It Was a Dark and Stormy Night….at Whispers Estate

It may be a cliché to say it was a dark and stormy night, but as we pulled into the eerily empty downtown of Mitchell, Indiana on our way to tour Whispers Estate, it literally WAS a dark and stormy night. In fact, it rained for the better part of two and a half hours as my 19-year-old daughter and I made the drive south of Bedford but, as we were headed to an actual purported haunted house, we didn’t really mind. It only added to the experience.

Whisper Estate in Mitchell, Indiana

Whispers Estate in Mitchell, Indiana

Frankly, as we crawled to a halt on Warren Street, we both realized this place didn’t need any help from Mother Nature. If spooky has a poster child, it’s Whispers Estates.

Pulling up in the dark, it wasn’t difficult finding the place. Just picture a typical block near the downtown of any small Indiana burg with its large older homes in various shapes and sizes and you’re half way there. Now picture one of those large houses standing silent, dark and foreboding with only creepy purple light streaming from its street lamps and you’ve crossed over to the other side. Whispers Estate announces its presence in silence and – lucky you – you get to pray that silence is the only thing you hear. Given its past history of growls, knocks, self-closing doors, childish singing, falling objects, mysterious footsteps and vague whispers – hence the name, Whispers Estate – before the night is over, you may be begging for a little silence from beyond the grave yourself.

And did I mention the earthquake shaking toilets? Which, in this instance, have nothing to do with either my husband or too many refried beans? More on that in a moment.

We parked on the street, somewhat unsure of what to do as I had forgotten when I registered for our hour-long flashlight tour that we were to meet in the garage in the backyard. I did, however, remember that we were to wear athletic shoes. No hard sole shoes are allowed on any flashlight tours or mini investigations to reduce background noise. This became a reoccurring and somewhat unsettling theme during our visit to Whispers Estate. The home’s owner, Van Renier, and his tour guides are very serious about the goings on at Whispers Estate and, collectively, they take great pains to explain away and debunk ANY unusual occurrences. Their attitude was so upfront about what wasn’t paranormal that, I’ll admit, I was impressed. And then, I’ll admit too, I was nervous.

If they voluntarily explain every odd noise, just what, pray tell, can we attribute to the UNexplained ones? That had me pondering.

My daughter, Jackie – a lover of all things ghostly – stood back on the sidewalk as I climbed the steps to the front porch where a solitary rocker sat. At any moment I expected it to start rocking on its own, but fortunately, it cooperated which was good since I forgotten to put on a pair of Depends. Naturally, a funeral home stands cattycorner to the house and, in this dark little town which seems to have forgotten to pay the light bill, it was the only building well lit. Turning back toward the house, I tried peering through the windows, but could see nothing as they were blacked out. Terrific, I thought. Bring on the dark.

Jackie in her element at Whisper Estate

Jackie in her element at Whispers Estate

Back on the sidewalk, we were joined by three middle-aged couples who didn’t know each other, but who all happened to live in Avon. Since there is safety in numbers, we proceeded as a group through the rain to the backyard and entered the garage which serves as a makeshift launching pad to the supernatural world beyond.

There we signed in, handed over our liability release waivers – which declared us to be healthy and which gave the folks at Whispers Estates permission to seek emergency medical treatment if we needed it – we selected our flashlights from a basket on the table, and sat down to await our tour. As we sat, we chatted with the guides while also looking at posters displaying pictures of past visitors who apparently got more their money’s worth. From a police officer with a large bite mark on his arm to a teenager with three strange, red scratches on the back of his neck, evidence mounted that this wasn’t your standard, run-of-the-mill, high-school-fundraiser, pop-up-only-at-Halloween type of experience.

And naturally it was after I read the description of some earthquake-like experiences on the toilet that I heard my daughter ask innocently enough, “Is there a bathroom I can use?”

Great. No more soda for you, grasshopper.

Like most old garages, the one at Whispers Estate is potty free, so one of the tour guides led us through the back door of the house to the small bathroom just off the kitchen. Fortunately, there was a light, but bright as it was, we still looked around nervously while awaiting a good shaking as we took turns doing our business. Had something happened, at least we would have been in the right place.

