The OES visited Moonville Tunnel on April 6, 2002. Moonville is located in Vinton County along Raccoon Creek in the densest wooded area in Ohio. This was also the case in 1856 when the Marietta-Cincinnati Railroad was scouting locations for its rail line in southeastern Ohio. A man named Samuel Coe offered a large portion of his land to the railroad company for free as long as the rail line was routed through his land in order to haul out coal and clay. The railroad agreed to Coe’s offer, as it reduced the amount of distance to Cincinnati. Several small towns popped up including the mining town of Moonville, named for the man who operated the town store, Mr. Moon. The coal mined at Moonville was used to supply many of the furnaces in the area, including nearby Hope Furnace. Moonville reached its peak in the 1870s when a little over 100 people lived there. Rail traffic increased in the 1880s when the line was bought by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, but the town itself began to decline. The coal mines began to close in the early 1900s as the resources were used up. The last family left Moonville in 1947 and all of the buildings were gone by the 1960s. The rail line was abandoned in 1988 and the rails were pulled up. Today the only remnants of Moonville are the tunnel and town cemetery. The old rail bed has been transformed into a trail for horseback riding, bicycling and hiking.
There are several legends and ghost stories surrounding Moonville Tunnel. The first is the most popular in relation to the tunnel. On a dark night in the late 1800s, a drunken brakeman was walking through the tunnel on his way home after a night of playing cards. A train approached the tunnel and the brakeman swung his lantern back and forth in a failed attempt to stop the oncoming locomotive. The brakeman was struck and killed by the train, which decapitated him. His ghost is said to haunt the tunnel, frantically swinging his lantern back and forth for eternity. In fact, the railroad had to install a signal at Moonville in 1981 because so many trains were going into emergency braking mode when the engineer spotted the ghostly lantern waving frantically. Rail workers were informed not to pay attention to any lantern or flashlight signals and only use the designated signal when passing through Moonville.
The second legend involves a young lady who was going to visit her lover in Moonville in 1905. She was struck and killed by a train as she crossed the train trestle that spanned Raccoon Creek. Her ghost is said to roam the old train trestle looking for her head. The trestle was removed in the 1990s. Perhaps her ghost floated in the air where the trestle once stood, but we have found no reports of this. A new bridge crossing Raccoon Creek was constructed in October 2016. We’ll have to see if her ghost returns to haunt the new bridge.
The oldest of the legends claims that a conductor was having an affair with an engineer’s wife. This enraged the engineer, so as they were passing through Moonville, he stopped the train and asked the conductor to check the brake line underneath the train. When the conductor crawled under the rail car, the engineer kicked the throttle causing the train to lurch forward. The conductor was killed instantly. Another version of the story states that the conductor accidentally fell from the train. In either case, the conductor’s ghost has been sighted since the 1890s.
There were several other deaths at or near Moonville over the years. One man who was involved in a fight at a local saloon was attached on his way home along the tracks. He was left to die on the tracks near Moonville Tunnel. His body wasn’t found until the next morning after having been run over by several trains. Another man named Charles Ferguson was waiting for a train to pass before he crossed the tracks. Once the train passed, Ferguson started to cross the tracks and was struck and killed by the second half of the train that had somehow become uncoupled. The last death was in 1986 when a 10-year-old girl was struck by a CSX train on the trestle that crossed Raccoon Creek.
Moonville’s legends have inspired a bluegrass song, orchestral piece, and a fictional horror story. In 1998, America’s most entertaining bluegrass band, The Rarely Herd, wrote a song entitled Moonville Brakeman. That same year Scott Michal composed an orchestral piece entitled The Ghost of Moonville Tunnel. It has been likened to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Bald Mountain. You may listen to both songs in their entirety below. In early 2009, a fictional book entitled An Incident At Moonville: The Conductor’s Revenge was released by William M. Cullen. The fictional horror story was based on the history and legends of Moonville. The OES and our experience at the Moonville as described below was cited in Chapter 20 of the book through one of the characters in his preservation report for a school project. In the fall of 2013, Moonville Tunnel was featured in an episode of SyFy’s Haunted Highway. Two OES members were interviewed on-camera about their experiences at Moonville and appeared in the episode. Click the link to view a clip from the show.
There may be something to the legends of Moonville. We obtained very high electromagnetic field (EMF) readings inside the tunnel during some of our visits. Our first attempt to record for electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) failed when the brand new microcassette tape mysteriously snapped in half near the middle of the tunnel. If something was there, it sure didn’t want us to hear it. In June of 2003, we returned to Moonville hoping to finally record an EVP. We were not disappointed. Not only did we capture a few strange occurrences on audio equipment, one of our members actually witnessed the ghostly lantern for himself while others saw a dark, shadowy figure standing at the west end of the tunnel. The group also experienced strange lighting changes inside the tunnel, becoming slightly darker for brief instances of time, despite it being a clear night. A female member had extreme cold-chills and photographs taken near her showed strange blue balls of light. An EVP captured on her audio recorder said, “I got you.” Sadly, that file was lost.
