hibernation. For several years we investigated the triple threat of The Park Hotel, The Crew’s Nest, and The Doller House, aka The Put In Bay Winery. Another year, we were given access to the Dodge House, which, rumor has it, once had a graveyard in their front lawn. And, because The Park Hotel has been gracious enough to allow us to stay an entire weekend every year, we’ve been able to take bundled-up field trips all around South Bass. From the Crown Hill Cemetery (where the Dollers have a mausoleum), to the Victory Hotel Ruins, to the Put-in-Bay Lighthouse, Fringe, often accompanied by Weston, have perused the island’s most fascinating (and surely haunted) locations.
Fringe’s November 2019 Put-in-Bay trip started like any other year. The Park Hotel owner, Anita McCann, and its supervisor Phillip “Tip” Boyles allowed us once again to use their stunning structure as our base camp and primary investigation location. We scheduled our expedition for the first weekend in November – after the island’s last “open” weekend and Halloween bash. Typically, South Bass at this time already feels sluggish and well into its dormant winter state. But, thanks to 2019’s wacky weather, this weekend was not typical. In Ohio, gusty winds and nasty weather on Halloween prompted many communities to delay trick-or-treat. Put-in-Bay was no exception and rescheduled the event for the following Friday. Our Friday. A Halloween tradition in conjunction with our annual paranormal investigation? To say we were excited is an understatement. Spurred on by being dubbed “The Ghost Busters” on our first trip, several of us scoured Amazon and found Ghost Buster onesies. Team member Amy already had a Stay-Puft onesie, and she created Louis Tully headgear for Co-director Don. To top it off, we packed some extra candy with our pillows, pajamas, and paranormal gear.
Remember how, when you were a kid, you knew every house that gave out full-sized candy bars at trick or treat? That’s every business on Put-in-Bay. With so few children (there are 78 children enrolled in Put-in-Bay schools in 2020 – that’s Pre-K-12!), people can afford to spoil the youngest islanders. I almost felt a little chintzy passing out my small packets of Haribo Ghostly Gummies (God knows I love a theme!), but I don’t think the kids minded. After the stream of little goblins and princesses waned at the Park, we took our wares to the streets, passing out candy to the kids and Fringe Paranormal business cards to any adult who seemed like they might just want one. True to its reputation, one business had an “adults only” area, where trick or treat participants aged 21 and older could indulge in a free Jello shot while the kids went next door to get their goodies.
Feeling bold and almost a little giddy at being able to share in this annual tradition with the island residents, we stopped to talk to a police officer who was passing out candy in front of the town hall building because…
Well, wait. That will be a story for the next installment of my Put-in-Bay 2019 paranormal investigation series. Trick or treating is the lighthearted preface to this narrative; the rest of the literal book is yet to come.
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