The Moonville Tunnel

Home to chilling ghosts, community history

The Moonville Tunnel is home to four chilling ghosts, each more haunting than the last.

Moonville, Ohio was once within Vinton County but was officially abandoned in 1947 when the last family left. Named after a man named Moon who owned and operated a store in town, it was a thruway for railroads and coal mining. Today, all that remains are the cemetery and the Moonville Tunnel, infamous for haunted ghost sightings.

Jannette Quackenbush, manager of the site dedicated to the Moonville Tunnel, said there are four legends that contribute to its haunting reputation: The Brakeman, the Engineer, the Lavender Lady and the Bully. The most famous of which is the Brakeman. The story goes that in the mid-1800s, a brakeman fell asleep and was woken by the sound of the train leaving. He stood up and stumbled toward the track and fell under the wheels of the train. His ghost is cursed to wander the tunnel with his lantern, trying to catch the train before it leaves his station.

Michelle Schrader describes her run-in with the Brakeman as “chilling,” saying she and everyone who sees the photo she took is “baffled” at this possibility. (who is she)

Quackenbush mentioned that the Moonville ghost hasn’t been seen for several years, but she did record her encounter with the Brakeman 10 years ago. (link and explain)

The Engineer, Frank Lawhead, was taking the passage from Cincinnati to Marietta in November 1880, when a dispatcher forgot to notify him that another train was on the tracks headed toward him. The two trains collided and instantly killed Lawhead and the fireman on board. Now, people have said that a figure dressed in white walks the tracks of the route from Cincinnati to Marietta, swinging a lantern and disappearing into the night.

Several different stories follow the legend of the Lavender Lady. Some say she was a young woman walking home from a saloon when she tried to cross the train trestle at Moonville Tunnel late at night and was struck by a train. Others say she was an old woman, shuffling across the tracks when she was hit. The only similar detail is that this female ghost carries the scent of lavender with her, said to be so strong one can smell it on the far side of the tunnel even in winter.

Three documented deaths could be the Lavender Lady. An unknown woman was killed on the tracks in October 1873, according to the Athens Messenger. Mrs. Mary Shea was an 80-year-old woman who, according to the Steubenville Weekly Herald of January 1890, “was walking the Moonville to Hope and while crossing the trestle was struck by a train.” The third was Deborah Allen, who met a gruesome fate. She was hit by a train and carried for over 100 yards until the train stopped.

The final ghost, the Bully, is that of a drunken man who stands above the tunnel and throws rocks at those who walk below. It is rumored the man, Baldie Keeton was drunk and violent while visiting a local saloon around 1886. He fought with another man and was told to leave town, “or else.” Keeton was supposedly mugged and murdered, but the criminals were never caught. This story may or may not be true, because according to the Hocking Sentinel of July 1886, the body was on the tracks, run over by at least three trains before it was found.

The town only had a few buildings: two saloons, a schoolhouse, depot, post office, and grist mill. All that remains are the tunnel, cemetery and little trinkets that prove the small mining town once stood. The town reached its peak of about 100 residents in the mid to late 1800s.

Although the Moonville Tunnel is supposedly haunted, the Moonville Rail Trail Association (MRTA) has been working hard since 2001 to encourage anyone in Southeast Ohio to take a walk through history. According to Brian Blair, president of the MRTA, their previous work includes obtaining 16 miles of old railroad property for the Vinton and Athens County Commissioners and raising public awareness. The MRTA hopes to build seven more bridges and connect the trail to the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway.

Quackenbush is concerned about the maintenance and future of the Moonville Tunnel, saying that the MRTA has not made any headway in placing the bridges. They do not mow, possibly because it is dangerous to lead hikers to high trestles without access to another side, and there are no signs in place to show historical markings. They do, however, host a small Moonville festival every mid-October to raise community awareness, but Quackenbush said only locals attend because of the lack of advertising.

Blair said they are always looking for volunteers to help maintain the trails, raise awareness and develop fundraising strategies. Check out their website or Facebook page for more information.

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