We returned to Moonville Tunnel with a documentary crew on October 19, 2004 around 6:30 PM to conduct a paranormal investigation with them. After walking the entire length of the tunnel and not recording anything out-of-the-ordinary on the EMF meter, we decided to stand at the center of the tunnel with the lights out. The tunnel was unusually dark due to a dense fog that had rolled in. A few minutes passed as we remained quiet in an attempt to record EVP when the group heard a sound come from the west end of the tunnel, most likely water dripping from the ceiling. As everyone looked in that direction, OES Founder Jason Robinson looked to the east end of the tunnel and saw a dim light…almost like candlelight. He informed the group of eight about the light, but as with many things paranormal, the light had disappeared as soon as everyone turned to look.
As the group stood looking toward where the light had been seen, there was a sudden scuffling sound of someone or something coming down the hill just outside the east end of the tunnel. Then very distinct footsteps walked to the middle of the gravel rail bed and began sprinting directly toward the group! At first, thinking it may be someone playing a prank, two people immediately turned on their flashlights and shined them in the direction of the running. The running sound immediately stopped, but nothing was seen. Robinson and the head of the documentary crew walked to the end of the tunnel, not seeing the source of the running sound. There were, however, other signs of paranormal activity taking place. When the two reached the end of the tunnel, the temperature dropped a measurable 10-15ºF to 40ºF and the EMF meter was at the top of the scale and did not budge. There was a very thick static electric feeling in the air and the fog had become so thick it allowed for only about five feet of visibility. As the remainder of the group arrived at the tunnel’s end, a very strong smell of musk cologne overwhelmed everyone. The thick fog, the coldness and the smell dissipated after about one minute. An EVP captured by the documentary crew stated, “Come closer,” just before the running sound began. It was truly one of the most intense moment the OES has experienced while conducting an investigation.
We decided to make yet another trip to Moonville Tunnel during the night of October 9, 2010. The tunnel had become quite a tourist destination as there were multiple groups of people cycling in and out of the tunnel on a regular basis. Some individuals had even built a campfire inside the east end of the tunnel. With all of the activity from the living, we did not have high hopes of witnessing anything out-of-the-ordinary. We were wrong. We decided to walk about 100 yards down the track bed from the east end of the tunnel. While standing there recording for EVP, four out of five people present witnessed a small bright blue ball of light fading in and out along the ridge above and to the north of Moonville Tunnel. We thought perhaps it could be starlight being occasionally blocked by tree branches. However, two OES members witnessed the light smoothly move south about 10-15 feet, stop and disappear. A few minutes later, another member saw the light move to the north about 10-15 feet in the same manner. Four of our members witnessed the light come slightly further down the hill, blinking in and out. We do not believe the light was a flashlight since there was no beam cast from it. It would be almost impossible for a person to walk the area as quickly and as smoothly as the light moved due to thick foliage and uneven terrain. We were recording video during this time, but was unable to capture the light on video. EVP recordings done during this trip netted the “Oh God” recording below.
Below are the photographs we took while visiting Moonville Tunnel. There’s also a fully interactive 360º panoramic photo from within the tunnel, EVPs that were recorded at the tunnel and videos of possible paranormal activity taken in or around the tunnel. Website contributor Michelle Schrader sent us a remarkable photo showing a possible apparition at the tunnel taken in October 2004, which is around the same time we experienced our most intense moment at Moonville Tunnel. The photo is included below, but her full story is here along with other stories sent in to us by contributors.
Location Information: Public Park
Moonville Tunnel is located on Hope-Moonville Road in the Zaleski State Forest near Zaleski; Vinton County.
|Screech: Just after turning off all lights, this eerie sound of a train rounding a curve was recorded.|
|I’m Kind of Cold: This EVP was recorded just after a member made a loud noise. It says, “I’m kind of cold.”|
|Oh God: A whispery voice saying, “Oh God,” was recorded after an investigator says the blue light is back.|
|No: This whispery “No,” was recorded as an investigator saw a glimmer of light just outside the west end of the tunnel.|
|Moonville Brakeman: The Moonville Tunnel legend inspired its very own bluegrass song recorded by The Rarely Herd, America’s Most Entertaining Bluegrass Band. The song debuted on their 1998 album, Coming Of Age. You can listen to the song in its entirety. Thank you to The Rarely Herd for giving us permission to post their wonderful song.|
|The Ghost of Moonville Tunnel: Moonville’s ghost also inspired this orchestral piece composed by Scott Michal. The song also debuted in 1998 and has been likened to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Bald Mountain. You can purchase the score here. Thank you to Scott Michal for giving us permission to post this piece!|