Did you know that Toscani Pizzeria, on West Wayne Street, was once the site of a brothel? Or that a man fell to his death during the construction of Lincoln Tower? Or that Headwaters Park was once the hanging grounds?
Lori Graf did.
As the program specialist for ARCH, a nonprofit architecture and community heritage organization, Graf has learned plenty about the underbelly of Fort Waynes history. The stories are part of three different Fright Site Hikes offered by ARCH that will be available throughout October.
The Murder, Mystery and Mayhem tour – a gruesome look at Fort Waynes feuds and hangings – will kick off the Halloween season Saturday.
Graf says this will be the first year that ARCH will have a tour every weekend in October to accommodate the nearly 3,000 people who have showed up in recent years.
Its a different kind of Fort Wayne history, she says. Usually you get how something is founded, but were talking murders. We were called the most unlawful town twice in our early years.
The Murder, Mystery and Mayhem tour, which circles around the downtown area, will also be available for the citys Fright Night on Oct. 19, with tours starting every hour. The Haunted History tour, which explores West Centrals hallowed haunts, will happen Oct. 12 and 26, and the Haunted Sites Bus Tours, dubbed the coach of chills, will take three trips around Fort Wayne on Fright Night.
Like last year, all tours will be led by local actors who create a character and wear costumes, which Graf says really helps set the scene for guests.
We used to have volunteers, but not every person is comfortable with public speaking, she says. People want to be entertained. We had many compliments last year.
Graf says that people may think the organization offers cheesy, obviously fake haunted tours, but what gives the events its spookiness is that most of the stories are based on historical facts. However, there are some ghost stories that have become local legend that are also included on the tours.
People expect to be scared, but these are actually true events that have been well-researched. We have put a warning that it may not be suitable for children, but I have never had a complaint, she says.
Graf says she uses old court cases, newspaper articles and other sources to confirm most stories. She also investigates stories that people call in to the office. Two new locations have been added to the bus tour this year. One is the home of Homer Van Meter, an associate of notorious bank robber John Dillinger, and the other stop is at a house on Spring Street where a man murdered his wife and buried her in the backyard.
Were looking to add another one for the West Central tour, but well have to see if its true or not, she says.
As a historical preservation organization, Graf says that ARCHs haunted tours help relate to the community their mission to protect and preserve historically and culturally significant assets in Fort Wayne – which also includes the spooky ones.
We have found that it teaches local history in an entertaining way, she says. You can only hear so much about General Wayne.