The Haunted Taft Museum
When wandering through the halls of an art museum, it’s not uncommon to feel as though the many paintings and sculptures are watching you. But at the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati, Ohio, this may very well be the case. The museum, now a nationally recognized historic landmark, is rumored to be one of the most haunted places in the city. According to local lore, within the gallery walls lurk the spirits of Anna and Charles Taft, the wealthy couple who lived and died in the home after amassing their vast collection.
As it would seem, not even death can lessen the Tafts’ passion for the arts, as the couple evidently lingers within the museum to keep watch over their collection. So if you feel watched by the piercing eyes of oil paintings and stone busts as you wander through the gallery halls, perhaps it’s just the ghosts of the Anna and Charles Taft, making sure visitors resist the urge to touch.
The Taft Museum remains the oldest wooden domestic structure in the city. Before it was a museum, the sprawling white structure at 316 Pike Street was home to a number of prominent Cincinnatians. The first of these was an American businessman and politician Martin Baum. Baum had been elected as Cincinnati’s mayor in 1807 and again in 1812. That same year, Baum purchased the nine-acre property which would eventually house the Taft Museum.
Construction on the massive estate soon began and would not be completed until 1820. Baum’s political aspirations were on full display in the design of the home, which closely resembled the White House in its white color and Federal architectural style. These were aspirations that Braum would not live to see, however, as the influenza epidemic of 1831 claimed his life at the age of 66.
Following Braum’s death, American banker and winemaker Nicholas Longworth moved into the mansion. True to his name, Longworth lived long and prosperously and passed away peacefully in the home shortly after his 80th birthday. From there, it wasn’t long before the mansion found its next owner in Irish millionaire and pig iron industrialist David Sinton.
Charles Taft, the home’s final resident, was a man of many talents. A lawyer and politician by trade, Taft also served as editor of the Cincinnati Times-Star, as well as the owner of two baseball teams: the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs. And if the name Taft rings a bell, it’s because Charles’s younger half-brother, William Howard Taft, served as the 27th President of the United States. Such a well-accomplished family of course ran in the same circles as other, equally accomplished families, and so it happened that Charles Taft met and eventually married Anna Sinton, heiress to her father David Sinton’s multi-million-dollar pig-iron fortune.
Charles and Anna were a match made in heaven. They each enjoyed the finer things in life: fine foods, nights at the opera, and most of all, perusing the nation’s premier art galleries and museums. This love soon transcended mere observation, and the two embarked on a journey to fill their home with beautiful and valuable art. Over the years, the pair sought out rare pieces at home and abroad, ultimately amassing quite the prestigious collection. By the time they reached their golden years, the pair was able to visit a fabulous art gallery without ever leaving home.
By 1908, the Tafts’ collection was said to be the most valuable in the West. The couple counted among them the works of esteemed artists Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-Francois Millet, Rembrandt, Rousseau, and Francisco Goya.
In 1915, Charles Taft passed away inside the manor at the age of 86, and was buried at Spring Grove Cemetery. After his death, Anna Sinton Taft donated $5 million to the University of Cincinnati and established a memorial fund in his name. She died the following year, leaving the mansion to the city of Cincinnati.
Today, the home has been converted into the Taft Museum, and houses one of the finest collections of art in the city. In May of 2004, the museum underwent extensive renovations and received a sizeable expansion, including a museum gift shop, a café, and a lecture and performance auditorium known as Luther Hall.
Although Anna and Charles Taft can be found buried side by side at Spring Grove, many employees and visitors of the haunted Taft Museum of Art swear they never left their beloved home.
As you enter the immaculately manicured grounds of the Taft Museum, spanning across nine acres of rich Ohio soil, it’s hard not to feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. The winding pathway leading up to the museum is flanked by black, leafless trees that hang in front of the building’s glass windows like spindly, skeletal hands. The massive white structure, although in excellent condition, reveals its age through the datedness of its architecture; you won’t find too many like it in the area.
Stepping inside the building’s creaking front door only furthers the illusion. The antique furnishings and wallpaper are all true to the period in which the Tafts were familiar, and would no doubt please the late couple. But if the furniture passes the test, the couple is evidently none too pleased with other features of the manor they once called home.
Employees working at the museum gift shop are uniquely familiar with this. According to their reports, the Tafts seem to enjoy a particular affinity for messing with them, one rivaling even their love for the arts. Perhaps frightening the living is an art all its own. While most of the employees have experienced the so-called “wrath of the Tafts’” to some degree, one employee in particular reports feeling especially targeted by the deceased millionaires.
The man’s story goes as follows: from his very first day at the museum, he felt watched. As soon as he entered the front door, he claims the presence in the room was so strong he frantically looked around to see if there was anyone there watching him. He could find no one.
Already feeling creeped out, he headed to the gift shop. His first day was not off to a good start. His fellow gift shop employees introduced themselves to him, and the group engaged in small talk. It wasn’t long before the conversation took a turn for the paranormal. According to his new coworkers, the museum was haunted by the ghosts of Anna and Charles Taft, and the gift shop especially was no stranger to their visits. When he heard this the man laughed, assuming his coworkers were joking.
Do you guys really believe in that stuff? he asked. The group stared at him in silence. One of them replied that it was no joke, they had all seen it. Yeah right, he said, rolling his eyes. Despite the inexplicable sensation he had experienced when he entered the museum, he considered himself a fairly rational person, not one to readily believe in things he couldn’t see. There’s no way, he said to his coworkers before heading off to his new post at the register.
As soon as he walked away, he could hear his coworkers whispering amongst themselves. After a moment, one of them came over to inform him that he would be closing that night, alone. He might not have been a superstitious man, but when he heard this, a chill went up his spine.
Hours later, all of the other employees had gone home, leaving the man alone in the gift shop. Determined not to let their hazing efforts get to him, the new employee went about his duties without complaining.
He had just finished mopping the floors when he heard a strange noise coming from the back of the shop. His heart froze in his chest. Hello? He called out, thinking perhaps one of his coworkers had stayed behind to scare him. No one answered.
Tentatively, the man left his post to investigate. He wandered up and down the rows of gifts, holding the mop out in front of him as a weapon. Suddenly, a figurine flew off the shelf and crashed to the floor. He gasped, startled. It must have just been too close to the edge, he told himself as he bent to pick it up.
This was evidently not the case, however, for as soon as he placed the figurine back on the shelf, dozens of others went flying off the shelves and through the room all around him. Then the lights began to flicker on and off, and the fans spun madly overhead.
Shrieking in fright, the employee made a break for the backdoor. But on his way out, he nearly fell in something slippery. With mounting horror, he looked down to see a message scrawled in red paint from one of the art kits. It read:
Do you believe in me now?”
Yes, yes! He cried out. I do believe in you! All at once, everything stopped. The items clattered back to the floor, the lights flickered on, and the fans whirred to a stop. The man stood panting and exhausted in the middle of the room. Great, he thought to himself, now I get to pick all this up.
The Taft Museum of Art is no doubt a beautiful, historically significant landmark with a lot to offer, especially for fans of the paranormal. But if you don’t consider yourself among them, be sure to steer clear of the gift shop, especially after dark.