The Ghost of the Female Academy

There are four distinctly different and seemingly unrelated stories from Mansfield history that I have been aware of for a long time, but I never had any reason to connect these tales to one another.

It is only recently a piece of evidence was given to me that provided the key to understanding a mystery I was not even trying to solve. But it all makes sense now.

It turns out that these four different story lines are actually only one story.

It is the story of 1) a ghost at the movie theater; 2) a grieving young woman during the Civil War; 3) a portrait artist driven mad with love; and 4) a four-story college building.

Each one of these plotlines is deserving of a full treatment, and together form something of a Victorian era romance novel; but in the telling of them here all the stories are necessarily abbreviated into small enough pieces so they can fit together clearly.

There are two common denominators that unite these four diverse plots: one is a small, yellowed album of photos and clippings; the other is Park Avenue West.

In the 19th century, Park Avenue went by a different name: it was called Market Street. In the 20th century Park Avenue West is where the Ohio Theater was built; but when it was West Market Street that was also where the college was built.

The college was built in 1855. The theater was built in 1928 on the campus of the college. These two institutions are separated in time, but they share a common placement on the planet. They also apparently share a sad ghost who exists somewhere outside of the time continuum.

Lithograph of Mansfield’s Female Academy from 1853 wall map.

4) The Female College

In the 1850s the Methodist Church North Ohio Conference determined to establish a college in Mansfield.

Local folks got really excited about the idea because they were picturing the possibilities of becoming a college town like Delaware or Westerville where there were other Methodist colleges.

Local leaders worked diligently to locate the most ideal site for the campus, and the project had the unqualified support of all town boosters until the day it was announced that the Mansfield college was to be a Female Seminary.

That seemed to deflate local enthusiasm. No one had anything against women or theology, but the prospect of “teaching culture to young ladies” seemed to rather severely limit the sort of rich alumni community benefactors they were hoping to cultivate.

Curriculum advertised for the 1855 inaugural session: Room and board was $2 a week; tuition was $4 to $8 per class for English courses; $3 for German & French; $10 for Music.

So the Mansfield Female College never did get off the ground. The school hall for classes and dormitories was raised: four stories tall, it towered over the surrounding grounds in majestic splendor. The campus grounds were fashioned into a most civilized and cultured garden setting; and the first term of classes brought 113 young ladies to higher learning.

But that first year was the high water mark of the Female Academy.

Before the doors were even hung on the building, the financial burdens and debts of construction made the Methodists jump ship. Classes were carried on by various other improvised superintending institutions for another nine years; but the total number of graduates for the school’s entire term of existence numbered fewer than four dozen.

So for most of the 19th century the place was known as the College Boarding House.

View of the College Boarding House from Third Street 1911.

In the 20th century it became the College Terrace, and when it was torn down in the 1970s it was known as the College Apartments.  This is a view of the south side of the complex, away from Third Street.

3) The Mad Portrait Artist

What we know of the College Boarding House relative to this narrative was written in the form of a trial transcript in the 1880s when a man who lived there was accused of trying to burn the place down.

The would-be arsonist was a portrait artist named Hiram Cullen, though some people called him Harry and some Harvey. He didn’t deny trying to destroy the building: it was the only way he could imagine to put an end to his anguish.

The old school building held painful memories for Hiram because that was where the woman he loved had lived in the years when they were dating. That was where she was living at the time she died.

He took up residence in the boarding house in order to be near her spirit. That is what he said.

He never used the word “haunt” but it is clear that he was in some manner haunted by the memory of the young woman who he was still in love with 20 years after her death.

He did say he saw her sometimes. Everyone assumed he was crazy so this particular claim was dismissed outright as simple delusion. Witnesses quoted him as saying that ‘her crying made his heart hurt.’

When Hiram was sent off to live in the Athens Lunatic Asylum he left one thing behind in Mansfield: a scrapbook album of photos and clippings assembled by the woman he loved.

2) The Grieving Young Woman

To understand the tragedy of Emmaline Wren and appreciate her scrapbook, it helps to have a sense of the time in which she lived.  As a romantic young woman and a voracious reader, she was undoubtedly influenced by the literature of her day: much of which had a mournful, tragic and morbid cast to it.

Think Evangeline, the classic tearjerker by Longfellow: where the young woman’s long lost love dies in her arms; think The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe with its rhythmic erosion of well-being in loss, loss, loss.

It was during the Civil War when Emmaline attended the Mansfield Female Academy. She accompanied the young women of town when they visited the Union Army training camps in the north end of town, taking the brave boys baked things and writing paper.

Emmaline became acquainted with many of the young soldiers who enlisted in Mansfield. We know this because she had a collection of their photos.

She made an album in which to keep these mementos. All of the pictures have names inscribed on them. Many of them — at least half of them — also are inscribed with a date and the simple declarative, “dead,” or “killed,” or “died.”

Emmaline Wren had plenty to be sad about and her grieving turned into mourning through the ministrations of her scrapbook. That was where she placed her anguish. In addition to her Civil War beaux, there are black ribbons, gloomy images of graveyards, melancholy poems, sad obituaries, and touching images of dead birds.

And handfuls of fading, pressed-flower petals.

In an era that was somewhat oversaturated with funerary tokens, she was wholly immersed.

It is not surprising she died young. The small news clipping about her is delicate about the means of her end, but leaves no uncertainty that she left this life by her own hand.

It happened in the orchard at the Female Academy.

1) The Ghost at the Movie Theater

The orchard of the Mansfield Female Academy where Emmaline met the Angel of Death was located near the Market Street/Park Avenue West side of the campus.

This closeup of the 1853 wall map of Mansfield shows the Female Academy on West Market Street.  Highlighted is the site in the Academy orchard where Emmaline left his world; where the Ohio Theater was eventually built.

In the 1870s a house was built on the site, and so far as I have discovered there is no record of any particularly paranormal activity from the families who lived there.  In 1928 the house was torn down and the Ohio Theater was raised in its place.

Today it is the Renaissance Theatre.  I have heard rumors of a ghost in the theater since I was a kid but have only ever found one witness who could speak of it.

She described the ghost as a young woman who cried as if her heart would break.

If there are ghosts in our world it seems likely that only the emotional intensity of their existence is capable of burning through the intervening barriers of time to become visible — and audible — beyond their own limited framework of history into our era.

If emotional energy is the key to understanding ghosts, then there is ample evidence to indicate that it is the sad young woman overwhelmed with wartime loss who has carried her mourning over 150 years from the Female Academy to the theater on Park Avenue West.

The site of the Female Academy is found today in the Renaissance parking lot on Third Street.  A few ornamental plantings in parking islands are all that is there in our time to suggest the formal gardens that once graced the Academy grounds.

For more background of this haunting tale check out A Ghost At The Renaissance Theatre

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