The Renfield House

The Renfield Box in our dusty forgotten attic.

We did some digging and think we have a pretty good idea who was here at Mezzacello from the start. The Auditor’s Office in our city (Columbus Ohio) burned to the ground in 1920, so therefore there are no records before 1920 in Columbus. We learned to call this The Renfield House.

Interesting First Resident

The man who built the house died while it was under construction. He died of an apparent heart attack in 1868 in Baltimore, MD and his coffin was shipped in a large oak box back from Baltimore on the newly completed Baltimore-Ohio railroad. The coffin was transported on the train in a large shipping box, AKA a sarcophagus. 

When the coffin shipping box arrived it was far too big to bring into the nearly complete house. The architect and builder came up with an clever plan to get the body, coffin and shipping box into the house. repurpose the crane used to build the roof and lift the box through the unfinished roof.

And that is where that box has remained for 160 years. Rick calls it the Renfield Box because he fancies Dracula in the coffin. He likes to think about poor Renfield languishing up in the attic just waiting for his master to rise from the box.

The Shipping Manifest and The Funeral Business in 1868 Ohio

Why you might ask was it brought to the house? In 1868 there weren’t a lot of funeral homes. Bodies were displayed in the house (the showing) and then taken to the cemetery after the viewing for burial.

But only the coffin was taken to be buried, they left the coffin shipping box up there. It’s a rather large box; 85 cm x 2.5 m x 95 cm  and to this day it is still in the attic. And most surprising of all was that a faded yellow copy of the shipping manifest remains glued onto the box lid.

It is so sturdy and heavy! I believe that box will be there long after we are gone as well. People will refer to the house as The Renfield House instead of Mezzacello for a long time, I think.

The Renfield House
Coffin box up in here…

Those little windows amongst the corbel brackets are where the train casket shipping box (AKA sarcophagus) still resides. Minus its’ coffin and corpse of course. But who knows what was left behind?

The tiny wheels that allowed the porters to move the box with the coffin inside easily around.

About How We Discovered This

When we first looked at the house on the auditor’s website its age was listed as “old”. To determine the history of our humble home we had to use a variety of resources; Census records, tax records, and newspapers. All of these were available at the Main Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

Our research revealed that we had:

  • A lawyer and his teenage bride
  • A minister
  • A father and son doctors who used the house as home and office
  • An engineer
  • A travel agent
  • A widow lived here for 40 years
  • The house was a boarding house at one point
  • Twice the house has stood abandoned
  • Later it was divided into apartments
  • Jim’s father knew the last owner before us. Marvin (the previous owner) worked with Jim’s dad in Big Lots management.

The library staff were super helpful and the research and records department is really slick. It took a lot of sleuthing but it was worth it. We also had the resource of neighbors whose families have lived in this neighborhood for generations — some even in the house!

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