Moonville, Ohio, is one of those places I could visit repeatedly and never get bored. My first visit here was on a Geocaching trip, where I retrieved both the tunnel and the cemetery caches. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have any photos from that trip, but my wife, Kim, along with a good friend, Jon, both got some great pictures on our latest trip on September 7, 2013. This entry is a bit of an update to the previous Moonville entry, and contains information from the defunct Geocities page as well as other sources, listed below.
HISTORY OF MOONVILLE
In the late 1850’s the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad (M&C RAILROAD) was constantly striving to the west to reach the Cincinnati Area. The owner at the time was looking for ways to keep himself out of debt, so he made a deal with a man by the name of Samuel Coe. He allowed the M&C RAILROAD to be built through his property, he did this so he could use the train to haul out coal and clay that was on his property. As the railroad was constructed Coe began opening mines on his property, and soon people came to the area searching for work. This is how the small town of MOONVILLE began.1
Deep in the backwoods of Vinton County stands the Moonville Tunnel, a relic from an era long gone. The town it is named for was born when the Marietta and Cincinnati railroad was built through the coal- and iron-rich woods of southeastern Ohio in 1856. At its peak in the 1870s, the town boasted a population of more than 100–almost exclusively miners and their families. There was a row of houses along the railroad tracks, a sawmill just down Raccoon Creek, a general store, and a saloon. In its early days the residents of Moonville worked in the Hope Furnace nearby, but later on they turned almost exclusively to mining coal underground. The coal was then used in the many iron furnaces in the vicinity, usually the one at Hope, where weapons and artillery for the Union Army were made during the Civil War. 2
THE GHOST STORIES!!
There are at least two major ghost stories related to the Moonville tunnel:
The ghost of the Moonville Tunnel is one of those legends that’s based on historical fact but has been distorted by telling and retelling over the years. The major story is that someone–an engineer, a conductor, a brakeman, a signalman?–was crushed under the wheels of the train that used to go through the place. Apart from that basic fact, things get hazy. Was he drunk? Was he stationed in Moonville or was he a brakeman on the train? Was he an eight-foot-tall black guy named Rastus Dexter? Some sources say he was playing cards with other guys. It’s been said that he was a conductor murdered by a vengeful engineer who asked him to inspect underneath the train and then started it up. One source even said that he was trying to get the train to stop because Moonville was in the grip of a plague and was running low on supplies. His death was the end of Moonville. This seems a little too romantic, especially since the actual newspaper article from the McArthur Democrat on March 31, 1859 tells a much more mundane story: “A brakesman on the Marietta & Cincinnati Railroad fell from the cars near Cincinnati Furnace, on last Tuesday March 29, 1859 and was fatally injured, when the wheels passing over and grinding to a shapeless mass the greater part of one of his legs. He was taken on the train to Hamden and Doctors Wolf and Rannells sent for to perform amputation, but the prostration of the vital energies was too great to attempt it. The man is probably dead ere this. The accident resulted from a too free use of liquor.” 2
The other story is reportedly about a woman:
As for stories about the woman, there are documented cases where a woman was killed about a mile from the tunnel while walking the tracks in 1886. and though this ghost story is not as popular as the headless ghost from the tunnel, a park ranger did say that people have talked of a ghost that resembled a woman in a blue’ish night gown wandering around the area of the tracks.1
Other witnesses have claimed they have heard screams coming from inside the tunnel and around the area of the train tracks. many of the railroad engineers back in the early 20’s reported stories of seeing the ghost waving his lantern and then disappearing.1
THE MOONVILLE CEMETERY
I know in the past I have read reports of the cemetery being haunted as well, but I currently cannot find any of those sources. But just because I cannot find any stories does not mean it wasn’t an interesting place to visit.
One cool thing was that, upon bumping into my friend Jon and telling him we were going here, he stated that he had family that was purportedly buried there. We found a surviving headstone for the Stilwells, and, upon research, he discovered that William Stilwell was his great, great, great grandfather.
Another interesting thing we discovered were coins placed on some of the headstones. One had a penny, another had a quarter. I had never seen this before, and Jon postulated that it may have something to do with Charon, the ferryman of Hades according to Greek mythology. According to legend, he required payment of one coin to ferry a loved one’s soul across the River Styx, which separated the living from the dead.
Another reason for coins on headstones is military tradition, which dates back to Roman times. In the US, a penny means that you knew the person, while a nickel means that you trained with them. A dime means that they were a friend in the another platoon within the same company. A quarter means that they were in the same outfit, or you were with them when they died.
The final reason is related to a family feud between the Black Donnellys and another family. According to legend, the Donnelly’s would grant a wish for anyone that leaves a penny on the grave of a Donnelly family member killed in the massacre by the other family. That superstition has since expanded to state that you can leave a penny on the headstone of a family member to either grant you a wish, or to watch over you and bring you good luck.
Our first stop on this trip was actually Ferguson Cemetery. We were looking for Moonville Cemetery when we came across a sign at the side of the road that simply said Cemetery with an arrow. I didn’t recall having to hike to get to the Moonville Cemetery the last time we were here, but we decided that maybe there was an alternate way to get there. We parked off the side of the road and hiked what little was left of the trail to the cemetery. There were only a couple of small grave markers still there. If it hadn’t been for the sign, we probably would have walked right past the cemetery.
DIRECTIONS TO MOONVILLE1
If you are like me and you would like to see Moonville for yourself, here is how to get there..
Rt. 33 runs east and west from Columbus to Athens Ohio..
Nelsonville is a small town just west of Athens, it also is home to my old school Hocking College..
If you drive through Nelsonville you will see a road called Rt. 278
there will be signs pointing to LAKE HOPE STATE PARK.. stay on 278 and follow it past
Lake Hope, The first road on your left will be called WHEELABOUT ROAD.. turn onto this road and stay on it, it will turn into a gravel path, and just keep following it into the woods
and you will eventually come to a one lane bridge, immediately after the bridge, the old train tracks path will actually cross the road, park your car and get out and follow the tracks to the LEFT,, you will come to the creek, cross the creek, and the tunnel is about 100 yards up.. To find the cemetery stay on the gravel path and go past the tracks, about (20 yards) you will see another gravel road to the RIGHT,, it curves around and takes you to the cemetery…
1 from http://www.geocities.com/richemt911/, which was mentioned in the earlier Moonville post. Unfortunately, Geocities is long gone, but the Wayback Machine saves us again.
2 from Forgotten Ohio.