Since this is the month of ghosts and goblins, I wanted to post a story of a railroad ghost known to many as the Moonville ghost. I'm also giving you information on Moonville and the railroad. For those who are interested, the town of Moonville was located in the southeastern part of Ohio which is now part of the Zaleski State Park.
Before I get started, I want to point out that this is not a legend, but a true story. The difference being that one is based on hearsay and the other is based on actual events that happened. Whether you believe in ghost or not is your choice and I am not trying to change your views. What I am trying to say is that these people saw something. Whether is was a ghost, a natural phenomenon, or some other kind of explanation is up to you to decide.
For the record, I believe in ghosts. I did see my father looking at me one night about one month after he had died. I have also put a great deal of time and effort sorting through all the stories on the Moonville ghost. Most of these stories are very similar and come from what I consider reliable witnesses. And yes, there have been some stories I would have to question. The story of the Moonville ghost has appeared in the paper many times in the past and I'm sure it will continue to do so in the future.
One other point I wish to bring up is that this is not the only ghost know in the area. There are at least 2 other know ghost in the Zaleski State Park. One watches over a old iron furnace where he met his death. The other is that of a prospector and his mule.
Also something to keep in mind, a few years ago Southeastern Ohio was ranked as one of the top five areas in the world for witchcraft activity. The reason behind this was that this area is a focal point for tapping into the earths natural powers and to communicating with the world beyond.
Moonville was never a big town. At its height, there were probably never more then 50 or 60 people living there at one time. The map I have shows only the locations for 4 buildings. Reports show that the town had a school house, railroad depot, store, and a post office. The rest of the area was covered with various houses (Today, only foundations of the school house and the Moonville cemetery remain). There was also one saloon (possible two) in the area and people use to walk along the tracks to get there.
The buildings were located on both sides of the railroad tracks and just about 500 yards from the town was the Moonville tunnel. A picture of the tunnel can be found in Trains magazine (see May 1991, Rails to trails: history underfoot, pg 24). Between the town and the tunnel the railroad crossed a 50 ft. high trestle over Raccoon Creek.
An interesting note, Raccoon Creek is the longest creek in the world. A creek is defined as any channel of water being less then one hundred miles long. At the time, the Raccoon was determined to be only 99 miles long. Later it was discovered to be over that but there was too much redtape from the government (even in those days :^) to change its status to a river.
The Moonville tunnel is only about 50 yards long and has a slight curve to it. To save money, the tunnel was made very narrow and out of brick. The walls were only 3 1/2 yards on either side of the track and trains would go through that stretch at full speed. (Note: There is another tunnel between Moonville and Mineral that is bigger inside and made out of wood beams).
Also dangerous to the area were four trestles that were built to cross Raccoon Creek. They were built just wide enough for track to be laid on and most were quite long. Anyone caught in the middle of one had the choice of jumping to an almost certain death into the shallow Raccoon Creek or being hit by the oncoming train. Most froze and died. At least 5-6 people lost their lives between 1850 and 1920 to the trestles and the tunnel. In 1986, a ten year old girl was killed when a CSX train hit her on a trestle. She was the last person killed and ironically it happen about two months after CSX had abandoned the line.
In 1887, the M&C was brought out by the B&O. It became a vital part of the east/west line from Washington DC to St. Louis. While the traffic on the railroad increased, the town of Moonville went the opposite direction. By the turn of the century the coal and clay mines were closing and the town was dying. The last resident of the town was a family who left in 1947. By the beginning of the 1960's, all of the buildings were gone. If you drive by Moonville today, you could never tell there was a town there.
There have been many stories told about the ghost, or should I say ghosts. Many people are not aware of it but there are at least two ghost that haunt the Moonville area (along with a possible third ghost). One is a well-known ghost that appears inside the tunnel, swinging a lantern while trying to stop the train. The other is a ghost that walks the tracks near Moonville but on the other side of the tunnel. Here is the background on the little know, Moonville ghost.
One of the residents of Moonville was walking home along the tracks late one night. As he got close to Moonville, he noticed the ghost beside him. He describe the ghost as someone who may have had a sheet over him. If he ran, this thing would run and when he stop....it would stop. After some time, the ghost took off over the bank and disappear.
