Kaleidoscope: No encounters with ghosts at old tunnel
April 28, 2010
By Ken Lahmers
I first read on the Internet in 2009 about the famous Moonville Tunnel when planning road trips to some out-of-the-way places in Ohio.
I knew right then it was the kind of place I’d love to explore. After all, on my trips in the last three years, I’ve checked out old prisons, crumbling brick plants, buckets of giant mining machines and all kinds of railroad relics, so why not a fascinating tunnel?
I’ve walked through a handful of old train tunnels over the years, but never one reported to be haunted. It sounded scary, but I was up to the challenge.
I finally got the opportunity to see the legendary concrete structure on a sunny, warm day during a spring trip to the Hocking Hills of Perry, Hocking, Athens, and Vinton counties.
The 180-foot long or so tunnel is in the Zaleski State Forest in the northeast corner of Vinton County, one of the most isolated areas I’ve ever been in.
Matter of fact, while there I couldn’t help but think about the Jon Voight-Burt Reynolds-Ned Beatty movie “Deliverance!”
The tunnel is situated beside the ghost town of Moonville, which boasted slightly more than 100 people at its peak in the late 1800s. Nothing else remains as a reminder of Moonville except a cemetery.
The town disappeared in the 1930s. A boarding house is said to have stood beside the tunnel, but there is no sign of it today.
The tunnel background
In 1856, the Marietta & Cincinnati Railroad was being built through Southeast Ohio, and the hilly terrain necessitated a tunnel.
The coming of the railroad spurred growth in the region, and Moonville was born. To get to nearby towns such as Mineral and Hope, many residents walked the tracks.
The task was even more treacherous because of two long trestles near the tunnel, one of which was about 70-80 yards from the east.
Over several decades, documentation shows at least a dozen people were killed by trains near the tunnel, the last being in 1986 when CSX used the line. That victim was a 10-year-old girl.
The deaths are the reason why the tunnel has developed the legend of being haunted. The ghosts are said to be some of the victims.
The sightings of ghosts
In the dozens of reported sightings, many apparitions have been described.
One is a very tall headless man in a railroad uniform carrying a lantern. There is documentation that a brakeman fell from the train in 1859 and was decapitated.
Another incident involved a miner who was struck in 1920. The story goes that he was drunk and walking home from a card game. His ghost also reportedly carries a lantern.
A variation to that story is that the man was trying to wave down a train with his lantern to get supplies because the town was in the midst of a smallpox plague, but engineers were instructed not to stop there.
Internet information I tracked down says that story is “purely based in myth.”
A woman ghost clad in white also has been sighted by hikers. It is said to be the spirit of a woman killed on one of the trestles in 1905.
A murder is known to have occurred near the tracks when a man was accosted while walking home after a conflict in a saloon. He was found run over by a train the next morning.
A freak accident claimed another man’s life in the 1950s. After several cars had passed, he crossed the tracks only to be struck by a trailing string of cars that had uncoupled from the first section.
In the early 1970s, train traffic increased on the line, but Chessie System workers riding the trains were not fond of the isolated stretch near Moonville. Several trains reportedly made emergency stops because ghosts were sighted near the tunnel. A signal was erected in 1981, and train personnel were ordered not to go into emergency unless the signal was red.
A bit of recent history
In 1988, the line was abandoned and the tracks were removed. Just the remnants of the old rail bed and abutments of a trestle across a creek are visible now.
The Moonville Rail Trail Association hopes to some day connect the tunnel to the Athens County Hocking-Adena Bike Path. Hikers now can walk a few miles west on the old rail bed.
The Ohio Exploration Society, a group which explores historical sites, has visited the tunnel several times and claims to have obtained “very high” electromagnetic field readings inside.
The group reports it recorded “a few strange occurrences on audio equipment.” One member claims to have seen a ghostly lantern, and others a dark shadowy figure.
Some members experienced light dimming in the tunnel, extremely cold chills and photos showing strange blue balls of light.
The group also claims to have heard footsteps of someone running when nobody else was around, while hikers have reported hearing loud screams.
A paranormal documentary crew recorded an electronic voice phenomena that said, “come closer,” and apparitions have been captured in photos.
One woman who talked about her visit on a Web site claimed her camera’s flash wouldn’t work when she was near the tunnel, but it worked perfectly before and after she left the area.
My exploration of the tunnel proved to be uneventful. I felt no cold chills walking through the tunnel and no ghostly hands on my body, and heard no sounds other than animals and birds in the woods.
I actually was kind of disappointed; I wanted to experience something a little more exciting that I could tell readers and friends about.
There were several other people — perhaps 15 — exploring the tunnel, which takes about a 10-minute walk to get to from a parking area along narrow, curvy, gravel Hope-Moonville Road.
I checked out the area and snapped photos near the tunnel for about a half-hour, then headed back to my car to continue my trip.
Some people who have described their tunnel visits online explored it at night. I can’t imagine doing that in those dense woods, even if I had a half-dozen friends with me.
The Moonville tunnel was the furthest spot from Portage County that I traveled on my whirlwind 448-mile trip. After I left there, I headed back to explore the ghost town of San Toy, which I wrote about last week.
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Thank you to Ken Lahmers for detailing the OES’ paranormal experiences at Moonville Tunnel in his article.