A Night in the Infirmary
Updated: May 18, 2022
Going into year two of operations for Spectral Research and Investigations, founders began to discuss strategic initiatives that would grow our presence in the paranormal community, and cement our place as part of the field in the state, as well as nationally and internationally. These included increased efforts in videography and content creation (spearheaded by Kaysee), community involvement through the WV Paratourism Conference and contact with Charleston Ghost Tour Company and Haunted Beckley, and expansion of our investigation and research field into surrounding states like Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Finally, a major point of influence was cooperation with other paranormal groups in our area, such as MiMi Paranormal, Mountaineer Paranormal, and most recently West Virginia Paranormal Investigations.
In February, SRI membership began to discuss locations on the "bucket-list" for investigations in 2022, and a name that was repeatedly discussed was Fairfield County Infirmary in Lancaster, Ohio. This reportedly haunted location has built a loyal following in the paranormal circuits as an active location, and a reasonable price for a team to investigate, in comparison to the major locations that have priced themselves out of the market for many teams without television budgets. Membership decided that this location was one to pursue, and it was also decided that SRI would reach out to our friends from Morgantown, WVPI. JJ Johnson and Scott McCoy jumped at the prospect of a location they had never investigated before, and the trip was set up in March.
(The County Infirmary in the 1930's - Found in Historical Lancaster Photos at the Fairfield County Library.)
The Fairfield County Infirmary, a short two hours away in East-Central Ohio, has a long history of serving the people of the community. Yet, the history of the location goes back far longer than the red brick building that sits on the land today. In fact, records indicate the presence of settlers on Fetter's Run (the creek running below Ohio University's Lancaster Campus) since around 1801, with Native presence dating back far longer. Records from a very old book published on the history of Fairfield County reference an interview with Mrs. Elizabeth Sherrick, grand-daughter of one of the original settlers of the area, George Arnold who came to Fairfield County from Pennsylvania in 1801. Elizabeth, the daughter of Daniel Arnold, was born in 1798 and spent much of her early life on the property near the present day infirmary recalled times in the isolated Ohio backcountry, contact with local native tribes, and so on.
The earliest death on the property that Mrs. Sherrick could recall was a lady by the name of Katy Ditto, who passed away in 1806. The Ditto Farm was located on the same land where the infirmary was constructed, while the Fetters Family lived near the creek near the road junction close to the property. It was the Fetters Family for which the creek running below the property was named. Another death in close proximity to the location, referenced by Sherrick, the grandfather of the Fetters Family, though a year was not provided in the documentation.
Between roughly 1810-1826, as the county grew and new townships would spring up, the question of the poor, disabled, the elderly, children and orphans, and destitute would arise. Generally, to help deal with folks with various needs, the county would issue "care contracts" to service providers to help take care of folks within their various townships. However, these contracted arrangements were often not always dealt with properly, and county officials decided that a centralized service location should be created, where wards of the community could be tended. 170 Acres were purchased, and in 1828 a wooden- framed structure was built on the location, and services began.
In 1840, with the community growing, the facility was forced to follow suit and the current brick structure was built to service the needy. It would serve as the county orphanage and poor home. Children and adults experiencing hardship of any time, and of all ages documented from one day to ninety-seven years old, spent time inside the walls and on the land of the facility. The County Home also boasted a working farm, including fields loaded with crops, livestock, a blacksmith shop and a carpentry shop.
Folks would often find themselves in the Fairfield County Infirmary for reasons that, in many ways, seem barbaric in modern times. Labels attached to intakes from officials records include - "Lunatic", "Idiotic", "Cripple", "Manic", and "Deaf and Dumb". Several children were born within the walls of the location, and spent years of their lives on the grounds of the County Infirmary. A young man by the name of Geo Hunter, born on the property and adopted at five years old in 1857, would be returned to custody in 1859 and would spend the next nineteen years in custody. The Fairfield County Genealogical Society compiled a list of records from primary sources referencing intakes, physicians reports, and deaths which can be found in the historical room at the Fairfield County Library's Lancaster Branch.
(Records from the Fairfield County Geneaological Society Collection - Fairfield County Library, Lancaster OH.)
Fairfield County Infirmary, shockingly enough, referred to those inside the walls of the facility as inmates, even when it included gentlement like John Mitchell, a ninety-three year old man that was documented as "too old to work" in 1854-1855, and children as young as one day old (the facility served as the county orphanage until the new children's home was built in 1883.) William Lowry, admitted in 1870, would live for fifty-nine years in the location and would die in December of 1929. Mrs. Ann Bruner passed away in the facility in 1876, at the age of one-hundred and eight. Martha De Berthold, reportedly over one hundred years old, passed away in 1875. Ellouisia Steele, of Apple Grove, W.V., and a mother of eight passed away at the age of seventy-nine. These are just a few of the stories attached to the location.
