The Tinsmith’s Ghost

There’s nothing quite like moving into a new house.

In most cases, a new buyer obviously likes it, otherwise they never would have bought it. They like the layout, the features. In an older home, people often talk about liking the character of the home. There’s something about how it feels.

Still, it takes a little bit to get used to a new house.

The first few weeks living there are like the first few dates with a longtime significant other. There’s a mutual attraction, and a willingness to move forward, but still a hesitancy. Personality’s are being sounded out and potential obstacles to the success of the relationship are managed. The rough edges still have to be sanded off.

Houses are much the same way.

Furnaces kick on, air conditioners start up, floors creek, windows rattle, cupboard doors stick. These are all common things, but in a new environment, they can sound completely alien. After a little while, the new homeowner gets used to it and settles in comfortably. The unknown becomes the known.

But what happens when things occur that can’t be explained?

   In 1887, Rock Island, Illinois was a bustling, successful city. It was full of a thriving population with stable businesses. Life was good, and people were happy. Albert Ames was one of them.

Albert Ames and his wife had just moved into a two-story house at 1428 4th Avenue. Albert was out of town for business a good deal of the time, so Mrs. Ames would be left to her own devices much of the time.

Like many people, she probably spent the first few weeks unpacking and arranging her new home just so. Slowly, the house was becoming a comfortable new home. Gradually, she began becoming accustomed to the noises her new home made as it settled and creaked.

Then, one day, she heard the footsteps.

It was late at night, and something must have woken her up. She stirred, probably still a little disoriented from having just awoken. Suddenly, her body tensed as she heard it. Someone was moving through the house! She held her breath, listening.

There it was again! She was sure that she hadn’t imagined it that time. There was a soft, scraping sound, as if someone were trying to move stealthily through the house. Still, it couldn’t have been anything serious. It was probably the wind, or a tree branch scraping against the outside.

Having made peace with yet another new noise, Mrs. Ames rolled over and went back to sleep.

The next night, Mrs. Ames was once again awoken in the night by what sounded like soft footsteps walking across the floor on the balls of their feet. Occasionally, there would come a loud crash from elsewhere in the house, like someone was tearing down walls.

Once again, she told herself that the noises were nothing out of the ordinary; just the wind banging a shutter against the side of the house. It made sense. There was a rational explanation. Sure, they startled here, but any loud noise in a quiet room can do that. For her, it was just a new noise to get used to.

But they kept happening, and in spite of making perfectly good sense, Mrs. Ames couldn’t find anything that could have made those noises. Even her idea of a slamming shudder stopped making sense when she noticed that it still happened when there was no wind blowing.

Slowly, the explanations that she gave herself were starting to make less and less sense. It was getting harder for her to apply rational explanations to these things.

Then, as Mrs. Ames walked through the house one night, she was shocked to see a man standing in one of the bedrooms. Several feelings must have swept through her as the adrenaline started to course through her body. Mrs. Ames had an intruder in her home, and she was very, very alone.

Ames immediately demanded to know who the person was. The man simply stood there, saying nothing. It was as if someone had placed a statue wearing a man’s clothes in the middle of one of her bedrooms.

She tried talking to him again, no doubt asking questions and demanding that he leave her house. In an instant, he was gone. Disappeared.

The stranger hadn’t moved, or tried to walk out past her. He was just…gone. It was almost as if he had just vanished, like smoke in the wind.

After that, Mrs. Ames began to hear the noises more often. Much more disturbingly, she also began to see the mysterious man more frequently. Although he was seen in different areas of the house, he would appear most often in the bedroom where she had first laid eyes on him.

Finally, it was too much to keep to herself. Mrs. Ames started to talk to a neighbor about her problem. She told them about the noises and described the man in the house. Mrs. Ames also made sure to tell them what he had been doing there,  including the disappearing act and that he was showing up in that same bedroom all the time.

The neighbor listened politely to her story. They took a deep breath; exhaled. The man, the neighbor explained, sounded exactly like the previous occupant of the house. His name was Joseph P. Stroehle, a tin worker and stove salesman. Although a relatively young man, he had become very ill.

In spite of that, Joseph stubbornly kept working. His condition worsened, and on a return visit to the doctor, Joseph was informed that his illness was terminal. The young tin worker still refused to believe his diagnosis and pushed on.

