GHOSTS OF ATHENS
the most haunted town in Ohio

If there is any town that might qualify as the most haunted place in Ohio, it would probably be Athens, a sleepy community in the southeastern part of the state. Besides being home to the Ohio University, it is also nestled into the Appalachian Mountains, which for centuries has been considered a region of magic and ghostly folklore. There are many stories to Athens -- and many ghosts.

The ghost stories and legends here are numerous and include everything from the hauntings of an abandoned mental hospital to stone angels who shed tears in local cemeteries. There is also the tale of the headless train conductor near Lake Hope who tries to flag down passers-by with his lantern. The story dates back to a time when the citizens of local Moonville were quarantined because of a measles outbreak. The food and supplies in town were running low and this man went out to flag down a train that might bring help. Tragically, he was struck by the train and killed. He has haunted this stretch of tracks ever since.

There are also many haunted houses as well. One of them is cursed with a large drum that is dotted with holes and is used in front of a luckless Athens residence as a flower pot. Apparently, this drum never leaks, no matter how much water is poured into it. The stories say that it was used by a local college professor to dispose of his wife's body in the lake after he murdered her. Her ghost is still said to be lingering here, much like the ghost of an old woman who refused to ever leave her home when she was alive. After he death, her spirit never left either and she is still seen today peering out the second-story window of her house.

For many years, Athens has been plagued, not only with tales of ghosts, but tales of cults and strange rituals also. For many, these stories are simply a part of the Appalachian folklore of the area, but for others, these stories are terrifyingly real. There have been many stories recounted in Athens about satanic groups and odd religious cults. It is believed that many such cults meet in areas that are regarded to be haunted, or are "power spots", and Athens certainly has more than its share. These cults (if they exist) have given birth to many related legends, especially in the graveyards of the surrounding area.

During the 1970’s, these stories became especially widespread, perhaps corresponding with what became known as the “Hocking Hill Murders”. Over a span of about eight years, a number of animals in Hocking County were mutilated and then left to die in fields and farm lots. Often the animals were discovered bleeding to death with their heads or their genitalia severed off. Although rumors were rampant about cult rituals, the authorities were reluctant to pursue this angle. The cases remained unsolved and the activity mostly died out in the 1980’s.

This may have been the peak in Athens modern occult activity, but stories of local cults and ritual activities are countless and date back many years. This may be because of the huge influx of Spiritualists who came to the area many years ago. Their faith must have seemed strange to local residents and one thing is certain, many strange tales came about during their heyday in the Athens area.

Mt. Nebo, one of the highest mountain peaks in Athens County, is one of the most famous of the haunted spots. Apparently, at some point in the late 1800‘s, the British Psychical Society named Athens, and Mt. Nebo, one of the most haunted spots in the world, possibly because of the extraordinary events that were linked to it. Spiritualists were drawn here because of what was called the "Spirit Room" of the Koons family. Jonathan Koons was a rough, self-educated farmer who became fascinated with the Spiritualist movement. In 1852, he began receiving word from the spirits that he should build a Spirit Room, where ghosts manifested for more than six years. The séances and strange events that occurred here remain unexplained to this day.  Click Here to Read a Full Account of the Koons' Seances and how these events created Athens' haunted reputation!

Another of Athens' enduring haunts are the ghost stories surrounding the old Mental Health Center. This large, state operated facility had a reputation for housing the criminally insane and included a few notable inmates. Perhaps the most famous was that of Billy Milligan, one of most celebrated cases of multiple personalities. A book was written about him by Daniel Keyes and he was confined to the Athens hospital for years. As with many state mental institutions, the Athens center was closed down during federal budget cuts in the 1980's. Many of the former inmates were let out onto the streets and vanished into the landscape. The buildings were then left to the public and stories began to circulate of the horrible conditions of the hospital, of torture and of course -- of ghosts.


The former Athens Mental Health Center

Today, Ohio University owns most of the land which was once the hospital and the buildings are undergoing renovations. In spite of this, the legends persist. The most famous "spook story" of the former hospital has it that a female named Marge escaped from her room while the place was in operation and disappeared. Her remains were discovered some time later. She had been hiding in the attic of the building and had starved to death. The outline of her body can still be seen on the floor of the building. Take a look at this photo from the "Legends of Athens" page!

