RICHFIELD, Ohio — Tim and Kathleen Magner are convinced that spirits roam Farnam Manor.
But these aren’t the menacing ghosts of slasher movies, the Magners say. They’re benign beings that engage in nothing more harmful than mischief.
And you’re invited to mingle with them.
Every weekend this month as well as Halloween, the Magners are leading lantern tours of Farnam Manor, a historical home they’ve turned into a museum. It’s a chance to peek inside a landmark with a colorful past, walk a wooded trail and maybe, just maybe, encounter an inhabitant of the afterlife.
Don’t expect frightening ghouls and sinister surprises on this ghost tour. The Magners want their visitors to be uplifted, not scared.
“It’s a tribute to the spirits and our ancestors, and the people of Farnam Manor,” Kathleen Magner said. “ … It’s a celebration of life.”
At the very least, visitors will get a chance to prowl a property with a quirky past.
Farnam Manor was built around 1834 by Everett Farnam, the son of two of the area’s earliest Connecticut settlers and a brilliant eccentric who insisted on the title Lord.
When he married 18-year-old Emily Oviatt in 1841, he brought her to live in the house, which originally consisted of two parlors downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. Later in the Farnams’ time, the house gained an indoor kitchen and a third bedroom.
Farnam was an oddball who required arriving visitors to make three trips around his circular driveway to signal their friendly intentions and who quoted the Bible at length, even though he didn’t belong to a church. His original last name was Farnham, but he reportedly changed that British spelling in spite after he was rebuffed by Queen Victoria during a trip to England.
He was also a man ahead of his time, rotating crops before the benefits of that practice were recognized and planting thousands of trees in odd configurations when others were clearing forests.
Only part of his original 3,200 acres is owned by the Farnam Foundation today. The rest is now Furnace Run Metro Park, Fairview Cemetery and other nearby property.
Although the original house was well-appointed for Farnam’s time, it wasn’t the elaborate structure it is today. That transformation started under the ownership of Ella Mayer, who enlarged the building in 1921 and added elegant features including a solarium and a covered vehicle entrance called a porte-cochÃ¨re.
Mayer, the widow of an Akron police chief, operated the house as either a brothel or a speakeasy, depending on who’s telling the story. Tales persist of gambling, smuggled booze and alluring women.
The house experienced tamer times in the hands of Theodor and Ane Marie Kirk, who bought the property in 1948 and turned the house into a restaurant called the Danish Smorgasbord. The restaurant operated until 1972.
Farnam Manor has even had a brush with Hollywood. Last November, it was the site of filming for “The Bye Bye Man,” a horror thriller set for U.S. release in January. Additional scenes were filmed in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, including a car crash in the area of Oakhill and Ira roads.
By the time of the filming, the property was under the care of the Magners, who leased the structure after its previous owners lost the property to foreclosure. Those owners, Harry Zaruba and Susan Reeder-Zaruba, had remodeled the house extensively in the hope of turning it into a bed and breakfast.
The Magners became intrigued by the house after buying 30 acres across the street, land that once belonged to Everett Farnam. Desperate to save a structure they feared might be razed for development, they started the nonprofit Farnam Foundation in 2007 and opened it as a museum and event space. Earlier this year, the foundation purchased the property with help from an investor’s loan, which it’s now working to repay.
Tales of the afterworld
While owners have come and gone, though, some occupants have remained, the Magners say.
There’s Mary Lynn, who paces the balcony above the solarium. There’s Timmy, an ornery boy who likes to play pranks on the guests. There’s little Emily, one of the Farnams’ five children, who has brown hair and enjoys playing hide-and-seek.
They’re among the more than 65 spirits said to inhabit Farnam Manor. The Magners insist they’re real, based on the reports of visiting spiritualists and the descriptions of guests who’ve seen the apparitions.
Mary Lynn — or maybe Maryland, according to one spiritualist — is believed to have been a housekeeper who was jilted by one of the wealthy patrons in the 1920s. The Magners say visitors have reported seeing her dressed in white and pacing the balcony, waiting for her paramour’s return.
Timmy lived down the road and died at age 10 after a horse kicked him in the head. His real name was Ichabod, Kathleen Magner said, but he told a spiritualist he prefers the other name.
Emily was 7 when she fell into a cistern and drowned in 1858, in a spot that’s now inside a 1920s addition that houses the kitchen. Kathleen Magner estimates 10 guests have seen Emily wearing a white dress with a floral design, although they differ on the color of the flowers.
Visitors who take photos at Farnam Manor often capture orbs, circular images that believers attribute to spiritual energy. Some visitors feel a chill or a sensation of something touching them.
Others encounter such curious happenings as the smell of cigar smoke in the room where cigar-loving restaurant owner Theodor Kirk died or the sight of a ball rolling across a floor without anyone setting it in motion.
In touch with spirits
The Magners say the spirits are harmless and sometimes a little shy, which is why they encourage each guest on their tours to wear a hat — either one the guest brings or one that’s provided.
“We’ve learned over the years that the spirits enjoy it when we wear hats. … The spirits know that we’re coming in as friends,” Kathleen Magner said.
Guests are also encouraged to try locating and communicating with spirits using quartz crystal pendulums or divining rods, both of which are supposed to conduct the energy produced by the spirits and move in response to the user’s questions.
Sometimes people are so alarmed by the response of the devices that they throw them down in fear, Tim Magner said. Some, however, find comfort in using them to speak to their own deceased loved ones.
“That is an experience you’ll never forget. … People break out in tears sometimes,” Kathleen Magner said.