As Brian Grams and Lisa Santiago walked toward the grave of Civil War soldier Wallace H. Gale at the Volo Cemetery, a burst of cold wind blew in dark clouds, casting a shadow on the formerly sunny October day.
It’s just the autumn weather, Grams thought. But Santiago, his cousin, thought it might be a sign from Gale. The soldier has been said to haunt the Volo Antique Mall she manages, which is right next to the Volo Cemetery.
The building that houses the mall is owned by the Grams family and once was a dairy barn built in 1848 by the Gale family. Wallace H. Gale, who grew up on the property in an old farmhouse next door to the barn, starved to death in Tennessee while serving in the Civil War, Santiago said.
His body was returned to the homestead for burial, she said, and you can see the tombstone from a window in the antique mall.
Over the years, mall visitors have reported seeing a young boy staring at them from outside the window on the fourth floor. Others claim to have seen perfume bottles floating in the air, and images of a soldier, Santiago and Grams said.
“Our whole family has had unexplained experiences since they purchased the property” more than a half-century ago, said Santiago, whose parents, Grams’ aunt and uncle, now live in the 1850s farmhouse where Wallace H. Gale lived. Grams, his own parents and Santiago have lived in that house as well, and say they have experienced spooky occurrences there.
Meanwhile Grams, who owns and manages the Volo Auto Museum, which is also on the property, said he’s never experienced any ghostly happenings there.
Farm house spooks
His mother, Myra Grams, said her first otherworldly experience in the farm house was before Brian was born. She went to the bathroom in the middle of the night, turned on the light and noticed a black figure out of the corner of her eye. She went back to bed, with her husband still asleep. In the morning, she said, he told her he had seen a black figure standing at the end of the bed that night.
Once, when she was home alone in her bed, “I would feel the bed go down a bit as if someone were sitting on it,” she said. At family gatherings, relatives would tell similar tales before having heard Myra’s experience.
Brian said when he was growing up in the house, “TVs would turn on and turn off. Lights would turn on and then turn off. I’d blow it off as radio waves.
“The house is set up as a duplex. My family lived on the main level, (and) we had other relatives who would come and go upstairs,” he said. “Everybody has said it’s haunted. They’ve seen things.
“I could not get any of my friends to spend the night when I was growing up,” he added. “But there’s never been anything bad that’s happened. It doesn’t seem like (the ghost) is out to harm anybody.”
The family, employees and visitors to the mall kept their allegedly haunted grounds a bit of a secret, until the Discovery Channel — which hosted the now-canceled television show “Ghost Lab” — learned about it.
According to the show, a shadowy figure was captured on film sitting on some furniture inside the mall. The shadowy figure, some say, was the ghost of Wallace H. Gale.
Televised in November 2009, the show prompted more guests, workers and the family to come forward with more ghost stories and, since then, mall visitors have sent in photos and stories about creepy experiences, mostly at the mall or the grounds nearby, including stories of white dogs walking through mirrors, dolls found in strange places and a boy peering through the fourth-floor window — from the outside.
Santiago said she thinks the ghost likes the mall “because of the antiques.”
One woman said she saw a young man sitting in a rocking chair in the mall, listening to a music box and dressed in uniform. She went to get her husband and when they returned, there was no music box and no man there, Grams said.
One of the spookiest stories Grams has heard involved a truck driver delivering cars to the auto museum, who had never been to the mall before and never heard anything about it being haunted.
“He pulled in at about 11 o’clock at night and was going to spend the night in the lot in front of the mall,” Grams said. “Twenty minutes later, he backed up and drove off. He said he saw somebody in a trench coat walking through the parking lot, and when he asked if it was OK if he slept there, the guy in the trench coat walked right through the walls into the barn.”
Grams added that the truck driver told him, “I sleep with a Smith & Wesson, but there was no way I was going to sleep in that parking lot.”
Recently, according to Santiago, a customer said she was looking into a mirror and felt a cold, bony hand on her arm. An oil painting dropped to the floor, got a big gash in it and broke other items in its path.
“These floors are creaky. I would explain it that way,” Grams said.
A new employee, Felica Hornback of Island Lake, said last month her purse flew off a shelf to the floor. She believed it was a ghostly occurrence, but is not frightened to return to work.
“I don’t scare easily,” she said.
Haunted train ride
People have become so inquisitive about the haunted antique mall that Grams created a train ride as a bonus to those who visit the Volo Auto Museum. The 45-minute rides, free with paid admission, operate on weekends through Oct. 30.
Riders hear stories about the ghosts and then get dropped off by the mall, where they are led into a small theater where a facsimile of the soldier’s tombstone is encased. They hear crackling noises and see a figure on a projected screen, which Grams created for some scary fun during the Halloween season.
Grams doesn’t believe in ghosts, he said, although he admitted some of the happenings on his family’s property are difficult to explain.
“Either you’re a believer and it intrigues you,” Grams said, “or you’re a skeptic, and it still intrigues you.”
Sheryl DeVore is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.