Even outside of Mt. Nebo and the Mental Hospital, there are other ghosts in Athens and a number of stories are connected to the Ohio University campus. One such haunted spot is the Zeta Tau Alpha house. This is one of the oldest houses in town and legend has it that during the years of the Civil War, it was used as a hiding place along the Underground Railroad, the secret route that led escaped slaves out of the south. Apparently, Confederate soldiers once raided the house and shot and killed an runaway slave named Nicodemus, who was hiding in the basement. The place has been reported to be haunted by his ghost ever since. Residents of the house have reported hearing scratching and whining sounds behind the wall where the slaves once hid, creaking noises and footsteps, the unlocking of doors and even the apparition of a man in tattered clothing.

This is not the only building on campus that is said to be haunted either. Another is Wilson Hall, which is home to the ghost of a student who died mysteriously there in the 1970's. The student died in room 428 and for years after, residents of the room claimed to hear footsteps and strange sounds and witnessed objects moving about the room on their own. The room has since been closed off and it is not given out to new students anymore.

Strangely, Wilson Hall is said to rest in the very center of one of Athens’ most enduring legends. The building apparently falls in the middle of a huge pentagram that is made up by five of the area’s cemeteries. The graveyards are located in the Peach Ridge area and allegedly, when the positions of each are plotted on a map, they actually do form the shape of a pentagram, the occult symbol of magic and power. The stories say that an Ohio University student once computed the actual distances to create the pentagram and found that the distance of the side actually matched up to within less than one-quarter mile of each other. Could this be why the area seems to have attracted so many tales of the unknown?

The five cemeteries are the largest ones in the area and are Simms, Hanning, Cuckler, Higgins and Zion. Of these five, Hanning and Simms are the most famous, and perhaps the most haunted. According to the stories, Simms Cemetery is said to have a rocky cliff on one side from which a tree protrudes outward. This was once used a gallows for executions and the rope scars can still be found marring the trunk. Local historians claim that John Simms, for whom the cemetery was named, may have once been the local hangman. This leads some people to believe that some of the reported ghosts of Peach Ridge many be spirits of those executed here. It is also said that John Simms himself is sometimes seen in the graveyard, perhaps still carrying out his duties from the other side.

Hanning Cemetery is another reportedly haunted spot. The ghost who has been seen here is an old man who wears a long robe. He is usually accompanied by the disembodied sounds of screams that echo into the night. There have been a couple of locally famous seances conducted at the burial ground, including one in 1969, when the heavily padlocked gate of the cemetery unlocked and opened on its own during the proceedings. During another seance in 1970, the spirit of David Tischman, a deceased Ohio University student was supposedly contacted by a group of his friends.

Another infamous graveyard in the area is Bethel Cemetery, located in nearby Troy Township. The cemetery is located near the border of Athens and Meigs County and is noted, not only for its ghost stories, but also for the strange way in which some of the graves are laid out. In most cemeteries, the graves are laid in an east-west direction to face the rising sun. At Bethel Cemetery, a whole plot of graves, that are more than one hundred years old, are inexplicably laid out in a north-south direction. Despite searches through old records, and accounts from long-time residents, no one seems to know why this section is placed differently from the rest of the graves in the cemetery.

Haines Cemetery on Lurig Road is also said to be haunted and this time by the ghost of a Civil War officer who went insane after the war. After returning home, he killed his entire family, burned down his house and then committed suicide. He and his family are buried in Haines Cemetery and his spirit still reportedly haunts the place, restlessly pacing back and forth. Those who might come face to face with him are supposed to have bad luck for years to come.

Athens, Ohio is located in the southeastern corner of the state, not far from the West Virginia border. The Koons house was located along the Little Muskingum River in what is now the Wayne National Forest. The land around Mt. Nebo is currently owned by professor and artist, Dr. James Eldridge. The Zeta Tau Alpha house is located at 24 East State Street and Wilson Hall is located on the Ohio University campus. Directions to the area cemeteries can be obtained in Athens.
 

(C) Copyright 2003 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.

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