DANVILLE — Danielle Garrison said she fell in love with Courthouse Grounds here when she first moved to Hendricks County. And not just for its food and coffee.
As co-owner Bill Franklin explains, the previous building on the location was once owned by the then world's fattest man. At almost 7 feet tall and a thousand pounds, John Craig had toured with P. T. Barnum's circus. Through that, he met and married the world's then fattest woman, whose family was from Danville.
The building that now houses Courthouse Grounds was constructed in 1882 and was originally owned by James Beck, a Civil War veteran who ran a bakery there. One of his customers was the poet James Whitcomb Riley. He'd come to Danville because of Central Normal College but stop at Beck's bakery for the salt rise bread.
"Apparently he couldn't find any to his liking in Indianapolis," Franklin said. "When he was here, he'd also get a hot ham and cheese sandwich. Mr. Beck called it the Jim Riley Special because that's what he'd always get."
History like that has long fascinated Garrison. A self-described odd kid and science buff growing up, she volunteered for various historical societies while in high school in her native Porter County. She added paranormal research to her specialties when a ghost-hunting group asked her to study "haunted" locales there.
"I became fascinated by the process as well as the history and folklore associated with these places," Garrison said over coffee recently at Courthouse Grounds.
She learned all aspects of paranormal investigations. After graduating from high school, she started conducting her own. It took her to places all over the country but mainly in Indiana and the Midwest. Structures like abandoned penitentiaries and asylums were common on the itinerary. Her favorite spot was a hybrid asylum/farm in Porter County that was eventually destroyed in a fire. A lot of homeless people were kept there, many of whom were buried with no markers.
"Every time I went there, I knew something was going to happen," Garrison said of the paranormal activity.
Her day job is as a small business management consultant. Garrison's advice to clients has always been to start a business based on your passion. With her newest venture, Forgotten Time LLC, she's taking her own recommendation.
Garrison's goal with Forgotten Time is to share Indiana folklore and history through classes, workshops, events, overnight adventures, and bus tours. Her first class, "Ghost Hunting as a Hobby," is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 20 at Metropolis Mall in Plainfield. Participants must be at least 18.
Garrison says the class is designed for those who've seen paranormal research on TV and are interested in experiencing it themselves.
"There's not a single network on TV that doesn't have some kind of paranormal-related themed show," she said. "Right now there's a huge wave of popularity based on anything supernatural."
The class will cover the history of hauntings and the equipment used in paranormal research. As a hobby, ghost hunting can be as little or as much as you choose. But Garrison warns it's generally not depicted accurately on TV.
"Sometimes it's as interesting as watching grass grow," she said. "It can be tedious. That's where most people would rather stick to the social aspects of it."
Eventually, Garrison plans to offer more specialized classes like assembling ghost hunting teams and the technology used in the field like electronic voice phenomena (EVP). She also hopes to have workshops that focus on the history of specific locations, including its architecture, and maybe even cemetery restoration. Garrison considers such work important not only for the preservation, but helping people understand what may be "haunting" them.
"It's important to educate the general public on how to handle such issues," she said. "There's no reason why you'd ever have to leave a location because of something you can't explain."
Garrison believes everything will be explicable, eventually.
"Maybe even in my lifetime," she said. "I hope."