The most haunted place in all of Cincinnati – an abandoned church, formerly the Cincinnati Asylum for the Criminally Insane – sits just off of Oakley Square behind Habits Cafe. You would never imagine that the restaurant/bar scene of Madison Road is only a block from this building with such a sordid history.
We have collected facts and accounts from multiple sources including – but not limited to – the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, the Hamilton County Auditor’s Office, the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts and the Cincinnati Historical Society Library.
Cincinnati Asylum for the Criminally Insane
The building was originally constructed in 1915 as the Cincinnati Asylum for the Criminally Insane. (The cornerstone of the building, pictured here, holds two dates – 1915 and 1923. 1923 is the year that the red brick church was built over top of the stone-and-mortar asylum.)
The Asylum was built to house Cincinnati’s most clinically insane prisoners – prisoners that had committed unspeakable atrocities yet were ruled unable to stand trial due to their mental state.
When first constructed it was located in an industrial area. As Cincinnati prospered and grew the blocks and lots around the Asylum became filled with single-family houses. It was then that the Cincinnati City Council began fielding complaints about the facility. The complaint most commonly heard was that there were screams at all hours of the night. As Gladys Summers of nearby Minot Avenue described it at one City Council meeting “it’s as if men are being tortured nearly every night”.
On October 24, 1921 the prison was abruptly closed without public notice. Residents of 34th Avenue later described vehicles arriving to pick up the staff under armed guard. The noise of the departing vehicles was soon replaced with the sounds of screaming and gun fire – witnesses report hearing anywhere from 20 to 30 shots. No prisoners were ever observed leaving the facility.
Presbyterian Church bought this Asylum later
The building sat empty for a year before being sold by the City of Cincinnati to the Oakley Presbyterian Church in 1922. The church used the former asylum as their fellowship hall and built their sanctuary over the original building. The new church opened in 1923.
Almost immediately parishioners reported hearing strange noises in the fellowship hall and banquet kitchen areas of the basement. A nervous minister reassured them that the noises were the new building settling over the old.
As the rumors of something supernatural continued to grow the church lost much of its congregation. It’s last day of operation was October 24th 1973. On that day a nursery school teacher and a 6-year-old child both died in a horrific accident. There are no media accounts of what happened in that incident but a police report written by one of the responding officers contained the statement “no man could have done what was done to the victims”.
The church doors were locked the next day and the building was handed over to the ownership of the Presbytery of Cincinnati within the week.
Approximately 5 months later the building was sold to the newly-formed Oakley Church of Christ.
The Oakley Church between 1974-1995
The Oakley Church of Christ opened its doors to congregants in June of 1974. For the first few years the small neighborhood church flourished in the community but in the early 1980’s the church had to deal with multiple reports from its employees and volunteers that “supernatural” incidents were occurring – primarily in the basement. The church’s attendance began to decline.
On October 24th 1985 the cross above the altar burst into flames. No cause was ever determined by investigators. Below you can see the newspaper clipping and a picture taken soon after which shows the burned outline of the former location of the wooden cross.
Most parishioners didn’t return after that incident yet the church held on for another 10 years. In 1995 tragedy again struck on October 24th and that would be the last time that the building was open to the public. (See the Cincinnati Enquirer’s report, to the right.
Ghostly phenomenon and occurrences
It has been 3 years since the Oakley Church of Christ closed its doors. The building now sits abandoned to the elements.
When neighbors are asked of the building they will only answer questions in hushed voices – if they are willing to speak about it at all.
Some of the neighbors say that it’s haunted. Some say that from time to time they hear a muffled scream through the thick steel basement doors. Others insist that on a quiet night you can hear the cry of a young child. Regardless, all are in agreement of one thing – that there is something inside and that they hope it stays there.
The church’s sudden closure left many questions unanswered. What happened to the prisoners that originally lived there? Why isn’t there a newspaper report on the two deaths in 1973? Was the death of the janitor in 1995 truly an accident as police believe? What is the significance of October 24th in this building’s history? Is it a coincidence? Or is there something more sinister at work? What will future October 24th’s have in store?