Then & Now | Franklin Castle

It’s nearly Halloween and once again Clevelanders are talking about haunted houses and paranormal experiences.    There are numerous candidates (if you do, indeed, believe in ghosts) in northeastern Ohio, but the one that seems to always get the most attention is the “Franklin Castle”.

Year after year the media comes to focus on this magnificent stone house on Franklin Avenue – and why not?  It certainly looks the part, a stone, turreted late Victorian house and one which saw more than its share of deaths within the family that built it.    It and its carriage house have suffered two fires, and have undergone several restorations.    Certainly it has stories to tell, but the most important one is not about ghosts, either real or imagined, but about the history of the German American population in Cleveland in the late nineteenth century.

It was built by Hannes Tiedemann who emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1848.   He initially settled in New York but moved to Cleveland around 1855, where he prospered beginning as a clerk in a wholesale grocery store and eventually partnering in 1864 with another German, John Christian Weideman, in a wholesale grocery firm. The firm would eventually become one of the largest in the United States.  However, Tiedemann left the firm to start a bank, the Savings and Trust Company in 1883.

His career path was extraordinary, but it exemplified the success of many German immigrants in the city.   By the late nineteenth century, German speaking people constituted the largest ethnic group in the city and many had moved into the middle and upper middle classes.    Many lived on the west side where the more prosperous built substantial homes on Franklin Avenue – indeed it was “the” street on that side of town.  And, that’s what Tiedemann did.  In 1881 he built the current house at what is now 4308 Franklin Avenue (the family had lived in another house at that site since 1866).  It was designed by one of the city’s best architectural firms, Cudell & Richardson.  Franz (Frank) Cudell was also a German immigrant.

The house did see its bit of personal tragedy.   Tiedemann’s mother would die there as, tragically, would four of his children and his wife.   In 1895, he sold the house to the Mullhauser family (yes, German) following his wife’s death.  

Eventually the house would be occupied by a number of German organizations:  the Bildungsverein Eintracht Club, a singing society, and the Deutsche Socialisten.   The latter was, perhaps, the most interesting occupant as it speaks to the strong Socialist movement in Greater Cleveland at the turn of the twentieth century.   Indeed, records from the Club, including a run of the German-language Socialist newspaper, Das Echo, have survived with microfilm of the newspaper now part of the collections of the WRHS research library.

As to the “haunting” of the house – it’s your choice to believe or not to believe it.   The stories of it being haunted seem to have begun around 1965 (just at the time that Ohio City was becoming a prime candidate for historic restoration).    If you do believe it is haunted, there are a variety of candidates – certainly the Tiedemann children, or his wife, or his mother.    But, perhaps, there’s another candidate, Charles Ruthenberg.   

The son of German immigrants, Ruthenberg was a socialist and a candidate for mayor of Cleveland four times and garnered a substantial vote (30% in 1917).  He also threw his hat in the ring for governor, the US Senate, and the House of Representatives.  Chances are that Charles visited the German socialist club at the Tiedemann House at one time or another.   Eventually he gave up on Socialism and became one of the founders of the American Communist Party.    He too, like many of the Tiedemann family, died rather early (at the age of 45 from a ruptured appendix).   So, if you want to commune with his spirit, you might try the “Franklin Castle” or visit his grave in Moscow!   His ashes are interred at the Kremlin Wall, one of three Americans (the others being “Big Bill” Haywood, and John Reed) are buried there as an honor by the Soviet Union.  So, maybe we should commune with Charles’s spirit and ask about the house in Cleveland.   Would his response be:  “Ja, es spukt in dem Haus!”??  Boo!