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The Bloody Saga of the Sidwell House

The faintly ominous vibes surrounding the Sidwell House in Avondale, a small town at Route 93 and 22, recall a time when the beautiful gingerbread house and its rolling grounds resonated with the shouts and slams and smacks of an abusive, alcoholic father. Some say it was a double-murder committed in the 50s, a newlywed couple gunned down in their beds, but most say the family who lived there the longest (throughout the 70s at least) was cursed with a belligerent bastard of a gun-toting redneck father.

After beating his wife and their many children for minor infractions of the rules all night, he would go outside and shoot guns into the air at all hours of the night. The police couldn't get him to stop no matter how many times neighbors called them. The father's reputation around town continued to diminish.

Then he snapped, as they so often do. After a particularly bad night of drinking  and fighting his wife found him missing from bed in the morning, only to discover him passed out in a living room chair. She set about the work of cooking breakfast. Her husband awoke and, in a fit of rage, stood up and fired three times into his wife's back as she slumped over the stove. Next he climbed up the stairs and murdered all four of their young children in their beds. Hours later he put both barrels in his own mouth and painted the wall with his brains. These marks  (bulletholes covered with brain and blood stains) are supposed to be visible in the abandoned house, which no one has dared to occupy since.

Or at least that's what some people say. Alternate versions of the bloody tale are plentiful in South Zanesville.

Grandma Remembers The Sidwell House

Back in the late 40s/early 50s a family of about 6 lived in the home—four children, a mother, and a drunken father. The father, who was also very abusive, came in late one night very drunk. He climbed the stairs to the bedroom and began fighting with his young wife, and stormed away. The next morning she arose from bed to find him gone. She searched the upstairs, but he was nowhere to be found. Descending the stairs she looked everywhere and finally found him stitting in a chair in the living room with his bottle. She began to cook breakfast. Arising from his chair he grabbed the shotgun from the closet, went to the kitchen, and found his wife standing in front of the stove. He raised the shotgun and repeatedly shot her from the back of her head to the back of her knees. He then quietly walked up the stairs to his childrens’ bedrooms and shot all four of his young children in their beds, then proceeded to shoot himself hours later. This is the story I had heard from my grandma for as long as I can remember.  She said that when it happened you could find it on every radio station and newspaper cover for a hundred miles.  –Anonymous

At any rate, the house is now supposed to be the site of mysterious lights in the windows, gunshot sounds, even the smell of bacon cooking in the early mornings. The murdered family is said to haunt its rooms and halls. This is why the house isn't occupied; no one stays long. According to a reader who tried to dig up the truth about what happened to the Sidwells, her attempts to question the old-timers at Whiteys, which is the diner around the corner and just about the only business in Avondale, were met with the cold shoulder. Somebody even called the house "evil." But is there really anything to the ghost legends associated with this house?

According to the members of the family that last occupied it, the answer is probably not. The children of the White family, who lived there at that time, allowed us to question them, and they were able to fill in many of the factual blanks in the house's true history.

According to them, it was built in the 1840s by the Rankin family. The Rankins farmed the surrounding land and built what was an immense barn on the property—three stories tall with livestock stalls on the second floor. They also operated as the Rankin Inn and held horse races on a track out back. As is usually the case with large Civil War-era houses, it's rumored that it was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Marks on the cellar walls are supposed to have been left by slaves who counted the days before the next leg of their journey. The last surviving member of the Rankin family was Winifred Vogt, who died there in 1963. She was a schoolteacher whose fiancee left her on her wedding night.

In 1968 the White family purchased the house from the Sidwell Brothers Limestone Company and moved in—two parents, five kids, and an uncle who sometimes lived there as well. This is the family about whom the legends arose, long after the kids had grown up and moved out. The truth is that they were a fairly normal family. The father of the family owned a trucking company, worked on his vehicles in the barn, and definitely never killed his wife or any of his kids. They sold the house back to the Sidwells in 1982 or 83, after which time it apparently lingered in escrow during the divorce of one of the Sidwells. That's probably why it's still abandoned.

A clue as to why such horrible stories are told about a family which could only have been the Whites is the fact that Mr. and Mrs. White had what their children term a "rocky" marriage. Mr. White did drink a lot. And he owned a lot of guns, which he would sometimes show his children how to fire in the back yard. Things like this aren't too far outside the norm, and they probably would have been forgotten by neighbors if the house they lived in hadn't eventually been left abandoned. There's just something about a scary-looking place that demands ghost stories.

However, that might not be all there is to the story. Several of the Whites had experiences in their very old home which might be classified as supernatural. Here are a few examples:

Out of the Mouths of the Whites:

One night my uncle and I were the only ones there and we were getting ready to go to bed. I could hear the sound of glass tinkling, as if drinking glasses were being carried on a tray. It was coming from the upstairs hallway. I could hear it clearly, but my uncle, who was nearby, didn't notice it. One night, later on, my mother was sleeping in one of the downstairs living rooms and heard the exact same sound. 

There was a barn on the property and it was one of the largest barns around. My dad had a trucking company and was working late one night on one of his trucks.The barn had 3 levels and the 2nd level was where livestock was kept. At the time there waere no animals in the whole barn. My dad heard noises as if there was a stampede in the second level. There were all kinds of animal noises coming from the lower level, like it was full of livestock. It scared my dad so bad he later told my grandfather that the hair was standing up on the back of his neck. Years later, after we moved away, a man in his eighties was talking to my brother. He said that back when he was a little boy he was playing hide and seek with other kids there. He went into the barn and climbed up in a loft on the top floor. He said when he was hiding there he heard the exact same noises my dad heard. It scared him because there was no livestock in the barn at that time either.

An experience that I myself had was when I was alone in the kitchen. I heard the slam of the back door that went out on to the enclosed porch. I knew I should not have heard anything because I was looking at the door at the time and it was shut. Immediately following, there was a loud rap on the window nearest the stairwell going up behind the bathroom. Scared the hell out of me, I don't mind saying. I went to the window thinking it was one of brothers and looked out. There was no one there.

Our own visits to the Sidwell House revealed nothing scarier than a monstrous antique furnace and stairs with railings ready to fall off at the slightest touch––but no ghosts.  Whether they date to the 1840s or the 1970s, they seem to be uninterested in appearing to just anyone.

Weird Ohio

 

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