The Haunting at Haag House

haag-house-2016

The serene appearance of this elegant Scio Street property belies the building’s more mysterious and sinister past.

The Second Empire-style house was originally the family residence of Bernard Haag, who moved to Rochester from his native Bavaria in 1849 at the age of eighteen. A skilled butcher, Haag found work in his trade around town before he opened his own meat market on the corner of Scio and East Main Streets in the 1850s.

He later built this neighboring three-story house on Scio Street.

haag-house-1888

This 1888 Plat Map shows Haag’s house and neighboring retail property

Therein, the affable Haag hosted myriad events. His daughter Louisa held her wedding at the home in 1881. In 1907, Haag’s grand-daughters Emilie and Gertrude made their debut at a lavish party attended by 70 people hailing from all over the country. The house also witnessed several of Bernard’s birthday celebrations, which became an annual tradition for several years until his death in 1919.

Bernard’s sons Benjamin and George had taken over their father’s market several years before. Benjamin in particular excelled at his father’s trade, becoming president of the Rochester Retail Butchers Mutual Protective Association in 1896 as well as the president of the Rochester Hide, Skin and Fat Melting Association in 1900.

old-bones-building

A circa 1910 image of the Haag property.

The brothers maintained the family business until 1912, after which the store went through several owners. In 1924, entrepreneur Ranford Wilson purchased the entire Haag property including the retail space and the Scio Street house. The following year, he constructed a storefront around the Victorian house and placed a yellow brick façade over the original red brick market building.

Building storefronts in front of homes was a common occurrence in the 1920s in burgeoning business districts such as Main Street and Lyell Ave, as it allowed retail developers to avoid having to tear down historic houses.

Ranford Wilson renamed his revamped property the Wilshire building.  An array of businesses and shops greeted passersby at ground level, while the upper floors contained apartments. The former Haag family residence served as the Wilshire’s offices.

haag-house-1935

This 1935 Plat Map evinces the post-1925 metamorphosis of the  Haag property.

The Victorian home’s façade wouldn’t be seen again for another 60 years. In 1987, a local developer purchased the Haag property with an eye to repurpose the building into an upscale restaurant and office space.

democrat_and_chronicle_mon__oct_26__1987_

The former Haag property just prior to its uncovering in 1987.

But as renovators uncovered the hidden house, they also unearthed something truly unsettling.

One worker shoveling debris from the ceiling  received the shock of his life when he spotted a leg bone with a foot attached. The bone had fallen from the space between the first floor ceiling and second floor’s floor. When the second floor was torn up, three other bones, presumably from arms and legs, were  discovered. By the time investigators concluded their search of the building, about 25 bones of varying sizes-including an entire lower leg with mummified skin and toenails- had been uncovered at the scene.

The forensic scientists assigned to the case in 1988 drew several conclusions after subjecting the evidence to a barrage of tests. They determined that the bones had come from three different individuals, a man over 50 and two women in their 40s. They hypothesized that the victims had been murdered as long as 100 years before and that considering how well the body parts had been preserved, the bones must have been hidden during winter time and “freeze-dried.” The bones appeared to have been professionally cut by a meat saw, like the kind found in a butcher shop. And perhaps most disturbingly, the scientists  indicated that the victims may have been dismembered prior to their death.

Though the forensic experts were able to uncover a wealth of information from the gruesome evidence, three major questions remained unanswered: Who were the murder victims? Who had killed them? And how?

Investigators at the time noted that the case would remain open despite its age, but that without additional evidence, they might never be able to unravel the 100 year old mystery.

Happy Halloween!

 

-Emily Morry

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Published in: on October 31, 2016 at 5:50 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great Story, Emily! I watched that house being uncovered as I worked across the street at the time. Finding out why it was covered in the first place was very interesting. Skeletons in the floorboards was a sensational story at the time

  2. My architecture firm was responsible for the renovation job that found the bones. There were several newspaper articles with pictures of the remains from 1988. Let me know if would like copies of them!


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