An Indiana Haunting: The Ghost of Columbus Cole

Cole's burial site at Salem Heights Cemetery, from

For over a century, residents of Flaherty, Indiana, have been spooked by a headless apparition, known to locals as "Columbus Cole".  Cole, a railroad employee, was killed in a boiler explosion in 1903 and, not long afterward, strange things began happening in the vicinity of the railway station near Laporte.  Here is the first known published account of the headless ghost of Columbus Cole, as it appeared in the August 16, 1905 edition of the Barbour County (Kansas) Index.


Town Haunted By Headless Ghost

Laporte, Ind.-- Ranked among the impossible spirit stories of tradition and of poetry is the one that keeps the residents in the vicinity of Flaherty in constant fear and trembling.  They are not afraid during the day time, but their voices are lowered in a singular manner when they approach the little railroad station where the history of the ghost of Columbus Cole is being made.

Nightly, after the sun sets, Flaherty station is avoided, because there is no question about the possibility of the ghost's appearing.  Headless and acting for all the world like an animate thing, the apparition occurs intermittently.  Sometimes the elements appear to control its action, but more generally it makes its appearance, dinner pail in hand, on the platform and attempts to swing its arms as if it were flagging a passing train.  Then it disappears and its subsequent appearances are a matter of chance.

Hearing so much of the alleged spirit a company of young men, accompanied by a newspaper correspondent, went to the station the other night and the previous night for the purpose of investigating the matter.

On the first night they sat near the depot, and amused themselves as best they could until daylight began to break, when they returned home without having their curiosity satisfied, but the next night they had a different experience.

Reaching the station early in the night, they prepared to take things easy, but had hardly made such a disposal of themselves as was satisfactory when one of the boys raised his hand and cried: "Hist".

They all looked and saw the ghost-- the ghost they had been told about-- headless and carrying a dinner pail.  It was no delusion of the eyesight.  It was the real, clear outline of Columbus Cole as they had known him in life and the same eternal dinner pail.  For five minutes or more they watched the apparition as the arms swung as if signaling a train, and then, spurred on by one united impulse, they rushed to the place where they had seen the figure.  Nothing but vacancy greeted them when they reached the spot where the figure had been seen.  Cole's spirit had entirely disappeared and they stood and looked at each other in silence, marveling at the supernatural incident and no longer skeptics, but believers.

Unstrung from the shock of the manifestation-- totally unexpected, by the way-- they walked home in silence, firm adherents of the ghost theory.

Some of the good people who live in the neighborhood of Flaherty are anxious to do something to set the spirit at rest.  They say that something is troubling it.  The generally accepted theory is that Cole wanted to do something before he died-- that the something remains undone and that the spirit will continue to wander until it comes in contact with a sympathetic spirit clothed in worldly clay to which it can communicate its desires.

Columbus Cole was a well-known and popular resident of the vicinity of Flaherty, who lost his life years ago in a boiler explosion.  The top of his head was completely blown off by the accident.  Soon after he died the trouble with the ghost began and the people have come to look at it in a matter-of-fact manner.  They do not deny the story.  They have got beyond that point and many interesting incidents are related to the ghost's history.

(view the original 1905 newspaper article here)