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How the ghosts of Moonville are keeping the town’s history alive

An old railroad tunnel covered in colorful graffiti and surrounded by green trees
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
This tunnel is one of the only remaining structures of Moonville, an old railroad town in Hocking Hills.

The gravel road to Moonville twists and turns through the dense woods of Hocking Hills in Vinton County. One side plummets to a stream bed far below.

“It’s remote enough that when people come up here, the drive scares them,” said Jannette Quackenbush, navigating the curves in her orange Jeep with care.

A local author from a town just a few minutes away, Quackenbush collects ghost stories and folklore from the area and shares them with others on haunted hikes and ghost hunts.

Moonville, she said, is one of the scariest places in the state.

The story of Moonville

Back in the early 1800s, just two families lived in the area.

“The Fergusons farmed and the Coes had a gristmill and sawmill,” Quackenbush said. “They also had discovered that they had coal.”

That coal attracted the Cincinnati and Marietta Railroad. Its tracks crossed Vinton County around 1856.

Jannette Quackenbush poses in front of Moonville Tunnel.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
Jannette Quackenbush is the author several books, including Haunted Hocking Hills and the Little Book of Moonville. She shares folklore with others on night hikes and ghost hunts.

“When they put the train station in, that's when it became the town of Moonville,” Quackenbush said. “They saw the moon coming up over the tunnel and named it Moonville Station.”

Little mining communities popped up near the tracks, and people walked along them to visit friends and family.

At its peak, about 100 residents called Moonville home.

Eventually, though, the coal mines started closing, and the last family left in 1947.

Very little remains now. The crumbling foundations of homes are hidden by the luscious trees and weeds of the backwoods. The train tracks have been ripped out too, replaced with packed gravel to accommodate hikers and bikers.

But Moonville Tunnel still stands.

“If you look over to the left, you can see the tunnel just barely,” Quackenbush said, pulling into a remote parking lot.

From here, she approaches the tunnel on foot. Up close, swirls of colorful graffiti take distinct shapes. Bold brick letters above the tunnel announce the entrance to Moonville.

The ghosts of Moonville

Moonville Tunnel is long and narrow, with just enough space for a solitary set of tracks. Once inside, there would be nowhere for a person to hide to get away from an oncoming train.

“One of the reasons that so many people were killed within the tunnel was the amount of trains flying through here,” Quackenbush said. “[People] couldn't get out quick enough. They just weren't fast enough to outrun the train.”

Quackenbush has dug through historical documents and estimates 27 people died along this section of tracks.

“They saw the moon coming up over the tunnel and named it Moonville Station.”
Jannette Quackenbush

Legend has it, some of their spirits still haunt the place today.

There’s Baldie, the town bully. He’d pick fights and throw stones at people as they walked past — until he was murdered.

To this day, people say his spirit still throws rocks at people who pass under the tunnel.

“Baldie may be gone in human form, but in spirit form, he's still around,” Quackenbush said. “So I always tell people, we better move fast through the tunnel so we don't have stones thrown.”

Then, there’s Lavender Lady. The older woman was hit by an oncoming train with such force that her body flew out of the tunnel, Quackenbush said.

“People would catch the scent of lavender and they believed that she had used that on her skin,” she recounted. “So we believe that this is the area Lavender Lady haunts.”

The stories go on.

The ghost of a train engineer can be seen waving a lantern, Quackenbush said, and an 8-foot-tall brakeman with eyes that shine like bulbs of fire sometimes wanders the path.

“You can imagine how the ghost stories were dredged up,” she said.

Try turning off the lights, and imagine what it would be like to walk through this tunnel late at night, straining to hear if a distant train might come barreling down the tracks.

“Everybody would think of the person that died here because, at the time, they knew who died,” she said. “They were a close-knit community.”

Midnight at Moonville

These ghosts are the focus of ‘Midnight at Moonville.’ The festival takes place Oct. 14 and pulls in thousands of people from across the country.

“[The ghosts have] national recognition in a way that other things in Vinton County don't,” said Caleb Appleman, the executive director of the Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But the festival isn’t just a celebration of Halloween and the city’s spooky past.

“It brings people into the area where we can help educate them about our Appalachian culture and heritage,” Appleman said. “I don't think a lot of people understand or appreciate Appalachian Ohio’s industrial past and our importance to history.”

No matter how much truth lies in these legends, he said, the stories of Moonville’s ghosts are keeping that history alive.

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.