Later versions told of a older lady who walked the tracks and then disappeared. She has been seen as recently as 2 months ago. Since the tracks were pulled (more on CSX in a later part), hikers have taken advantage of the roadbed and many have chosen to camp out on it. As a result, the sightings on this ghost(s) have increased.
One couple I talked to said they were camping about 1/2 mile from the tunnel on the roadbed. It was a cloudy night and the area was very dark. About 11pm they were in there tent when they saw something white go by the front of the tent. At first they thought it was another camper but then they realize this person made no noise. They both scramble out of their tent to investigate. What they saw made them pack up and leave right away.
Walking on the side of the roadbed towards the tunnel was the white figure of a lady. She was in a turn of the century outfit and appeared to be in her 40's. From her appearance, she was clearly not solid but she did not give off any light because they couldn't see anything on the other side of her. When one of them yelled something at her, she turned and looked at them for a moment but never stop walking away. In a minute, she was around the bend and gone.
Two people who lived in the area could be this ghost. One was a man who was murdered one night as he walked home along the tracks. It began when he got into a barroom brawl with a couple of some other men. Eyewitnesses say that he was very drunk and had trouble walking as he headed back towards Moonville. It is believe that the men who he was fighting with bushwack him along the tracks and murder him, leaving his body on the tracks. Despite the fact he had been run over, the coroner said that he was dead before the train hit him. His murderers were never found.
The problem with this person being the ghost was the location. While I have not found out where the murder took place, there is a good chance that the murder took place on the wrong side of the tunnel. It would depend on where he lived and where the attack took place in accordance to the tunnel. The other problem is most some people have reported the ghost as being a women, not just a shapeless spirit as in the first case.
The other possible person was a lady who was hit by a train near Moonville. She was walking home from the town of Mineral (about 10 miles away) when a train hit her. This would have put her in the right area as she was only about 1 mile from the Moonville tunnel when she was killed. She is also the only women in the area to have been killed by a train (except for the 10 year old girl in 86), the rest were men. This occurred sometime around 1905.
One other possibility is that of the headless conductor (brakeman?). I am attending a class on ghost in the Athens area and will post more on him later.
As the rookie engineer prepares to put the train into emergency, he is stopped by the conductor in charge. The conductor has seen this many, many times before. He tells him in about 15 seconds he will understand. The train approaches the tunnel at about 50 MPH. The lights from the engine can now make out the full figure of a man, but something is wrong. The light appears to be going right through him. In an instance the train is on him and then, the figure is gone. Right before their eyes the man vanishes. There is no scream tonight as there has been in the past. Sometimes there is, other times there is not. The train rolls over where the figure once stood and continues on. The rookie engineer is visibly shaken and later will ask his supervisor for a new route. It happens again and again. The Moonville ghost has taken its toll.
Just another ghost legend? A great script for a Halloween movie? Wrong on both counts. I got this story and others from B&O engineers as they waited for a meet on a siding that used to be east of Athens. And the Moonville ghost has been seen by more then just railroad workers. Other people have seen him too. Since the beginning of the century he has appeared in the tunnel swinging his lantern. On some nights, he lets out a bloodcurdling scream. But who is, or should I say, was he?
From the newspaper articles and eyewitnesses, the ghost is described as being black, about eight feet tall with a white beard. His eyes glisten like balls of fire and he appears to be wearing a miners hat. In one hand he holds a lantern and is dressed in dirty overalls. Sometimes he appears quite often. Then it may be years before he is reported again. Did such a man exist? Believe it or not, the answer is "Yes". And here is the story.
One night (about 1920?) a group of men, some of them miners, others railroad workers were playing cards in a shack not too far from the tracks. There was plenty of Moonshine to drink and as the night wore on, some of the men got pretty plastered. One of the men, for what-ever reason, decided to leave the game and started walking down the tracks. He was exceeding drunk, and as he got into the tunnel, a train approach from the other side. Due to his condition, he wasn't thinking clearly and didn't try to run back out. Perhaps he was to drunk too. Instead the man started swinging his lantern, I guess hopping the train would stop for him (73 years later and people are still thinking that way :^(. As you may have guessed, he was hit and killed. Reportedly, he was buried in the Moonville graveyard. Since that time, people have seen this ghost.
