Buying a small Indiana town with ghostly benefits: part II

By Rick Hinton

When Rick Hofstetter took over the Story Inn, and consequently the entire town of Story in 1999, he had heard the stories, yet remained a skeptic concerning ghosts and such. He is no longer. Old buildings sometimes retain remnants of the past. The secluded village of Story, sitting on the edge of Brown County State Park, would appear to have its fair share of “remnants.”

Hofstetter, an attorney and law professor, is also a well-known preservationist, instrumental in calling attention to several distinguishing Indiana landmarks. He served as the first president of the Athenaeum Foundation, Inc. endeavor, which essentially saved the gothic German building in downtown Indianapolis. “He almost always finds himself in the midst of battles to preserve remnants of the past so they can still be enjoyed in the future,” one writer commented.

Welcome to Story, Indiana! (Submitted photo)

Buying the 17-acre village some 20 years ago at a sheriff’s tax sale became another preservation effort. The present town of three residents – Hofstetter, Jacob and Kate Ebel, and a few dogs – still remains locked in the past. There’s been no new construction since the depression. The 1937 Standard Oil Crown gas pumps still stand in front of the building as the cycle of southern Indiana seasons continue their trek forward. What has been described as “perhaps the best surviving example of a 19th-century pioneer logging/farming community in the American Midwest” is up for sale, and it comes with a few ghosts!

After acquiring the inn, Hofstetter found guest books, left by the former owners, in each room. He read them. They were in place so guests could document their ghostly encounters. Once the journals were filled, they were placed in the attic. From the number of books found, apparently these sightings have been going on throughout most of the building’s history.

The most well-known ghost is the “Blue Lady” that occupies the former Garden Room above the Inn’s restaurant. It has been renamed as such. She is thought to be Dr. George Story’s wife. It is believed that if a blue light is turned on, it summons her. Past encounters seem to revolve around the color blue: her hypnotic blue eyes and leaving trinkets of blue behind, such as ribbons. Sometimes, as she moves about in flowing white robes, she’ll acknowledge you. Sometimes she goes about her business as if you’re not there. Some feel she must have been a smoker in life because of the occasional smell of cherry tobacco upstairs. Inn employees have had their own encounters. While the Blue Lady’s reputation lies within the Inn, many feel the entire town is haunted.

The Story Inn. Come for a gourmet Indiana cuisine meal, a visit to the famous Still Tavern, or perhaps, an overnight stay in the Blue Lady Room. (Photo by Rick Hinton)

“My role is over,” Hofstetter told Kevin Rader of Eyewitness News. “I’ve had 20 years. I put my stamp on it. It’s not every day someone gets to buy a town. I’ve had that experience. Now I want to live long enough to sell a town.” However, while the town is for sale, the Story Inn is not. Hofstetter wants to separate the restaurant/bed & breakfast business from the town. He wants the spirit of Story to stay intact. “The business will have the same relationship with the town as Macy’s does with the mall, “he explained. “It will be a tenant and we offer lease payments. Whoever buys this [Story] will take it with restrictions, but there will be cash flow.”

In March, Story, Indiana was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Maybe it’s time for a weekend sojourn south. “This is the real McCoy,” Hofstetter declared. “It’s not a make-believe place. Somebody out there will sense opportunity and won’t want to change its essence!” Maintaining historical integrity is key to Story’s journey into the future.