New Book Reveals the Mysteries of Cleveland's Franklin Castle

click to enlarge HOLLIE GIBBS
It stands looming above an Ohio City intersection where the eyes of its stone children have watched over the neighborhood from the front door frame through prosperity and poverty. It has inspired countless ghost stories evolving into urban legends through the years. Simultaneously impressive and intimidating, our city’s own castle holds the majesty and mystique of more than a century of joys, sorrows, and secrets.

Built between 1881 and 1883, the grand structure at 4308 Franklin Blvd. is a local legend and well known to ghost hunters the world over. If the brick-insulated walls of the stone Victorian home could talk, the tales of its more than a dozen owners could go on for years. Local authors have committed to telling its story instead, though. Set for release on Oct. 2, 2017, the 168-page Haunted Franklin Castle will be a local addition to The History Press’s Haunted America series. Authors William G. Krejci and John Meyers call the 12-year project a labor of love.

Born in Avon Lake, Krejci first saw the Castle at 5 years old after visiting his grandmother on West 41st Street.

He explains, “We pulled up to the intersection of 44th and Franklin in the van and my dad says, ‘Hey kids, look that’s a real haunted house,’ and I was hooked.”

He spent his school years reading and researching the Castle for various projects, but it wasn’t until 2005 that he really got serious about it. He had just moved back to Avon Lake when he took a Haunted Cleveland tour that stopped at the Franklin Castle.

“The tour guide had some really good information on the house, but it wasn’t as much as I had known about it,” he says.

She asked him to re-write the presentation, so he searched through obituaries at the Western Reserve Historical Society where employees asked him to write something about the Castle for them as well. While researching at the archives office he met John Meyers, who was making a copy of original owner Hannes Tiedemann’s last will and testament. The pair decided to pool their resources and write a book.

click to enlarge Krejci outside the castle. - HOLLIE GIBBS
Krejci outside the castle.
They contacted past owners or their decedents to build the chronological history of the house presented in the book, which touches upon the original family, the site itself, and all of its owners.

”We really finally got the true story,” Krejci says.

The first half of it deals with Hannes Tiedemann and his family.

“Most of the legends are about him,” Krejci says of Tiedemann. “Legends paint him as a murderer and accuse him of killing three infant children in 1883. [They insinuate] he might have had a hand in his daughter Emma’s passing. She died in 1881 (right before this house was built) in the house that used to sit here.”

Tiedemann came to America from Germany at the age of 16. He worked as a carpenter and a cooper’s apprentice before becoming a salesman for a grocery firm. He worked his way up to a partner at a wholesale grocery and liquor store. When he sold his interest in the 1870s, he began buying and flipping properties. He went back to Germany between 1877 and 1879, and returned to America to find his properties had matured very well. Astutely business-savvy, he was so successful by 1881 he helped form three Cleveland banks. He became the president of the future United Bank and Savings Company for 20 years. The home office he kept in the Franklin Castle overlooked both of the house’s entrances and the stairwell so he could see who was coming and going. Tiedemann lived in the house with his wife, Louise, and their two surviving children, August and Dora, from 1883 until 1896 (a year after Louise died).

“I like all the different eras,” Krejci says, “but my favorite is probably the Tiedemann era, piecing everything back together as to how and what it looked like.”

Not only did the book project require a robust genealogical mapping of the Tiedemann family, but the authors were also able to develop sketches of what the house’s original interior would have looked like. There were originally 13 fireplaces, although eight of them have been sealed. There are few photos of the house before the 1970s, but the authors managed to find an exterior shot from the 1890s showing a hitching post out front. They also included a 1943 photo of the carriage house when it was used a gymnasium.

The German-American League for Culture inhabited the building, which they called Eintracht Hall, longer than anyone else (47 years between 1921 and 1968). That group removed many walls to open up the space.

Judy Garland’s widower Michael DeVinko (known professionally as Mickey Deans) added a pink hot tub in the bedroom and shag carpeting while he lived there from 1985 to 1999. Shortly after he sold it to Michelle Heimburger, an arsonist torched the house. Heimburger spent a significant amount of money on repairs but could not complete the renovation.

Whispers of spirits preventing the renovation spread quickly. Similar rumors of hauntings had swirled around the house since the 1970s with some owners even capitalizing on the myths and selling tours. Krejci and Meyers used pervious owners’ personal accounts to dispel many of the ominous myths surrounding the home in their book, though.

- Tiedemann did not kill three infant children in the house, for example, but rather he moved the remains of three of his children who died from 1863 to 1873 from Monroe Street Cemetery to family plot at Riverside Cemetery in 1883.

- There was, in fact, a trapdoor somewhere in the house that was subsequently removed, but it was simply a trunk space between the 3rd and 4th floors. There were also passages around the ballroom, but they were only storage space.

