My Town Monday: Dayton’s Haunted Courthouse

One of the coolest and most interesting buildings in Dayton is the Old Courthouse, located in the city’s center, at the corner of Third and Main Streets. The Greek-revival style building was completed in 1850, and remains one of the area’s architectural and historic treasures.

Photo via Wikipedia Commons

It’s also haunted.

People have claimed to hear footsteps going upstairs to the judges’ chambers, and others have reported hearing moans.

The courthouse was started in 1844, and was built on the site the jail occupied for forty years before that. The jail was also where murderers were hung. Dayton’s first convicted murderer was John McAfee, who was having an affair, and murdered his wife. He was hung for this in 1824, and many people speculate that his ghost is one of those that haunt the courthouse. But even among people who might be inclined to go along with this story, there’s debate, for historical record indicates that the jail wasn’t yet used for hangings at that time. They were instead public events, until Ohio passed a law banning this. By then, a new jail had been built beside the courthouse on Third Street.

Other murderers were hung in the jail beside the courthouse throughout the 1860s and 1870s, and it’s possible that one or more of their ghosts haunt the courthouse. A likely possibility is James Murphy, who was only 19 when convicted. His was a botched execution; at first, the rope broke. After it was replaced, it was too short, and the opening of the trapdoor in the platform beneath it didn’t cause the expected, quick snap. Instead, Murphy hung for seventeen minutes before he finally died.

Perhaps the ghost is that of Harry Adams, the last man to hang at the jail on Third Street, and who swore innocence until his death, claiming that his girlfriend was the murderer.

Of course, my skepticism meter registers pretty high for all of this, but maybe that’s just me. I’ve been inside the courthouse, and never heard any weird noises or felt any cold drafts, but then I’m probably the least intuitive person I know. But the stories are kind of fun either way. Here’s an article on with some more details.

Another fun fact: the plaza beside the courthouse is where my recently-released short story “Time’s Holiday” begins.

Hauntings or no, the Courthouse is a beautiful building. Here’s a video that goes over all its cool history and gives a tour inside.

What do you think? Is Dayton’s old courthouse haunted? Do you have a similar place in your hometown, and do you go along with the stories, or are you skeptical like me? I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

19 Responses to \

  1. My grandmother’s church (in Los Angeles) was known to be haunted. It spooked me when I went in it, too (although I never heard the voices or footsteps). Then again, my grandmother’s house was also haunted. Too many people witnessed too many things for me NOT to believe (my mother one of them, and she’s not one to make up stories). I’m just glad I didn’t witness them. I think I would have fainted!

  2. It is a beautiful building. I’m not surprised it’s supposedly haunted. Many old buildings are, especially when someone has died there or nearby. Very interesting. The execution of Murphy sounds pretty awful. 🙁

  3. Oh, what a cool video!! I live about 10 minutes from where gold was discovered in California. The town used to be called Hangtown because, as the county seat, it is where the courthouse was and people were hanged. There used to be an old oak treee, which has since been taken down due to disease, where guilty parties were strung up.

    Lots of buildings in my town are reportedly haunted. While I’ve never experienced any other-worldly activities, I have gone in search of ghosts. The only thing I “felt” was odd was the smell of cigar smoke in one of the buildings and smoking is permitted inside so that was kind of cool. My niece said she felt weird inside the old hotel.

    Cool stuff.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  4. Coleen, even as skeptical as I am, I don’t know if I’d want to hang around there at night either!

    Stacy, maybe you’re just unintuitive like me. 🙂 Even though I call myself a skeptic, I honestly think that ghosts are kind of like aliens and bugs in software – we can’t prove they don’t exist, even if we never see them.

    Lynn, Mr. Murphy was terrified to die – which probably made it take that much longer!

    Patricia, cool story – thanks for sharing!

  5. Your courthouse is beautiful, especially the elegant staircase. Like you, I’m skeptical about stories of haunted places, but James Murphy’s death is harrowing. I wonder if it inspired the botched execution in Stephen King’s THE GREEN MILE?

    A building said to be haunted in Houston is the former Jefferson Davis Hospital. It was built on a cemetery that held the bodies of Confederate veterans and yellow fever victims. (The bodies weren’t relocated.)

  6. Very cool! I love old buildings and the stories that go with them. We’ve lived in a hunted house before. Thankfully there wasn’t any harmful spirits residing there. It was a total learning experience and what solidified my belief in a spiritual world.

  7. Well of course, haunted! But then, it’s a given I’d think it was. However, spirits do tend to linger at sites of traumatic death. Great post, great info. Nice work!

  8. Pat, it does make you wonder, doesn’t it? I’ll bet the Jefferson Davis Hospital is super-creepy!

    Molly, that sounds like a fascinating experience! And good that your ghosts were benevolent spirits. 🙂

    Rhonda, thanks!

    Serena, I’ll bet you’d sense the ghosts if you were ever to visit there!

  9. Oooh, this is awesome!

    My high school was formerly a mansion built by a wealthy railroad family, and the story told to all the new students is that it’s haunted. The owner ended up committing suicide (though not in the mansion itself), so it’s easy enough to pretend that anything seemingly odd is “Freddy’s” fault.

  10. Jennette,
    I love reading about hauntings, although I wouldn’t like to encounter a ghost. There’s a town hall in Westwood, a suburb of Cincinnati, near where we grew up, that is haunted. My sister lived in the basement for a while as caretaker of the hall and can attest to some strange goings on. It is believed that the building is haunted by the ghost of a former security guard who hung himself in the building after he was fired. I wrote about the town hall, as well as a few other haunted places in the Cincinnati, Ohio area, in one of my May 2012 blogs entitled Poltergeists, Phantoms and Paranormal Presences.

  11. Lena, your high school sounds cool! I bet it’s beautiful, too. I’ll bet Freddy gets blamed for a lot of homework disappearing!

    Diane, there are usually groups trying to do just that around this time of year!

    Maria, the outside’s very pretty, but it’s gorgeous inside! The programs where they re-enact a historic trial are a lot of fun.

    C.D., I remember that post! Very cool story – and I’ll bet that old basement was creepy for your sister, ghosts or no.

  12. Fascinating. I used to live in Westerville and visted Dayton multiple times and never knew half the stuff youve covered in your blog. Love the history and that your story begins in the plaza! Great post.

  13. Thanks, Lynette – I love sharing our wonderful local history!

    Sonia, it’s very worth seeing, ghosts or no!

  14. you are the only person Ive read who makes me want to visit your hometown. The courthouse is gorgeous. and it makes sense there’s a ghost given that it’s so old.