The story of Margaret Schilling has fascinated me for a good while now. I'd like to share it with you...
The Stain She Left Behind
According to some, especially when the Halloween specials come out of their mothballs, Athens, Ohio, is one of the most haunted places in the United States. Many of the spirits seem to inhabit the old mental health center, up on what is known today simply as The Ridges. Those old buildings have certainly seen their share of human tragedy. Most of the following story is true. And the rest? I leave that up to you, gentle readers, to decide.
According to legend, Margaret Schilling slipped out of her ward on December 1st, 1978. No one is sure what led the young woman to decide on a game of hide and seek on that cold, wintry Friday. At least, it’s been suggested that she was playing hide and seek with the staff. Perhaps something in her troubled mind urged her to seek refuge in the upper floors of an unused ward. Or maybe something very real drove her there. A rumor exists suggesting an affair between her and one of the male employees. If true, such a tale would certainly add to the tragedy of what happened to poor Margaret, but perhaps we should put such stories down to the prurient imaginations of others, romantically assuming the worst. Other stories claim poor Madge, who was supposedly deaf and mute, was unfortunately locked in and left behind when residents of her ward were moved elsewhere and the building closed. That story, however, has been proven thankfully untrue thanks to some clever folks checking the timelines of such events.
Getting back to our story, put yourself in our young lady’s place. It is quite possible, not being considered dangerous to yourself or others, that you’ve been given relative freedom to move around. One day, wandering aimlessly about, you notice the stairwell leading upwards to…what? Suddenly the urge to find out overtakes you and you begin climbing.
Looking down over the edge of the railing, you see employees moving about on the stairs beneath you. You worry that one of them might notice you and be angry at your curiosity. You finish darting quietly up the stairs. Slipping into a room, you rest against the wall to catch your breath before exploring the area. Maybe you even lock the door behind you, so anyone searching will think the area empty.
What’s that you say? How do I know it happened this way? Well, I don’t. But it could have happened something like that. Or perhaps a male at the hospital was pestering Margaret and she thought she’d found somewhere to hide. A place she could be safe from his uncomfortable attentions. Perhaps he had tried to force those attentions upon her recently enough that she was still flustered by his actions.
She obviously hadn’t thought things out if she’d been planning on hiding for any length of time. The ward she took refuge in was abandoned, so she didn’t need to worry about anyone finding her easily. However, it was also fairly unfurnished and, most importantly that cold December Friday, it was without a heat source other than some sunlight shining wanly in through the windows.
Whatever happened next, and whether or not she was a deaf-mute, Margaret found herself locked into the attic-level ward. Perhaps her medications wore off and she became too confused to find her way back down the stairs. The floor below her was uninhabited. The walls and floors are thick. (I’ve been there; the building is quite sturdy.) Even if she could make noise, she still wasn’t likely to be heard. Poor Margaret. Cold Margaret. She was dressed for inside, in her warm, cozy ward. Not for the chill, nearly outdoor conditions for a barren attic.
Meanwhile, while Marge was exploring the near-empty attic, her absence was noticed and the alarm was given. Search parties were formed, but they were unable to track the poor girl. Newspaper articles were run, asking if anyone had seen her. If they had any news at all of Margaret Schilling. Authorities probably followed up on several rumors. Unfortunately for Margaret, no one actually knew anything. If only someone had noticed the quiet girl slipping towards the stairwell, she’d have been found sooner.
Six long weeks would pass before a maintenance man would come across the chilling find of Margaret’s body. Even in the cold, she had begun to decompose. It was as though she’d known the end was near, for she’d lain down in the sunlight and waited to die. The official cause of death was listed as cardiac arrest, ostensibly brought on by the extreme cold. And to sensationalize the story further, some accounts of the legend say that she’d removed her clothing beforehand and had placed it carefully folded nearby.
Even though she’s long since been buried, Margaret Schilling is still up there on The Ridges, up in that attic. Etched into the cement floor is an outline of her body – a photonegative created by the passing of the sun as she lay there rotting in its meager warmth. Every attempt to remove the stain has failed. It is so distinct that it’s said you can make out the folds of her hair and the creases in her clothing - the latter detail putting paid to the story of her being found naked.
There are stories of her walking the halls and peering out the windows, a member of the ghostly community that resided at The Ridges. Perhaps she still waits for the help that didn’t come in time. Whatever the case, Margaret is still present in the attic above old Ward 20 – a permanent outline on the floor.
And really, who could blame her if she did walk the halls to this day?
So which parts of the story are true? Well, Margaret Schilling did indeed die in an unheated and unused part of the mental health facility. The stain on the floor is also very real, thanks to some interesting chemistry. The rest is a bit more uncertain. A friend asked his mother, who was working there at the time of Margaret's death, what happened. She said there were rumors of a possible murder and hints that Margaret might have been trading "favors" for cigarettes. One of the men working at the institution may have done away with her for some reason. Was she a death/mute? I honestly don't know. Given enough time, I might go do some research in newspapers of the time and see what else can be learned.
As mentioned earlier, Athens County, Ohio is considered quite haunted, although many of the stories need to be taken with a rather industrial grain of salt. And the other stories? Maybe not so much. If you'd like more, please just tell me so in a comment and I'll see what I can do.
Happy Halloween and a Blessed Samhain!