My Evening At The Collingwood Arts Center

It was a humid August night in 2014 when I first stepped through the doors of this majestic building.

No matter what time of the day or night, the Collingwood Arts Center is an imposing building that seems to emit an energy all its own. Despite being located on a busy street, it’s almost as if the Arts Center exists in its own private little world, a bubble, swallowing you up within its shadow and isolating you from everything outside its borders.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m prone to romanticizing this particular location because it’s been a favorite of mine ever since I first read about its legendary folklore in high school during the mid-80s. The history, the lore, all of it. Over the years it has certainly been built up in my mind that Collingwood was the mother of all haunted houses in Lucas County. Toledo’s Crown Jewel, supernaturally speaking. So, you can imagine the mixture of excitement and nervousness I was feeling the moment I pulled into the dark, dimly-lit parking lot and seeing that enormous building towering over me.

When Don Collins of Fringe Paranormal invited me along for a private ghosthunt here, I naturally jumped at the chance. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that opportunity. It took twenty-one years to get to this moment; to face the legend of Collingwood. Not that I haven’t tried to gain access in the past, mind you. But, for much of my tenure as a ghosthunter, Collingwood had been, for all intents and purposes, off-limits. For many, many years, the Arts Center had served as a living space for Toledo’s arts community. Out of respect for their tenants, ghosthunts were generally frowned upon. Now that it’s no longer an apartment community, their attitude towards ghosthunters seems to have softened somewhat. (Revenue generated by “paranormal tourism” can change a lot of hearts and minds, but that’s a whole other article.)

I arrived a little past 10pm, slightly late as usual. It was a Saturday and things were eerily quiet for a summer night on Collingwood Boulevard. I saw Don’s car in the lot, but no sign of him. I remember taking several minutes to walk the grounds and get a feel of the place. The majority of windows were dark, but you could sometimes see a hint of light seeping through from the corridors beyond the rooms.

I made my way around to the front of the Center, to the Gerber House. As I made my way up the steps, I could see a half-dozen people or so at work inside. They had just finished up with some kind of event and were in the process of cleaning up and packing things to leave. I stepped inside and caught the attention of a gentleman straightening furniture.

“You with the ghost group?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m supposed to-” I started.

“‘Round back,” he grunted with a nod towards an entrance near the back of the parking lot.

Alrighty then.

I made my way back to the parking lot, walking along the side of the building towards the rear entrance. As I passed each window, I was half-expecting to see “something” peering out of the darkness at me, like a scene out of some horror movie.

As I approached the rear entrance, I realized I had to quash any expectations I may have had. Just because this place has a ton of ghost stories attached to it, I told myself, that doesn’t mean any of them are true. I had to force myself into “skeptic mode.” Standing in front a building like Collingwood at 10:00 o’clock at night, it took everything I had to do it, too.

I met Don in the rear lobby and was introduced to another gentleman standing there with him, Chris Bores.

Chris runs the ghost tours at Collingwood on a fairly regular basis and Don had been able to set up a private tour and hunt for his Fringe team.

The three of us chatted in the lobby, waiting for the rest of Don’s team to arrive. I don’t really remember what all we talked about. I was totally distracted by the amount of history in the building; its architecture; its presence. This building, as silly as it sounds, is definitely alive. You could feel it surrounding you.

Once the rest of the Fringe team arrived and pleasantries were exchanged, Chris Bores took us all on an extensive, top to bottom tour of the building. Every nook and cranny. He pointed out special areas of interest, both historical and paranormal-related, and told us about the variety of experiences he has had in the building. And, then around 11:00 or so, he cut us loose to explore on our own.

Don and his team geared up while discussing their plans for the investigation. Their first stop was the large theater, specifically the balcony, where many have reportedly witnessed the apparition of a ghostly nun.

Not knowing what my role in their investigation would be, I shadowed alongside and watched as they went about the task of setting up their equipment in the balcony area. As I took in the view of the darkened theater before me, I remember feeling totally awestruck that I was finally, physically standing in the very same theater that, previously, I had only visited in books.

Collingwood is an immense, beautiful building. They just do not build them like this anymore. As the Fringe team continued with their set-up, I turned to peer down the massive corridors, first to my right and then to my left. They seemed to go on forever. I stepped closer to nearby doors and stairwells, peering around corners and trying to remember from the tour where each stairway took you. Everything was quiet. Still. The sound of my own feet creaking their way across the old, hardwood flooring was the only thing that interrupted the silence.

