On her first visit to Willoughby Coal and Garden Center, Theresa Argie never even made it to the door.
In September 2009, the paranormal investigator was meeting her eventual partner, Cathi Weber, for a ghost walk at the hardware and antique store. But each step toward the three-story main building made Argie sick — pain knotting her gut and cold sweat coming in waves. When the feeling of dread became too overwhelming, she struggled to a garbage can and puked.
"It's probably the most active place we've ever been," says Argie, co-author of the new book America's Most Haunted: The Secrets of Famous Paranormal Places (Berkley Books, $16). "It seems to be active all the time, which is very rare."
With its always-dim lighting and odd mix of decor, including a 7-foot railroad crossing light and hand saws hanging from the ceiling, Willoughby Coal seems Hollywood creepy.
"People have seen faces peering out of the windows," says Argie. Witnesses have also reported "shadows everywhere," peeking around doors, hiding behind shelving. Then there's Zip, who died in the place and legend says watches over his secret stash of money, antique guns or who knows what. And Yukon the chocolate Labrador, who was killed by a train out back but still guards the storeroom and occasionally can be felt sniffing around customers' legs.
Maybe it all began when then-owner William "Don" Norris fell (or was he pushed?) to his death in April 1947. Or might all this be a product of the Willoughby medical school grave-robbing scandal? Could be.
It's enough to put Willoughby Coal at No. 10 among the Most Haunted (another Ohio haunt is No. 1, but we won't ruin the suspense). It also serves as home base for Argie and Weber's ghost-hunting classes and training. "You can look at it as something wonderful or as something really scary," says Argie. "My faith is strengthened knowing you do live on after death."