James Thurber House

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A betrayed spirit who died via suicide is still hurting.

This bereaved spirit may have spectral company.



It is described as a 1875 brick, charming Victorian, built for a 1910, middle class family, but whose curb appeal and charming interior made it a very popular rental, attracting many good tenants. It has the customary two floors, with the attic turned into a small apartment for resident writers, not open to the public.


Though on a smaller scale, compared to the robber baron homes, its décor is simpler, yet with beautiful Victorian era touches, including lots of wood, some beveled glass, and lovely ceramic fireplaces. Well-known, honored cartoonist and witty short story author James Thurber, lived with his parents and was the middle son of three Thurber boys; William, the eldest and Robert the youngest. The three of them must have been a handful. James lost his sight in one eye while playing William Tell with his brothers. He went totally blind later in life.

The home’s furnishings reflect the popular mission oak style decor, found in Sears Catalog, around 1913. In 1983, the outside of the home was restored, following an old photograph and the remaining physical evidence of what was originally there. The front porch, and the stairs leading up to the home’s second floor were entirely rebuilt by a local master craftsmen. The condition of the home must have been really in need of repair!!

With the help of Robert Thurber, James’ younger brother, the restoration of the interior began in March of 1984. Robert was an important source of information, to be sure it was done authentically. He remembered a lot of the details, from decor to habits of the Thurber Family.

They only lived here for a time in this home; one of the three houses the Thurber family lived in Columbus, during the time that James Thurber was attending Ohio State University. This home was 45 minute streetcar ride away. Because he couldn’t complete the required ROTC course at Ohio State, he wasn’t able to graduate from college, but was given a posthumous degree, after a life-time of literary contributions and cartoon fun! His natural talent and gifts opened doors of opportunity for him, even without a college degree. “Although best known for his funny cartoons and witty short stories, James wrote 32 books, collections of essays and modern commentaries, fables and children’s stories.”

It is because of James’ contributions to the literary field, that saved the home from a date with the wrecking ball; some of the homes across the street were torn down to make room for modern, brick homes and structures.

Thurber House, now owned by the Jefferson Center for Learning and the Arts, is a literary center, offering year round programming for adults and children. Some of the family’s personal items have been donated to this house museum of sorts. On display, are, Robert’s sports memorabilia collection, Some of William’s Western and American Indian paintings, and a selection of James’ manuscripts, cartoons, letters, first edition of his books, and some of his honors, awards, and original drawings. Some of his books and memorabilia, are on sale in the Thurber Country Bookstore, located in the dining room.

Along the walls of the second floor between the bedrooms, pictures of the Thurber Family and important family documents are hung. Also a photograph of a see-through apparition that was taken on one of the staircases is hung on the wall on the second floor landing. Down the back staircase, that leads to the dining room, one can see the “Wall of Fame; pictures of all the authors who visited Thurber House and/or participated in the Thurber House’s literary programs.



In 1868, after The Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum burned down, the large parcel of land that this institution sat on was divided into three residential sections. Each section had an oblong/oval shaped park in the middle of their section, making a very fashionable neighborhood.

A family must have lived here until the turn-of-the-century, when this home was turned into a well-liked and appreciated rental property, from 1900 – 1973. Many people enjoyed this home, including the Thurbers.

After the Thurbers moved on to another home in Columbus, the home temporarily stopped being a rental, in the early 1920s and became The Wallace Collegiate School and Conservatory of Music. It once again became a rental in 1946, in the form of a boarding house. Uh oh!

Boarding house status has led to many of home into disrepair and instability. In the 1970s, a lot of older homes were torn down, but Thurber House was donated instead to The Jefferson Center for Learning and the Arts, do to someone’s considerable efforts to preserve history.



Paranormal activity was first reported in writing, by James Thurber, in one of his early, humorous stories, entitled, “The Night the Ghost Got In,” describing the paranormal incident with one of the spirits that James, his brother William and their mother experienced.

This same occurrence happened to other renters of the house over the years before and after the Thurbers lived there, sometimes causing people to find other housing.

According to Thurber’s research; (done shortly after his encounter with the footstep spirit), that it was during the 1880s, that a man who lived in this house with his wife was informed by an anonymous note that if he came home early from work, he would find his wife in bed with her lover. So, he left work early, and heard them making love up in one of the second floor bedrooms. He walked around the dining room table, ran up the back stairs to another bedroom, and shot himself.


People who commit suicide, often over unfaithfulness of a loved one or some other deep emotional upset, find out that being dead doesn’t bring peace and escape from their torment and grief.

Coincidentally, the original Thurber encounter with the unseen presence and his scary footsteps happened on November 17, 1915, exactly 47 years after seven people died in the fire that burned down The Central Ohio Lunatic Asylum, which is considered the other source of the hauntings in Thurber House.

Mental and physical ailment Hospitals tend to wind up with a few of their departed former residents.

Spirits that are attached to the land, will move into the new building that is constructed on their old stomping grounds.

Victims of disasters such as fire, flood, or other forms of mayhem, such as war can’t find rest because they can’t let go of their traumatic death.



Several spirits are thought to inhabit this home.

Personal Appearances

James Thurber also saw shadow people walk in front of windows.

The male who killed himself has been described  by one of the in-house writers, who stayed one summer in the attic apartment:As being  a large, overweight “somewhat stooped, black torso shadow”, that was seen passing by a second story window, blocking out the Hallway light.

Another in-house writer and Toby, the dog came down to the first floor at night, when things were quiet. While in the parlor, Toby began growling and starring at an unseen presence, sitting on the velvet couch, just underneath the leaded glass window.

Dog-Sensed Unseen Presence

Another in-house writer and Toby, the dog came down to the first floor at night, when things were quiet.

While in the parlor, Toby began growling and starring at an unseen presence, sitting on the velvet couch, just underneath the leaded glass window.

Visual Activity

James Thurber also personally witnessed books being quickly moved across the room without any help from him!


Probably so. The picture is pretty convincing. While the staff have said that they haven’t experienced anything, several guest writers, staying in the attic apartment have convincingly told of their experiences they had during the evening hours, when the street is still, and it is dark.

While no official paranormal investigation group have been allowed in The Thurber House, many people before and after James Thurber’s first experience have had personal experiences, that are all similar reports to what has happened in the house.

A still photo of one of their ghosts was taken and hung on the wall at the top of the stairs. It looks like a translucent apparition wearing pants.



James Thurber House
77 Jefferson Avenue
Columbus, OH 43215

The Thurber House can be found on Jefferson Avenue, just east of East Broad Street, in a nice little section of Columbus. Neighbors across the street are various social organizations, and The Thurber House has private owners as neighbors, in the houses on either side of it.



  • The Ghost Hunter’s Field Guide
    by Rich Newman
    pg. 258
    Llewellyn Publications
  • “Welcome to Thurber House”: informational hand-out for visitors.
  • The Thurber House page on Forgotten Ohio.com
  • Rubio, Josie – “Ghost Stories”
    Columbus Monthly – Oct. 2003
  • Smith, Robin – “Columbus Ghosts”
    Worthington, OH – Emuses, Inc. 2002

Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr

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