Mffled cheers hang in humid air, the sound of hopeful Cleveland Indians fans enjoying an afternoon game. Progressive Field looms behind Sonya Horstman as she stands in Erie Street Cemetery talking about the curse on our city and its sports-related repercussions.
“There is a well-known phenomenon about Cleveland,” she says. “That we can’t win, and people leave.”
As the owner and host of Haunted Cleveland Tours, Horstman brings guests here — a downtown graveyard across the street from the Tribe’s ballpark — to talk about the curse. But the hex to which she’s referring has nothing to do with the well-worn yarn of a jinx fueled by the Tribe’s 1960 trade of Rocky Colavito.
Instead, she points to the mistreatment of American Indians as the cause of our woes. Horstman mentions the execution of Chippewa Indian John O’Mic, whom she contends uttered a curse upon the city as he stood on a scaffold in Public Square, waiting to be hanged. (For the record, The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History confirms the hanging but suggests the last words that left O’Mic’s lips were a request for whiskey.)
“That’s what my ghost tour is about,” Horstman says. “I look at the local legends and ghost lore, and I start diving into the history.”
Horstman, a single mother and self-proclaimed psychic who lives in Oberlin, started her Haunted Cleveland Tours seven years ago after years of ghost research. Though she originally worked with a partner, that business relationship dissolved, and she now conducts a variety of tours single-handedly.
As we walk deeper into Erie Street Cemetery, Horstman continues explaining why spirits are restless here: While building nearby Progressive Field, excavators found and disregarded an ancient Indian campsite. (Again, her foreboding message is backed up by a bit of history: TheEncyclopediareports remains of a small camp were discovered in the area in 1988.)
And while her tours have kernels of historical truth, Horstman seems to infuse the facts with supernatural stories to create an entertaining concoction that’s part fact, part paranormal hearsay. The result is the same: History buffs and ghost enthusiasts alike sign on for Horstman’s bus tours, which feature downtown stops such as PlayhouseSquare and the Cuyahoga County Archives Building — supposedly home to a ball-bouncing ghost of a young boy. Horstman offers these eerie details calmly and unemotionally during our one-on-one interview, perhaps saving the theatrics for her paying guests.
“If you don’t believe in ghosts and you come on my tour,” she offers, “it might make a believer out of you.”
Visit hauntedclevelandtours.com for more information about Horstman’s tours.