Returning to the garage, we joined the other six for a lesson on the house’s less than pleasant history. Note – I stuck around and was able to hear this same introduction to the 10 p.m. tour group which was comprised of young girls (who I would guess to be about 10-years-old) and their parents. As I sat in the background listening to this same introduction, I realized that the guide was downplaying certain aspects of the goings on in the house – and rightly so. Once more I was impressed with the staff at Whispers Estate. Apparently, when you give tours at a house that is really haunted, the goal is to not work at scaring the guests. After all, why make the effort when you can let the house do it for you?

Young Rachel Gibbons died in the house and may have never left.

Young Rachel Gibbons died in the house and may have never left.

Flashlights in hand, the eight of us finally proceeded through the backdoor. One poor man had made the unfortunate mistake of expressing a lack of enthusiasm for all things paranormal so our first tour guide nominated him to open the doors of each room as we entered. Another victim – I mean, visitor – was nominated to shut the doors of each room behind us. Quickly, we proceeded through the main hallway to the parlor where we sat down and the real tour began.

For the record, I’m not going to give away any of the tour highlights. Each room is unique and comes with its own story. For example, in the parlor we were first introduced to Rachel, the young adopted daughter of Dr. John Gibbons and his wife Jessie. One Christmas eve, Rachel snuck downstairs to peek at the presents, but her nightgown caught fire in the parlor and she died a few days later as the result of her injuries. Mother Jessie died in the master bedroom of tuberculosis. Four other people are also known to have died in the house, not counting any patients of Dr. Gibbons, who apparently couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

The flashlight tour covers the house from attic to basement including a red-painted room that had each of us muttering, “redrum” from Stephen King’s “The Shining.” The good doctor’s exam room did give me a frightful start when I noticed the scale on the floor, which reminded me of the horribly hateful one in my own bathroom back home. My daughter nearly fainted when she spied an actual rotary phone and may still need counseling.

As we toured the house, the three women from Avon openly called out to Rachel throughout the house, but heard nothing in reply. The house’s owner, Van Renier, joined us at the end of the tour and asked that none of the child spirits be provoked. Van is protective of his young spirits, though not so with the one referred to as “Big Black” who may be responsible for the scar over his right eye – tangible evidence from his own encounter when he was shoved down the stairs of the attic.

Our tour was the first of the night at 8 p.m. and, for the most part, we survived it unscathed. The 9 p.m. tour apparently was not so lucky, given that a large shadow followed them up those same attic stairs responsible for Renier’s scar and, while the group stood in the “redrum” red room, they could hear soft knocking on the door. The guides told us that, as the night progresses, activity picks up so if you’re dead set – excuse my pun – on having an experience, the later the better.

Of course there had to be creepy clown dolls in Rachel's bedroom.

Of course there had to be creepy clown dolls in Rachel’s bedroom.

As for me, I will admit, I’ve never had an encounter with anything paranormal. But I’m not saying I don’t believe. Two people whom I have known all of my life and who will remain anonymous have had experiences and they are two of the most honest and least imaginative people I know. As for me, nothing.

I shared my lack of paranormal experiences with Van who did give me the greatest chill of the night. As we discussed his own experiences in the house which have led him to believe and my own lack of paranormal experience, he warmed, “You can’t un-ring the bell. Do you really want to fall down the rabbit hole? Because once it happens, you can’t go back and pretend it didn’t.”

Now that’s a scary thought.

For me, it has yet to happen. At least, I think it hasn’t happened. In Jessie’s bedroom I experienced a feeling – I won’t give it away so as to not prejudice you should you go – just as our guide began to describe this very same feeling. Was it paranormal? I don’t know. I also don’t know if I really want to thoroughly un-ring that bell. But curiosity is a wicked mistress so I’m sure at some point, I will go back.

I left with a t-shirt stating I had been examined by Dr. John.

I left with a t-shirt stating I had been examined by Dr. John.

If you would like to un-ring that bell for yourself, Whispers Estate offers flashlight tours hourly from 8 p.m. to midnight and mini-investigations starting at midnight through either 3 or 4 a.m. (the times change from month to month) beginning at the end of August and running every weekend through October. Halloween is primetime so make your reservations early as tours and investigations fill up fast and the number of participants is limited. While regular tour hours end after Halloween, Whispers Estate is happy to schedule visitations for groups of 10 or more at other times throughout the year. My suggestion? Even if there are only seven or eight of you, given them a call and ask. They may just accommodate you.