- The fabled prohibition underground tunnel stretching out to the lake was really an underground shut-off for the natural gas well under the carriage house, and it only went back a few feet. It was sealed up in the 1960s.

- Nazi spies never lived in the house, but a group of anti-fascist German communists used the old spire that was on top of the tower for a short-wave radio. The Castle also housed the largest German socialist library in the United States.

- The story of the bones found in the house is true, though. It happened in 1975.

click to enlarge HOLLIE GIBBS
“Supposedly Sam Muscatello was knocking open a wall and he found partial human bones,” Krejci says. “They might have been stolen from Monroe Street Cemetery or part of an articulated skeleton left over from when Dr. Shirkey owned the house. Sam Muscatello never gave us an interview for the book… so that one’s still a mystery.”

The book couples that delightful sense of mystery with plenty of ghost stories.

“We found out from a great-granddaughter of a family that lived here between 1915 and 1921 that they were having things happen here, and they were only the third owners of the house,” Krejci says. “They would have things move around all the time and have their blankets ripped off of them in the night. So the stories of the haunting do pre-date what everyone previously believed. So about 100 years ago is when the ghost stories started to emerge. Some people didn’t have anything happen during their time here, others had lots.”

Krejci says he has even had his own mysterious encounters while living at Franklin Castle.

“Where in the past I’d heard ghost stories, now I’m witnessing them a little bit here and there,” he confesses. “I’ve never seen a ghost here or anywhere else but with the lights coming on, the doors opening, the radio kicking on, stuff moving around, they’re letting me know that they’re around. I didn’t put any of my own experiences in the book even though I’ve had a bunch of them. I’ll tell anyone on a tour about my own experiences.”

Tours are just one of many plans for the grand manor as it welcomes immigrants and visiting family and friends home to Cleveland once again. It sold in 2011 to Oh Dear! Productions, LLC (owned by European tapestry artist Kitt). Krejci will lead tours of the fabled house after renovations are completed. Cherokee Hardwoods, Inc. and Gibbs Electric have been working the past several years to restore the dwelling to its former glory.

“They’re doing a very good job,” Krejci says of Kitt and her fiancé Pascal’s vision. “What could have been saved after the fire has been saved. Some parts were too far-gone have been replaced and put back to normal. This is the biggest renovation that’s happened to the house. They’ve put a lot of heart and soul into this, and they’re putting the plaster molding back up the way that it’s supposed to be."

The plan is to share the home with the city that has housed it through the decades.

“We are hoping to open the Castle as a little gallery-museum with permanent as well as temporary exhibitions, monthly film screenings and concerts,” Kitt says. “Themes will relate to the spirit and history of the house but also the bygone era of American '50s and '60s musical and cinematographically greatness, with a particular attention to its obscure side (such as the American teen garage music culture with their cult filmography). [It will be] a sort of antithesis of the Hall of Fame: a hall of un-famous obscurities or not-yet-famous. Because the programming will be curated by a team of amazing young people, this artistic orientation will not be merely nostalgic but, on the contrary, totally contemporary and rad.

“We'll keep developing the carriage house in order to host a maker — someone with an artistic or artisanal ability that would need a living and working studio space. There will also be a very spooky guest suite near the ‘exotic room’ on the first floor.”

Pascal mentioned that local business owners have expressed interest in using it as a microbrewery, but nothing is currently planned. Regardless of what they decide, the couple is striving to keep true to the house’s history and honor the man who built it.

“I spent some time looking at some historical breweries in Germany, specifically some in Schleswig Holstein where Mr. Tiedemann came from,” Pascal says. “It should be something that makes sense with the history of the house, healthy, eco-friendly, and sustainable, if we go that way.”

In addition to Kitt and Pascal living in the house, Krejci will occupy the rental apartment half the year. He will continue his work as a seasonal park ranger at Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial on Put-In-Bay from May through October, giving tours as Franklin Castle’s resident historian the remainder of the year. There are also plans for a museum collection of the house’s history, which he will curate. The cornerstone of which will be a large collection of Tiedemann family photos gifted to Krejci by Tiedemann’s great granddaughter Dora Louise Wiebenson.

“Watching this whole house change from being a burned-out shell to being a beautiful home again is very rewarding," Krejci says. "Getting the true story is very rewarding also.”

Krejci has also authored Buried Beneath Cleveland: Lost Cemeteries of Cuyahoga County (The History Press, 2015) and Haunted Put-In-Bay (The History Press, 2017). Myers, a retired Lutheran pastor with degrees in history and theology, has authored a 64-page history of his congregation and served as the editor of the Southern Illinois District newspaper for 10 years.

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