When Moonville was first settled, there was a black family that moved into the area. They had come from Virginia as freed slaves and it is report that the wife was the daughter of a plantation owner. They had three children that grew up to work in the mines. One of them was killed in the 1920's by a train. The location was, you guessed it, in the Moonville tunnel. Whether he worked for a mine or the railroad is unclear. The fact that he died in the Moonville tunnel is clear.
While writing this story, a co-worker told me she and a group of friends had seen the Moonville ghost. It was sometime around 1979 and they had just walked through the tunnel to get back to their car. As they were leaving, she spotted a dark figure on the other side of the tunnel with a light. None of them wanted to see what was going to happen next, they high-tailed it out of there.
Many people have had the same experience. There is an excellent waterhole on the other side of the tunnel which I am told is bottomless. Apparently, a mine shaft near the creek collapse one day and filled up with water. The water is very cold, even on hot days, leading many people to believe the hole is also being fed by a underground spring. To get to the waterhole, most swimmers park at Moonville and walk a half a mile through the tunnel to get to the trestle crossing the creek. They would use the trestle as a diving board to jump into the waterhole below.
Coming back, some would see the ghost as they approached the tunnel, others after they through. In one case, a boy was saved by the ghost. As he approach the tunnel, the ghost appeared and screamed. The boy got spooked (pardon the pun, I could not resist the opportunity) and turned to run. He had ran no more them a few feet when he saw the lights of the train coming around the bend ahead. If he had kept walking, he would have been in the tunnel. He stepped off the track and turned, but the ghost was gone. To this day, he has never gone back.
One more fact I wish to bring up before I end, most of the people who have seen the ghost had not heard about him before hand (or so I am told). Many of them were students, who had not lived in the area previously. Others just heard rumors of a ghost, but that was it. They never knew where the ghost was located. Keep is mind, there are plenty of ghost stories to keep me going to next Halloween. So its not hard to get confused or, not believe. But to those who see him, it leaves an impact.
There are at least three stories of his death and here they are. One is that he was having an affair with the wife of the engineer. When the engineer found out he decided to get even. One night as they were stopped on the tracks, the engineer asked the conductor to check something out between the wheels of the locomotive. When the conductor stuck his head between the wheels, the engineer moved the train forward cutting off his head.
Another story tells of a railroad worker who had been drinking heavily that night while the train sat on a siding. As the train pulled out, he decided to ride the train to the next meet by hanging on to the outside of a boxcar. He fell off in one of the two tunnels (there is the Moonville tunnel and another one in the area) and was decapitated.
I got another account of his death through the October 1990, vol. 24, no. 10 magazine called "Highways, The official publication of the good Sam club". In this story, as the train left the station and gathered steam, the bloody head of the conductor rolled down from the roof and fell down across the engineer's window. The train stopped immediately, and the crew was quickly dispatched to search for the body and head of the conductor. No body or head was ever found, nor was there any blood along the tracks to indicate that the conductor was killed. He seemed to have vanished in the night.
Since his death, there have been a few newspaper articles written about him. In one of the articles I read, a B&O engineer reported seeing a man who was swinging a lantern inside the tunnel (sound familiar). As the train came to a stop, the man, who was dressed as a conductor of the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad but with "No Head", walked off the tracks and disappeared. This appearance was a few years "before" the man wearing a miners hat was killed in the tunnel.
Could this have happened? Did such a man die in this area? I know there have been railroad workers killed in the area. What job they held and how they died is unclear. I personally believe many people have confused this ghost with the Moonville ghost in Part 3. A number of times, he is describe as being a "dark" figure, dressed as a conductor who swings a lantern in the Moonville tunnel. And as mentioned in part 3, it is unclear if the ghost with the miners hat was a miner or a railroad worker.
On the other hand, this ghost has been reported as walking the tracks and waving a lantern in the tunnel before the other deaths I talked about earlier took place. Was this just popular folklore or stories based on true accounts? It's impossible to be sure. But who is to say that you can't have more then one ghost haunting a house or, railroad tunnel. And, of course, this is what makes ghost legends so great to hear. Its always a mystery.
