6 bizarre things to discover at Belmont County Heritage Museum
Updated: Jan 12
October is the perfect month to explore some of the more unusual displays you can see and facts you can learn visiting the museum. This 130-year-old building has stood witness to many historical events. It once housed the Belmont County Sheriff and his family and is attached to a jail that held inmates until 1996. Hidden within the displays of local history are a ghostly local legend, the tragic tale of love and murder, a town whose many industries once included the company that made Marilyn Monroe’s casket, a lawman known as the “hanging” judge, a village laid out in the shape of a coffin, and the portrait of an ill-fated couple.
1. Love gone wrong - The tragic tale of the murder of 13-year-old Louiza Fox by Thomas Carr and his subsequent execution by hanging is a part of Belmont County history that continues to fascinate people. The ghost of Louiza Catherine Fox is said to haunt the area where she was brutally murdered by her suitor, 22-year-old coal miner Thomas Carr, in 1869. A small marker is located at 35615 Starkey Rd., Barnesville, OH 43713 (40.104476,-81.174702) and her grave is located in nearby Salem Cemetery where she has also reportedly been seen weeping. People have also claimed to see Carr's ghost near the murder site.
At the time, Egypt Valley as it is now known was the small farming village of Egypt. Louiza was a house maid who worked for a local family who also employed Carr. There are conflicting reports as to whether she and Carr were ever engaged at all or if her family retracted the engagement due to learning of his character and temper.
What is known from the highly publicized court proceedings is that Carr was a member of the Union Army during the Civil War Era and reportedly struggled with alcoholism, fights, and even committed murders before being discharged. It was late afternoon on January 21, 1869 when Carr attacked Fox. He hid behind a fence post until she passed by, leaving her body in a ditch on the side of the road. This is the area where many have reported seeing the ghost of the girl.
Before he was apprehended, Carr attempted suicide, first with a knife and then a gun. After being treated for his wounds, he was sentenced to death just five days later. He confessed not just to Fox's murder, but many others.
In 1870, Carr was hanged on the property of the current location of the Belmont County Heritage Museum. At the time, the courthouse was located there and the jail was behind it. He was hanged on the second floor of the front hall in the old jail (built in 1842).
2. The "Cadillac" of Coffins - The Belmont Casket Company in Shadyside held a patent for the Cadillac of caskets called “The Masterpiece,” a handcrafted coffin with indestructible steel lid. The company, which also had a factory in Columbus, made Marilyn Monroe's coffin. It was a special, double-lidded design and was bronze with champagne colored silk lining. The company also manufactured President Woodrow Wilson's casket. The company closed in the 1970s and both factories remain standing.
3. The Legend of Lady Bend Hill - Not far from the site of Louiza's murder is another spot steeped in legend. Local lore has it that in 1833 a young lady from a wealthy Wheeling family, who had been courting a younger man of lesser means from Fairview, stole away in the night from her parents’ home in a coach with a particularly energetic horse. She headed for the Guernsey County town on what was known at the time as Zane's Trace to steal away with her lover. On the third bend from the top of this hill west of Morristown, a sudden bolt of lightning spooked the horse, forcing the coach to slide and ejecting the young lady from it and breaking her neck. Afterward, the horse ran aimlessly around for three days until it was finally corralled. Like many legends and ghost stories, the details vary. It is said that even today on very stormy nights, the apparition of a headless young lady astride a spirited steed can be seen riding recklessly up and down the hill. Even in the daytime there is something spooky about this stretch of road.
4. The "Hanging" Judge - Isaac Parker, born near Barnesville in 1838, became known as the face of old west justice and (unrightfully) earned the name of the hanging judge. Parker was elected to two terms in Congress in the 1870s. Ironically, he was opposed to capital punishment, however, he was unable to do anything about compulsory death sentences.
He was appointed by Ulysses S. Grant to Fort Smith in 1875. Parker tried 13,490 cases with 9,954 of them resulting in convictions. Despite thousands of convictions he only sentenced 160 people to death which included four women. Of those, 79 men were executed on the gallows. His jurisdiction included the entire Indian territory, over 74,00 miles. A documentary was recently made called “Indians, Outlaws, Marshals and the Hanging Judge”.
5. Laid out in the shape of a coffin - The village of Belmont was originally called Wrightsville. It was laid out by Joseph D. Wright in the shape of a coffin, similar to his hometown of Dublin, Ireland.
6. Ill-fated couple - The couple in the portrait were married and legend says that the man died soon after from being struck by lighting while working in the field. It is part of the Blackhorse Inn display in the Morristown section.