JEFFERSONVILLE — There's something so morbidly beautiful about Victorian Gothic architecture.
The mansions of that era are often both spectacular and intricate, yet bloated and imposing.
One of Jeffersonville's finest mansions, like all Victorian Gothic architecture, is filled with such contradictions. Located on the corner of Maple Street and Riverside Drive, the Read-Ransom house was first erected in the mid-19th century.
Rapid industrialization in the 1800s led to enormous wealth for several well-off families, giving rise to the Gilded Age. It is during the run-up to this that patriarch James G. Read built the home, which still stands on the same lot.
“It'd cost you a fortune to try and rebuild that house today," Clark County historian Jeanne Burke said. "It'd probably be $1 million in some places.”
Much of the family's prominence was due to James' positions of power within the state Legislature and his work as a railroad magnate.
Though the Reads were a family of extreme wealth, Burke said they also worked for the greater good of the community. Upon James' passing in 1869, he left $1,000 to the city's poor and his large estate to his children.
"They were a very philanthropic family, and very community-minded," Burke said. "They were responsible for a lot of the improvements that happened in Jeffersonville, like the bridge that came through Mulberry Street that we now know as the walking bridge."
The home first went to son John Read, before eventually winding up a possession of Sarah Read.
Sarah was widowed three times — including by her last husband by the name of Ransom, who died just a few years into the marriage. To fill her time in her expansive estate, she invited many from around the community into her doors, including children, as she did not have any of her own.
"She was a benefactress of the orphanage in Jeffersonville," Burke said. "It was a group of wealthy women who were community-minded and pooled their resources together to get the orphanage built here. She did a lot of good works.”
Sarah also would take in children from her bloodline who were less well-off, allowing them to live in the Read-Ransom house, where they could receive a proper education. Helping her with her day-to-day routines was a poor servant by the name of Nelly Kelly, whose husband was said to have been a drunk jailbird. With Kelly living outside the mansion, Sarah would send a little girl to fetch her to help with dinner parties or cleaning.
"Whenever Nelly's husband was in jail, she was glad to get to work," Burke said. "The problem was she didn't have any shoes. So when her husband was in jail, she would go there and take his and wear them to work. They were hideously too big for her, and would clomp, clomp, clomp all over the floor."
Sarah lived in the house until her death in 1911.
While the late 19th century allowed the rich to show off gaudy personal castles, times would soon change as major global conflicts loomed. The era that followed saw the rise of suburbanization and modern architecture, thus leaving many gothic mansions hollowed. Over time, these shells of what once was grandeur became associated with the ghost of a diseased past filled with inequality and corruption.
The Read-Ransom house, itself, was transformed into an apartment building during the population boom that surrounded World War II.
Instead of being adapted, like the Read-Ransom house, some Victorian homes were simply abandoned. As these once ornate houses decayed into spooky oblivion, pop culture caught on, eventually using them as the setting for horror movie after horror movie.
Because of that, many Victorian mansions are stereotypically associated with ghouls and ghosts. Well, dear readers, such is the case with the Read-Ransom house.
For 26 years, Michael Metzger lived in and took care of the Read-Ransom home. Having been familiar with the house since he was 22, Metzger, now 61, certainly has no shortage of stories to tell.
It isn't necessarily ghosts Metzger said he believes in, but a residual energy.
“So much horrible stuff happened in front of the house," he said. "It's just trauma. I don't care what anybody says — energy can't be displaced, and it can't be ignored.”
Bumps in the night, according to Metzger, have ranged from minuscule to obvious, with some happenings having a more "dark and angry" tinge. This has prompted him to reach out to paranormal investigators on occasion.
Perhaps one of the most frequent occurrences is a loud stomping that can be heard throughout the house — not unlike the heavy steps taken by Nelly when she would work in her husband's boots.
Upstairs, Metzger said that it's not uncommon to hear a group of children running in circles. One might believe this is lingering energy from when Sarah would bring children into the home.
One tenant made the mistake of playing with a Ouija board the first night he moved into the building.
"[The ghosts] actually put their hands on him," Metzger said. "The next thing I saw was that he had been playing with a Ouija board. He kept saying, 'There's more than one.' He just got out of there. I asked him why he would do that. He kept saying, 'There's more than one.' He said he had been chased into the hallway and held up against the wall by both arms, and something was stroking his face."
The man moved out immediately with none of his possessions, later asking Metzger to pack his belongings and send them to him.
One of the most vivid memories involving specters came in the aftermath of the 1997 flood. While the flood walls sealed the mansion off from the rest of the city, Metzger said he and the only other tenant in the building at the time could hear people running up and down the stairs.
Metzger believes this is energy held over from the 1893 collapse of the Big Four Bridge that took the lives of 40 men. The bridge, of course, was something the Reads had helped build. With the river water once again at the foot of the building, spooks ensued.
"There was a roar of the river," he said. "It was at the sidewalk in the front of the house. The collapse was such a grievous thing, people killed and the husbands mangled. The only way they identified them was their clothes hanging in the mangled bridge, if their husbands didn't come home that night."