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  • Writer's pictureCathryn Stanley

6 bizarre things to discover at Belmont County Heritage Museum

October is the perfect month to explore some of the more unusual displays you can see and facts you can learn from visiting the museum. This 132-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.

As historians, we believe that objects help to tell a story, but what if these objects do more than help to tell the story? What if they hold on to the energy of people and events that happen in the past? And what if they help to keep the stories alive in more ways than we know? What if these objects are a conduit for the energy of the events and people gone before? And what if those people are still here, trying to tell their own story?

Hidden within the displays of local history is 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.

Be sure to visit the museum in October to see the Haunted Belmont County exhibit, including photographs by Tammy LeMasters Gross of Whispered Tales of the Ohio Valley.

On October 20 at 6 pm, the Belmont County Spirit Seekers return to the museum for a presentation and demonstration of paranormal investigation equipment.

On October 28 at 6 pm, during the St. Clairsville Area Chamber's Halloween Bash, storyteller Judi Tarowsky will recount the tragic tale of the murder of Louiza Fox. Weather permitting, the event will be outside. Admission to all events is by donation.

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 fascinates 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, engraved stone marks the site of her murder at 35615 Starkey Rd., Barnesville (40.104476,-81.174702), and her grave is 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.

Egypt, now called Egypt Valley, was a small farming village. Louiza was a housemaid who worked for a local family that employed Carr. There are conflicting reports on whether she and Carr were ever engaged 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 with a knife and a gun. After being treated for his wounds, he was sentenced to death five days later. He confessed not just to Fox's murder but many others.

In 1870, Carr was hanged on the property where the Belmont County Heritage Museum is now located. He was hanged on the second floor of the front hall in the old jail built-in 1842.

2. The "Cadillac" of Caskets - The Belmont Casket Manufacturing Co. in Shadyside held a patent for the Cadillac of caskets called “The Masterpiece,” a handcrafted coffin with an indestructible steel lid. The company, which also had a factory in Columbus, made Marilyn Monroe's casket. It was a unique, double-lidded design and was bronze with a champagne-colored silk lining. The company also manufactured the caskets of President Woodrow Wilson, President Lydon B. Johnson, and Herbert Hoover. The company closed in the 1970s, and both factories remain standing. Bronze and copper ID memorial tubes are on display at the museum. They were placed inside a casket and contained information about the deceased.

3. The Legend of Lady Binn 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 parent's home in a coach with a particularly energetic horse. She headed west 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 lightning bolt spooked the horse, forcing the coach to slide. She fell from the carriage, breaking her neck. Afterward, the horse ran aimlessly for three days until it was finally corralled.

Like many 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. . Ironically, he was opposed to capital punishment. However, he was unable to do anything about compulsory death sentences.

Ulysses S. Grant appointed him to Fort Smith in 1875. Parker tried 13,490 cases, with 9,954 of them resulting in convictions. He only sentenced 160 people to death despite thousands of convictions, including four women. Of those, 79 men were executed on the gallows. His jurisdiction included the entire Indian territory, over 74,00 miles. Learn more about this fascinating Belmont County native by watching the documentary “Indians, Outlaws, Marshals and the Hanging Judge.

5. Laid out in the shape of a coffin - The village of Belmont was originally called Wrightsville. Joseph D. Wright laid it out in the form of a coffin, similar to his hometown of Dublin, Ireland.

6. Ill-fated couple - The couple in the portrait were married, and the legend says that the man died soon after from being struck by lightning while working in the field. It is part of the Blackhorse Inn display in the Morristown section.

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