Hannah House, located at 3801 Madison Avenue, is a historic house full of history and haunted tales. Paranormal experts and fans have dubbed it one of the most haunted houses in Indiana, and it has been featured in many books and articles about Indiana’s spookier history.

Woman sitting on the front steps of Hannah House, ca. 1900
Credit: The Indiana Album: Hannah House Collection

The house’s namesake, Alexander Moore Hannah (b. 1821 – d. 1895), was a prominent businessperson and farmer. He grew up in Indiana and worked as a harness maker for many years before moving to California in 1850 to make his fortune during the California gold rush. He succeeded and invested in a barley and vegetable ranch. After five years he sold his share of the ranch and returned to Indiana to work with his father Samuel Hannah (b. 1789-d. 1869) at the Indiana Central Railroad. Within two years, Hannah had made enough money to purchase a 240-acre farm on the southside of Indianapolis. Here he grew wheat, corn, oats, and hay, and raised livestock, including cattle, sheep, and hogs. The property also held a stretch of the Indianapolis-Southport Toll Road, a gravel road that spanned Indianapolis to Madison. Hannah used this to his advantage and collected tolls from 1860 to 1895.

Hannah built the multi-story, Italianate brick house on his property in 1858. He lived in the 24-room house alone, apart from his staff, until 1872 when Hannah married Elizabeth Jackson (b. 1835 – d. 1888). After he married, Hannah constructed a service building that included a smokehouse, a milk cooling room, staff quarters, and a washhouse. The couple had just one child, who was stillborn on March 16, 1875.

Men behind Hannah House, ca. 1915
Credit: The Indiana Album: Hannah House Collection

Because Hannah had no heirs, his farm was subdivided and sold after his death. The house sat empty for four years before Roman Oehler, a German immigrant and Civil War veteran, purchased it along with 21 acres of the property in 1899. Oehler passed the house to his daughter Romena Oehler Elder and her husband Marion Elder, who lived there with their four children. Romena lived in the house until the early 1960s but continued to maintain ownership for several years after she moved out. She passed the home on to her children and their spouses.

The Elder family rented the house out for several years during the 1960s and 1970s to John and Gladys O’Brien, who ran an antique store in the home. During this time, hauntings began to be reported. These were the typical “haunted house” occurrences—unexplained noises, lights and electronic devices turning on and off, and objects moving on their own.

Marion and Romena Elder next to the porch of Hannah House, ca. 1940
Credit: The Indiana Album: Hannah House Collection

After the O’Brien’s moved out, the Elder family worked to get Hannah House placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The Elders began holding events at the house in the 1980s to raise funds to maintain the house and offset rising property taxes. They held parties, murder mystery dinners, music performances, Easter egg hunts, weddings, haunted houses, art shows, and flea markets.

With more people visiting the house, the number of otherworldly experiences increased. People claimed that the smell of burning candles wafted down from the attic, where servants who had lived in the house supposedly had kept an altar. Several people have mentioned experiencing the foul smell of rotting flesh in the first bedroom at the top of the stairs. Multiple ghosts have been spotted, including a man in a black suit who walks the upstairs hall, a woman near a window on the second floor, and a stillborn baby–presumed to be Elizabeth’s.

Handmade poster for the Hannah House, ca. 1975
Credit: The Indiana Album: Hannah House Collection

The most prevalent haunted tale at Hannah House is that of the freedom seekers. According to legend, Alexander Hannah’s house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Hannah supposedly supplied a safe place for enslaved people to hide in his outbuildings during the day, and he would take them north via wagon at night. On one unfortunate night, Hannah had to hide a group of enslaved people in his cellar while he was away. One of the people accidentally knocked over a lantern, a fire broke out, and everyone perished. Hannah purportedly buried their bodies in the cellar to keep authorities from discovering that his home was part of the Underground Railroad.

There is no evidence to confirm this legend as true. What is known is that Hannah was a Quaker and abolitionist and that his property, located far from the city’s population, could have been a good place for a stop on the Underground Railroad. Still, visitors to the house have claimed to see ghosts and smell burning flesh when near the cellar.

Basement at Hannah House, 1966
Credit: The Indiana Album: Hannah House Collection

Taking advantage of Hannah House’s alleged hauntings, the Paranormal Meet and Greet group has held its annual meeting there since 2008. This gathering of paranormal experts and fans has grown steadily each year, bringing continued interest in Hannah House.

Revised May 2023

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