Sunday, October 13, 2019

Paranormal Research Part 1: The Haunted Monroe House

The fact of the matter is that there’s a long string of peculiar accidents, hate crimes, tragedies, infidelity and violent domestic abuse associated with the house as far back as the early 1900s. Those events set the stage for the haunting today. And while we don’t have all the facts of the Monroe House and there are sizable gaps in our knowledge of who owned and lived in the residence, a pattern starts to emerge early that is worth evaluating.

The legends around the large, white-sided Victorian house and its extreme haunting are well-known in Blackford County, Indiana. The Monroe House, as the residence at 218 North Monroe Street in Hartford City is called, has been a mystery for decades. Neighbors have reported everything from fires to black smoky figures in the windows to loud arguments and lights coming on in the vacant home for years, but when the police show up no one is there and nothing is wrong. The ghost stories go back at least to the 1930s. When you combine the stories and legends with the historical records, a fascinating—and terrifying—timeline emerges, one that might explain the continued hauntings and escalated activity in the residence.

Psychics have claimed for years that the house is haunted as the result of horrific child abuse—a father who abused his small son and daughter so severely the event has been imprinted on the property, a literal trauma to the very foundations of the house. Investigations have uncovered Class A EVPs of small children screaming, disembodied voices interacting with investigators even through baby monitors, shadow people, the apparitions of two small children, a small blackened apparition in the upstairs windows, unexplained fires, physical attacks, and sever poltergeist activity.

But all of these are claims—allegations. What we have to do is to try to tie the current paranormal claims to the actual history of the house. That way, we can corroborate the evidence with documented fact. That's why paranormal researchers, who may not be the obsessive compulsive provokers that you find on most YouTube channel, are probably the most important members of their paranormal investigation groups. With a well-known haunt like the Monroe House, a lot of teams are content to accept the legend...the cover story of a location as absolute fact. They investigate a location and immediately defer to the legend to validate any evidence they may find.

But that's not investigation. That's intellectual laziness, and if you're part of a group who just accepts what the owner of a site has up on his website, then you're invalidating every single bit of evidence you may capture. You have to research the location honestly, and find the real history for yourself. The Monroe House is a location I investigated extensively, and the story I uncovered has little to no bearing on what the claimed history of the site is.

The house is now a triplex, divided during the tenure of the Berger family, who lived in the home from around 1900 to 1930. The Bergers were Belgian immigrants who began their life in Indiana by working in the Hartford City Glass Company as glass workers. John B. and Mary Berger had five children together, who all worked in the glass company from childhood on. John became an agent for Indianapolis Brewing and a major steamship line. He bought a tavern, invested his money in real estate, joined organizations like the Elks, the Rotary, and the Oddfellows, and became a leading citizen of the town.

In the late 1900s, two families lived in the Monroe Street house. The Bergers occupied the downstairs, but after the death of John in 1905 rented out the upstairs. Through searching newspaper archives, we discovered an article that may directly tie into the claims of the Monroe Street Haunting—and the family that lived upstairs.

On March 20, 1907, the Hartford City Telegram reported the following:
"Ulysses G. Miars, the well known bookkeeper and former paymaster at the Johnston factory, was Friday made the defendant in a divorce suit filed in the circuit court by. Mary Miars, who besides a divorce asks the custody of their three children, $500 alimony and $25 monthly for the support of the children. Mr, and Mrs. Miars were married in September, 1886, and lived together until March 1, 1907, when the plaintiff avers that she was cast upon the street to depend on the charity of strangers. Her allegations in part are: That the defendant has been guilty of cruel and inhuman treatment; that he possesses a violent and uncontrollable temper and at various times became enraged without cause, and on March 11 drove her from their home giving her no clothing other than, that she was wearing; that she was obliged to seek shelter at the home of a neighbor as it was late in the evening and she had no relatives that she could call upon for assistance; that plaintiff is weak, frail and in poor health and unable to perform hard labor although she was compelled to do so and then was not provided with suitable clothing. The family is comprised of three children—Earl, age 20; Edna, age 8, and Ernest, age 4. It is further alleged that the defendant is capable of earning $125 monthly and fully able to maintain the children by paying $25 monthly for their support. The parties named in the complaint have resided on north Monroe street and their troubles of the present week have afforded a great opportunity for the town gossips.”

