Midnight at Moonville and the memories of manyFree Access

(Telegram Photo by Alex Shope)

I’ve always believed that every place speaks to those willing to listen to its stories.

A neophyte of local exploration, I was pleased to hear of the Midnight at Moonville Festival’s concept. Music, live and local, played inside a famously haunted location? How intriguing! Truly, the pièce de résistance of the proposition was that it was being held in Vinton County’s Zaleski State Forest – one of the many nearby natural parks with which I’ve fallen in love – so it was essential to attend.

Visiting the Moonville Tunnel for the first time, the nemophilist in me leapt out of the shuttle at once upon scenting the familiar aroma of smoldering wood and campfire smoke. With the first touches of twilight accentuating the gorgeous autumnal palette already gifted by the forest, both the vendors and the festival goers kept close to one another or to warm drinks to stave off the brisk winds.

The new stands in stark contrast to the old in the form of graffiti painted next to a list of names that helped with repairs in the tunnel in 1903. (Telegram Photo by Alex Shope)

The folky, rural country strains of The Sod Busters, one of the bands playing from out of the tunnel, drifted along the trail as visitors exalted in Vinton County’s arboreal treasures, perusing the many setups. Several volunteers came together to create the Halloween-time aesthetic. A practiced storyteller enthralled listeners around a flickering fire with area-specific yarns of the supernatural just as readily as the performers in the tunnel entertained their audience.

An impressively costumed wendigo plodded along the trail, taking photos with others, and stalking the unwary, just as in old Native American tales. Farther up the trail, horse-and-buggy rides to the abandoned town of Moonville were offered to ticketholders. While the main attraction itself was, naturally, the tunnel, the Vinton County Convention and Tourism Bureau obviously went to no small amount of trouble to entertain attendees; without their work in securing grants to beautify and repair the Moonville Rail Trail, the area would be much less accessible and, regrettably, might not receive nearly the amount of attention it deserves.

The tunnel itself loomed a bit further up the incline, past a metal bridge and lightly obscured by foliage until the approach. It is a timeworn passageway of craggy brick that projects austerity through age alone. Many have claimed to sense an eerie, uneasy feeling emanating within, but there were vibrations of another sort present when passing under the pronounced stone letters of “Moonville”; admittedly, I may have felt differently if the tunnel and trail hadn’t been packed with people. Instead, it is as if the tunnel commands the respect of a meditating ascetic, sitting in solitude with the sun and moonlight, until they are visited by those seeking the wisdom behind their silent reveries amongst Mother Nature.

Each lock, as it was recanted, symbolizes an inseparable bond between two people, whose initials are inscribed on the mechanisms’ bodies. While some are now covered in paint, others remain and stand true to the trials of lasting love. This practice was discouraged upon the discovery that keys were thrown into the creek underneath, harming the fish and local fauna. (Telegram Photo by Alex Shope)

Certainly, the potential for what it might impart is astonishing and inspires quite a bit of wondrous sonder as one walks. While the dim passage was devoid of any engineer’s lantern light or a rail worker’s shadowy figure, the exposed sections of the tall ceiling and the walls displayed impressive construction that has held up over roughly a century and half. How many put their hearts and souls into their work to give it such durability?

Even the modern “additions” sparked interest, from the graffiti sprayed across the interior to the locks clipped to the chain link of the bridge. How many lives tell their stories in the tunnel and nearby trails, expressing themselves there through art and rituals of the heart? How many stories could be told of any single inch over which you could run your fingertips?

Perhaps you could see for yourself. I hope that Midnight at Moonville returns, and I’d certainly recommend the area to anyone who will listen. If you like, read a bit about Samuel Coe, the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad and how Moonville grew around the tunnel and, during your visit, see if the stories of any era echo into the present day through those who lived them.

Perhaps, if the woods decide, you’ll see a ghost after all, but think not that you’ll need the experience to retell a fine story after visiting the Moonville Tunnel.


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