One night in Rob Portman's haunted hotel

LEBANON, Ohio—The sun is setting on this small town in southwest Ohio, and when darkness reigns, strange things happen at the Golden Lamb Inn. Or so I'm told.

The Inn, owned by the family of Ohio Sen. Rob Portman for the better part of the last century, is the oldest hotel in the state. Since it opened as a simple lodge in 1803, 12 presidents have visited and scores of notable guests like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain have walked the halls.

In that time, at least three guests have died here. Some believe that the spirits of the unlucky trio never left.

A prospective vice presidential candidate owns a haunted hotel? Get me a reservation.

I reserve a bed on a Monday night, requesting the "Harriet Beecher Stowe" room—a supposedly haunted space where countless ghost hunters have reported signs of paranormal activity.

I arrive early that afternoon. The clerk checking me in notes that I'll be sleeping in the haunted room next to a bed full of creepy dolls that one of the ghosts likes to play with at night. She assures me I'll survive.

"We haven't had a casualty yet," she says dryly, and hands me my key.

She forgot to add, of course, "recently."


The Golden Lamb sits in historic Lebanon, a charming town between Cincinnati and Columbus. Entering the city limits, visitors pass fields of corn and stately homes with wide, manicured lawns. The hotel is downtown, surrounded by local shops that resemble the Main Street of 50 years ago more than the deserted city centers spanning much of the country today.

Despite the charm of the place, ghost stories abound. Guests at the inn have encountered a young girl wearing a white nightgown who vanishes as quickly as she appears. Some think the mysterious figure is the daughter of nineteenth-century lawmaker Henry Clay named Eliza, who died of fever inside the hotel walls. Others say it is the ghost of another child, Sarah Stubbs, who grew up in the hotel. Her room was at the top of the staircase on the fourth floor, (the same room I'm staying in,) but when she was forced into a different room she was furious and has since returned to haunt her childhood home.

In the room next to hers, hotel staff have replaced the door with a glass casing and decorated the space with terrifying antique toys: A doll is sprawled out on the single bed; a rocking horse rests in the corner near a black baby carriage; a stuffed lamb sits atop an amour. "The restless spirit of a young girl materializes in this small room," an inscription reads outside the door.

Downstairs, on the second floor, a former congressman named Clement L. Vallandigham accidentally shot himself in 1851, and people claim to have seen his shadow pacing the room—now a private dining space for guests of the restaurant. Two decades earlier, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Charles Sherman also perished in the hotel, and guests have reported seeing the spirit of a thin man walking the stairs between the lobby and the rooms.

'Are you a ghost hunter?'

Walking up the stairs toward my room, I pass rows of antiques on each floor, including an old child's tricycle, hundreds of sheep ornaments and walls covered in fading flower patterned paper. When Rob Portman's grandfather bought the hotel in 1926, he filled the place with Shaker furniture, giving it that 18th-century vibe—perfect for a historic building thought to be haunted.

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