It wasn’t long before I was all alone in this great building. Without even thinking about it, I had wandered off from Don and company. I headed back to the theater, but they were no longer inside. I had no idea where they were and was hesitant to shout out for them in case they were running EVP or something. So, I continued on with my exploration, knowing I’d bump into them again at some point.

The building is so large and there are so many things to see that I didn’t cross paths with the Fringe team until nearly an hour and a half later.

It’s also a really easy place to get turned around in if you’re not familiar with its meandering layout. Every corridor is almost indistinguishable from the next so I quickly learned to navigate the building by using a variety of landmarks.

As I moved about the building, I ran video the whole time. Not necessarily to catch something strange and mysterious, but just to document the building. Who knows when the next time will be that I have such unrestricted and private access? I simply wanted to capture the memories of this night so that I could revisit them whenever I wish.

I also thought it would be a good idea to roll digital audio while I went along from hall to hall and room to room. This was a bad idea. As I mentioned previously, the hardwood floors throughout most of the building creak something awful. When I played back the audio the next day, there was very little that could be heard above the squeaking of the floors beneath me.

Though, there was something the recorder picked up in an art room on the first floor, next to a bathroom where some say a child ghost, named Annie, hangs around. As I stood quietly in the room, just a few feet inside the door, I asked, “Is anyone here?”

I heard no audible response at the time, but when playing back that portion of the audio the next day, I could hear – or, at least, I think I heard – a small, quiet voice say, “Yes.”

Was this Annie? Or, was it my imagination? I’m still not sure.

There is so much to see at the Collingwood Arts Center that I could go on and on. Some of the best highlights of my night there would include standing before the statue of, what I assume was, Saint Angela Merici, the founder of the Ursuline order of nuns. Something about that statue inspired me to run an EVP session. Unfortunately, there were no positive results.

I also spend some time sitting in theater. For nearly thirty minutes I sat there, a half-dozen or so rows from the stage, alone and in the dark. Quiet. Still. Eyes closed. Not really waiting for anything. No expectations for something to happen. I just wanted to sit there and be a part of it; part of the quiet. It was almost meditative.

The one part of my visit I will never forget, though, is venturing into the basement, by myself, with full knowledge of the stories that have been told concerning what people have encountered down there, specifically near the laundry room.

As the story goes, the frightening apparition of a darkly-robed and hooded figure has been witnessed on many occasions and has even been said to chase people away. Standing at the top of the narrow stairs, I peered down into the basement and could see the light from the laundry room spill across the floor at the bottom of the steps. This is it. This is the one piece of Collingwood folklore that has always given me the chills. And, now, here it was in front of me.

Do you remember how your stomach felt as you stood in line at the amusement park for your first roller-coaster ride? The anticipation, nervousness, excitement. That’s exactly how I felt as I stepped into that basement.

As I stepped off into the basement, the electricity of the moment was overwhelming, but I knew it was just the excitement of being there. As I inched forward, towards the entrance to the laundry, an electrifying sensation of chilled gooseflesh traveled the course of my body and stopped me dead in my tracks.

I saw nothing out of the ordinary and heard nothing but the beat of my own heart in my ears. But, the intense sensation of electricity and gooseflesh was overwhelming and it was anything but brief. As I stepped into the empty laundry room, the sensation abated a bit, but a new one began taking its place – the feeling of being watched.

To this day, I still can’t tell how much of that experience was caused by my own imagination getting the better of me and how much could’ve been an actual incident of a paranormal nature. But, two years later, the memory of that moment is still etched into my thoughts.

And, there you have it, my first night inside the Collingwood Arts Center. I walked the entire building at least five times that night, bumping into the Fringe team on only a few occasions. Apart from tripping over a paint can in a dark section of the basement (I always have at least one embarrassing moment on every ghosthunt), not much out of the ordinary happened.

No ghosts. No weirdness. Just some gooseflesh that, most likely, could’ve been caused by an out of control imagination. I packed up my gear and got ready to head home around 1:00am. As ghosthunts go, this one may not have proven a damn thing, but it is, by far, the best one I have ever been on.

The Collingwood Arts Center is a beautiful building with a rich history and it is absolutely crawling with supernatural legends. If you ever get a chance to explore this building, especially if you’re part of a small group, I highly recommend it.

The Collingwood Arts Center is a registered historical site and is located at 2413 Collingwood Boulevard in Toledo, Ohio.

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Christopher Tillman

Author | Filmmaker | Speaker Christopher Tillman has been actively exploring claims of the paranormal since 1993. He currently resides in Toledo, Ohio.

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