In my last posting here, I looked more closely at the tale related by the pioneering chronicler of the strange Charles Fort of what seemed to be a case of murder and mysterious bodies found in the vicinity but proved to be a misinterpretation by the press of a mundane sort of story. Here, I turn again to 1932’s Wild Talents for our next case to receive a new look, this one what may – or may not – have been a poltergeist in Lebanon, Ohio.
Religio-Philosophical Journal, March 6, 1880 — copying from the Cincinnati Inquirer — That, at Lebanon, Ohio, people of the town were in a state of excitement: that showers of birdshot were falling from the ceiling of John W. Lingo’s hardware store. A committee was appointed, and according to its report, the phenomena was veritable: slow-falling volleys of shot, not of the size of any sold in the store, were appearing from no detectable point of origin. There was another circumstance, and it may have much to do with the phenomenon: about five years before, somebody, at night, had entered this store, and been shot by Lingo, escaping without being identified.
Author Chris Woodyard did manage to track down the original Cincinnati Inquirer article, dated February 25, which stated that some inhabitants believed it to be a warning, a precursor of some calamity to befall the store or its owner. A séance was to be held in the store, though no record of the outcome of that was made. Another story, appearing in the Elkhart Weekly Review, noted that the showers were first noted: “by parties who resort to the place each evening to spend a few hours in social chat.”
On the first evening quite a number of persons were in the store when the shot began to fall in different parts of the room, but principally in the midst of the crowd of persons sitting about the stove. As the stove was near the hatchway it was thought by some that some person or contrivance was in the upper portion of the building which threw or dropped the shot down. Parties were selected and thorough search made of the building … the committee returned and reported no spooks found.
As a notable personage in Warren County, one can’t fully examine the story without examination of John W. Lingo himself. According to a note in The Implement Age in 1911, Lingo went into business around the time of the Civil War. In 1874, a robber made his way into Lingo’s store (what came of him is unclear — while Fort writes that the man escaped, the Elkhart Weekly Review article quoted above says that he was killed). On the night of August 21, 1875, his “agricultural warehouse and stables” (apparently a different business venture than the store) was burnt. Over his fifty years of business, Lingo accrued a great deal of wealth (as evidenced by his home). He was Postmaster and later Ohio delegate to the 1912 Democratic National Convention. In 1911, Lingo partnered with John A. Blair of Lebanon and his hardware store expanded to become Lingo & Blair.
However, he was also no stranger to controversy. He was sued by a Lebanon city councilman who had beaten Lingo after he was discovered with the councilman’s wife. In one instance, he shot a business rival, and upon being appointed Postmaster in 1887, was accused of “the grossest immorality” and the women of Lebanon were urged to call for his dismissal. He was also known for having taught his dog to answer the telephone!
From what is known of John W. Lingo’s rather aggressive business style, he seems the sort of person who would invent a story like this to create publicity for his store. But of course, that isn’t to say that he did. The story does bear much resemblance to what would be expected in a poltergeist manifestation, particularly the slow movement of the shot: it is often noted that people are singularly unhurt if struck by a poltergeist-thrown projectile, or are hurt less than they would expect. That the phenomenon was most pronounced near the stove is interesting, as well. Stoves, fireplaces, and hearths feature quite a bit in poltergeist cases, which becomes even more interesting when one realizes that these self-same areas were also closely associated with the more-or-less benign house spirits of pagan tradition.
On another note, while researching this article I endeavored to determine where exactly the store was, and similar to my previous entry in this series, that proved difficult. While I did manage to find a quite excellent period illustration of the store (unfortunately copyrighted), for as prominent a person as Lingo apparently was there was a singular lack of information as to where exactly his store was, though I believe it to have been near the intersection of Mulberry and Mechanic Streets.
- Cincinnati Inquirer, February 25, 1880.
- Elkhart (IN) Weekly Review, March 4, 1880.
- The Implement Age, Vol. 38.
- Indianapolis News, August 23, 1875.
- Lecouteux, Claude. The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2012. (Translation of La Maison Hantée: Histoire des Poltergeists, 2007)
- The Political Graveyard.
- Woodyard, Chris. The Headless Horror: Strange and Ghostly Ohio Tales. Dayton, OH: Kestrel, 2013.