Many Clevelanders have heard the stories of Franklin Castle being haunted, while others have their own stories to tell from Haunted Cleveland bus tours of such phenomena as orbs in the Agora or Playhouse Square’s State Theatre.
In the spirit of the season, “Images of Haunted Ohio,” the latest exhibit at Prama Artspace & Gallery, 5411 Pearl Road, opened Friday, October 23.
The exhibit features photos of Franklin Castle, the House of Wills Funeral Home, select cemetery shots and more by Sean Mabin, Laura D'Alessandro, Markus Abdelmasih, Jennifer Gleason, June Hund, Jim Szudy, and Shawn Slowburn.
Planning for the show included a road trip to the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield. Closed in 1990, the prison would later attain pop culture status several years after a film adaptation of the Stephen King novella, “Rita Hayworth & The Shawshank Redemption” starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, was filmed there.
Gallery owner Mabin thought it would be a great idea to have a show around Halloween featuring a series of creepy photos, including those taken at the prison.
Photographers participating in the Prama show apparently feel the same way. For instance, the tour of the Reformatory left D’Alessandro, co-curator of Prama Gallery, feeling uneasy.
“We were there for hours and we separated to shoot photos—the place is huge,” she says. “I had such weird feelings there. I don’t know if I felt the place was haunted, but I felt the heaviness of the place. The whole experience was emotionally and physically taxing. You’re walking for hours and looking at these tiny cells—it was hard to imagine two people having to live together in these spaces.”
D'Alessandro’s photos in the exhibit are of the original House of Wills, one of the most prominent Black funeral homes in Cleveland during most of the 20th Century. During its heyday, its bright pink exterior was hard to miss when driving or walking along East 55th Street. A second, smaller, less ornate location was later built on Cleveland’s southeast side at East 147th and Harvard Avenue. Both are now closed.
D'Alessandro had a series of disturbing dreams about the House of Wills—before ever going there. She asked around and was given a bit of history about the place, before discovering that longtime friend Eric Freeman owned the now-defunct funeral home.
Freeman invited her over to see the place, but when she arrived, he was busy, so she was left to wander the large, empty house alone.
“There I was, wandering around the House of Wills, which I had dreamt about, with only a flashlight on my phone, in the darkness,” recalls D’Alessandro. “A few rooms felt a bit ‘off’ to me, but nothing was there that truly frightened me.”
As part of the opening night activities, there was an outdoor sound performance by Jim Szudy and Shawn Slowburn.
“Images of Haunted Ohio” runs through November 22.