It was hot, and I wanted to park myself in a comfy chair with a good, spine-chilling mystery novel. However, I could hear the voice of my mother, who was always shooing us kids out the door with the comment 'It's too nice to sit around indoors — go outside and play.' So the novel-and-chair routine was out; time for Plan B (I can blame my parents for anything, including my good habits. ) I was still in the mood for something that would make me shiver, though, so I called a couple friends and we set off in search of ghosts.
The nearby state park was holding a 'Ghosts from the Past' weekend, which sounded promising, but the 'ghosts' were anything but frightening. Park employees had dressed up as area residents from the 1800s and were trying to recreate the good ol' days. They had their work cut out for them, what with the roar of traffic from the nearby interstate highway and the occasional thump from a car stereo wafting over the trees, although the lack of air conditioning was pretty convincing. We decided that something a little spookier was in order, so we hit the road again to visit some ghost towns.
Actually the term 'ghost town' is a bit misleading, although a few ghost towns are said to be haunted. Mostly they are abandoned and forgotten places: old mining towns, railroad stops, that sort of thing. They can be small villages or merely a widening of the road, but all of them are places that time has passed by. The US is full of them, and the names can be evocative. Within a couple hundred miles of home, we can find:
- Bloodhill (Despite the creepy name, the town was named for Frederick Blood, who'd owned the land it was built on.)
- Moonville (Site of the Moonville Tunnel, reported to be haunted by the headless Moonville Ghost.)
- Mudsock (Named for its muddy streets.)
- Liar's Corners, which is just up the road from Truetown (Sounds like there's a feud in there somewhere.)
- Rain Rock (Which features an open field full of boulders, leading settlers to speculate that it rains rocks in that area.)
- Squawtown (Genuinely grisly, the town was named for two men who'd played cards to see which of them would get to shoot a squaw1. The winner did indeed shoot an Indian and did time in prison for the murder.)
- Utopia (Ironically-named in retrospect, as a group of spiritualists drowned when the town was flooded.)
- Worstville (Another bit of social commentary.)
As I said, Moonville is reportedly haunted by a 'real' ghost. Legend has it that a railroad worker was stuck by a train and beheaded; his ghost wanders the still-standing Moonville Tunnel. There have been sightings of the ghost over the years, including one in 1993 by a student from nearby Ohio University. He and some friends had gone to Moonville to swim in Raccoon Creek. On their way back they saw a light in the Tunnel, and they split into two groups to investigate. (Doesn't this sound like the plot of every horror movie you've ever seen?) One group walked dpwn the Tunnel toward the light and soon came running back out, screaming, 'There's no one carrying the light!' Said the student:
He wasn't kidding. It was just a swinging light with no one holding it. I hightailed it back to the car. I haven't been out there since.
According to newspaper accounts, this sighting involved university students and alcohol, so I'm somewhat sceptical. We certainly didn't see any ghost there. In broad daylight, none of the ghost towns, including Moonville, is particularly spooky. The only dangers come from broken-down buildings where you could get hurt exploring or from snakes or other critters lurking in the underbrush. (We did see some snakes.) Or you can just plain get lost. Often these towns are in the middle of nowhere, and in some places there's a whole lot of nowhere there. We know; I think we saw every boring square foot of it.
At any rate, the day was still short on spine-tingling weirdness, so we decided to finish up with a night at the opera, which is often weird as a matter of course. Even better, Cincinnati’s Music Hall has some real 'phantoms of the opera'. The building sits on the site of the city's first public hospital, which had the somewhat alarming name of The Commercial Hospital and Lunatic Asylum. Conditions at the hospital were grim, with dying patients confined to something called 'the pesthouse'. Their bodies were buried in mass graves in the pauper's cemetery, over which Music Hall was built. In 1988 workers digging an elevator (lift) shaft unearthed 200 pounds of bones and 19 skulls. Night watchmen have reported hearing strange noises and seeing shadowy figures, and doors to the Ballroom open and close themselves. Patrons have even claimed to see people in old-fashioned period clothing at performances.
Afterwards we hung out backstage, just to see what we would see. We bumped into another friend who was a 'super'2 that night, and he said he's never seen or heard anything out of the ordinary3, although he's heard plenty of stories. Supposedly the hallway outside the Green Room is haunted, as is one of the boxes near the stage. That may be, but the ghosts made themselves scarce that night, which was disappointing. At least we got to hear some good singing, and the opera was Don Giovanni, the plot of which features a ghost who comes back and hauls the evil Don down to Hell for his misdeeds.
So our ghost hunting jaunt was a bit of a bust. Sunny summer days really don't lend themselves to such things. Would I go back to Moonville Tunnel some dark and windy autumn evening or stay at Music Hall late at night? No way! Give me a mystery novel and my comfy chair, oh and don't forget to lock the door behind you when you leave.