The Haunted South Main Street School Experience

“PARANORMAL FIRM FORCED TO RELOCATE” My stomach queasily flip-flopped when I saw the tagline on the July 8, 2022, WNWO Toledo 6 o’clock news release. The feeling only worsened after watching their short report—who would have believed so many inaccuracies could be spewed in less than five minutes? “This,” I thought, “is why you should only be on TV in pieces you produce for yourself.”

You know what they say about if you want anything done right…

So I’m here to tell you the real story of the closing of Haunted South Main School. 

Let’s start at the beginning of our relationship with this historic location. The city of Bowling Green built the school in 1890. The structure gained additions in 1929 and 1958. It closed as a school in 2005 but opened shortly after that as a “Common Space” where different businesses and individuals rented out the classrooms. It was during this time that we at Fringe Paranormal crossed paths with what would become Haunted South Main School. 

South Main Street School in its early days between 1890 and 1929

One of our team members knew someone who rented a room to use as a dojo. She told us people were claiming to see the ghost of a janitor in the basement, music coming from the gym when no one was there, and objects left in certain areas being moved. And most importantly, she said she could get us in. We were still a new team at this point, and we were beyond excited to have the opportunity to investigate this location. And South Main did not disappoint. Among other experiences, we captured an EVP we’d go on to use in many presentations. We’ve always thought it said “July 15.” It turned out to have an eerie relevance.

After our initial investigation, we were lucky enough to gain access to the school four more times. Three times while it was a Common Space and once after the school auctioned the building off to a private buyer in 2011. We experienced activity every time we went. From slamming doors to running footsteps to EMF hits, there was never a dull investigation at the South Main School.

Things changed after this initial private buyer sold the school to another private individual. After a couple of years, this new owner moved out of state. He closed down the Common Space in 2013 because (we heard through the grapevine) he didn’t want to deal with renters and their complaints. South Main went dark.

Sayonara, Dojo

That didn’t stop us from loving it, though. Don (the other Fringe Paranormal co-founder) and I would drive past the school every time we were in the neighborhood and mourn that it was rotting away. Then, on one of our treks in late 2016, we noticed a door at the top of a fire escape was cracked open. Our first assumption was that vandals had jimmied their way in. Feeling righteous, we valiantly decided to enter and see what may have been destroyed. Even then, we felt protective over South Main, like it needed us. All we found, though, were a few upside-down crosses drawn on some chalkboards. Later, I considered myself lucky that we didn’t find squatters! Anyway, Don snapped some pics. We felt the chalk images to be almost comical teenage angst. Still, perhaps the owner, whose out-of-state address Don had found on the internet, would see them as more sinister. He might just decide he needed some caretakers (i.e., us) to watch over the place. And it worked.

Hopefully, we’d have better luck than these guys.

In mid-2017, we signed a lease with the owner of South Main. Some of the conditions were: we (Fringe Associates, LLC) had to provide liability insurance on the school. We also had to be present when other people were in the building, and we had to forward 20% of any monies acquired from our ventures to the owner. Finally, and this is probably the most significant point of all related to our closing: the lease was month-to-month, with either party being able to give the other a thirty-day notice of termination.

We were so excited! We had big plans, including using the gym for presentations and community events and the school itself as a big “ghost lab” to experiment with investigation techniques. First things first, though. The owner had turned off the water and the electricity, and we needed to rectify that ASAP.

While the school had stood vacant, mildew had crawled and gained custody of the lower floor walls. Therefore, we decided our first course of action would be to get the water turned on so we could clean that. We kidded that we didn’t want the school to be too clean (aka not spooky), but we didn’t want anyone dying of black lung, either. Working facilities also sounded like a fantastic idea. So, we contacted a city water person to come out and turn on the water, and boy did he. Water cascaded like waterfalls from all the pipes that had broken and burst throughout the three years of abandonment. The water man turned off the flow and pointed out all the problems that would need to be fixed before it would be feasible to turn the water on again. Undaunted, we hauled water in any container we could find from our homes to aid us in scrubbing the walls that summer. No big deal, we thought. The sinks still drained so we could wash our hands, and there were establishments mere minutes away where we could use the facilities—all good.

“After” side courtesy of hauled-in water, bleach, and elbow grease.

Next, Don looked into getting electricity into the building. It would be nice while cleaning with that home-brought water to at least be able to see the walls and run some fans to help dry things up. But, alas, the city told us that the wires had been cut off “at the pole.” I was unsure what that meant, but I understood when they told us it would be a minimum of 5K to restore it. Remember that month-to-month thing in our lease? Don and I decided it would not make financial sense to pour thousands of dollars of our own money into the school simply for the owner to then possibly say, “Hey, thanks! Here’s your 30-day notice.” “Yeah, but,” we thought, “just think how valid that will make any activity from EMF devices.” South Main was ours, and we were constantly seeing the silver lining.

How is it going off when there’s no electricity and no cell phones nearby? Ghosts!

I still felt like a starry-eyed kid while I swept dozens of dead bats and birds from the floors. Don and I developed a mission statement for our new business venture, and we hammered out tiny details like how much to charge for private investigations and what waiver of liability to use. Then, Don created a Facebook page that quickly gained traction with the local community. The neighbors were happy that someone would again maintain this piece of history. We threw an open house in August for former students, paranormal investigators, locals, and anyone else who wanted to check the building out. 

