Scary stories from the courthouse

Cala Smoldt /Staff Reporter
A metal support beam on the 4th floor shows graffiti by an 'Irvin Brown' amidst the numerous ancient reference books stored on shelves.

Some are settling in to enjoy this cool fall weather, cozily wrapped up in a sherpa throw perhaps with a hot chocolate and a snuggly animal or child (or both, in my case) while watching the trees turn from green to hues of red, orange and yellow. Fall bonfires abound, dressed in hoodies, hats and trendy scarves. Others prefer to enjoy the Halloween season a little more... uncomfortably, searching Google for the best haunted houses to take groups of friends, watching zombie and slasher movies, having 'Saw' or Freddy Krueger marathons. Maybe it's the thrill of the adrenaline rush or maybe it's the sense of relief that overcomes afterwards, but people seem to flock to the mysterious. Perhaps that's why some who have witnessed strange occurrences at the Mercer County Courthouse jokingly refer to the alleged culprit as 'Sam the Ghost'.

Many in the courthouse have experienced the elevator doors opening after hours to find no one there. Former maintenance tech, Linda Litterst remembers, during her time working at the courthouse she would find the elevator door opening and closing while no one was there. "I got used to it, nothing happened." Linda spoke to the two elevator repair men about why it would open and close randomly, "one says, 'it opens and closes because circulation of the air, it's not a big deal.' The other guy says, 'I don't know why it's doing that.”

Perhaps Sam will go for a friendly evening stroll and stop on the 2nd floor Treasurer's office. According to them, calculators will go off when no one is nearby. Deputy Treasurer Bev Lower said, "lights might be on - when you thought they were off, nothing major."

Security Guard Carroll Reid refuses to believe anything unusual is going on, "You always hear sounds in a 120 year old building." Better known as, 'Cork', Reid has done his fair share perpetuating the rumors of Sam the Ghost. Litterst recalls that the Vacuum wouldn't be where she left it, she would find it moved to random places. "We made jokes a lot about Sam - every once in awhile, I think it was Cork - he would move it somewhere. I knew it was probably Cork doing it. I know one time he left a little note, 'Sam was here.' It was more of a joke." She said, however, the constant eerie-ness, and odd feelings she experienced were unusual.

Jeff Benson, Circuit Clerk (3rd floor) said, "It's spooky up here at night. I've never seen anything, but I put that air conditioner in on the west wall of the courtroom and didn't get done until midnight," he described an unusual incident while finishing up, "birds started swooping down and screaming at me and touching my head as I was loading the tools." He described that it's so dark in the courthouse at night, "that you see things in your peripheral vision, something moving, and you turn and there's nothing there."

Other stories have been passed down over the years. Littrest recounts a time one evening before a board meeting, a security guard saw a person from the third floor window. Somebody went up to investigate it and couldn't find anyone. She said, "apparently somebody was there, but they couldn't get out the front door - the other option would have been through the back somehow. They were nervous about it, thinking at that time - board meetings are around 7 p.m. there shouldn't have been anyone in there." Next time you pass by the looming courthouse building at night, perhaps you too can catch a glimpse of Sam peering from a window.

"Sam" as the courthouse staff fondly refers to him should actually be called, "John." According to a 'brief history' pamphlet available on the 3rd floor from Circuit Clerk Mr. Benson, in 1937 - "Employees on the first floor reported feeling tremors on several occasions. It was discovered that cement supports under the building were crumbling... it was believed that at any time the building could have collapsed." It was then that a referendum passed issuing $27,000 to dig and install a basement and repair the supports. "During this process workers stumbled across a grave believed to be that of John Campbell. Campbell was allegedly a pioneer who died on a long journey to California and was buried along the prairie which later became Aledo."

No information could be found regarding how they came to that conclusion, or where they took Mr. Campbell's body once exhumed.

Pete Robinson, head of maintenance at the Mercer County Courthouse kindly took this reporter beyond the limits. The public is not allowed on the ominous 4th floor, and that's just where we went. The associated pictures shine a light into the dark, literally. Robinson is sure the elevator movement is due to hydraulics, however there is one mystery he has never solved. In all his 18 years maintaining the courthouse he has never figured out why there is a rope, boots and jeans laying together in a dirty heap in a giant space in the attic. "(It's) set up like somebody died there, or got hung there or something, but I've never heard any stories about it."

The most intriguing story comes from the the first floor Assessor's office. Working hard past open hours one night, Mary McClellan describes what she says caused her to be, "literally frozen." She was sitting at her desk when something caught her eye. She could see the transom opening and closing (a horizontal rectangular window placed directly above the doors) in the room connected to her office. The lights were out in that particular room. McClellan said the window can only open from the inside, she saw no one. Keeping her eyes on the movement she arose and moved closer, she couldn't believe what she was seeing. She stood there watching as it continued to move unassisted. "I've never had it happen to me again." She described that earlier that same day, the door to her office slammed shut, also unaided.

Perhaps Sam the Ghost is just an elaborate hoax perpetuated by sheer enjoyment (or ornery security guards). Yet, questions remain. Where is the body of John Campbell, aka, Sam The Ghost? Who left the rope and articles of clothing in the attic above the 4th floor? Will we ever know who or what caused these strange occurrences? More questions arise with every possible answer.

Some mysteries are more fun left unsolved, anyway.