It's main claim to fame is the "Lincoln Flag," the actual red, white, and blue banner that hung from the front of Lincoln's theater box and was used as a pillow for his head after he was fatally wounded at the Ford Theater. The bloody bunting was taken by the theater manager Thomas Gourlay, who gave it to his actress daughter Jeannie, who happened to be a player in "Our American Cousin" that fateful night. She married a Milford man, and the flag ended up with her son, Paul Struthers, who used to hang it on his porch every July 4th. He eventually donated it to the Society.
They have other stuff - the noose used for the only public hanging in Pike County history, an exhibit on Chief Thundercloud, who's visage may have been engraved on the Buffalo nickel and five dollar gold piece, William Jennings Bryan fedoras, a presentation of mourning clothes, a Gifford Pinchot area (he was a PA governor and conservationist whose family had an estate in Milford), an exhibit of the belongings of Charles Saunders Peirce, the mathematician and philosopher often called the "father of pragmatism" and his wife Marie, displays of Lenape artifacts, rooms dedicated to early wars...well, all kind of museum oddities, minus King Tut (after all, he wasn't from Pike county).
As you might imagine with a collection like that, there have been reports of some eerie activity from The Columns. And oddly, Old Abe isn't included in them; the White House halls seem to be his otherworldly hang out. But even without the Rail Splitter, paranormal groups visit the museum every so often with heat detectors, tape recorders, and video cameras to get in on the ethereal action.
Dark Illusions Paranormal Investigators filmed ghostly mists and forms in the Columns, and heard clicking sounds, like a woman's heels, walking from Mrs. Peirce's room to Chief Thundercloud's. They visited on a Friday the 13th, and their results are posted on youtube.
Banshee Paranormal Investigators recorded a voice saying, "This is mine," over and over in a room filled with old cradles, one of which was made by a slave. And they took sequential photos of the door to Mrs. Peirce's room, showing that it closed on its own volition.
Other people told of visions of a small woman in the basement, several dancers on The Column's main floor and the spectral scene of a woman falling (or being pushed) down the third-floor servants' staircase while a man at the top of the steps watched. Two volunteers reported unspecified creepy doings in the Music Room as well.
But the star of this show is Juliette Peirce, Charles' widow. She was by all accounts head-over-heels in love with her philosopher hubby, but he wasn't quite pragmatic enough to turn his considerable brainpower into folding green. He died impoverished, and she slowly sold off their possessions, even reading tarot cards (she was supposed to have the deck used to predict Napoleon's downfall) to make ends meet in her later years. The remains of their estate after she passed on went to the museum. Apparently, Juliette was pretty possessive of the few belongings she had left.
It’s said that her spirit roams the second floor hallway, and she doesn't always play nice with visitors who get too touchy with her things. It's been reported that a couple of guests have been sent scurrying down the stairs in terror after a run-in with Juliette.
Linda Zimmermann, ghost investigator and author, has been to The Columns a few times and believes she's made Juliette's acquaintance. She encountered Madame, her nickname from her fortune telling days as a tarot reader, on the main stairway on the second floor. The apparition was dressed in late nineteenth century style clothing, matching her era on earth. The spirit beckoned to Linda and led her to the back room, which housed the Peirce family artifacts.
The name “Beatrice” kept popping up in Zimmermann's mind, followed by her bumping into a painting of a woman named Beatrice Bailey hanging in the hallway. That led to a room where she found a portrait of Juliette Peirce, confirming that she was the woman who Linda saw at the stairs.
It's thought that Juliette is so attached to the remaining items from her and Charles' days in Milford that she can't bear to leave them, even to rejoin her hubby on the other side.
Most senior and long-time staffers pooh-pooh all the ghost talk, as to be expected. But they do occasionally give a nudge and a wink acknowledgement, using the lore for The Column's good. The organization held an event called “The Ghost Gathering” just six weeks ago. And Linda Zimmermann has The Columns included in her book “Ghost Investigator Volume 9: Back from the Dead.”
Hey, we like to believe that the ghost hunters were on to something. And we'd love to know why Juliette was visiting Chief Thundercloud on Friday the 13th; that sounds like a good storyline by itself.