The Loomis Street Affair: Haunting or Hoax?
In November of 1890, the Rolling Mill Hill section of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was thrust into the spotlight, thanks to a bizarre haunting which attracted crowds of hundreds to a plain wooden house on Loomis Street. According to one of the house's residents, Sophia Stiebel, she was upstairs making beds when she saw a ghostly black coffin lower itself through the ceiling, before the apparition of a beautiful young woman appeared and instructed Sophia to dig up the floorboards in the basement.
While many neighbors provided their own "evidence" supporting the haunted condition of the house, others insisted that Mrs. Stiebel wasn't in her right mind. Still others said that the Stiebel family was guilty of perpetrating a hoax, in the hopes of scaring away other prospective tenants so that they could obtain the property dirt cheap from the landlord. According to the landlord, the Stiebels were several months behind on their rent when Sophia first began to see the house's otherworldly inhabitants.
In any case, the Loomis Street haunting earned its reputation as one of the most unusual paranormal incidents in Wilkes-Barre history.
This is the original story of the haunting, as it first appeared in Wilkes-Barre newspapers on November 15, 1890:
The Strange Story of a Loomis Street Dwelling
A Woman in Her Coffin Comes Down Through the Ceiling to Visit Mrs. Sophia Stiebel
At No. 46 Loomis Street stands a plain wooden dwelling, built even with the sidewalk and painted red and white. At No. 48 is a similar house. An observant passer by would probably notice the only difference between them was that at No. 46 the window shades are down, while at No. 48 they are not. Plain as the exterior of the house is, yet there seems to exist within something that has caused such excitement for the last few days among the miners and their families occupying the adjoining dwellings as will not soon subside. The house is said to be haunted. Even the mere statement was enough to cause a great deal of interest, but when the people living there were driven out, and when some brave neighbors who tried to investigate the mystery were half frightened to death by strange noises, the excitement rose to fever heat.
The Ghost Ridden Family
The house which is the property of Alderman Kirk has been for three weeks the home of a newly married couple named Daniel and Sophia Stiebel. The house consists of four rooms, the parlor, kitchen and two bedrooms upstairs. The parlor was used as a store and on the shelves are yet jars of candy and boxes of cigars.
It was Mrs. Sophia Stiebel to whom the ghost, apparition or whatever it was, gave the preference.
On Wednesday last, between 11 and 12 o'clock in the morning, she was upstairs making the bed in the front bedroom. At the head of the stairs which lead up from the kitchen there is a small landing about four feet square and above it is a trap door perhaps 12 x 18 inches. The front bedroom door faces the top of the stairs, and while Mrs. Stiebel was leaning over the bed a small stick was hurled at her from the trap door and at the same time there was a noise as if someone was walking in the attic. She screamed and a Mr. Cole, a friend of hers who was downstairs, ran to her assistance. She said there was somebody in the attic. He climbed on a chair, pushed the trap door which was closed and looked in, but saw nothing. Mrs. Stiebel, however, was greatly affected and Mr. Cole left to find her husband. When the two men returned they found the young lady in swoon on the kitchen floor. After some time, when she recovered, she told the following story:
A Beautiful Woman in Her Coffin
"After Mr. Cole left the house I turned to finish making the bed when I heard a slight noise, and looking toward the ceiling I was horrified to see a black coffin large enough to contain the body of a grown person slowly descending to the floor. I was so frightened that it was impossible for me to move and I stood trembling while the thing sank slowly, slowly, slowly until it stopped at about the height of a chair's seat from the floor. The window curtains were up and I could see plainly. In the coffin wrapped in a black shroud, with its hands crossed on its breast and holding a bouquet of flowers was the body of a tall and beautiful young woman.
"Gazing on its face, which though sunken and pallid, bore a look of quiet dignity and sorrow. I, strangely as it may seem, felt no longer afraid, nor was I the least startled when the coffin disappeared and the figure stood before me, still clad in the long black shroud and holding the bouquet in its hands still crossed over its breast."
The Ghost Speaks
"On the wall were two chains of spools, one strung on a white string and the other on a green. The figure's eyes turned toward these and it spoke, so soft and low were the tones that I felt reassured. 'Take one of those and break the string'. I took the one with the white string and broke it, when the thing snatched the spools from my hand and scattered them around the room. 'Take the other one,' it said, and I did. When I broke the string it told me to take the spools and pull them off. When I had a certain number off it again spoke and told me to take three of the spools, burn two, and keep the other one. I took the three and going downstairs, put two in the fire and the other one in my pocket. The figure then said, 'I will see you again, to-night. Do not be afraid, I will not hurt you.' Then it disappeared and I knew nothing until just now when you came in."