Flashlight tours run $10 per person and, in my opinion, are well worth it even if you don’t end up wetting yourself in the process. Mini investigations run $10 per hour per person, thus an investigation from midnight to 3 a.m. will cost you $30 per person, and until 4 a.m. will cost you $40 per person. I haven’t participated in a mini investigation yet so I can’t tell you what goes on, but it is definitely on the bucket list and you can get a sense for these investigations on YouTube.

For more information on Whispers Estate and to schedule a tour or mini investigation, check out the website at: http://whispersestate.com/

To follow the mansion’s haunted happenings like the Whispers Estate’s Facebook page at:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/whispersestate?fref=ts

Follow my newspaper column blog at: http://outaroundwithrobin.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobinFritz or email at outaroundwithrobin@gmail.com

481266_10203777348727600_1608806686782902373_nBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

Winding My Way Through Indiana’s Wineries

I’m having a fruit fit and we’re not talking salad. I can’t decide whether I want blueberry, blackberry, red raspberry, cherry, plum or apple. And let’s not forget grape. Fortunately, as part of the Rushville Psi Iota Xi Fall Wine Tour, I can sample each delicious fruit-filled wine before I decide which – or even how many – bottles to buy and take home. And trust me, it’s a difficult decision. I’m currently drooling over the blueberry at Ertel Cellars Winery just a few miles southeast of Batesville, and we’ve only just started the tour. Plus, I have a hankering for merlot, the day is young, the wine samples will be plentiful, and I have to carry what I buy.

Bottles of wine at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Bottles of wine at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Good thing I work out.

And good thing the Psi Iota Xi wine tour comes with a chauffeured tour bus because, if past history is any indication, I’m a cheap date and will need it. Fortunately, Psi Iota Xi has pulled out all of the stops with the tour I’m on, and it’s doing the same again with its upcoming 2014 fall wine tour highlighting three area wineries, including Buck Creek Winery, Simmons Winery and Mallow Run Winery. This year’s tour is set for Saturday, November 1st, and, in addition to the tour bus transportation, it includes a sampling of wines at each location, one meal and prizes in addition to garden and back room tours.

What can I say? Sign me up – again!

Also, take note, you may receive a free wine trail wine glass at each location. We did on our tour, but I’m not sure if that’s part of the November 1st tour. As the glasses are cute and, well, are wine glasses, it’s worth asking about at the first stop. Still, cute as they are, they pale in comparison to my new favorite plastic wine glass with straw and a lid to keep bugs out, courtesy of my friend, Michelle, who introduced me to wine touring by bus in all of its many glories. Now THAT’S a friend!

The three wineries to be toured on November 1st are just some of the seven wineries that make up the “Indy Wine Trail,” one of five designated wine trails in Indiana. The wine trails stretch from Braiali Winery in far northeastern Indiana (on the “Wineries of Indiana’s North East Trail”) to the Pepper’s Ridge Winery in the Evansville area (part of the “Hoosier Wine Trail”) and include various parts in between. The Indy Wine Trail – not to be confused with the “Indiana Wine Trail” – also includes urban wineries in Indianapolis such as Chateau Thomas in addition to Simmons, the furthest south on the Indy Wine Trail, near Columbus.

The five Indiana wine trails are the brain child of the Indiana Wine Grape Council and were created to foster collaboration between regional wineries in an effort to offer customers a localized wine experience. Visitors can travel from winery to winery to learn about the various wines produced in the state with wine tastings offered regularly at each location. As the trails include visits to several wineries, everyone is encouraged to designate a driver – such as our poor tour bus operator who gets to travel to each winery without touching a single drop so have mercy and tip him or her well – and drink responsibly.

So many bottles, so little time....

So many bottles, so little time….

At Buck Creek Winery in southeastern Marion County, Psi Iota Xi tour guests will sample from Buck Creek’s large collection of red and white wines and will get a private tour of the back room. With names like Dew Drop (a sweet white with a hint of peach and citrus) and Christmas Cherry (a vibrant red made from sweet and tart cherries), deciding which to buy at Buck Creek may also have you eenie, meenie, minie, mowing your way around a half dozen bottles too. Or maybe that’s just me.