There may be one eye-witness to this ghost. While taking a class this month called "Haunted Athens", I ran into someone who had seen one of the Moonville ghosts. Here is his account on what happened on a warm summer night in 1979.
The time was about 10pm and a group of six teenagers were walking back to the car from the waterhole. Some beer had been purchased that night anda few of the people who had drank the beer were underage. As they got near the tunnel, one of them spotted a light following not far behind. The immediate concern was that this was the sheriff, holding a flashlight, who was trying to catch up to them. They had been making a lot of noise that night and so they figured someone from one of the houses close by had called the police. Two of them decided to walk back to talk to the sheriff while the rest continued to the car. Their goal was to clear everything up with the officer and then meet the others at the car.
The person who told me this story was the driver and he continued on with the rest of his friends. As they got about halfway through the tunnel, he saw his friends go running past him. This caused everyone to run to the car. When they got there, his friends told them that there was no one carrying that light. A friend and him decided to head back and see what their friends had seen. Since he was the driver, he had not been drinking and I don't believe his friend had either.
As they got closer, he said it looked like someone walking down the tracks with a lantern. However, they noticed light was glowing, but not casting any real light. Once they got within twenty yards of the light, they could make out part of the outline of a lantern. It was also clear to see that no one was holding this light. At this point, the light stopped moving and started swinging back and forth.
They both turned and ran as fast as they could to the car. As he was leaving I asked if he saw the light and his reply was "Yes, it was in the tunnel just swinging away". A few days after I had talked to him, the story of the Maco light was posted to the list. I was surprised at the similarities. Could it be they are related some how?
This cemetery is no longer used and is reported to be haunted! There is a statue of an angel guarding the entrance to the cemetery and people claim to have seen it move its head to look at them. If the railroad had completed the tunnel (it was started but never finished) one could only imagine the stories that would have come out of that.
While the tunnel was being built, a shoefly (temporary track) was laid around the hill that resemble a big "U". This became the sharpest curve on the B&O line between Baltimore and St. Louis. After running into construction and financial problems, the B&O decided to abandon the grade through town and make the shoefly permanent. This started off a war with the Currier Sisters, who were just as determined to keep the railroad from staying on their land. This is a long but interesting story that I can post later if anyone is interested.
There was also the time the National Guard was called out to the scene of a derailment just east of Athens. Several boxcars carrying bottles of Jack Daniels had come off the track and the NG was ordered to watch over the cargo. People in the area were helping themselves to the "spirits" and the NG was told to stop them.
This line was dark (unsignaled) between Parkersburg and Cincinnati and trains had to be governed by train orders. By the late 1970's, the decision was made to CTC the rest of the line and B&O type signals where placed along the tracks in the spring of 1981. At the east side of the Moonville tunnel, one signal was placed about 150 yards from the entrance. There was "NO" signal for eastbound trains, only westbound. The nearest set of signals were miles away.
Since the ghost was reported by trains heading west, it occurred to me that maybe that was the reason for the signal. The Chessie system had still not equipped their engines with radio's yet and more then a few trains had gone into emergency because of the ghost. I was finally told by one railroad worker that the signal was there in case any railroad worker needed to stop a train. Train engineers were told to no longer go into emergency unless the block signal was "RED". Railroad track personnel were told to use the signal and not a flashlight or any other type of light to stop the train.
With the demise of Moonville and another town close by, this stretch of track became known as the most lonesome, desolate eight miles of track between St. Louis to Parkersburg. Most railroad workers hated this area because it was so isolated and trains seem to show up without warning.
In the late part of 1984, Chessie started laying down welded rail. The job took the better part of the year and I can still remember seeing the rail being worked into place. By May of 1985, the whole line had been relayed. Up to 10 trains still ran on the line, mostly piggyback trainsbut some regular freight trains. On average, the line saw 6 trains per day with more expected. The highpoint had been reached.