The two men were naturally surprised at this strange story, and expressed their doubts, but as the young wife persisted they finally resolved to sit up with her and two or three friends and see what came of it.
The night came on and the three, with five interested neighbors, sat in the kitchen waiting. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve and one o'clock passed and still nothing happened. But about a quarter to two, when they were going to leave in despair of seeing anything, a noise was heard in the parlor. All except Mrs. Stiebel rushed in but there was nothing there; then there was a noise as of a heavy blow in the kitchen and they ran back. Mrs. Stiebel had disappeared. One of the party looked up the stairs and saw her kneeling at the top of the landing as if praying. She would not come down and they were obliged to use force to get her to come to the kitchen. In explanation of her conduct she said something seemed to tell her she must go upstairs and she went.
The Neighbors Scared
While they were talking a series of blows were heard all over the house and the whole party ran frightened into the street. Neighbors soon collected despite the lateness of the hour and Policeman Clark soon arrived on the scene and asked what the trouble was. He was told, and laughing said he was not afraid of ghosts, he would go into the house and upstairs alone. He started but his nerve failed him when he got to the door and he called for some one to go with him. Mr. Stiebel volunteered and they went in together, Mr. Stiebel going upstairs first while Clark remained at the foot. Mr. Stiebel had reached the top of the stairs when he heard a noise and turned around. Clark's nerve failed altogether and he ran as fast as he could into the street. The next day, it being impossible to get Mrs. Stiebel away, her husband left her and went to work.
The Vision of Death Again
At about the same time as the day before, so Mrs. Stiebel said in telling about it, "I was in the kitchen when the same feeling I had experienced the night before compelled me to go upstairs. In the front bedroom stood the woman in the black shroud. She said, go down to the cellar, I want you to dig up the ground. I replied that I would not; then she got angry, and I felt that if I didn't go something awful would happen, so I went down at once.
The woman was there and, pointing to a certain spot on the floor, she ordered me to dig up the earth. The floor is covered with boards five or six inches thick and I said I could not lift them, so she stooped down and immediately seven or eight of the big boards were flung to a corner of the cellar, disclosing a slight hollow in the ground. I took a stick and moved away some of the dirt, which was quite soft. After some minutes work I found an old rotten stocking containing some crumbling mildewed papers. The thing said, 'Take those up the stairs and burn them'. I did so and it vanished, and I again fainted. After this the ghost was not seen again, although on Thursday night the neighbors sat up to watch for it.
Strange Confirmation Incidents
The hole is still to be seen in the cellar and the boards are still lying in a corner of the cellar. Mrs. Stiebel is at the home of Mrs. Cole on Parrish Street and despite the efforts of her husband and friends to move her mind from the strange experiences, she still seems to be under the influence of the spook and at times force has to be used to keep her from going back to the haunted house. Her doctor and the pastor of the Ashley Congregational Church have examined her and say she is perfectly rational, but that on account of the shock to her mind she must be kept very quiet. The young husband says he will move his furniture in a few days, but before he does he will dig up the whole cellar and see if there is anything concealed there. Inquiry among the neighbors revealed the fact that some four years ago some people who lived in the house were driven out by the same ghost experience. It is a strange thing all through and Mrs. Stiebel who appears a sensible young lady in all other respects is strangely affected over her adventures.
From the Wilkes-Barre Sunday News, November 23, 1890:
A Whole Tribe of Spirits Seem to Possess It
Attention has been universally directed during the past week to the strange manifestations of the supernatural which have appeared at the house No. 46 Loomis Street, which have already been reported at length in the News-Dealer. In fact, this paper was the first to report these singular happenings which have now become common talk.
During the past week the strange sights and sounds which had hitherto been apparent only to Mrs. Stiebel have become more frequent and have been seen and heard by other people. In fact the house seems to have become possessed by a legion of spirits who manifest themselves in various ways, both by day and night. Mrs. Stiebel and the Dunlaps are still in the house and object to any one going in to it, but a number of people have, during the past week, succeeded in gaining admittance and of these several have seen and heard things that would seem to admit of no human explanation, but must be brought about by some supernatural agency. If the people really heard and saw what they say they did there is some mystery about this house that defies any explanation to be given by man.
