The Mansion that Becomes a Haunted House for Halloween

By STEVE KAUFMAN
Contributing Writer

Just a shame what happens to Amelia Place this time of year.

The stately, elegant, historic, old Cherokee Triangle mansion off of Longest Avenue may be the official residence of University of Louisville president James Ramsey and his wife, Jane, but even that can’t stop the appearance of spider webs all over the place, of rats up and down the staircase and on bookshelves, of cats creeping about in the corners of the big rooms.

Vacuum cleaners appear to be operating on their own and floor mops actually spin around and shriek with laughter.

And candy is strewn about, attracting children who come right in through the front door in all manner of strange dress, some with masks on their faces.

“It’s my favorite time of the year,” proclaims Jane Ramsey, who doesn’t seem to mind the rats and cats and laughing floor mops, or even the bloody ghosts around the doorways. “When we lived in Frankfort, they had a Halloween house-decorating contest, which we won a couple of times. And that carried on to Bowling Green. So it has become my special project.”

When the Ramseys came back to Louisville, they settled in an Oldham County neighborhood that turned out to have no little trick-or-treaters.

“That’s when I decided to make this house my Halloween project, and it kind of developed from there,” she said. “The first year, we just gave out candy. And then, as we began using this house to entertain groups, and having parties, it seemed natural to do all this fun decorating.”

As Jane Ramsey accumulated all the Halloween-themed accoutrements from year to year, the decorating became more and more elaborate. And her growing passion led to even more props. “My birthday is in October,” she said, “so I always get some new Halloween decorations.”

Her gift this year was the self-propelled mop with its own sense of humor.

So it’s a good thing she has this palatial red brick mansion to work with. Its age and architecture even suggest it’s probably haunted. Ghosts love long hallways, dark corners, back staircases, gables in the roof, forgotten old attics.

It was built around 1903 in the Classical Revival style by the noted Louisville architects Hutchings & Hawes. David A. Jones Sr. bought it for the university in 1980. It’s named after the mother of the late Owsley Brown Frazier, a UofL graduate and former chairman of the board of trustees.

“When Owsley was a little boy, he used to come here and pick the flowers from the grounds,” recounts James Ramsey. “Then he’d take them to Bardstown Road and sell them.”

While most of Ramsey’s predecessors have lived here, the Ramseys elected to remain in their Pewee Valley home so their daughters could finish high school. They also have four dogs who are more country than city.

But they appreciate the entertaining capabilities of the house, and October has been a procession of events for university groups – spirit group, soccer team, volleyball team, etc.

“We had about 200 band members here recently,” James Ramsey recalled, “and our Government Scholars and National Merit Award winners used it as an occasion to try recruiting a new group of local high school scholars for the university.”

Halloween rather than Christmas became the holiday for having groups from the university over, the Ramseys said, because the campus pretty much empties out over Christmas.

Children from the Family Scholar House.

Children from the Family Scholar House.

The event on this particular night was for the Family Scholar House, a local non-profit that offers housing and other support to single parents and their children, so the parents can finish their educations and the children have a safe and supportive environment in which to grow up. It’s one of many worthy causes the Ramseys and the University support.

About 100 children were expected to show up, all in costume, for pizza, candy, cake and cookies. One of the early arrivals was Stephanie Wesley, a recent University of Louisville graduate, and her 5-year-old daughter, Makeda – or, on this night, Wonder Woman.

Makeda’s eyes grew wide as she walked in the front door and took in all the ghosts and witches, goblins and the swirling, laughing mop. She seemed to understand that it was all in fun, but some of Jane Ramsey’s guests here aren’t always so sure.

“Cleaning up is a big job, and sometimes something gets forgotten,” she admits. “One night, a month or two after Halloween, we were having a dinner reception here, and one of the lifelike rats had been left on the molding above the door. It was a brief but uncomfortable moment.”

Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune