GREENFIELD — For a thrill-seeker, there’s no denying the allure of the dilapidated old farmhouse off CR 300N in Buck Creek Township.
They call it Black Moon Manor.
Barely visible from the road, hidden behind a cornfield and a large weeping willow, the house has a history “so horrible the family would keep it to themselves for as long as they could,” according to a website promoting the property as a ghost-hunting hotspot.
But the same story that draws seekers of the supernatural has upset family members whose ancestors lived in the house and were respected in the community. The descendents say their family history has been sullied by an imaginative but damning legend with no basis in fact.
And that legend is worthy of any Halloween spook story. The haunted two-story home, the Black Moon Manor website states, is all that remains of a smallpox hospital owned by the Eastes family in the 1800s. Two hundred bodies are buried in unmarked graves in the back yard, the story goes. More harrowing, some of those people were victims of a doctor who experimented on the patients at the house, Black Moon Manor operator Matt Speck has told paranormal investigators.
Angry spirits, Speck has said, have lashed out at visitors to the now-abandoned home and spoken from beyond the grave to those brave enough to listen. That, of course, is just what paranormal enthusiasts like to hear, and they have been paying Speck for the privilege of visiting the home since 2009. The home recently was featured on a show on the Travel Channel. Google “Black Moon Manor,” and one of the top links leads to a video on YouTube: “Black Moon Manor full bodied apparition caught on video!”
It’s no surprise paranormal enthusiasts are attracted to the site advertised as “one of the most haunted locations in the Midwest.”
But it appears those days are over.
Amid controversy over historical inaccuracies on the Black Moon Manor website, Speck has been ordered to remove his props from the home and vacate the property.
Owner Walter Eastes, 67, of Ohio, said it’s not just the flood of phone calls from angry relatives that prompted his decision – though that’s part of it. There are also practical reasons, namely that the house is in such a state of disrepair that it can’t be salvaged, he said.
But for descendents of the Eastes family, that doesn’t diminish the heartache they say Speck has caused by twisting their family history for his own financial gain.
A business venture
Speck did not return calls from the Daily Reporter for this story, but Eastes provided the background about his arrangement with the Greenfield man.
Eastes said Speck first contacted him about the house in 2009, about five years after the last regular tenants had moved out. Even then, the home was starting to fall apart, Eastes said.
Speck had been looking for a place to set up a haunted attraction, and Eastes gave him the go-ahead to use the house for that purpose for $100 per month. Speck originally planned to rent the place for the six months leading up to Halloween each year.
But that didn’t go as planned. Speck’s petition for zoning approval for a haunted attraction was turned down.
As a result, he stopped paying rent, Eastes said, and hasn’t paid rent for many months. But because Speck kept up the property, mowing the lawn and clearing away trash, Eastes let him use the property – for storage, he thought at the time.
“I later found out that he was having people come through and investigate it for paranormal activity,” Eastes said. “I take a dim view of that, but on the other hand, I didn’t tell him he couldn’t. Apparently, quite a bit of that was done without my knowledge.”
Eastes said he mistakenly assumed people knew the claims on Speck’s website were exaggerated and, in many cases, false. A little research proves as much.
The house was never converted into a hospital, and the only recorded smallpox outbreak in the area occurred in 1847, long before the house was built, county historical records show.
The supposedly deranged doctor was actually a well-respected physician who would go on to found the Indiana Department of Health. He practiced in Hancock County for about seven years but then left, also before the house was built.
The only bodies in the area are those buried in a nearby family cemetery, which is owned by the township and isn’t on the grounds.
As far as the house being haunted, Eastes is skeptical. He remembers spending summer vacations at the house as a child when his grandfather lived there, and the family never experienced any unexplained phenomena.
The last tenants had nothing negative to say, either – just that they loved living there, Eastes said.
It’s more likely Speck cherry-picked interesting tidbits of local history and added a few spooky flourishes for effect, Eastes said.
“I can see that he wanted to make some money out of this and make a living from it and that he might be tempted to embellish things,” he said. “I think he embellished way too much. What we’ve got here is a situation where he rented it for a very small price, … and all of a sudden, it became haunted.”
A tarnished legacy
Kelly Paugh, 50, of Pendleton, grew up in Buck Creek Township just a few miles from the house on CR 300N. As a descendent of the Eastes family, she grew up hearing about the property that has been in her family for 200 years. She is infuriated by its reputation today.
“It’s just totally a scam,” said Paugh, who is related to the Harvey side of the family, which includes the doctor who supposedly experimented on patients at the haunted hospital. “The only thing that (Speck) has said that’s true is it’s the Eastes house. It was never haunted. It was just a house. It wasn’t a big story, a big secret in the community.”
Many people still call Robin Armstrong, 41, of Greenfield, by her maiden name, Robin Eastes.
Armstrong, too, is distraught by what’s become of her family name, thanks to Black Moon Manor.
Armstrong didn’t know about Speck’s website until last summer, and upon reading what she quickly recognized as a trumped-up story, she contacted him.
“I was completely devastated by what he was saying,” Armstrong said. “There were just elaborate stories. His website is very elaborate on how evil and how shady our family history is.”
But she was willing to help Speck make it right.
Armstrong owns a family history book that contains information about the house and her bloodline, which she offered to Speck.
She also expressed interest in seeing the home that is part of her history – and she could, for a price. Speck was prepared to charge her group of 10 people, which included other relatives, $450, she said.
But when they showed up for their appointment in August, Speck, saying he had double-booked the manor by mistake, turned them away.
As for the family history, Armstrong said she couldn’t get him to accept it.
Speck then stopped returning phone calls, she said.
“He acted interested, but he certainly did not want that information,” she said. “I even had it in my hands the night I went back to get my money when he wouldn’t let us investigate. He made every effort to not see us again.”
Brigette Jones of the Hancock County Historical Society shares Paugh’s frustration. As president of the group, she is dedicated to preserving the history of homes and families of the area. Speck has made that difficult, said Jones, who has fielded calls from amateur ghost-hunters and producers of television shows that have featured the home.
“If he wanted to make it into a haunted house, that’s one thing, but he’s portraying this like it’s the Eastes family and the Harvey family,” she said. “He’s got so many things wrong on that (website), it’s just crazy.”
Jones said one descendent, who declined through Jones to speak with the Daily Reporter, admits she gave Speck much of the information he has about the family. That same descendent, Jones and Walter Eastes confirmed, has contacted a lawyer to find out whether any legal action can be taken against Speck.
Closing the doors
Walter Eastes visits the house periodically and said he told Speck in June it was time to do what he’d been putting off for years.
“I realized that this was not what I wanted to do with the property, long term,” said Eastes, who gave Speck a Nov. 1 deadline to have everything cleared out of the house. “I was just basically sort of procrastinating doing what I should have done a long time ago and have the house demolished.”
In hindsight, Eastes wishes he hadn’t accepted Speck’s offer to take on Black Moon Manor, a witchcraft-inspired name, Eastes added, that was made up for publicity purposes.
“I would have never done this,” he said. “What I should have done was demolish it right after the tenants moved out. … But I just couldn’t bear it because it was so old and had so much history in it.”
But the run-down condition of the house today has nullified any sentimental value for Eastes, who hopes to begin demolition work in the winter when the ground is frozen and machinery is easier to get into the field.
Eastes has been contacted by both history buffs and paranormal fans who want to restore the house, and while he would give the house away to someone able to move it, he’s not willing to part with the family’s 70-acre plot of land.
Speck is among those hoping to salvage the home, Eastes said.
If Speck can move it, it’s his, Eastes said, noting the arrangement would be mutually beneficial. It would make the demolition process cheaper for Eastes and allow Speck to maintain Black Moon Manor in some other location.
But Eastes expressed little confidence in the endeavor. He’s had similar propositions over the years – and even had potential buyers solicit bids for the project – but the cost always proved prohibitive.
And then there’s the matter of the home’s recent history: “If he were to, in fact, move the house, would the ghosts know to go with it?” Eastes asked with a laugh.
One thing is not in dispute: The home’s days are numbered. “It’s almost certain that it will be coming down and bulldozed deep,” he said. “Under no circumstances are we going to have this delayed forever.”
Leaving the home standing will just attract trouble-makers, Eastes said – and keep his phone ringing.
Eastes said he’s polite when paranormal enthusiasts call with requests to visit the property, but from this point forward, the answer will always the same when it comes to ghost-hunting.
“They will have to do it somewhere else besides the property on 300 North,” he said.