Our first few years of being caretakers of South Main were great. Other paranormal groups loved the place as much as we did and very rarely did any leave without some type of experience. We made friends with other local groups and ended up hosting psychic message circles and “field trips” for a Ghost Hunting 101 class. My favorite memory is when a film major from the local Bowling Green State University asked if he could shoot a short movie at the school. When he arrived, we learned he was also a former South Main student, and his signature was one of many on our gym wall! That was a fun day, and, overall, we were having a blast being the school caretakers.

I believe Zach’s werewolf movie got an A

Then year three brought Covid and the many complex decisions all small business owners had to face. First, we felt that our building was big enough for people to spread out; if people wanted to investigate, they should be allowed. But, we also knew fines were being handed out to people who opened their shops during those times. So, even though we still went in and cleaned a bit, South Main, for a few months at least, went dark again.

After Covid, my feelings began to change. Not for South Main. I still love that building and feel a strong connection to it. But it was time for a reality check. I mentioned the owner lives out-of-state, right? Out of sight, out of mind could never be more accurate than in this case. The flat roof over the gym has been degrading and leaking since we’ve had access to South Main. What started with one water-stained hole in 2017 has now consumed at least half of the ceiling over the gym, leaving puddles, broken floor tiles, and pieces of the plaster ceiling in its wake. We attempted to cover the roof with tarps. We had at least four shallow swimming pools and one large garbage can collecting rain as it poured in. It was not enough. We couldn’t keep up with the constant water that would attack the roof through rain and snow. Most recently, the beautiful hardwood floors of the 2nd-floor classrooms have also started to warp due to roof leakage. Pictures were taken and sent to the owner with no response. He’d had the property up for sale for years, and it became clear as crystal that he had basically washed his hands of providing any upkeep.

I’m pretty sure this is the picture next to the word “neglected” in the dictionary.

Ironically, with all that water in the gym, we still lacked running water and basic toilet facilities. We’d have to drive to the local Circle-K, Walmart, or Grounds For Thought to use their restrooms. (I’d like to give a shout-out and a big thanks to those establishments for not giving us any grief about it!) It was a pain having to get up and leave the school while another team was investigating, even during the best of times and weather. During and right after Covid, though, a new problem arose. Even the gas station was closing at 9 pm. Imagine having to use the restroom at 10 pm, not having any facilities, and your own bathroom is over an hour away. I had a few painful, almost-peeing-my-pants moments in 2021. I realize this all sounds funny in hindsight, but at the time, it certainly wasn’t.

Something like this may or may not have been used in a pinch…

Also, there was still a lack of electricity. Paranormal guest teams have found creative ways to provide juice for their equipment, from generators to invertors that use car batteries. But, unfortunately, that didn’t help the temperature. Our building could be hotter than Hades in the summer with no way to cool it down. In the winter, we’d keep one propane heater in the principal’s office, where we’d stay when other teams were investigating. But, for nights when one could see their breath inside the building, the heat this provided was miserly. The lack of water and electricity we’d ignored while regarding the school through our rose-colored glasses really began to suck.

There was so much potential with these on!

So after four years, it was time to face the hard truths. Yes, we were there providing some clean-up and attempting to minimalize the damage done by the seemingly never-ending flow of outside water. However, with no temperature regulation or controlled ventilation, the school might as well have remained abandoned. Don and I had a long talk about how the school was still crumbling, and there was no way it would ever evolve into what we had hoped to accomplish. We had already decided to scale back our South Main investigation offerings to twice a month so we could return our focus to Fringe Paranormal when we got the email from the lawyer in June of 2022. In short, it said they were selling South Main, and closing would happen soon. We should vacate immediately. But, according to our lease, we had those 30 days, so we used that month to share South Main with our friends, team, and the Bowling Green community, possibly for the last time.

The number of people who showed up to our community open house was overwhelming!

Personally, I was and am fine with this turn of events. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Being one of the caretakers of Haunted South Main was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I would not trade for anything. But the grind was getting to me. We had more private investigation bookings than ever after the Covid restrictions were lifted. Driving to the school was an hour and fifteen-minute one-way trip for me. In addition, most investigations were scheduled for Saturday nights, so, during the school year, this created a six-day work week for me. And that 6th day was unpaid because most of the money we collected went back to upkeep, paying our lease, and insurance. That statement might make it sound like I got into this for the money, but that’s not true. My core motivation was that our team, Fringe Paranormal, would have access to a haunted building 24/7. At the start of this venture, I told Don that I did not want Fringe to become background noise while we ran Haunted South Main. However, with so many teams booking private investigations in 2021, I felt our investigation opportunities had become extremely limited. Also, and I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, I severely underestimated how boring it would be to hole up in a small principal’s office with no electricity while other teams investigated and had all the fun! I’m happy that we got a chance to let so many different paranormal investigators discover our gem of a building, though. Ultimately, I’m content that we were not the only ones who fell in love with our South Main School and that we made life-long, like-minded friends along the way.

By the way, our last investigation at our school was with our team on July 15. Remember our first captured EVP? Were our ghosts psychic? It’s synchronicity I can’t ignore. My intuition and my heart of hearts ensure me that this is how it was always supposed to be. Haunted South Main may be gone from our lives for now, but it will never be forgotten.

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