In June of 1985, CSX announce that the Saint Louis line between Cumberland and Cincinnati would lose its status as a main line. All scheduled trains were annulled between these points and rerouted to the Chicago line about 100 miles north of Athens (a 480 mile detor). This added 10-24 hours to their travel time. The last freight train ran through Moonville on August 31, 1985. Around June of 1988, 30 miles of track west of Athens and through Moonville were pulled up. Perhaps now, the ghost(s) could rest in peace.
B&O signal Moonville tunnel Tunnel Igmond | | Mineral | Station s | Moonville To East<===T===] [===============T===========] [===T=============> Cincinnati to Athens
One little known fact was that a major western railroad (Union Pacific or Southern Pacific) was interested in purchasing the line for their own use. CSX played the part of, "I don't want it but you can't have it" with the other railroad. Reports have it that they put a extremely high purchase price on the line (about 10 times what it was worth) and refused the new railroad trackage rights into Washington. In addition to this, CSX also demanded trackage rights on all of the Cumberland/Cincinnati line, including the parts they wanted to abandon.
When the other railroad refused, CSX try to cut another deal where they would retain trackage rights on the whole line and get paid a high percentage for every car that went on the line. The new railroad would have to pay for the maintance cost. This would have made the line unprofitable for the new railroad and that deal also died.
Finally, the railroad threatened to go to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to force CSX to make an fair deal. Overnight the track started to be pulled, even while the negotiations continued. Two sections of the line between Cumberland and Cincinnati were pulled up, one was a 30 mile stretch in West Virginia and the other was 30 mile stretch in the Moonville area.
It is believe that while CSX didn't have anymore use for most of the line, they didn't what anyone else to have use for it either. CSX has been known for not wanting other rail competition in areas they control. And of course having a true continental railroad would have caused other railroads to rethink their position.
A funding request was sent to the state as the park negotiated with CSX for purchase of the roadbed. Then CSX killed the deal by having the trestles pulled, despite knowing the fact that the state park would need them if they wanted to make a trail. Rumor has it that the railroad that had wanted to buy the line in the first place was still interested and had planned to relay the rail if the ICC could help them negotiate a "FAIR" deal. CSX started pulling all the bridges to make this impractical along with 30 more miles of track from Athens to 10 miles west of Parkersburg. This section included some very long truss bridges. On my last visit to the tunnel, I talked with two of the rangers about the trail. Currently, the idea is dead. There is not enough money to rebuild the bridges in the park. But while the idea is dead, it is not forgotten. The idea of the trail is still a very popular one in the area.
On talking with a couple of park rangers, I found out that CSX had planned to dynamite the Moonville tunnel but then changed their minds (no profit in it?). While nothing has been said in the past year, there is still a real possibility that CSX may return to finish the job. But as of right now, no plans have been made to destroy the tunnel.
The decision not to destroy the tunnel came right after the other tunnel was purchased and the line through Athens was torn up. CSX must have figured the cost to rebuild the line was too great and blowing the tunnel up was unnecessary.
Another possibility for the tunnel is turning it into a business. A couple of years ago, the tunnel near Mineral was purchased by a couple of brothers (?). They found that the tunnel made a perfect place to grow mushrooms and the business grew. In fact, business is so good that the owners of the first tunnel have been eyeing the Moonville tunnel for possible expansion. But there is a problem. Since the trestle crossing was pulled up, the tunnel becomes impossible to reach when the creek rises. To rebuild the bridge would be an expensive undertaking.
I was taking some shots from the west side of the tunnel when a strange thing occurred. In my veiwfinder, I kept picking up a "distortion" near the roof at the east side of the tunnel. It looked like ball of heat, about the size of a basketball. The best description would be that of looking down a long, straight railroad track on a hot day. In the distance you can see the heat rising from the rail and while you can see past the heat, everything behind it is distorted.
Anyway, I lowered the camera and started looking for it without the camera but I couldn't see a thing. When I looked through the camera again, there it was. I took some shots of the object but alas, nothing positive showed up on the tape. I have never seen the ghost, I have only heard about him. I didn't think much of it until after I viewed the tape. Perhaps this is something that can be easily explained. Or perhaps the ghost wanted me to see him just once, but like everyone before, he didn't want me to photograph him.
Have a Happy Halloween everyone, from me and the Moonville Ghost. :^)