The Fairfield County Infirmary was a location that demanded work from all able to participate. Local transients, wishing for a place to stay, could stay in the upper level of the building but were required to serve for their time in the location, in the area of the building pictured below. Conditions were poor, and extremely cramped, and administration of the location could vary greatly from understanding and compassionate, to authoritarian and demanding.
(The Transient Area - Attic Level)
One such adminstrator that is referenced time and time again in newspaper records from the late 1800s and early 1900's was a man by the name of William T. Hummel. Hummel was, reportedly, one of the most brutal and demanding of the administrators of the location, and was repeatedly involved in punishments for those unwilling or unable to participate in the operation of the infirmary farm. In one well-documented incident, Hummel was attacked by an inmate wielding a three-foot iron bar for chastising the accused for not working to full ability, which quickly devolved into a blood-thirsty, savage beating.
(Original Newspaper Clipping from the Lancaster Eagle Gazette)
Another well-known, and infamous director of the Infirmary who drew the attention of the media on reports of horrible conditions was Fred Buschmeyer. Buschmeyer is discussed heavily in legal cases involving poor treatment and working conditions inside the infirmary in 1902. Inmates who refused to work, or misbheaved and failed to follow the rules of the Infirmary would be stripped and thrown into a holding cell by gender. Continued disobedience would lead to further punishment, including being chained to the wall in the attic "dungeon", pictured below.
(The Dungeon Gallery - Complete with hooks in the Wall)
(Documentation from Cincinatti Enquirer from 1918 of the Investigation into Conditions at Fairfield Infirmary.)
The Infirmary, at peak, held eighty-three souls. Regular runs of local newspapers discussed the need for "giving" in the holiday season to the "poor souls" of the Fairfield County Infirmary. Even though children would be pulled from the location in the 1880s, the location turned its attention to the poor, destitute, widows, widows with children, and the elderly with no caretakers. Violence and Death were common place at the infirmary, as pictured below. It was an omnipresent reality. It became so common, in fact, that the facility constructed an onsite funeral facility, morgue, and the Potter's Field behind the building is said to contain in excess of twelve-hundred bodies. This number has not been confirmed, officially, to my knowledge but property owners and staff report higher numbers than the confirmed 400-500 bodies discovered. This cemetary and morgue, during the 1880s, caught Ohio headlines for a well-known grave robbing case involving the removal (legal, mind you, due to the laws of the time) of a deceased inmate's corpse for dissection purposes.
(Only a few markers remember those who passed away at the location.)
Amongst the numerous deaths on the location include the listings below, including three inmates killed by cars walking across Route 37 to the farm. Mysterious circumstances and injuries with no "known cause" were also common in the location.
Perhaps the most famous death at the location revolves around a mysterious fire in 1929, and a seventy-two year old woman named Jane Householder. Jane, who had been at the Infirmary for years, became angry and gained access to a heating stove in the location. An accelerant was present, though questions about whether the accelerant was used by Jane, or someone else, still remain. What is known is that the elderly woman's dress caught the flame, and she was severely burnt, and passed away in the location nine hours after the fire began.
(Original Article on Jane Householder's Death - 1929 - Lancaster Eagle.)
Fairfield County Infirmary is a location loaded with stories and mystery. When the facility closed as the County Home in 1985, and the last sixteen elderly residents left for various nursing homes, the location changed to county offices dealing with CPS, and other governmental functions. Government offices left the building, and it sat empty before current owners acquired the property and began the process of restoring the historic location and opening up to paranormal tourists, flashlight photographers, and curious locals.
Part of SRI's mission is to look deeper into the history of our locations. Upon early arrival in Lancaster, I proceeded to the local library branch to see what I could uncover about the location's history. Previously, I had trawled the waters of local newspapers online, looking for validation of the many claims attached to the historic location. Work in the library further bolstered these findings, as I located historic documents on Fairfield County, as well as records directly related to the Infirmary compiled by the Fairfield County Genealogical Society.
On this night, SRI was acting in a bit of a supporting role for JJ and Scott of West Virginia Paranormal Investigations, who were actively preparing to film their series "Forgotten Relics". Kaysee and I were actively involved in the filming process at the location, while doing some of our own filming for "Locked In". Throughout the night, we combined our efforts with WVPI to conduct a thorough investigation and filming session of the location. This included operating their cameras, as well as conducting a solo session.
During the evening, we had numerous experiences, including phantom footsteps radiating from the floors above, disembodied voices, a sighting of a shadow walking down the main hallway. Numerous times it felt as if those participating were in the presence of unseen folks, wandering the halls of the location, and curious onlookers interested in getting a closer look at the evenings festivities. Scott unveiled his new Panasonic DR-62 Portal on this night as well, and we seemed to get some interesting responses.
JJ and Scott also conducted a "rolling" ESTES and sensory deprevation experience that should make for exciting viewing when the episode premiers later this year. We were also fortunate to be joined by Zach and Samir of Countere Magazine as they prepare an article for Countere on Paranormal Investigation. All together, it was an interesting and enthralling night, and warrants a return trip to Fairfield in the future!
Founder - SRI