To report not only a divorce proceeding but allegations of domestic violence and child abuse is extremely rare in newspapers at the time, especially in a small Midwestern town. Ulysses Miars was a well-known businessman whose life fell apart in a matter of weeks. First the public claim of abuse, then the loss of his position, then reconciliation with his wife—only to desert her a few months later for (allegedly) another woman. On December 4, 1907, the following article appeared:
“UG Miars has filed a suit for divorce from his wife, Mrs. Mary Miars, alleging that she had a cruel disposition and frequently chastised their children with a buggy whip.”
By June of 1908, Ulysses Miars wasn’t paying support for his wife and children. He was newly married—already—to a woman who got a divorce at about the same time from her husband. The only reason he was able to pay the settlement of the divorce was because his mother sold her farm. But after that? He didn’t pay his former family a dime. Ulysses Miars and his new wife (they actually married illegally, as in her divorce she was forbidden from marrying for two years) ended up moving to Ohio, where in 1949, he died—in Toledo. The only child listed as a survivor from his first marriage was Edgar, the eldest son.

What’s extremely strange about this is that Mary Miars and all three children are in the 1910 census, now living on Jefferson Street. But none of them—not Mary, not Edna, not Ernest, not Edgar—can be found on any 1920 census.

So where did they go? The child abuse and domestic violence cited in the courts was extreme and severe. Did the Miars children die young? We know there were rumors about the family before the horrific divorce, because in 1903 there was gossip around their then four-year old daughter, Edna. No one had seen the child for a while, and word spread through the neighborhood that she had diphtheria. At the time, that would have required the entire household—this is before the Monroe Street house—to be quarantined. So the Miars inserted a strange notice in the paper that their daughter "has never been bedfast on account of sickness and is now able to be around the house most of the time."
Which if you think about it, is weird. She’s not sick, but she’s able to be around the house “most of the time”?

The Berger family, on the other hand, was socially prominent and well-respected. Their children lived at home as young adults and didn’t cause any trouble. The Berger daughters had large weddings, reported in the Telegram, and the sons went into business and did very well. But in 1905, John B. Berger was diagnosed with tuberculosis.  went to Silver City, New Mexico for treatment at the Sisters’ Hospital there. But upon arrival, his case was declared hopeless and he was dead eight days later. After his funeral, the Bergers rented the upstairs apartment—to the Miars. Although the two families shared the house for a very short period of time, the Bergers began to be plagued by a series of baffling and bizarre occurrences that traumatized the entire family.

To start off with, the Bergers’ barn caught on fire. Sparks from the blaze subsequently set the homes of two neighbors, Emil Loriaux and Joe Aucreman, on fire as well. Then, John Berger’s older brother, Marshall, was stranded outside and his feet were severely frostbitten in 1905. Then a horse stepped on his foot and gangrene set in. Marshall’s leg was amputated above the knee. He recovered, only to die of pneumonia two years after his brother, in 1907.

Later in 1905, John’s son George was the victim of a hate crime, and was shot by anti-Belgian assailants as he walked with friends after a dance. Witnesses reported that the two different groups of men hadn’t interacted at all as they passed each other on the street. George and his friends didn’t apparently know any of their attackers and according to witnesses didn’t say a word to the other group.

So when suddenly the group, led by three men from Kentucky, yelled, “You goddamned frogs won’t be running this town no more!” it was unexpected. The men unleashed a spray of bullets at George and his friends. George was shot in the chest, right above the heart, and was carried home to his mother’s house. Doctors expected him to die and the newspaper reported that he was for a time “pulseless”. But somehow, he rallied and survived the attack.

Interestingly, the three attackers went to a bar after shooting George Berger, where they told the bartender they had “fixed a group of frogs”, and then disappeared from the town entirely. The bar was owned by Frederick Nicaise—who had a tie to the Berger family as well.

The Bergers’ daughter, Mary, had married Belgian immigrant Frederick Nicaise, in 1894. After five children in fairly short order, she died after complications of diabetes and childbirth, along with her newborn son, in 1909. But by the 1910 census, the five children were living with their grandmother in the Monroe Street house. The children grew to adulthood in their grandmother’s home and there is no further mention of their father, alive or dead.

In 1911, the Bergers’ daughter-in-law Caroline, wife of their other son, Elmer, was in a inexplicable carriage accident. On a trip back from the Oddfellows Cemetery when John Berger is buried, she and a friend accepted a ride fro a gentleman passing by in a carriage. On the way home, the back wheel just fell off the carriage for no discernible reason, throwing her into the street where she was badly injured. This is the first bizarre incident involving transportation.

We’ll get to the other one, which happens thirty years later, in part 2 of this article.