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.
Many of the residents of Moonville are buried just west of town, in an old cemetery on top of a hill. Most of the grave markers are missing or
unreadable, but a few have been replaced, and American flags are regularly put out for the veterans.
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."
The brakeman's job was a hard, unforgiving one, arguably the most dangerous on the railroad (which is really saying something). They stood atop the
railcars and used a long metal T-bar to engage or disengage the brake couplings between them.
Brakemen died all the time on the railroads; it was probably the least enviable job, since they worked with the couplings between cars and the heavy
brakes, and any unexpected movement in the train could cut them in half or knock them down between the cars where they'd be crushed and split by the
locomotive wheels--just like what happened to the nameless brakeman in the McArthur Democrat story. At the very least most of them ended up missing
fingers or other appendages. The deadly nature of the brakeman's job is even the subject of a ballad, the authorship of which is credited to Orville
Jenks, of Jackson County, Ohio. The song, usually accompanied by a fiddle and in the same genre as the labor and murder ballads of turn-of-the-century
Appalachia, is called either "The Dying Mine Brakeman" or "The True and Trembling Brakeman," and it describes an event almost identical to the 1859
accident at Moonville.
Has anybody ever seen the Moonville Ghost? The only specific account I can find appeared in the Chillicothe Gazette on February 17, 1895: "The ghost
of Moonville, after an absence of one year, has returned and is again at its old pranks, haunting B&O S-W freight trains and their crews. It appeared
Monday night in front of fast freight No. 99 west bound, just eat of the cut which is one half mile the other side of Moonville at the point where
Engineer Lawhead lost his life and Engineer Walters was injured. The ghost, attired in a pure white robe, carried a lantern. It had a flowing white
beard, its eyes glistened like balls of fire and surrounding it was a halo of twinkling stars. When the train stopped, the ghost stepped off the track
and disappeared into the rocks nearby."
You want a more recent sighting? A 1993 Athens Messenger story told the story of David, an OU student who went to Moonville to swim in Raccoon Creek.
On their way back through the tunnel they saw a light halfway down it, and split into two groups, since they had beer and half two of the four of them
were underage. The other two headed for the light, then came running back out of the tunnel, screaming, "There's no one carrying the light!" David
went to check it out for himself. "He wasn't kidding," he reported. "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."
The Ghost Above the Tunnel
The ghost of a drunken man who was murdered near Moonville Tunnel is said to walk above the tunnel and toss pebbles at those below. Baldie Keeton was
from Moonville right around 1886. And his ghost story has been told by locals for more than a hundred years. He was forty-eight when he died. One
evening, Baldie headed to the Hope-Moonville Saloon and got drunk. It was said he loved to fight and when he did, he would give his opponent a huge
bear hug to subdue him. On the night Baldie Keeton died, he was drunk and in the mood to fight. One thing led to another and eventually, Baldie Keeton
got into a fight at the bar. He bear-hugged a man and was told to leave town “or else”. Although, he was warned, it is said it took some
persuasion to get him out the door. On his way home, Baldie Keeton was jumped and murdered. He was found the next morning, however his killers were
never identified. It is said his ghost has been seen above the tunnel, standing still and solitary. He has been known to throw rocks and pebbles at
those walking beneath.
Here is an account from Mike Shea August 16, 1961 as written in his collections:
"Baldie Keeton (David) was big and powerful and when in a fight or foolin' around he would hug a man and squeeze him. One day in Mat Lockhart's saloon
he tried to squeeze Jim Mace and Jim knocked him over the bar and into the bottles. Then he go Baldie's head and bent him over the bar ready to break
his neck but was talked out of it. A Dunn tried to break it up earlier in the fight and Jim "damn near killed him". Baldie was finally killed near the
coal washer near the Bighouse place - supposedly by a train but everyone figured he was murdered."
Moonville Tunnel and other stories to be continued in Part 3...
edit on 22-10-2012 by jtrenthacker because: (no reason given)