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 children, a small blackened apparition in the upstairs windows, unexplained fires, physical attacks, and severe 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. 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.
Hartford City was the beneficiary of two economic milestones in the late 19th century. In
1887, natural gas was discovered in the county, and in 1891 the Hartford City Glass Company was created. Within a five year-span, the population of the town boomed—and that’s when a new house was constructed at 218-220 North Monroe Street, “around” a previous structure that dates back to the 1850s.
The house is now a triplex, divided during the tenure of the Berger family, who owned the property from 1892 to 1921. 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 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.
But in 1905, John B. Berger was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He 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 that, the Berger family apparently rented out the upstairs to a family named Miars. 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.
“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 both younger children are in the 1910 census, now living on Jefferson Street. But none of them—not Mary, not Edna, not Ernest—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”? And why would a four-year-old be so invisible in the first place, enough so that the neighbors noticed? Any way you look at it, the situation is suspicious.
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.
Although the two families shared the house for a 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. A few days later, 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 where John Berger is buried, she and a friend accepted a ride from 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.
When researching a haunted location, the purpose isn’t to prove the legends but to establish a connective thread between what the legends and claims say and events that can be substantiated by documents. And in this case, the evidence is building. Beginning with the violent and abusive situation in the Miars’ household, a pattern emerged that included paranormal activity, suspected infidelity, and bizarre accidents and misfortunes to the families that lived there. The Berger family was originally suspected as the source of the haunting, with some claims that John B. Berger was a violent and abusive barkeeper who punished his kids brutally. That doesn’t hold water, with the Hartford City News Telegram eulogizing him as “a man of sterling qualities, honorable to the core. He was big-hearted and genial and it is doubtful if any man in the city had more friends.”
And of course, John B. Berger was dead when the public fiasco of the Miars’ marriage became public knowledge.
In that period between 1907-1911, when the Miars’ behavior became fodder for the town gossips and their claims of desertion, cruelty, and the violent abuse of their children was hashed out in the courts and the newspaper, a series of strange disasters befell the Berger family at the same time—a shooting as the result of a hate crime; frostbite and a horse’s foot turned into gangrene and an amputation; death in childbirth; a carriage wheel falling off and resulting in a severe injury—these events seem to be interconnected with some strange energy or influence that both fueled and charged a sequence of tragic incidents that are unexplained.
The Miars’ children—Edna was eight, while Ernest was four—match up with the legends about the house, including a famous picture with two child-sized apparitions looking out from a window. The pattern of abuse also matches up with the claims of psychics and many of the EVPs and other communications received at the house, as well as the testimony of local residents who were brought up on stories about the residence. One medium said the energy of the haunting was fueled by an “angry jealous woman out for blood”. This, too, could refer to the Miars because the husband deserted his wife for another woman, and ran away to marry her illegally. That desertion of children was duplicated almost simultaneously by Frederick Nicaise, whose children lost their mother, Mary Berger Nicaise, in 1909 and by 1910 they’d lost their father as well. Perhaps he died, or left to find work and never returned. We don’t know, but the pattern of abandoned families seems to have continued.
And the pattern doesn’t stop there.
What makes Caroline Berger’s weird carriage accident in 1911 even more interesting is the gruesome death of Sydney Faulkner, who was a truck driver, thirty years later. Faulkner lived in the upstairs apartment in 1940 with his wife, Myrl. He was killed August 18, 1940 when his car inexplicably struck the support beam of a bridge. The Muncie Star pulled no punches in its report of the accident: “The bridge beam was driven back through the car, piercing Faulkner’s body, and both car and bridge were badly damaged. Use of acetylene torches was necessary before the body could be removed from the automobile.”
Faulkner also had a passenger in the car: a woman not his wife. Mrs. WH Wolfe was with him that morning, and incredibly she wasn’t injured. She walked away with a few bruises and scratches.
Here again, the pattern emerges: potential infidelity and a strange accident while away from the home under suspicious circumstances.
While the Faulkners were living in the upstairs apartment, labeled as 220 ½ Monroe Street in the 1940 census, the house was owned by Harry B. Meyers, who lived downstairs with his wife, Emma, and their adult son Clayton, who was twenty-three. The Meyers had bought the property in 1921 from Mrs. Berger. Meyers was a finishing superintendent at the paper mill which was the major industrial employer mid-century, and Clayton worked with him as a packer. After Sydney Faulkner’s tragic and gruesome death, Myrl moved out of the upstairs apartment. A family with young children moved in later, and that’s when we start to get our first modern claims of paranormal activity, as evidenced by this August 12, 2016 comment left by an anonymous gentleman on a story about the Monroe House on HauntedHovel.com:
“I spent about six years of my childhood growing up in that house. I was always scared of the strange noises; they were not common but when it happened it sure got your attention fast. My mother would comfort me about the sounds and voices as a child but she mentioned years later about a woman she thought she had seen upstairs near my bedroom. She had always wondered if she had seen the apparition of the women who had taken her own life decades ago. I for one never liked the old house and was happy when we relocated in the early fifties to Muncie. Always been curious about the afterlife after my youthful experiences, and the house that brought it to my attention. Very good to find this site and pleased to see others chatting about the place. Brings a sense of normal to me who have spent seventy plus years in deep thought over my experiences(sic).”
But after 1940, we run into a brick wall researching the history of the Monroe House and the people who lived there. The last federal census made available to public research was 1940, since by law census details cannot be released until seventy years after the census date. Telephone directories become huge, and almost impossible to locate names by street address. The Monroe house became a rental property, although we have apocryphal online claims that previous landlords lived in the house until the late 1990s-early 2000s.
There are reports that tenants in the house during the nineties were Satanists, and that their magic rituals and occult practices intensified the already-haunted property—claims that are lent credence by the objects that have since been discovered buried on the property: fetishes made of jewelry and human hair, wrapped in cloth; shorts that might have blood on them; and of course the discovery of the bones and skull fragments unearthed in the basement last August. But such a story is impossible to substantiate, and can only be accepted as apocryphal.
It is important to note that there is absolutely no evidence to back up many of the legends’ claims. No one (that we can find) ever died in the house. There wasn’t a fire that killed a small child. In fact, there’s no evidence of the house catching on fire at any point after it was built in 1900. It’s also important, however, to mention that the original house on the property (the one built in the 1850s) may have burned down, and this house was constructed on top of what was left. It’s possible the builders incorporated wood that was physically sound but scorched. But even though we couldn’t back up the main legends, what we did find was a series of bizarre and tragic events that could perhaps explain the origins of the haunting—and the stories that now have circulated in Hartford City for over seventy years.
In 2017, the investigations of the house are where the real questions now lie. The Monroe House has been vacant for over ten years, deserted by the living and occupied only by the dead…or the demonic, which has seemed to become the consensus around the property over the last five years. It remains to be seen as we continue to research the property what—if any—additional links can be added to the chain of documented events that still impact the house paranormally today. Further research can only be conducted in Hartford City, and that’s where we’re headed—this week. As we learn more about the house, we’ll continue the story. You can check out a preview of the investigation, including what LiveSciFi’s Tim Wood thinks heading into the location, here.