As the leaves change and the temperatures drop, it can only mean one thing: Halloween is upon us. Athens wholeheartedly embraces this with the Halloween block party, the picturesque fall backdrop and the ghosts. While any town is bound to have a ghost story or two, Athens is filled with haunted locations each with its own spooky tale to tell.
Overlooking the Hocking River and under the constant watch of circling turkey vultures is The Ridges, formerly known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum, which served as a mental hospital that operated from 1874 to 1993. With over a hundred years of patients passing through its doors and over 1,700 identified people occupying its cemeteries, it’s no surprise that ghost stories have popped up with it.
The most well-known ghost story of The Ridges centers around Margaret Schilling, a patient who was accidentally locked into a seldom used building during a game of hide and seek. After being missing for a month, a janitor found her remains on the floor. Due to the decomposition, a massive stain was left. As a result of this, stories surrounding both the stain and Margaret Schilling’s ghost circulate around the former asylum.
However, the ghost stories do not end there. Stories of apparitions, disembodied voices and objects moved by unseen hands still haunt the grounds.
West Green’s Wilson Hall is home to a classic urban legend that veils two tragedies. As the story goes, a male student died under mysterious circumstances in room 428 in the 1970’s. A few years later, a second death occurred. The student, however, was rumored to have chosen the room for its energy. While rumors prevail, the student died by suicide, resulting in OU sealing the room.
Students have reported demonic faces scratched into the wood, apparitions of the students who passed away, objects flying across the room and disembodied voices that ranged from whispering to shouting. The dorm room’s closing makes it the only dorm officially sealed off for paranormal activity in the nation.
West State Street Cemetery
Just up West State Street from Casa Nueva is the West State Street Cemetery. Due to the long history of the town, it's no secret that there are graves there dating back to the 1800s. Many of these graves belong to soldiers that fought in the Civil War, including both the Athens residents who joined the army or those who fought and lost their lives in a battle just north of the city.
As a result, there is a statue in the cemetery known as “The Angel of the Unknown Soldiers,” a monument to the unidentified soldiers lost in the war. Many visitors have reported seeing the angel flutter its wings, blink or shed tears, adding an even creepier ambiance to an already creepy place.
Located northeast of The Plains is Mt. Nebo, a hilltop that once served as the grounds of a cabin owned by Johnathan Koons in the 1850s. The story goes that upon arriving there, the Koons family began to experience strange phenomena, such as paranormal activity and otherworldly sensations. The family quickly became acclaimed spiritualists in the area, with many traveling far in order to experience their seances and commune with the dead in their “spirit room.”
While the actual location of the spirit room has not been found, this story is still more truth than fiction. Graves of deceased Koons children were found in the area, documents detailing the trek to the spirit room still exist and descendants of Johnathan Koons have been found, some still in possession of the artifacts the dead told him to find.
Roughly a half-hour’s drive from Athens is the Moonville Tunnel. The surrounding area was once a coal mining town that was abandoned in the 1940s. However, a few structures remained, such as the supports of a bridge, a cemetery and the infamous tunnel.
The legend goes that a ghost haunts the tunnel after being killed by a train. There are variations in the story, with some saying the victim was a pregnant woman, others saying it was an 8-foot-tall man and more. However, the most common variation centers around a railroad worker who was struck by the incoming train, then doomed to haunt the tunnel.
However, the story doesn’t stop there. There were allegedly multiple mysterious deaths in the area, whether they were from accidents in the tunnel, accidents from the bridge or other unknown causes. The ghosts of these accidents are still said to haunt the area, taking the forms of apparitions or ghostly orbs of light floating in the tunnel and the surrounding woods.