The Ghost of the Whitehall Bed-and-Breakfast

Did ghosts haunt this beautiful B&B in historic Madison?  

Longtime residents can rattle off plenty of ghosts of Southern Indiana, just like longtime residents can anywhere else. But how many ghosts are smart enough to stay at a Yelp-approved B&B? 

During the years it was open, the Whitehall Bed-and-Breakfast provided a stunning draw in historic Madison—world-class antiques, high-ceiling rooms, tall poster beds, and a sumptuous breakfast served in the formal dining room at precisely 9:00 a.m

But this location offered other alleged attractions—the way children’s laughter echoed at various times through the hallways when no children were in the house, or the way visitors sometimes caught glimpses of elderly people dressed in the style of the 1860s. 

The history of the house that housed the B&B may explain this. It was built in 1827–28, likely by Judge David B. Cummins, but sadly he passed away soon after its completion. 

During the Civil War, one of the Union’s largest military hospitals sat directly to the west of the house. The thirty-seven-acre complex of the Madison General Hospital was opened in 1863. Surgeon General Gabriel Grant, the director of the hospital, lived in the home. Some say that surgeries took place inside the house, but it seems unlikely when so many other buildings were available for those procedures. 

In any case, it’s clear that the immense suffering occurred in these hospitals and left behind the energy from those emotions and sudden deaths. After the war, a town sprang up in the old buildings, lived in mostly by laborers employed in occupations associated with the river trades. 

An image of the Madison ferry landing.
One hundred years ago, this area was the site of the Madison ferry landing, a scene of much shipping activity at the base of Ferry Street on the Ohio River. Image sourced from Ghosts of Madison, Indiana.

Later, the buildings were disassembled or moved intact to various streets throughout town. You can see many of the shotguns along West Main Street that are believed to have been part of the hospital compound. Madison had sent more troops to the war effort than any other town in Indiana and also suffered the greatest number of soldiers lost. 

In 1890, the house became the West Madison Public School, the name lasting for the next twenty-five years. Initials of the children still remain on the walls. 

During the Great Depression, the house was partitioned off into apartments. By the time the bed and breakfast proprietors purchased the property in 1991, it had nearly fallen into a state of collapse. At the start of their renovations, they had to climb a ladder to get to the second floor—the stairs had to be entirely rebuilt. 

It wasn’t long after work on the building began when, one evening, while wrapped in a sleeping bag up on the second floor, one owner awoke to horrendous crashing and banging on the floors below. Thinking that vandals had broken in, he rushed down the ladder, shovel in hand, ready to defend his property. But when he got to the location of all the noises, no one was there and nothing was out of place. It was the first of many such episodes. 

Many spirits object quite vigorously when the buildings they inhabit are changed through construction. It’s one of the most frequently reported triggers for paranormal activity. Maybe old Judge Cummins thought that someone was modifying his original house plans. 

I tried many times to reserve a stay at the Whitehall Bed-and-Breakfast, but to my disappointment, it was always booked. Finally, I called for reservations early enough in the year to snag a suite at the inn. When we arrived, I happily admired the beauty of the Green Room suite, named for the brilliant color of its walls. 

On the first of our two-night stay, I was getting ready to go to bed and had turned off all the lights. Only the moonlight coming through the windows lit my way to the bed. 

When passing by the sitting room, I very clearly began to hear what sounded like booted footsteps on the wooden floors. They sounded loud and heavy. Knowing that no living person was in that room, I struggled to fall asleep that night, waiting and listening for more noises in the next room. 

The next morning, I cautiously looked where I had heard the footsteps coming from and was shocked to see carpeted flooring! 

At breakfast, I asked the owners if there were ever any reports of unusual happenings. They asked what kind of “happenings.” 

I told them the story of the footsteps, and Mr. Murphy said, “Oh, that’s nothing. That happens all the time.” 

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