The tasting room and restaurant at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

The tasting room and restaurant at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

At Simmons Winery, tour guests will enjoy lunch while sampling wines and wandering the winery’s beautiful gardens. Located on the family’s 115-year-old farm in northeastern Bartholomew County, Simmons also offers a market during the summer months and features pumpkins come fall. With red, white and blush wines available, Simmons – like many of Indiana’s wineries – also makes several specialty wines, including a sweet dessert wine, Vidal Ice, and Winter Spice, a sweet red Marechal Foch combined with brown sugar and mulling spices which is great served warm, especially during the holidays.

At Mallow Run Winery located near Bargersville in Johnson County, try the Dry Traminette which is made completely from grapes grown in Indiana. A dry white with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and apple, it’s perfect for a fall stroll around the grounds. And, like many of Indiana’s other wineries, Mallow Run offers several sweet fruit wines, including its number one selling rhubarb wine, a zippy little number with a tart zing, not to mention a gold medal “best in show” award from this year’s Indy International Wine Competition.

As for the aforementioned Dry Traminette, that wine is actually produced from a grape specifically cultivated to grow in the harsh climate of the Midwest. The Traminette grape was created by Herb Barrett at the University of Illinois originally as a table grape, but it was found to have excellent wine qualities in addition to partial resistance to several fungal diseases. The Traminette also proved to be more cold hardy than its more established parent, the Gewurztraminer grape, while retaining its flavorful character. The Indiana Wine Growers Council has named wine made from the Traminette grape as the signature wine of Indiana so, as a fellow Hoosier, you should definitely give it a try.

According to Purdue University, Indiana’s wine industry annually contributes more than $72 million to the state’s economy, with Indiana wine sales growing on average by more than 15 percent a year. The exploding number of wineries in Indiana – from nine to nearly 80 since 1989 – have certainly helped with the growth in those numbers. Indiana’s wineries currently grow grapes on more than 600 acres, with Indiana wine production exceeding 1 million gallons a year – which translates into 5 million bottles, half of which I’ve probably sampled. Ok, maybe not, but it’s definitely on my bucket list.

As for this fall’s wine tour, Psi Iota Xi has opened it up to the public, but as the tour bus is only so big, it’s first come, first served with a limit of 55 seats. Tickets cost $60 per person in advance and include the very worthwhile tour bus transportation for the day, wine tastings at each winery, a delicious meal, and a drawing for prizes. Again, tickets must be purchased in advance – no same day sales – and can be purchased from the Rushville Public Library. For more information call Jan Garrison at 765-561-1105 or e-mail janmg@rpl.lip.in.us or Robin Sowder at rsowder0602@gmail.com.

The bus departs from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Rushville at 9:30 a.m. – go to the west side of the church and just look for the big bus. Return time is approximately 5:30 p.m., but as that’s approximate, you may want to text your designated driver from the bus.

Vats of future goodness at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

Vats of future goodness at Ertel Cellars Winery near Batesville, Indiana

As for Psi Iota Xi, it is a charitable women’s philanthropic organization with chapters throughout the Midwest and places a special emphasis on speech and hearing-related causes. With that said, it’s great to be able to support a worthy cause while also enjoying a Saturday outing to experience some of the wonders Indiana has to offer, even if the end result blurs my speech in the process.

If you can’t make the tour, I encourage you to still check out Indiana’s wineries, several of which also have restaurants on site. Hours and days of operation differ at each winery, with some locations changing their availability based upon the seasons. For more information, to get directions or to plan your own visit to any of the three wineries on this year’s Psi Iota Xi tour, check out their websites at:

Buck Creek Winery – http://buckcreekwinery.com.

Simmons Winery – http://www.simmonswinery.com

Mallow Run Winery – http://mallowrun.com

For information on the Indy Wine Grape Council and the Indiana wine trails, go to:

http://www.indianawines.org/tour/wine-trails

Next Week – I explore Stream Cliff Herb Farm and Winery.

Follow my blog at: http://outaroundwithrobin.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RobinFritz or email at outaroundwithrobin@gmail.com

481266_10203777348727600_1608806686782902373_nBy Robin Winzenread Fritz

Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News