Historic Elks Club becomes favorite local “haunt”
By Beth L. Koop
(As previously published in the Daily Press)
ST. MARYS – While the Fraternal Order of Elks Club has a 150-year history in the U.S., some say the St. Marys Elks Club can sometimes be more of a “fright club” with many peculiar incidents occurring over the years since the historic building was constructed in 1918.
Many who have frequented the Elks Club at 33 Lafayette Street in downtown St. Marys say they have encountered experiences that cannot be explained.
In October of 1918, not long after construction of the Elks Club building, an outbreak of Spanish influenza hit St. Marys particularly hard, according to the Historical Society of St. Marys and Benzinger Township. Because of the severity of the outbreak, the Elks Club building was transformed into a makeshift emergency hospital, occupying all three floors. Nineteen influenza-related deaths were recorded within the walls of the temporary hospital, including a fever-crazed man who jumped to his death from an upstairs window.
The influenza epidemic subsided only about a month later, but by then 118 deaths had occurred in St. Marys due to the flu. More than half were young men and women between the ages of 18 and 35.
Many who now visit the 100-year-old building feel as if a few patients are still lingering in the hallowed halls where so many people passed away.
One report was from a woman who had come into work in the office one evening when the Elks Club was closed. She brought along her two young grandsons who were quietly playing in the front hallway below the grand staircase to the second floor.
As she worked in the office, she heard talking and thought nothing of it, assuming that her grandsons were talking among themselves. She went out to the hallway to check on them and found both boys were looking up the stairs and talking as if to someone who was upstairs.
When she asked them who they were speaking to, one of the boys said, “That man up there.”
Photo at right by Beth Koop. Pictured is the grand staircase to the second floor of the historic Elks Lodge in downtown St. Marys.
She couldn’t see anyone and insisted there was no one else in the building but the three of them. The young boy argued that there was someone there. “He’s standing right there,” he said pointing up the stairs. She asked her young grandson to describe the man and he described the man as an older gentleman.
Seeing no one and knowing there was no one else there, she quickly packed up her work and the children and left for the night.
Both staff and members have also described feeling uneasy within certain areas of the building, especially the front hallway where most of the inexplicable events have occurred.
One member recalled coming in to open the club and flicking on the the ceiling fan lights in the hallway as he entered. When the light didn’t come on, he frustratingly thought to himself that he couldn’t believe the lights were out knowing the lightbulbs were still relatively new. As soon as he thought this, the lights came on.
Now a bit shook, he walked into the bar of the club and turned on the flood lights in the room and jokingly announced to an empty room, “Okay everyone, I’m here.” The lights in the bar room began to flash off and on and he joked out loud again, “Well, thank you. You didn’t have to acknowledge my presence.” And with that the lights stopped flashing and stayed on for the rest of the evening.
Photo at right by Beth Koop. The photograph of Chas S. A. Vivian, the founder of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, is located at the bottom of the grand staircase inside the front hallway of the Elks Club building on Lafayette Street in St. Marys.
On another evening at closing time, two members said they were just about ready to walk out of the bar room for the evening when they noticed through the swinging bar room door windows a shadowy figure walk across the front hallway from one side of the hallway to the next. They knew they were the only people in the building and never heard any of the creaky, heavy doors open or shut in the hallway.
One Elks member said he was alone one night cleaning up after a night of Bingo. He went into the basement to take out the trash and out the basement door into the alley to dump the garbage leaving the door wide open. When he returned to go back in, the door was closed and locked, which forced him to walk to the front of the building and get back in through the front door. When he returned to the basement door, the door was wide open again.
Several Elks members said they’ve had multiple problems with motion detectors, security cameras and electricity in general. On several occasions in the middle of the night, members would get notifications on their cell phones that something had set off motion detectors within the building. While cameras detected nothing on their cell phone screens, they chalked it up to the ongoing problems with the motion detectors. However, not long after the system was installed, any security footage that had been recorded during that time was suddenly and inexplicably wiped out.
More recently in the last few weeks, members went to the upstairs ballroom to set up for a corn hole tournament and to check that everything was working properly and ready to go for the event. When they went up to the ballroom a few days later for the event, the backside of the bar, restrooms and the heater had no power.
“There were four of us here that went through all the fuses, all the panel boxes that we have and nothing was tripped, nothing was wrong,” one member said. “We don’t know why, but we still don’t have power.”
Whatever the reason for these freaky frequencies, members say they’re not afraid of whatever occupants may lurk in dark rooms of the building. Instead many members often feel comforted knowing they and the club are being well looked after.
“They’re not mean. They don’t seem like they want to hurt you or scare you, but you can feel the presence of someone here.”
Editor’s note: This is the last of three light-hearted St. Marys “ghost” stories featured in the month of October. Until next year, happy hauntings! (A special thanks to author, artist, activist and educator, John Schlimm for contributing and collaborating on this series of stories.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Beth L. Koop is a native of Johnstown, PA. She returned back to Pennsylvania after living 25 years in Florida where she was a reporter covering everything from community politics to alligator hunting. Beth is formerly the Editor/Writer of Butler County Business Matters in Butler, PA and is now the Editor of The Daily Press, and The Ridgway Record in Elk County and The Kane Republican in McKean County. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a Master’s Degree in Communications from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
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