Hauntings in Stone Creek | Mary Jane Fisher
Today’s dispatch comes courtesy of the alert eyes of Ancestry.com connection — and relative somewhere back through all those Leys and Weibles — Judy Schrock, who last month spotted an article in my old hometown paper about an alleged haunting nearly a century and a half ago.
At the heart of this tale of witches: a 9-year-old third-great aunt, Mary Jane Fisher, sister to my great-great-grandfather John William Fisher.
Born Feb. 22, 1861, “Jennie,” as she was called, was the third child and oldest daughter of my great-great-great-grandparents, George and Sarah (Walters) Fisher. (A daughter, Barbara, born in 1860, died in infancy.)
The family called 104 acres of farmland just outside of New Philadelphia in Stone Creek home. George’s father, Henry Fisher, first settled in the area about 1818, according to The History of Tuscarawas County, published in 1884. Through proceeds from day labor, Henry slowly built his savings and eventually acquired 166 acres.
The Fishers were well-connected — and intermarried — with several prominent early farming families south of New Philadelphia, including the Crites (Elizabeth Crites, daughter of Revolutionary War soldier, Jacob, was Henry’s bride) and Walters clans. George married Sarah Ann Walters, whose parents, Abraham and Mary Walters, maintained their nearly-200-acre homestead just south of their own.
In addition to helping raise a large family of 13 children, George served the community as school director. So when in March 1870 The Ohio Democrat reported the first inklings of their daughter Jennie’s encounters with “strange persons and things that other persons who are present do not see,” the rumors were not dismissed out of hand. “Reliable men from the neighborhood say the story is not without foundation,” the paper noted.
Bewitching Mystery for Jennie & Fisher Family
Jon Baker of the New Philadelphia, Ohio Times-Reporter recounted the Democrat dispatches of March 18 and April 1, 1870 in an article published Feb. 18, 2013, some 143 years later. Baker quoted the first report (which, unfortunately, was missing from the Ancestry.com database):
We have strange rumors from Stone Creek. … Windows are broken, when apparently no one is there to break them. A person riding a white horse (Death on a pale horse) has been seen. Sometimes a dog, invisible to vulgar eyes, is seen by this fortunate little seer.
… Some pious people say the little girl is ‘bewitched,’ others that the house is ‘haunted,’ and some more silly still, assert that spirits have ‘a finger in the pie.’ Of course, the latter explanation finds but few believers.
The mystery got further treatment in the Ohio Democrat of April 1, 1870. Baker recounts the tale of Jennie being slapped by an unseen hand while dining at her grandparents’ house, and of joining her grandpa Abraham Walters in chasing a witch nearly 300 yards (50 or 60 rods in the original — thanks, Google, for confirming Baker’s handy calculation) across their farmland.
Her grandfather, Mr. Abraham Walters, heard the sound of the blow on the little girl’s face and saw her motion, but could see no one else. It was a palpable and decided slap in the face given with considerable force, sufficient to throw the little girl from her seat.
… During the chase (of the witch), (Abraham Walters) saw a mark on a fence that looked like someone had crossed it. When they got back to the house, the ‘witch’ was standing near the bake oven. Mr. Walters did not see anything, but the little girl insists that she saw a woman.
The Democrat concluded its report by inviting clergy of the area to assemble on the grounds and investigate the claims, with an eye toward ridding the grounds of the troubled spirits, possibly through the effort of prayer or by channeling the spirit into a peaceful resting place, “such as a hearth stone.”
According to Baker, the Democrat never followed up on the story.
Marries a Walters, Moves to Van Wert
What became of Aunt Jennie Fisher, in the years after her childhood encounters?
The record remains silent on any ghostly activity. But the Democrat reported her marriage Dec.13, 1883 to William H. Walters. No word on whether this Walters was a relation to her mother’s family. But the article notes William came from Van Wert, Ohio, where the couple makes their home for the next six decades.
Oddly, the same census records that confirms their residency in Van Wert also shows a Mary J. and William Walters living there together, with an infant son, as early as 1880, some three years before the Democrat reported their union. But then, the 1900 census seems to peg their marriage year as 1877 (the document reports 23 years of marriage, which would mean they wed as teenagers), while the 1910 census corrects the record to 26 years, or very likely the late 1883 date reported in the Democrat.
The couple live out their days in Van Wert, raising five children (six, if that early census is to be believed). William passes away first, in 1836, while Jennie (Fisher) Walters lives to the ripe age of 83. She dies Jan. 6, 1944 and is buried with her husband in Van Wert.