Music Hall: Cincinnati’s Corpse-Ridden Not-So-Secret

The Pandora Society’s very own Cincinnati has been in the news a lot lately, and while very few locals are especially surprised by reports of human remains uncovered during renovation of a local landmark, it does offer a marvelous opportunity to go spelunking into one of the city’s most macabre treasures: the history of Music Hall.

Although most folk in the Cincinnati area are at least vaguely familiar with the building’s history (why else, pray tell, would there be a regular ghost tour?), the real story goes back to a time before the original structure was even a figment of an architect’s imagination. As with any city, Cincinnati has built over itself many, many times.

The fact is, the South portion of the building sits over a graveyard, and not just any graveyard – a potter’s field. And not just any potter’s field. Once upon a time, the Commercial Hospital and Lunatic Asylum sat just across the way, and we’ve all heard plenty of horror stories about 1800’s Asylums to know how messed up that must have been. In addition to the poor souls who did not survive treatment at the hospital, the potter’s field fed on the bodies on immigrants, travelers, and anyone else too poor to afford a good lot at Spring Grove Cemetery. Unidentified bodies also found their way in. Then, in 1830, the Cincinnati Orphan Asylum bought the land (and presumably continued to fill it with bodies).

Although many bodies from the rediscovered potter’s field were moved to Spring Grove Cemetery when excavators first broke ground for Music Hall, it seems like anytime someone sticks a trowel in the dirt around that building, they find someone new. Workers quickly gave up trying to move the bodies. Over sixty bodies are still buried under the south wing where builders stumbled across them in 1927. Earlier that same year, three bodies – including a young girl’s – were consigned to the bottom of the new elevator shaft.

By 1988, these casual reburials had been secreted away in the swath of folklore already saturating the building. Needless to say, excavators sinking a new elevator shaft were fairly alarmed to find a trove of bones. They were so surprised, they called the cops, probably assuming that they had stumbled upon the lair of a serial killer.

These days, Cincinnatians are fairly used to the occasional report of new graves uncovered beneath one of the city’s most iconic buildings. With the sweeping renovations taking place, I think we’d be surprised if they didn’t  find anything at least a little disturbing.

Haunted though the building is purported to be, reports say Music Hall’s ghosts are all surprisingly friendly. They wave to small children, play music, and have earned the respect of the Music Hall staff, who say they hope the land’s other tenants enjoy the show.

M. Leigh Hood is a rare beast of the Cincinnati wilderness typically preoccupied with writing, nerding, and filming The Spittoon List. For more articles and stories by M. Leigh Hood, look HERE.

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