In good spirits

Lingering regulars at Trolley Stop

By Whitney Bell

Photo: Trolley Stop, Dayton’s oldest continuously operating tavern, mural by Jim Beam

Robin Sassenberg, owner of The Trolley Stop, believes in ghosts, but she hadn’t felt anything weird when she came here 20 years ago—until one of her employees began telling her stories. They were setting up a sandwich bar at 5 one morning, complete with potato salad in a punch bowl. “While they were talking about the ghosts,” Sassenberg says, “that bowl exploded.”

Later that same morning, baskets began flying off of a kitchen shelf. And later that week, undisturbed plastic tumblers tumbled off of a bar shelf onto the floor.

“Through the years, we’ve had many, many, many incidents,” she says. “Sometimes, every week.”

The Trolley Stop structure was built in 1839 as a home inhabited by German immigrants, and is “the oldest continuously operating tavern in Dayton.” The building has also historically served as a barbershop, a shoeshine shop, a meat and provisions store, and perhaps a whorehouse or a flophouse. In the 1880s, it became “The Liquor Room.” During prohibition, it was called “The Ace Restaurant.”

Customers talk about seeing shadows and feeling like they were tapped on the shoulder by something invisible. A few weeks ago, Sassenberg was there in the morning with her dogs when she heard the bathroom door creak open and close, but nobody else was there.

Paranormal Investigators, a team of ghost hunters from Troy, came to Trolley Stop with their ghost-detecting equipment one morning at 4. But Sassenberg says they probably didn’t detect anything big because the Trolley Stop ghosts are mostly active in the daytime. “At 4 a.m.,” she says with a smile, “they’re probably passed out by then.”

The employee responsible for cleaning periodically hears knocking on the walls. The mailman told Sassenberg one day he saw an old fashioned stocking, from the 1940s, ascending the stairway: “Just a leg, going on around the corner.” One of the chefs has reported seeing a tall guy standing next to the pool table. According to Sassenberg, “It’s not just one ghost, it’s several. And, they’re all happy here.”

The building out back, which they use as a party room, served as a TB Sanatorium in the early 1900’s. “There was probably some deaths out there,” Sassenberg says, “but I’m not sure.” The ghosts in this building are especially active when she talks about them. One day as she showed another couple around, they asked her if it was haunted. When she answered “yes,” the chandelier began to sway, and a vacuum cord suddenly pulled out of the wall. “There were three witnesses to that one,” she accounts. In the cellar, a stonewalled room filled with cobwebs, the owners sometimes report seeing a metal rocking chair, rocking, by itself.

She thinks it’s as if the ghosts are saying, “I’m watching you. Are you watching me?”

Somebody broke in one night and tried to steal an old crystal chandelier, but Sassenberg thinks the ghosts must have tripped them over their ladder and chased them away. They found a table on its side, crystal all over the floor. Although they destroyed the light fixture, the robbers didn’t get away with the goods.

Other people who have inhabited the main building have told her stories, as well. Past resident Ruby Hair told Sassenberg that as she was babysitting in an upstairs apartment one day, a man “flew” past her, followed by another man who caught up with him and stabbed him.

Bullet holes mark the downstairs ceiling. In the 1960s, someone was murdered there.

Sassenberg greets the spirits when she walks in the door with a “hello,” and the owners make an effort not to make too many alterations in the décor. “They love their spot. And they don’t mind us, as long as we don’t change it too much,” she says.

Bartender Suzie Switzer has seen things, too. “We were closing one night…getting ready to leave,” and one of those bar top drink displays “just…flew…off the bar.” But nobody was over there, so Switzer says they apologized, quickly closed up, and left. The employees also have stories about their own neighborhood houses being haunted, and assume the other bars and restaurants in the Oregon District have their own resident spirits. “Ghosts in the Oregon,” Sassenberg says, “there are lots of them down here.”

According to its website, “There are no strangers at The Trolley Stop, the Neighborhood Tavern of the World”—and it appears Trolley Stop doesn’t discriminate between the living and the dead. Stop by for a drink and a bite, and Sassenberg and her employees can share more of their tales. And, maybe that tap on your shoulder won’t be from your typical drinking buddy.

The Trolley Stop is located at 530 E. Fifth St. in the Oregon District in downtown Dayton. Trolley Stop is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.–2 a.m. and Sunday, 5 p.m.–1 a.m. For more information, please call 937.461.1101 or visit

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Reach DCP freelance writer Whitney Bell at

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