OPINION

As it Were: Story of John Robinson and Spanish Lady of Delaware County more tale than fact

Ed Lentz
Guest Columnist

Almost every community of any size and substance eventually will develop a folklore to complement its recorded history and the story of its shared past.  

Among the tales of how people lived, worked and spent their spare time inevitably will be a ghost story or two. To some, ghost stories are an abomination to be avoided. To others, they are a source of fascination and amusement.  

The point to remember is ghost stories are just that – stories – and legends sometimes stretch the facts a bit. Sometimes the stretch is rather extraordinary. 

Ed Lentz

An example is the story of the Spanish Lady of Delaware County. No one is quite sure how this saga got started, but it has been told and retold – especially to the innocent and impressionable – for a long time.

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It seems that a young man named John Robinson arrived in the frontier village of Delaware in the early 1830s with energy and ambition – and apparently a lot of money. 

Delaware was a small village having been founded in 1808 along the Olentangy River near what once had been the site of a major Native American camp called Pluggy’s Town. It was a place of few people living at the edge of the frontier and the home of a child named Rutherford B. Hayes, who would become president. 

The village of Delaware and its founders had hopes of becoming the new capital city of Ohio. When Columbus became the capital, the residents of Delaware looked to other options. By the 1830s, a resort hotel had been built to serve people using a nearby sulfur spring.  

The resort site became the home of the newly created Ohio Wesleyan University in 1842, and the resort hotel was refitted to become Elliott Hall on the campus. All this was occurring while Robinson was making his mark in the town. 

To the citizens of Delaware, Robinson was something of a wonder to behold.  

He announced his intention to stay in the area and soon located a home site along the nearby Scioto River and spent a lot of money to build a large and elaborate home for himself. In addition to the mansion, he had local masons build an elaborate stone tomb where he might be placed after his death. It seemed that Robinson was a man prepared for any contingency. 

It was to this location that he soon brought a young and attractive lady of Spanish background who had come to live with him in his mansion. It was said that Robinson also was an artist and the walls of his new home soon were adorned with a large painting of the Spanish Lady, as well as a portrait of himself in the dress and manner of a pirate captain. Some came to believe Robinson had made his considerable fortune in unscrupulous ways. 

Robinson and his Spanish Lady lived in harmony for a while, but then their world went awry. Neighbors noticed after a time that no one seemed to be home at the Robinson estate. Visitors found the house to be furnished but empty of people.  

It was said that passersby at night would hear screams of a woman and that the large painting of the Spanish Lady seemed to resemble a living person trying to escape from its frame. And below the frame of the life-size painting were two handprints on the wall – red ones made with what appeared to be blood. 

Neither Robinson nor his lady ever returned, and the house eventually fell into ruin and decay. But the ghost of the Spanish Lady was said to roam near the abandoned house. 

So much for the ghost story.  

According to a brief report by the Delaware County Historical Society, there was indeed an immigrant settler in early Delaware named John Robinson. He did not have an extraordinarily large sum of money but was able to make a living for himself with farming and his skill as an artist and wood-carver. As far as we know, he had no female companions of Spanish origin.  

The remnants of what once had been his reputed home near what is now the community of Shawnee Hills were photographed for an article about the Spanish Lady in 1908. Presumably, at least a few of the stones remain. 

The ghost story certainly does.  

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.