Jeri Holland has been interested in ghosts, and in local history, since she was a kid.
When she was 19, Holland’s grandfather passed away. A few months later, she and her brother were cleaning out the basement of his old house when they heard someone enter the house upstairs, walk across the floor above their heads, and then walk into their grandfather’s bedroom. They clearly heard the door shut, but when they went upstairs to investigate, they found it open. They were alone in the house.
That was Holland’s first experience with the paranormal.
Since then, she’s become a prominent local historian, publishing several books about Akron history and helping create the website akronhistory.org. She’s also a long-standing member of Cuyahoga Valley Paranormal, a team of “ghost hunters” based out of Cuyahoga Falls; conducts tours of Akron’s haunted sites and other historical hotspots; and gives lectures on ghost hunting and cryptozoology at area libraries and nursing homes.
Downtown Akron has a long history of ghost stories and scary tales. There’s Hower House, long haunted by strange lights, and the spirit of a woman seeking vengeance on her unfaithful husband; or TKE House, frat house and former servant quarters at the University of Akron, where the brothers have been scaring pledges for decades with tales of the mysterious headstone in the parking lot – supposedly the final resting place of a servant girl who hung herself from the building’s balcony over a century ago.
And, of course, there’s the Akron Civic Theatre, home to more ghosts than you can shake a Ouija board at: including Fred the Janitor, a former employee with a penchant for chasing unruly customers who defile the facility’s restrooms; Well-Dressed Man, a devoted patron with a permanent seat in one of the theatre’s balconies; and Suicide Girl, remnant of Akron’s canal days, a melancholy specter often heard sobbing as she walks beside the old canal that runs behind the building.
Holland’s interest in ghost hunting evolved out of her love of local history.
“If a place is haunted, it’s not haunted for the hell of it,” Holland says. “There’s a history behind it, and I like delving into that.” There are different types of haunting, according to Holland. Some, like Suicide Girl, are “like a DVD playing over and over,” harmless re-enactments of old events created when powerful emotions are expended in a particular place; others, like Fred, have been known to interact with witnesses – sometimes playfully, sometimes horribly.
“Sometimes we find absolutely nothing, and then there times when we’ve been… unnerved,” Holland says of her ghost hunting experiences. An investigation typically begins when she and her fellow team members are contacted by a local business or home owner, though they also investigate known haunted places and historic sites, and have visited locations as far south as Springfield.
Holland was approached by publishers with a proposal for her first book, Haunted Akron, after working on websites devoted to Akron and Cuyahoga Falls history for many years,. Since then, she’s published two other books of local lore, Murder & Mayhem in Akron and Summit County and Memories of an Akron Christmas. She’s currently working on projects devoted to haunting activity in Cuyahoga National Park, as well as a book about Akron’s history as a City of Invention.
By: Tony Baker DAP Intern