His will seemed to keep him going after that. Joseph was determined to keep going, and he continually drove himself on. However, sheer will can only carry a person so far. Eventually, the body will shut down in spite of whatever motivations the mind screams at it.

In April 1886, Stroehle died, and he was buried at Chippianock Cemetery just a few miles away.

Meeting Mrs. Ames’ gaze, the neighbor told her that the bedroom where she kept seeing him was the one that Stroehle had died in. Mrs. Ames had been seeing a dead man in her house.

   Two things in this world that people love are a good ghost story and gossip. News of the ghost spread quickly through the neighborhood, then made its way outward from there  into the surrounding city.

Neighbors who sat in the home with Mrs. Ames never saw the spirit themselves, but that’s not to say that they didn’t have experiences of their own. Several people who walked through the home claimed to have heard the creeping footsteps and loud crashes that Mrs. Ames had.

One man who went through the house had a particularly unnerving experience.

He claimed that he was walking through the house by himself. After the man stepped from an empty room into an adjoining one, he closed the door behind himself. As soon as did, someone started knocking from the other side. He immediately grabbed the knob, turned, and threw the door open.

There was nothing there. The man stepped through, looking for someone who might have hidden somewhere close after knocking. Finding no one, the man was left to wonder who – or what – had been knocking on the door?

The haunted house became quite the attraction, and several local people came to watch the house from the outside, clogging the street. One night, it was estimated that there was around 500 people watching the house, apparently just wanting to see the haunted house and maybe even catch a glimpse of something supernatural.

Mrs. Ames continued to hear the noises and see Joseph Stroehle. One night, while speaking with some house guests, she suddenly let out a loud scream. She said that she had seen the ghost again, but no one else present did.

Finally, enough was enough. At least for a few nights, Mrs. Ames would not stay at her house. She also sent word to Albert, who was on business in Kansas City at that time, to come home. He did as fast as he could, and must have been surprised to see the mass of people outside of his house.

After being informed of what was going on, he allowed seven young men to stay in the house as a group, possibly in the hope that they would discover something that would explain the entire situation. In spite of hoping for the best, the ghost never appeared.

Soon, the excitement over the haunted house on 4th Avenue died down. There were other things to do, and better ways to occupy people’s time.

While there were almost definitely some people who believed in the whole story, others took a more skeptical approach. Not only did they not believe that the house was haunted, but they proposed that either Mrs. Ames was hallucinating or she was making the whole thing up.

The jury is still out.

Albert Ames and his wife disappeared quietly into the mists of time, fading out of our knowledge. Was Mrs. Ames lonely and seeking attention? Had she made the entire story up for her own entertainment? Or did she really see the ghost of her home’s former owner?

Existing evidence shows that Stroehle lived there, as well as what he did for a living. As far as his spirit haunting his former home, the answers to those questions are open to interpretation.

The house has long since been torn down. But does that necessarily mean that Joseph Stroehle’s restless soul went with it?

If any of you are curious, you could always go and find out. Perhaps, if you stand on the old corner in the wee hours of the morning, you’ll hear the soft shuffle of feet across concrete, and see the shadow of a tinsmith who still walks the same places he did over one-hundred years ago.

   You have been reading John Brassard Jr., the Kitchen Table Historian. Please stop over and have a seat at the table every other week to hear new stories of true crime, disasters, the paranormal, and other weird and dark stories from America’s Heartland. 

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United States Federal Records

Rock Island, Illinois,  City Directories Illinois, County Marriage Records, 1800-1940 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016. Illinois, Wills and Probate Records, 1772-1999 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015. //

Rock Island’s Ghost. Evening Democrat-Gazette, 8/10/1887

Stroehle’s Spirit. Rock Island Argus, 8/9/1887

Removal. Rock Island Argus, 3/15/1887

2 thoughts on “The Tinsmith’s Ghost”

  1. I’ve already started reading ghost stories in advance of Halloween (I seem to start earlier and earlier every year), so this was perfect. It’s also good timing since I’ll probably be moving in the next month or so into a Victorian cottage – maybe a ghost awaits me!

    1. It’s never too early to get into the Halloween spirit. As always, I’m glad to provide. Congratulations on the move – sounds exciting! Hopefully, you won’t have any former residents still hanging out at the new digs, but, who knows? Maybe they’ll have some great stock market tips from the beyond or something.

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