Hatchet Man: Celebrating Atlas Obscura Day in Ohio

The Great Seal of the State of Haunted Ohio

The Great Seal of the State of Haunted Ohio

Today is Atlas Obscura Day, celebrating the “under-appreciated, bizarre wonders” around the world. You can find a full line-up of the many exciting events planned for the curious here.

I must say, I’ve been researching oddities around Ohio for several decades and was disappointed to see how shockingly underrepresented Ohio is on this festive day. Statewide the only event planned is a visit to the Edwards Accelerator Laboratory in Athens, Ohio where you get to view the lab’s “tandem Van de Graaff accelerator, which is used to accelerate atomic particles to energies up to 9 meV (14% of the speed of light) via a large dome charged to high voltage by a moving chain.”

Really? that’s the best Ohio can do? Actual science? Where is the collection of  brains like Yale has? Where is the museum of funeral carriages? Where are the models of disfiguring diseases in wax or the giant ball of string? The holiday is designed for gawking at cabinets of fortean wonders and curiosities! Even if they’re serving cookies and punch and letting the kids touch the metal ball so their hair stands on end, why would anyone want to visit a real scientific laboratory where they can’t see anything?

Athens is home to Mount Nebo, former haunt of Native American spirits and later American Spiritualists. It was the location of Jonathan Koon’s “spirit cabin” where pirate John King and his winsome daughter Katie King first manifested to violin, guitar, and trumpet accompanyment. It is the site of the infamous “corpse stain on the floor,” created when an unfortunate patient was trapped in an unused wing of the former Athens State Hospital and only found six weeks later, a shadow of her former self. There are scores of cemeteries surrounding the city and if you know how to connect the dots creatively, you can form a pentagram with a haunted dorm at the center of it. One of the cemeteries is said to be haunted by the Grim Reaper, although, confidentially, I’ve heard from the Reaper’s wife and she says he was just trying to scare away teen vandals. Add in some kind of earth-mysteries aura around the town that makes people channel Indian spirit guides, and you can see that the Ohio Atlas Obscura committee really hadn’t caught the spirit of the thing.

Let’s liven up the day with an excerpt from Haunted Ohio V: 200 Years of Ghosts–the story of Andrew “Hatchet Man” Hellman.  Axes trump ions…

HATCHET MAN

It’s one of the oldest stories in the book: the madman with the hatchet runs amok, slaughtering his entire family. Thereafter he haunts his former house/the road by his house/the local lovers’ lane, ax at the ready for new, teenaged victims….

Obviously just a tall tale told by guys to their nervous dates when they “run out of gas” on an isolated road. The stuff of horror movies at the drive-in.  A rural legend.

Or is it?

The aptly named Andrew Hellman was a tailor from Hesse, Germany, adept with needle and razor-sharp scissors. No records survive to tell us what atrocities turned him into a monster. But he hated women from a very young age.

Hellman first came to this country in 1820 and lodged with George M. Abel, a German farmer in Virginia, richly endowed with both worldly goods and marriageable children. Hellman made a good impression and was allowed to court the affectionate and trusting Mary Abel. Within a year, they were married and on August 8, 1822, baby Louisa was born.

Perhaps it was the unfortunate sex of the child that drove Hellman into a jealous rage, tormenting his young wife with unfounded accusations of infidelity. Perhaps there was some former suitor in the neighborhood whom he suspected of desiring his wife. This may have led him to move his family, first to Carroll County and then to a farm in Logan County close to where Township Road 56 runs today.

Although a rich man, he brutalized his family, starving them and denying them everything except the barest necessities. He fathered two boys by the unhappy Mary—Henry in 1824, whom he disowned as illegitimate, and John in 1828. But by the spring of 1839, Hellman’s madness had blossomed into a murderous fury. First he tried to poison his wife, then succeeded in poisoning his three children. Louisa and John died. Henry survived only by his mother’s desperate efforts.

Beaten and tortured, Mary stayed, perhaps because she had nowhere else to go or because her spirit was as broken as her body. Or it could have been because the laws of the time would have given Henry into the unmerciful hands of his father if she had sought a divorce.

But on September 26, 1839, while young Henry was out of the house, Hellman found his own solution to his domestic difficulties: he hacked his wife to pieces with an ax. Cannily he smeared himself with her blood and groaned to the officers of the law that his wife had been murdered by the same robbers who had beaten him within an inch of his life. Doctors quickly found that he was unhurt and he was taken to jail in Bellefontaine. While awaiting trial, he stole his attorney’s horse and escaped to Baltimore, Maryland in 1840.

He changed his name to Adam Horn, opened a tailoring business, and on August 17, 1842, married Malinda Hinkle. Imprudent though this was, he seems to have honed his technique, for without wasting tedious years in a hateful marriage, he butchered his second wife “on or about the 23rd of March, 1843,” and distributed her with impartial liberality about his property. Part of her was found in an upstairs room of his house; another portion had been buried in a coffee sack near his orchard. Her head was never found. According to legend, Horn saw supernatural lights hovering above her many graves, panicked, and fled town, exposing his guilt.

On January 12, 1844, Hellman was hung. It is said that he was buried in the Harrod Cemetery in McArthur Township with his young victims Louisa and John and that his tombstone gives off a ghastly glow in the cemetery at night. It is also whispered, at slumber parties, and in cars with steamed-up windows, that the restless ghost of Andrew Hellman stalks Township Road 56, hatchet at the ready, eager to satisfy his blood-lust with another female victim. So beware if you remind him of young Louisa, whose only crime it was to be female.

Haunted Ohio V: 200 Years of Ghosts, Chris Woodyard, 2003. Sources: “A horrific tale for Halloween,” Brian J. Evans, Bellefontaine Examiner 31 Oct. 2002 and “Hatchet man The First Murderer Confined Within the Walls of the Logan County Jail,” Weekly Examiner, 10 April 1896

But what about the point of the Atlas Obscura celebration–to actually go and visit a strange or mysterious or curious site? The graves of Louisa, John and the tortured Mrs. Hellman the first  await you at Harrod Cemetery, with its curious name-game resonance: the slaughter of the Innocents….

No science is involved. Take some flowers. Bring a picnic. And don’t go after dark.

I have a list of other haunted Ohio places open to the public here, if you want to see what fortean fun is available in this great state.

Happy Atlas Obscura Day!

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.