Scary Stories and Ghost Tours at the Athenaeum

If spending the night in one of the city’s most historic buildings is on your bucket list, or if you simply want to support the Athenaeum Foundation and walk away with a story or two to tell your coworkers, you are in luck. But you need to act fast. On Oct. 20, for the first time, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., the co-owners and tour guides for UnseenPress Historic Indiana Ghost Walks and Tours will host a group of up to 50 guests as a fundraiser for the historic Athenaeum building’s foundation downtown.

“This is our first overnight at the Athenaeum, but we have spent a lot of time there, of course, as we walk in the theater’s lobby during our Chatham Arch Lockerbie Ghost Walk,” says UnseenPress co-owner and tour guide Michael Kobrowski.

The event will include tours of 14 different areas, including the theater.

Unlike a “commercial ‘haunted house,’” he adds, “nobody is instructed to jump out and scare you. It’s about finding evidence and having paranormal experiences. … It’s going to be a group investigation. We will give a quick tour of the areas, talk about the history, and, of course, the hauntings people experienced in those areas. Then we will split up in groups of three or four people and rotate through the 14 different areas to investigate.”

Whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, the building’s history alone is enough to raise the hair on the back of most necks. For instance, it was the site of autopsies and medical classes in the late 1890s and early 1900s, until a “grave robbing scandal kind of slowed that down,” says Michael.

One of the teachers at the medical school—also an instructor at the Normal College of the North American Gymnast Union in the Athenaeum—Dr. Helene Knabe’s presence has also been believed to be seen in the building, he says. Dr. Knabe was brutally murdered in her apartment, and her killers were never brought to justice, according to the research of Michael and his wife, Nicole Kobrowski. (Local art and design followers, take note: Dr. Knabe is not likely related to the Carmel artist Walter Knabe, according to research by the Kobrowskis. However, because she was from the eastern part of Germany, Michael says, many records there were destroyed, making it difficult to do much of an investigation of Dr. Knabe’s family tree.)

Other reported apparitions include a figure that the Kobrowskis believe to be German-American businessman and politician Peter Lieber, as well as unexplained dark shadows in the theater balcony area. These sightings are also mentioned on the walking tour.

This is also the first time the Kobrowskis will be touring the Atheaneaum with the public. However, it’s not the sole public overnight event that UnseenPress has hosted. Recently, this tandem hosted a similar experience at the Westfield Playhouse in Eagletown, a theater that is housed in an old church.

If you don’t want to spend an entire night at the Athenaeum, there are a number of tours with openings throughout October and even into December. UnseenPress keeps its online schedule up to date as to sellouts and newly added tours. The Kobrowskis also offer private ghost walks or bus tours year round. Tip: the Chatham Arch Lockerbie Ghost Walk, which recaps a fascinating, dark side of the history of the city’s oldest neighborhoods (we don’t want to give too much away), starts and ends outside of the Athenaeum building. But don’t forget that the city’s oldest restaurant, the Rathskeller, is located inside the Athenaeum building in case you’re in the mood–before or after your journey–for a big pretzel and a Bavarian pint.

Tickets for the Oct. 20 overnight event at the Athenaeum are available for $50 to the first 50 people online, or until Oct. 15, whichever comes first. As of Oct. 1, about half of the spots were already taken.

UnseenPress walking tours through the end of 2012 are $15 per person unless otherwise noted. Seniors (65 and up), $10. Children under 11, $10. Children under 3, free. Tours recommended for children 6 and up. (Prices to increase in 2013.)

Photo by Tony Valainis