In southeastern Ohio, deep in the Zaleski State Forest, the Moonville Tunnel cuts through a steep hill. In 1856, Samuel Coe owned the property where the tunnel now stands. He gave the Marietta and Cincinnati (M&C) Railroad permission to run a railroad line across his property. The village of Moonville sprang up near the tunnel. One theory of the name is that a Mr. Moon owned the local general store, and the town was named for it. But it is only a theory because it has never been confirmed in the census that a person by the last name lived in Moonville. The town slowly grew to about one hundred people by the late 1800s. Most of the residents worked in the nearby coal mine. When it closed in the early 1900s most of the people in Moonville moved away. The last family moved away in 194, and all that remains of the community are the tunnel, cemetery and the foundation of the old schoolhouse.
The tunnel and surrounding area is said to be one of the most haunted places in Ohio. There are several theories and legends as to why. In 1859, local newspapers reported that a brakeman fell from the train as it was passing through the tunnel. When he hit the ground his leg was crushed by the steel wheels of the train. Another theory is that the town was plagued by an epidemic of smallpox and several people died. Some say the ghost of a railroad worker haunts the tunnel and the light from a lantern he carries can be seen at night.
Since the tunnel was built, four confirmed deaths have occurred in the underground structure. People would hike through the tunnel because it is much easier to walk through the hill than go over it. The tunnel is narrow and when a train passes through it would be easy for a hiker to get pulled into the passing train. In later years, before the train tracks were removed, engineers have claimed to see many people waving down passing trains on the tracks ahead, and then disappear when they got to their location. This sight was so common that the railroad company issued orders to the engineers not to stop for people in the Moonville Tunnel area.
Getting to the tunnel is an adventure. Miles from any large city it is a long winding and hilly drive to the secluded area. I recommend driving to it from Route 278 past Lake Hope State Park. My GPS took me in from the south and the roads were narrow gravel roads that were cut into the side of the hills. If you do not like driving with steep drop offs and no guard trails I would avoid this route. The old railroad tracks that went through the tunnel are gone, and the former rail line is now the Moonville Rail Trail. Parking can be found on state road 18 (Hope-Moonville Road) at the Moonville Tunnel Trailhead.
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