Wanted: Dead or Deader

Anyone who has spent time poring through historical newspapers has likely come across an intriguing headline or two. I’ve seen a fair share of them myself, but recently I stumbled upon something in an old want ads section that is truly in a league of its own.

On August 5th, 1920, the Democrat and Chronicle published the following advertisement:

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From the Democrat & Chronicle, August 5, 1920.

The eyebrow-raising ad undoubtedly also raised questions among its readers. Was it the world’s most bizarre personal ad…man/woman seeks date with a ghost? Or did the paranormal house hunter have other ideas in mind?

The peculiar post, which hailed from an unknown person, became the subject of a few newspaper articles that August. The day after the ad was published, the D&C speculated as to its writer’s motives. Staff surmised that perhaps the individual was “an author looking for atmosphere,’’ or “a person with an unbalanced mind,” or just someone “seeking to escape the platitudes of politicians.”

To help readers identify the kind of building that might house a free-floating vaporous apparition, the newspaper offered a few guidelines.

Such a house, the D&C indicated, should have creaking stairs, strong drafts emanating from all doors, and a fireplace (so that the phantasm could be seen amidst the flames). The article also suggested that “some kind of power plant should be established outside to keep the wind howling around the corners.”

Missing from the aforementioned list were additional supernatural warning signs such as self-cooking poultry products, rogue refrigerators, and generally any kind of behavior that one would not expect to see in a major appliance.

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Headline from the Democrat & Chronicle, August 18, 1920.

Within the week that the want ad was published, the D&C’s business office received 20 letters to be rerouted to the “ ‘man of mystery’ seeking the haunted house.”

The “man of mystery,” as it happened, turned out to be a woman. May Francis, the operator of a boarding house on Marshall Street, identified herself to the D&C following the commotion her ad had caused.  She confessed that she was “just seeking the chills, the thrills and the ghosts of a haunted house.”

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The Ghost-curious Mrs. Francis ran a boarding house at 10 Marshall Street. The building and the block on which it stood no longer exist today. City of Rochester Plat Map, 1935.

Mrs. Francis informed the paper that she had encountered a few individuals over the years that had experienced apparitions or heard the clanking of chains in homes.

Her whole plan, Francis explained, was to “meet a real ghost in a real haunted house.”  In so doing, she hoped that she might discover whether ghosts were white or grey, and what accounted for the spooky noises that accompanied their appearance.

The boarding house proprietor ended up receiving several offers from area residents willing to assist her with her quest.

A typical letter read:

“Regarding your advertisement for location of a haunted house, let me lead you to one in Stone Road. All the thrills and the chills can be obtained here. Meet me by appointment—midnight preferred.”

For whatever reason, call it fate, call it luck, call it karma, one local resident did seemingly come through for Mrs. Francis.

The D&C insinuated as much in an article published on August 20th, which inquired, “now that the modest-appearing Marshall Street woman has her haunted house, what is she going to do with it?”

As Mrs. Francis owned a boarding house, the reporter wryly opined that “perhaps there is to be a boom in haunted houses…if the demand grows, development experts will throw in a few ghosts with the clothes chute or sleeping porch, and abandoned cemeteries will bring top-notch prices when cut up into building lots.”

The newspaper did not reach the ghost hunter for comment on her paranormal experience. Perhaps it had a greater effect than she had anticipated…

Happy Halloween!

-Emily Morry

Published in: on October 30, 2018 at 2:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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