Unfinished Business
The Haunting of the Harrold House

When a young couple moved into an old Victorian home on West Wood Street a few years ago, they realized pretty quickly that something was not right about the place. Of course, this may have been because of the three ghosts who were rumored to be haunting their new home!

Shortly after moving in, the young woman started to get strange feelings and sensations in the house. It was as if someone were watching her and perhaps following her from room to room as she moved about the place. The house was a large, sprawling old home from around 1900 and she guessed that it might have a history that would account for the strange feelings she was having --- and she couldn't have been more right!

The Harrold House as it appears today (left)

(right) It is near this window, in the master bedroom of the house, where the ghost first appeared.

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What she didn't know at the time was that she was not the first person to experience strange things in the house. The previous owners had also been aware of the ghosts. However, it was not until some research was done into the history of the place that the source of the haunting, and the reason for it, would become known.

Strange impressions were not the only things the couple experienced after moving in. The first of the ghosts that they encountered appeared in the back parlor of the house. The small spirit was that of a little boy with blond hair, a red vest and blue knickers that ended at his knee. He appeared in the parlor and giggling, ran across the room and disappeared into the wall. He returned to the room on several occasions, sometimes watching them as they in turn watched him. He was often seen sitting on a couch and then he would slowly fade away. Who was this small ghost? She wouldn't find the possible answer to that question until much later.

The young woman never saw the second ghost, but her father, reported her several times standing on the front porch of the house. He described her as a woman wearing a long, old-fashioned dress.

The other ghost was much more substantial than the first two, and left little doubt that he wanted to make his presence known. This spirit was described as being a middle-aged man who normally would appear in the master bedroom. When he appeared, he would stand silently, watching the occupants of the place with eyes that seemed aware of everything that was going on. This spirit was no mere imprint of time; he was an intelligent, conscious ghost who was haunting this house for a reason. Most likely, this particular phantom will never find rest.

The ghost started to put in an appearance shortly after the family moved into the house. He was normally seen in the bedroom at night, standing near a window that looked out over Wood Street. The young woman recalled the first time she ever saw him. "You could look at him," she said, "and see that he wasn't, well, human.... or at least someone who was living."

He began to appear in the room at various times and she was able to observe him a little more closely before he would disappear each time. She noted that he was not transparent, but he wasn't quite solid either. She became intrigued by the spirits in the house, especially by the man in the bedroom, so she decided to try and research the history of the place. Eventually, she contacted me about it and we began to search for information.

One of the first things that was done was a check through the old city directories, which revealed one name to be connected to the house for a longer period of time than any others, from 1922 to 1951. After that, it became a matter of checking through other records, including newspapers, obituaries and eventually even criminal files. It turned out that the longest running occupant of the house, a man named Frank Harrold, had been involved in a local scandal almost 70 years before and it had been featured in the newspaper over the course of several days.

In 1925, Frank Harrold was an official at the prominent Farmer's State Bank in Decatur. Prior to that, he had been a Circuit Clerk for DeWitt County and had been involved in a number of businesses. Harrold had moved to Decatur in 1922 and had purchased the house on Wood Street. He also maintained a summer farm near Clinton and lived fairly extravagantly, even for a man of his visible means. By the fall of 1925, he began suffering from financial problems and bank examiners who conducted an audit at his place of work discovered that over $200,000 in bonds were missing.

Frank Harrold soon began acting very strangely and experienced what may have been a mild heart attack, probably brought on by acute anxiety. Two days later, he announced that he was going to the family farm near Clinton ---- and that was the last time that anyone ever saw him alive.

The following morning, a worker on his summer farm discovered his body with a bullet to the head. His death was ruled a suicide by the coroner, despite the fact that his alleged suicide note was never found, there were no powder burns on his hands or head and even the gun that killed him was found in another location than where his body was discovered.

Could Frank Harrold have been murdered to keep quiet the whereabouts of the missing bank bonds; bonds that have never been found, even to this day?

The Farmer's State Bank was never able to recover from the loss of the funds, or from the scandal, and the establishment closed down a short time later. Whispers began to circulate around town about the missing money. Some claimed that Harrold had been tied to organized crime somehow. Perhaps they had backed an investment for him and he never paid up, so he stole the bonds to repay the loan. It was theorized that when the bank learned of the missing funds, Harrold got nervous and threatened to make a deal with investigators. It was thought that maybe Harrold went to his farm to meet with the gangsters and that perhaps they had killed him before he could talk to authorities. But we will never really know for sure. After all of these years, the case remains open and unsolved.

Despite the missing money, the public notoriety and the fact that Harrold's insurance policy did not pay on claims of suicide, his wife continued to live comfortably in the Wood Street home until her death in 1951. As far as anyone could tell, she had no visible means of support.

After tracking down the information about the house's most infamous resident, I printed out copies of the man's photograph from the old newspaper files. Curious to investigate the case further, I also printed out five other photos of men who were about the same age and whose photos also appeared during the same time period in the newspaper. All of these photos were then pasted onto a single sheet, in no particular order.

I took the photo array to the owner of the house and asked if any of the men looked familiar to her. She immediately pointed to the photograph of Frank Harrold that had been pasted there. This was the ghost that was appearing in her house! "There is no question in my mind that the ghost is my bedroom is Frank Harrold," she said. "When I saw his picture, I just knew that he was the ghost."

Then, using the information that I discovered while searching for past occupants of the house, I started contacting those who had lived in the house and had moved out in recent years. I had heard rumors that some of the previous residents were also aware of the ghost, but I wanted to hear this directly from them. The reader can only imagine the strange telephone calls that I was forced to make in order to get in touch with folks and to determine if they believed their former house had been haunted!

However, after assuring them that I was not crazy, I was able to learn that in four instances out of five, each of the families who had lived in the house prior to the current occupants had believed the house to be haunted. In all of these instances, the witnesses that I spoke with described the ghost of a middle-aged man who often lurked in the master bedroom! Intrigued and excited, I made arrangements to meet with the families and when I did, I offered them the sheet of photographs that I had put together and asked them to pick out the person who looked most familiar.
They pointed out the photograph of Frank Harrold every time!

In my opinion, this experiment proved (at least historically) that the house was haunted. There was no other way that all of these independent witnesses, each of whom did not know one another and who also lived in the house during completely different time periods, could have identified the original occupant of the place by sheer luck. Every one of these people identified a man they believed to be a ghost, never having any idea who this man was or that anyone else had identified him in the same manner. Could this have been simply a coincidence? That would be very unlikely and I think we can rest assured that all of the witnesses were not drunk, confused or crazy ---- as skeptics would have you believe.

I simply don't have another explanation for how each of these people could have each identified the same man as a ghost who haunted their house other than that they were telling the truth. Ghosts do exist and I believe this case proves it!

Sadly though, knowing he is there does not help Frank Harrold to rest in peace.

His ghost continued to be sighted two or three times each month, standing and staring from his place near the window. He seemed to serve as a silent reminder that his death left many unanswered questions behind. Did he really commit suicide? His ghost may be appearing to convince the occupants of the house that he did not.

And what about the ghost in the back parlor? "One day I was home and the house was quiet," the young woman who owned the house told me. "The windows were all closed, so I know the sound wasn't coming from outside. I was upstairs when I heard the voice of a little boy call for his Aunt Frances.

Strangely, one of Frank Harrold's daughters had been named Frances and her sister once had a young son who lived for a short time with her in the house. Could he still be here, searching for his family after all of these years?

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Copyright 2006 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.