(Above) The Ribeyre Gymnasium – 603 Main Street, New Harmony, IN
No matter where you are in New Harmony, you can hear the clock tower on the Ribeyre Gymnasium mark the hours. The resounding rings echo through the town, paying homage to the passage of time. Even if I’m aware of the time, I still find myself pausing to count the rings. In some ways, it feels like a moment of unity because no matter where we are when it chimes, we are all focused on the same thing.
The Ribeyre Gymnasium was built in 1924 to provide the local school with a facility for sporting activities. It was extensively renovated within the past ten years, with the renovation budget topping over a million dollars. It is a bright sun-lit space with gleaming golden floors and soaring ceilings. It is the site of many weddings, banquets and receptions, having the capacity to seat 600 people. It was even used for filming several scenes of the 1992 movie A League of Their Own.
(Above) A scene from the movie A League of Their Own
When you walk into the space, it brings you back to an earlier era, but beneath the happy façade lingers a horrific memory.
The gymnasium was barely a year old when it became used for something no one would have imagined.
On Wednesday, March 18th, 1925, a massive category 5 tornado cut a 219 mile path through three states. It completely demolished the town of Griffin, which is located several miles away from New Harmony.
(Above) A sign in nearby Griffin, IN, documenting the tragic events of the past
The storm seemed to come out of nowhere, catching the residents by surprise. Some of them attempted to seek shelter in nearby homes and businesses but were crushed by the rubble as the buildings collapsed all around them. Children on their way home from school on the school bus were also victims of the tragedy, as the bus tumbled end over end, becoming airborne at one point. All in all, fifty-two people died that day, with many more seriously injured.
Bodies were pulled from the debris and carried to wagons and carts. Since the entire town was flattened, residents looked to nearby New Harmony for help.
(Above) The Griffin Tornado was documented in the documentary, The Griffin Tornado, as well as the book Death Rides the Sky by Angela Mason
The brand new Ribeyre Gymnasium seemed to provide the perfect location to store the bodies until they could be identified and collected by their families. In several cases, the injuries were so severe; it was difficult to determine if the person was living or dead. One woman was carried down into the basement to be laid out with the rest of the victims. As they placed her on the ground, she began moving.
In my years of investigating the paranormal, I’ve found myself in some very unnerving locations. I’ve been in abandoned mental hospitals, old prisons and even inside empty crypts, but nothing could have prepared me for what I felt in the basement of the gymnasium.
It’s difficult to describe how energy feels to someone who is sensitive to it. We are all energetic beings and everything around us is composed of energy. When you feel the energy, it almost feels like you can detect the mood of an environment. In this case, the mood was desperately somber.
(Above) the Ribeyre Gymnasium in its early days. Photo courtesy of Workingmen’s Institute
The space was long and broad. It had a dirt floor and dusty rafters, showing the passage of time. Even though the upstairs was bright and cheery, the basement provided a clear glimpse into the building’s past.
I brought my psychic medium friend, Crystal Folz, with me and she had the same reaction. Neither of us could handle being in the space for more than a few minutes. If there was a haunting there, it was lost in the overwhelming sadness that lingered in that space.
I walked around for as long as I could handle it before I said a prayer for the lost souls and left. Coming up the stairs to the sunlight was like coming up from the depths of a deep dark lake for my first breath of air.
Stories surrounding the gymnasium often involve the appearance of children. Several people have actually witnessed them walking across the gymnasium floor. They’re also known to turn the lights on and off.
(Above) The basement of the gymnasium
This story was confirmed by Benton Frisse, who grew up in the town and shared several other stories with me.
During high school, Benton did a film project called “Haunted New Harmony”. He went around town and interviewed people about their experiences.
One of the stories he heard about involved the gymnasium.
Before the gymnasium was renovated, the old tower clock would often malfunction. A local man would go to the gym at all hours of the day and night to fix it.
He would have to climb up a rickety old ladder to reach the clock tower. “The ladder going up to the clock tower was scary. You couldn’t have paid me a hundred bucks to climb that ladder,” Benton told me.
Late one night, the man went to fix the clock. He was halfway back down the ladder when something caught his eye. He saw two children race across the bleachers.
The children looked three-dimensional, with the exception of having a slight glow. He watched them race up the bleachers and then disappear as they reached the top. As time went on, he saw them more and more. They were dressed in outfits from the 1930’s, making him wonder if they were victims of the tornado.
Another local resident named Rita also had an experience at the gymnasium. She used to teach rug hooking classes at the annex building, which is connected to the gymnasium.
“Close to the time we were going to be leaving, I looked up at the clock and it started spinning,” she told me. Both the minute hand and the hour hand were spinning around the dial, as though being pushed by invisible fingers.
She was amazed because the clock had been operating normally during the day. As they all stared in wonderment, the clock slowed down and began operating normally again.
She later asked the man who maintained the building about the clock. He told her there was no reason why the clock would do that. There weren’t any power surges in the area and the clock has never done that before.
Could it have been the work of the children? While it does seem like a prank a child might pull, it’s difficult to determine. So many lives passed through the building, it could have come from any number of sources.
(Above) An undated photo of the building that once stood on the lot where the Ribeyre Gymnasium was later built. Photo courtesy of Workingmen’s Institute
Another occurrence happened to former resident, Cathy Powers, who once owned Country Cottage Restaurant. Cathy now helps the endeavors of Posey County Pound Puppies.
When New Harmony sponsors events and festivals, Cathy often sets up a table at the Ribeyre Gymnasium to promote the cause.
“I always tell vendors the place is haunted,” she said. One of her friends told her she often saw people standing on the old platform that used to be near the front door. She would catch them out of the corner of her eye, but when she turned to look at them, they would disappear.
One time, Cathy was at the gym setting up for an event and she began hearing a strange noise coming from the speakers.
“This was probably before your time, but it was like the sound the old stand-up console radios made when they were looking for a station,” she said and then demonstrated the noise. If I was expecting her to emulate a static sound, I was mistaken. The high-pitched sound she made nearly resembled aliens descending. It was enough to make the hair on the back of my neck rise.
Cathy attempted to seek out the source of the sound, but couldn’t find anything to explain it. The system wasn’t even turned on.
Rick Johnson spent many years at the Ribeyre Gymnasium. As a long-time teacher in the New Harmony school system, he was also a coach for the basketball team.
A room had been set up in the basement of the building for the coaching staff. When he was down there, he often heard noises and voices coming from the other rooms in the basement.
Every time he would get up to check, he would find the basement empty. It didn’t necessarily spook him, but it gave him an uneasy feeling nonetheless.
If you find yourself in the Ribeyre Gymnasium, pay attention to the area near the bell tower and the edges of the room. It’s possible you might catch sight of the little boy who roams there.
The article above is an excerpt from Joni’s book Haunted New Harmony.
Joni Mayhan is a paranormal investigator and the author of 17 paranormal books. To learn more about New Harmony’s haunted history, check out her latest book Haunted New Harmony or attend one of her many Haunted New Harmony events.
Click HERE to learn about Joni Mayhan’s books