Moonville Tunnel Headline

Deep within the Zaleski State Forest, near the edge of Vinton County, Ohio, are the remnants of a community cemetery atop a hill, a few foundation stones scattered throughout the woods, and the 255 foot-long, brick lined tunnel that still bears the name of the coal-mining community that once called the area home: Moonville.

Abandoned by its last remaining residents in 1947, Moonville was never a particularly large community—at its peak in the 1870s it had a population of only about 100 people. It was built in 1856 along a strip of rail that ran through land belonging to Samuel Coe, who had struck a deal with the Marietta & Cincinnati Railroad that allowed them to freely build track through his land. In exchange, they would transport the clay and coal that could be found on his property. Moonville was one of several areas settled to take advantage of these mineral resources.

However, all of these settlements struggled with isolation due to their remote location, often being most easily accessed by the railroad connecting them. This convenient shortcut, bypassing the hike through the hills and hollows, was a hazardous method of travel as the track crossed several sets of trestles spanning over ravines and creeks, as well as passing through the Moonville tunnel. Neither tunnel nor trestles were quite wide enough to allow safe passage while a train passed by, and the tunnel was just a little too long to get out of by the time you heard the train coming. Sadly, this resulted in a number of tragic deaths that gave rise to one of Moonville’s most lasting legacies: its ghosts.

An entrance to the Moonville Tunnel

One of the entrances to the Moonville Tunnel. Almost every spot within reach has been covered with graffiti. Photo by Nick Bolin.

"His name is "Baldie" Keeton... and he allegedly sits up there on top and he throws pebbles down at people."
Image of the roof of the tunnel.

A photo taken from inside the 100 yard long tunnel. The old, worn brick on the ceiling has been untouched for decades Photo by Nick Bolin..

One of Moonville’s earliest ghosts, which came to be known as the Ghost of Moonville, was commonly sighted by the crews of freight trains in the 1890s, reportedly dressed in white robes and carrying a lantern. The specter’s lantern has led some to speculate the ghost could be that of Frank Lawhead, an engineer who had been killed in 1880 along with the engine’s fireman, Charles Krick, in a head-on collision with another freight train. There are two other reports of fatal train wrecks around Moonville: an earlier one in 1874—another collision of freight trains resulting in the death of a fireman—and one in 1938 when a freight train ran into a rockslide west of the tunnel, killing the engineer. Train collisions weren’t the only danger to their crews, however, and oftentimes for those employed as brakemen, the smallest mistake could be fatal: at least five brakemen were killed between 1859 and 1884 by falling under the wheels of their own trains, or were crushed between cars in or near Moonville.

Infographic showing the length of the tunnel

Other notable stories involve the purported ghost of a woman whose appearance is often followed by a scent of lavender. Coincidently, there have been at least three recorded cases of women killed by trains around Moonville. Another haunting spirit originated in 1886 when David “Baldie” Keeton was said to have been murdered and then run over by several trains before he was found the next morning. It is said that he now sits on top of the entrance to the Moonville tunnel and throws rocks at visitors as they pass underneath.

Archival images of the Moonville Tunnel lean against a tree

Archival images of the Moonville Tunnel from the 1970-80s provided by Rich Dahn. Photo by Eric Flynn.

Very little visibly remains of the houses, the old general store, the depot, or the post office that once comprised the town Moonville. Even the rail line, which was used up until the mid 1980’s, has been long since removed along with the bridges and trestles. A short walk from the tunnel, down the rail trail, across Raccoon Creek, and up the hill you can still find the foundation stones of the old school house, and on the very top of the hill are the last remaining headstones of a cemetery that was said to have been “buried full” by a former resident of Moonville while being interviewed in 1977 by Rich Dahn, a historian associated with the Moonville Rail Trail Association. The Moonville Rail Trail Association is a non-profit organization that has been working since 2001 to convert the old rail line into a trail for public use. They maintain the tunnel and the trail and are working to replace the bridges to improve access to the trail, and in 2016 installed the Neil Shaw Memorial Bridge across Raccoon Creek. Due to these efforts Moonville is more accessible than ever and even hosts events like Midnight at Moonville, a Halloween-themed festival in October.

Whenever you visit, however, be on the lookout for ghostly lights in the tunnel or the haunting scent of lavender, and maybe throw a rock to the top of the tunnel for Baldie.