Layers Of Time

If you’re lucky, once in a while you will be going about your business when something truly special steps into your path and begs for attention.

That happened to me this weekend while visiting cemeteries with my parents in Morgan County, Ohio. My uncle is buried in a cemetery that sits just below a little white church on a hill. It has been abandoned for as long as anyone can remember. From the cemetery you can just catch a glimpse of the top of the church through overgrown brush and trees.

This place has long captivated my imagination. It was a mystery waiting to be solved. Sadly, it was long unattainable because I wasn’t crazy enough to brave the snakes and poison ivy just to climb the hill for a look.

This time was a completely different experience because someone had cut back the brush on the bank, creating a rough trail all the way to the front door. It was like they knew I was coming.

You can bet I abandoned my parents at the cemetery and scurried right up to the top for a look. The clearing was small, the stone porch steps have shifted but the inside was eerily intact. It looks like the congregation of Pleasant Hill Methodist Church just closed the door and walked away.

Everything is covered in a thick layer of dust and the piano is in rough shape. The floor seems sturdy and most of the glass windows are intact. The light in there was breathtaking that afternoon. I was in awe of how the light played on those dusty old wood pews.

Describing the physical experience of seeing the old pews in the light of a late May Sunday is the easy part of this story. What’s a little harder to describe is the most important part of the experience.

Most history buffs will understand when I say that some places feel special. They feel like important things have gone on inside. They feel like there’s a layer of time as thick as the dust on those pews that can only be felt rather than seen. They feel alive.

I had the strangest sensation that I was not alone in that 1889 era church. It was as though there was some unseen event taking place just beyond my line of sight. I could feel the energy of a congregation. That piano sat silent for me but still seemed full of energy.

In another time, someone pounded those keys to the tune of an old hymn like “Mansion Over The Hilltop” while an elderly preacher gripped his Bible and studied the faces of his congregation as they sang along.

I felt like an intruder and yet, didn’t feel unwelcome. I simply didn’t belong. It was an odd sensation. Unsettling but special. If I could just turn my head fast enough, I was convinced there was a church full of people just behind me.

This is why I adventure, friends. This sort of thing happens so rarely but the promise of the opportunity to experience a place so unusual is one of the things that keeps me looking.

Journey From Moonville To King’s Hollow

Twenty years ago, a group of folks in my community joined together with a shared vision to create a rail trail. But it’s not just any trail. It’s a muscle powered trail open to folks who walk, ride bicycles or ride horses. It stretches for sixteen miles through the Zaleski State Forest, Lake Hope State Park wetlands and some small villages.

It’s called the Moonville Rail Trail, named for one of Vinton County’s most famous landmarks, the Moonville Tunnel. The trail follows an old Baltimore and Ohio rail line through sheer wilderness. The tunnel is famous primarily for legends and stories about ghosts and hauntings. It’s also a super cool old railroad tunnel.

In fact, many people come just to see the tunnel. They park, walk the short distance to the tunnel, nose around a bit and leave.

Sadly, they’re missing the best part. I was there with a friend after work last night. We parked at Moonville and then walked the approximate two miles to another tunnel. This one is called King’s Hollow Tunnel or sometimes King’s Switch.

First of all, I want to say how amazed I am at the work the Moonville Rail Trail Association has accomplished. When the railroad pulled out of this stretch years ago, they took out everything including the bridges which cross ravines as well as the incredibly twisty Raccoon Creek.

Having new bridges placed was imperative to making this rail trail usable. This is not a wealthy community so they have relied on grants, fundraisers and donations of blood, sweat and tears from a very small core group of people. You cross several of their bridges in that two mile stretch between Moonville and Kings Hollow and I couldn’t help but smile every time we approached a new one. This is what can be accomplished when people unite for a common good.

This is a densely forested area with gorgeous views of the changing foliage, wetlands and stream. Plus, there are the tunnels.

The Moonville Tunnel was built in 1856 and repaired at the turn of the next century. It’s brick and very cool. It’s named for the small town that was once located here. No more than a hundred people ever lived in Moonville at one time and they were mostly miners and rail workers. There’s not much left except a cemetery, the tunnel and some tall tales. Even the foundation stones once left from old buildings have been mostly swept away by flooding or souvenir seekers. However, if you go off trail in your exploration you might stumble into an old cellar or two so be careful.

Today the tunnel is largely covered in graffiti. Visiting here has long been a rite of passage for young people, including Ohio University students, to visit at night. They commonly leave their mark.

Walk a couple of miles east of Moonville to find the King’s Hollow Tunnel. What makes it special is that it’s wood. It’s a 120 foot long wooden tunnel carved through rock. I love the way the rock juts out overhead so you can truly see what the builders were up against all those years ago.

This tunnel has a distinct smell. It smells musty and old like old wood and oil. You can actually smell the tunnel before you can see it. Also, the temperature drops at least ten degrees as you approach. Sadly, graffiti artists have found this one too.

You can drive to this tunnel but then you would miss out on the glorious views along the walk and the true peace and quiet that you don’t find many places. Speaking of quiet, don’t expect much cell service.

Click here to see some more pictures from another King’s Hollow visit. Read more about the Rail Trail and get directions to Moonville at the Vinton County CVB site. You can also take a trail ride to Moonville at Uncle Buck’s Riding Stable. I did that last year and wrote about it here! Finally, I want to mention they typically have a fun event at Moonville in October. It’s cancelled this year because of Covid spikes in Ohio but they’ve already announced the 2022 date. Read about that event here.

Check back. I’ll tell you what I know about Moonville’s ghosts soon.

Chillicothe Ghost Walk: Old County Jail

My first stop on this year’s Chillicothe Ghost Walk was the Ross County Archives which was originally the county jail. It sits next to the Ross County Courthouse in downtown Chillicothe.

It was built in 1878 to serve as the jail and the Sheriff’s residence as was common practice back in the day. The jail held sixteen cells for men, one for women and one for the mentally ill. The building was used as the county jail until 1989. There are filing cabinets and boxes everywhere you look.

The tour here was great. It began outside with a guide who told us about the property and about events that took place on this site and what downtown Chillicothe looked like in the nineteenth century. We then proceeded into the basement where we went inside what they called the dungeon – a windowless cell with a tremendously heavy door.

Here we heard about Perry Bowsher, the jail’s first prisoner. He was executed by public hanging in 1878 after a lifetime of crime that culminated in the double murder of an elderly couple. He killed them both, made himself a sandwich and then set the house on fire before fleeing.

The public gathered to see him hanged. Then they put him in a casket which they propped up for everyone to walk past and view his corpse for a number of days. Afterwards they cut off his head to autopsy his brain and determine if he was mentally ill.

They have a picture of his skull along with other images and stories from the day to help illustrate.

It was all quite macabre.

It was also sad. He was young- in his early twenties- and had been in trouble for his entire life. He had actually escaped from the Ridges, the Insane Asylum in Athens. In modern times he likely would have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had a chance at a non-violent life. Those people he killed and others he hurt may not have suffered or been lost.

After we learned about Mr. Bowsher, we went through the first and second floors to tour what was once the sheriff’s home and the second story jail space. I didn’t see a ghost here or experience anything weird but it was a terrific peek into a world I had not seen before.

It occurred to me that my introverted self would not do well in jail so I better keep walking the straight and narrow!

Click here to read about my visit at the Masonic Temple during this event.