Back in the days of heavy river traffic, brothels and bootlegging, the Ohio River was a busy waterway. Industry was booming, money was flowing and so was the liquor. At the turn of the 19th Century, along the infamous waterfront district, there stood a saloon that was a popular watering hole and hotel for travelers and workers along the river. The LaBelle Hotel was located in Marietta, Ohio and at the time of its height of popularity, the city on the river boasted a population of about 16,000 souls and some say one of the souls occasionally haunts the building today.
The building is one of the oldest in Marietta and was designed and built by Colonel Joseph Barker, a local prominent Justice of the Peace, in 1826 on Ohio Street. The area just happened to be one of the most shady, violent and exciting places in the city at the time our story takes place. The old building sits along the banks of the Ohio with three floors and a brick facade that bears the ghost paint of old-timey advertising. It also bears the violence of a horrific murder involving a well-to-do man, his son and a soiled dove, which is a quaint term for a lady of the night.
As you stand in front of the brick building today, it is hard to see past the gracious restaurant that it has become. Imagine a smoke-filled, dimly lit, 19th-Century bordello filled with laughing women and desperate Romeos seeking their attentions and you have a pretty good grasp on the environment of that era. Most people would "look the other way" when patrons would frequent the ladies but this did not occur in this one incident. Our well-to-do Marietta business owner often met with his lady friend and this was said to go on for quite a while-until his son had enough of his father's foolishness. The son concealed an axe and followed his father down the darkened streets of town late one night. He watched as his father slipped into the side door of the old hotel and knew he would climb the narrow stairs to where his sweetheart awaited in her room. The son had probably had enough of his father's ungentlemanly activities and decided to take care of matters himself. He watched for the lights to dim and then followed his father's path upstairs to where he lay next to his sweetheart. The deed was done quickly with the axe slicing through the father's neck as the woman screamed in horror and shock. The sordid tale says that the son fled quickly, knowing her screams would bring people into the blood-soaked room.
After a few months passed, the son was on trial and was found not guilty of the crime. A group of local citizens on the jury knew the family's history and deemed it a crime of passion as the boy had saved the family's honor and pride. How could they convict him for doing something so virtuous?
Many people over the years have sensed the gentleman's energy. Some say ghosts wander between light and dark due to unfinished business. Does he wander looking for his sweetheart? Does he haunt out of guilt and remorse? We will never know the answer of course, but when I visit there...I can't help but feel a bit of sorrow. I hope he is at peace now.
You can visit this location and step back in time a bit. Especially if there is a bit of misty fog rolling across the river, you can gaze out the restaurant windows and perhaps get a glimpse of what it was like back in the heyday of riverboats and clandestine meetings. Enjoy the Levee House Restaurant for yourself. Visit their website at: www.theleveehousemarietta.com.