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Moonville is a ghost town in southeastern Brown Township, Vinton County, Ohio, United States. Little remains of this former mining community except a few foundations, a cemetery, and an abandoned railroad tunnel which is the subject of numerous ghost stories.
In 1856, the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad (M&C) was pushing through southeastern Ohio to reach Cincinnati. William Cutler, the owner of the fledgling railroad, was having financial problems and was looking to streamline and conserve money while building the railroad.
A man named Samuel Coe convinced Cutler to build the railroad on his large property for free, in exchange for a favor. The railroad would be routed through Coe's land in order to haul coal and clay off of his property. This move saved the railroad a great deal by reducing the amount of distance to Cincinnati.
Several coal mines sprang up, and it was found that there was a rich supply of it in the immediate area. Soon the mining town of Moonville was born.
Moonville never was a big town, with a peak population in the 1870s of a little over a hundred. It is thought to be named for a man named Moon who once operated a store in the town. The town was isolated in the woods and far away from any other towns; people had to walk the tracks to get from there to the nearest towns of Hope or Mineral. Vinton County is currently the least populated and most heavily forested county in Ohio; in those days it was even more wild and inhospitable.
Walking the tracks was incredibly dangerous, and was made even more hazardous by two long trestles in the area and the long Moonville tunnel. One trestle stood over Raccoon Creek less than 50 yards (46 m) away from the tunnel mouth. It is estimated that by 1920 alone, 5 or 6 people lost their lives on the bridges or within the tunnel. The last fatality was in 1886, when a 10 year old girl was struck by a CSX locomotive on that trestle directly in front of the tunnel.
In 1887 the M&C was bought out by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O). It quickly became part of a vital line from St. Louis to Washington, DC. Train traffic increased dramatically, while the town entered a decline from which it never recovered. By the turn of the century the coal mines slowly started to be used up and closed down. The last family left town in 1947; by then the town itself was abandoned. By the 1960s all the buildings were gone and there was little to mark the site, other than the town cemetery and the tunnel.
Several different ghosts are said to haunt the tunnel. The more famous is the "headless conductor", who is said to appear headless, wearing a railroad uniform, and carrying a lantern. Various reports claim that a railroad worker was killed near the tunnel. One popular account claims that a conductor was having an affair with an engineer's wife. The jealous engineer stopped the train and asked the conductor to check a brake line in the undercarriage. When the engineer saw that the conductor was under the train, he goosed the throttle, lurching the train forward and killing him. A less romanticized version is that of a brakeman falling from the train, a fairly common accident at the time. Sightings of this ghost date back to the 1890s.
Another ghost is thought to be that of a miner who was struck by a train in the 1920s. The story is that he was heading home through the tunnel after a long night of drinking moonshine and playing poker. When a train approached he waved a lantern in a futile attempt to get it to stop. This ghost is described as a very tall man wearing miner's garb and carrying a lantern. According to at least one account, the ghost is that of a man named Rastus Dexter.
Another version of this story claims that the town of Moonville was in the grip of a smallpox plague and the town was in dire need of supplies. The ghost was that of a man who tried to save the town by heroically attempting to wave down a passing train that was ordered not to stop at the quarantined town. Unfortunately he couldn't stop the train and was run over, and the town succumbed to smallpox. This story is purely based in myth and never occurred.
A third ghost is said to have appeared to hikers, a middle-aged woman dressed in white. She is thought to be the spirit of a woman killed on the trestle in 1905.
There are two other noted fatalities that took place around the tunnel that are worth mentioning: One had to do with a man who became embroiled in a conflict at a local saloon. He apparently was followed home along the tracks and bushwhacked by his attackers, then left to die on the tracks very close to the tunnel. He was found in the morning run over by several trains.
Probably the most bizarre story is a freak accident that cost yet another young man his life. The man (Charles Ferguson ) in his late 20s waited patiently for a train to pass before crossing the tracks. He preceded to cross only to be hit by the second half of the train which had somehow become uncoupled from the first half. This took place between the trestle bridge and the tunnel.
With the town long gone, the train traffic continued to increase on the single track line. In 1973 the B&O merged with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) and the Western Maryland Railway (WM) to form the Chessie System. Train traffic doubled, with as many as 14 trains per day.
Railroad workers called the line the most lonesome, desolate eight miles (13 km) of track between Parkersburg, West Virginia and St. Louis. They hated the area because it was isolated and trains seemed to show up without warning. The line was "dark" (unsignaled) between Parkersburg and Cincinnati, and traffic was governed by train orders.
In 1981, a signal was erected at Moonville. The railroad said that if a railroad worker needed to stop a train, they had to use this signal, not a flashlight or lantern. Engineers and conductors were ordered not to go into emergency unless the signal was red. This measure was put in place specifically for this area because of the numerous ghost sightings involving the spirit said to be waving a lantern in an alarming fashion, that had forced many trains over the years into emergency.
In June 1985, CSX announced that the line between Cumberland, Maryland and Cincinnati would be reduced to secondary status, and the last scheduled freight train passed through Moonville in August. Trains continued to run until the line was abandoned and the rails pulled up in 1988. The area remains accessible and the old roadbed provides access to the tunnel. Plans to turn the area into a formal rail trail, the Moonville Rail-Trail, have been implemented. Six and a half miles of trail are currently open, with nine and a half miles, plus twelve bridges, still needed.
Moonville is also found in the novel The Drug but renamed Mileville by the author BenJamin Harmath. Harmath included a picture of the tunnel on the cover of The Drug and has said many times that he found the idea for his book in Moonville.