One of these visitors, a relative of the people living in the house, but who does not wish his name to be made public, narrated a strange story to a News-Dealer reporter on Friday last. He lives near Parsons and, hearing of the strange things reported about the house, resolved to see for himself. He accordingly visited the house on Tuesday afternoon and stayed there all night.
"I must honestly confess," he said, "that I never heard or saw anything of the kind in my life, and that I felt very strange. It was not exactly fear, for I did not see anything to be afraid of, but it was a feeling that I shall never forget as long as I live. We were sitting in the kitchen and it was just beginning to be dusk. They had been telling me about the goings on in the house, when all at once we heard a sound upstairs. There was no doubt about what it was. It was a heavy footstep walking across the rooms very slowly. We could hear every step perfectly clear and distinct. I started up and says 'I'm going to see who that is, if I die for it.' The others only shook their heads and said I'd see nothing.
"I went right out of the kitchen and started to go upstairs. All the way I heard these footsteps in the room above and just as I was starting to go up the stairs I heard the door open, and the footsteps started to come down the stairs. In another minute I saw a light coming down the stairs. It was just a common flame like that given by a candle, but there was nothing but the flame-- no candle, no lamp nor anything else. It was as if it was in the hand of someone carrying it downstairs, but not a soul was there. But though I could see no one I heard the footsteps coming right along the stairs. Yes and I heard the steps creak too, just as if someone was walking down them. Another thing I noticed was that the flame didn't seem to give out any light, it didn't light up the staircase a bit, though it was pretty dark. The flame and the footsteps came right on towards me and I got out of the way. I called to the others and some of them came out. We saw the flame. They had seen it before and said it would go down into the cellar.
"We watched it, and it did. It went right on down into the cellar and stood still for several minutes right over the place where Mrs. Stiebel said she found the papers and then it moved to the wall and seemed to go right through it and disappear.
"That was all I saw there that night, but later on in the evening we heard another noise upstairs and Mrs. Stiebel said 'They're calling me. Don't you come,' and ran right upstairs. I followed her in a minute or two but the door was closed. I waited outside a minute or two and true as I stand here I heard voices in the room as if several persons were talking. I am certain I heard more than two voices."
Another person, a lady who lives close by said that several times she had seen a light moving about in the upstairs room without anyone holding it.
Two other people succeeded in obtaining permission to remain in the house one evening the week. They came there about 9 o'clock and went upstairs into the room where it appears that the spirits first made their appearance. Somewhere around 11 o'clock they heard a strange noise right in the room as if some one was walking about. They heard the rustle of the clothing and the floor creaked, but they could see nothing. A little later they saw a spot of dull red light on the wall, just as if phosphorus had been rubbed there, only it was deep red in color. This went away and came back several times. About midnight they heard whisperings in the room, just as if two or three people were talking in low voices, but they could see no one. At the same time they were startled by seeing the door swing steadily open as if someone had opened it to go in or out. They closed it and a minute later it opened again. Once more they closed it and a third time it was thrown open very violently. After that they let it remain open.
Mrs. Stiebel still refuses to say anything more about the matter, except that she knows the spirits are there because she sees them and talks to them. She will not tell, however, what they say to her. The neighborhood is greatly exercised about these strange happenings and little else is talked of among the people living nearby. If what these people say is true, there would seem to be no doubt that something beyond human knowledge is concerned in these things.
Did the witnesses to the alleged haunting actually have the experiences they claimed? Or were they just going along with a devious plan designed to help get a landlord off the backs of their friends? After all, the witness account that appeared in newspapers on November 23 was from a man who was described as a relative of the Stiebel family. On the other hand, not every person who claims to have seen and heard strange things at 46 Loomis Street could have been part of a hoax.
And then there's the landlord, Mr. Joyce, who weighed in on the haunting on November 22:
|Wilkes-Barre Dollar Weekly News, Nov. 20, 1890|
Today, Loomis Street is a mish-mash of homes in a residential section of the city of Wilkes-Barre, some new, some old. But No. 46 is long gone, torn down to make way for the unstoppable progress of time. Whatever secrets lied buried beneath the dirt floor of the basement will have to remain buried. At least for now.
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