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.