Haunted? Moonville Tunnel

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015I did two posts back in April where I promised I was going to write about the allegedly haunted Moonville  railroad tunnel. (The first showed a spectacular orange sunset, and the other was where I tried, very unsuccessfully, to get Curator Jessica to play Padiddle by Urban Dictionary rules.)

Author and playwright Anton Chekhov famously wrote, “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” So, to keep from violating Chekhov’s Rule, here’s an account of our visit.

Located in least populated county in Ohio

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015The Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad was trying to find the most economical route to reach Cincinnati when a landowner named Samuel Coe offered a piece of his land for free if the road would go across his property to haul coal and clay off it. A deal was struck, and coal mines and iron furnaces dotted the area.

Even today, Vinton county is the least populated and most heavily forested county in Ohio. Back then, it was even more desolate. People who lived in Moonville had to walk two long trestles and go through the tunnel to get to the neighboring communities of Hope or Mineral. It was said that by 1920, five or six people had been killed walking the bridges or in the tunnel. The last fatality was in 1986 when a 10-year-old girl was struck by a locomotive on the trestle immediately in front of the tunnel.

Railroad workers said the line was the most desolate eight miles of track between Parkersburg, WV, and St. Louis.

Wanted me to squeal like a little girl

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015Curator Jessica has a kind of mean streak. I was sure she pumped me up with ghost stories, then lured me out to the tunnel just as the sun was going down so she could sneak up behind me and cause me to squeal like a little girl. To keep that from happening, I made sure to know her whereabouts at all times.

Click on the photos to make them larger. Maybe you can see a spirit I missed.

Two trains met head-on

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015With that kind of death toll, there are lots of candidates for the mysterious figure who shows up from time to time.

In 1880, according to one website, “On a cold November night in 1880, Engineer Frank Lawhead was taking the dark passage from Cincinnati to Marietta. He would have no more time than to blink at a light bearing down on him before his life was stripped away from him. The dispatcher failed to notify the train there was a second train coming toward them on the tracks. The train he was driving along the Marietta and Cincinnati route through the tiny town of Moonville would take a headlong trip straight into another train coming along the same tracks. He died, most likely, instantly along with the fire man on board the train.

The February 17, 1895, Chillicothe Gazette reported, “A ghost (after an absence of one year) returned and appeared in front of a freight at the point where Engineer Lawhead lost his life. The ghost is seen in a white robe and carrying a lantern. ‘The eyes glistened like balls of fire and surrounding it was a halo of twinkling stars.'”

Other theories

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015Another website lists a whole raft of possibilities: “The ghost of the Moonville Tunnel is one of those legends that’s based on historical fact but has been distorted by telling and retelling over the years. The major story is that someone–an engineer, a conductor, a brakeman, a signalman?–was crushed under the wheels of the train that used to go through the place. Apart from that basic fact, things get hazy. Was he drunk? Was he stationed in Moonville or was he a brakeman on the train? Was he an eight-foot-tall black guy named Rastus Dexter? Some sources say he was playing cards with other guys. It’s been said that he was a conductor murdered by a vengeful engineer who asked him to inspect underneath the train and then started it up. One source even said that he was trying to get the train to stop because Moonville was in the grip of a plague and was running low on supplies. His death was the end of Moonville.

This seems a little too romantic, especially since the actual newspaper article from the McArthur Democrat on March 31, 1859 tells a much more mundane story: ‘A brakeman on the Marietta & Cincinnati Railroad fell from the cars near Cincinnati Furnace, on last Tuesday March 29, 1859 and was fatally injured, when the wheels passing over and grinding to a shapeless mass the greater part of one of his legs. He was taken on the train to Hamden and Doctors Wolf and Rannells sent for to perform amputation, but the prostration of the vital energies was too great to attempt it. The man is probably dead ere this. The accident resulted from a too free use of liquor.’

A squeal-free zone

Moonville RR Tunnel 04-17-2015I will sometimes pick up strange vibes from places I go into, but the spirits were quiet that day in the Moonville Tunnel. Much to Miz Jessica’s disappointment, it was a squeal-free zone.

The tunnel is not the easiest thing to find, even with some detailed directions from a helpful waitress where we stopped for a late lunch. Don’t count on getting a cell signal out to help you, either. You are in a place with spotty service, at best. Here’s a site with a map and GPS coordinates.

I’d rather go down to listen to the ghost whistles from Louis Houck’s railroad that Reader Keith Robinson described.



Louis Houck’s Statuary Collection

Louis Houck's Statuary Collection 04-25-2014 Yesterday we showed the exterior of the old First Baptist Church, now Southeast Missouri State University’s Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center. Today, as promised, we’ll “go inside” to see the Barbara Hope Kem Statuary Hall, an auditorium created from the former church’s sanctuary.

I thought the layout of the sanctuary area where the statues are displayed looked a little strange for a church. Two of my readers commented that was because the banks wanted to hedge their bets, so they required that the building be constructed so it could be used as a theater in case the church couldn’t pay off the loan. The balcony, Liz Lockhart wrote, even had space for a projection booth, should it ever be needed.

Plaster casts came from 1904 World’s Fair

Louis Houck's Statuary Collection 04-25-2014The statues and other pieces of artwork were bought by Louis Houck after he saw the August Gerber’s reproductions of classical, medieval, renaissance, and modern art works displayed at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. He acquired the casts for $1,888.25.

Lauren Kellogg Disalvo’s master’s thesis, THE AURA OF REPRODUCTION: PLASTER CAST COLLECTIONS AT THE 1904 LOUISIANA PURCHASE EXPOSITION, contains a large section on Houck’s purchase.

Disalvo writes that Houck’s donation of the statuary stipulated that a room be dedicated to them where they could be permanently displayed. The display opened in March of 1905 with the statues in Academic Hall.

Statues damaged and destroyed

Louis Houck's Statuary Collection 04-25-2014The casts remained there until 1959, when they were dispersed all over campus to make room for additional classroom space. They suffered from benign neglect over the years, with many being damaged or destroyed. One of my readers wrote that he had seen broken statues in the basement of Academic Hall when he was a student.

(For all I know, Venus de Milo might have had both her arms before SEMO got hold of her.)

Judy Crow takes up the cause

Louis Houck's Statuary Collection 04-25-2014In 1975, my friend, Judy Crow, Missourian librarian, wrote a story bemoaning the fate of the Houck collection.

The result was, Disalvo writes, “the plaster casts were gathered, restored and transferred to the Southeast Missouri Regional Museum. The casts remained in the museum until it relocated to the new Rosemary Berkel and Harry L. Crisp II Southeast Missouri Regional Museum. According to the museum director, Dr. Stanley Grand, the plaster casts were not included in this new museum since the new museum would focus on the archaeology, history, and fine arts of the Southeast Missouri region.”

I’m not surprised that the River Campus, which knocked down the handball courts, one of the Cape’s oldest landmarks, couldn’t find room for Houck’s donation. The irony is the university probably wouldn’t be in Cape Girardeau today had Houck not used his influence to rebuild Academic Hall after the first one burned down.

Class of 1957 raised $100,000

Louis Houck's Statuary Collection 04-25-2014In 2007, the Class of 1957 raised $100,000 to have the remaining 38 surviving casts restored and moved to the Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center, formerly the First Baptist Church, where they now line the walls of an auditorium area, called the Barbara Hope Kem Statuary Hall.

The display is open to the public. Admission is free. I think Houck would approve.

Louis Houck Statuary photo gallery

Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery.

First Baptist Church – Wehking Alumni Center

Wehking Alumni Center - 1st Baptist Church 04-25-2014When I was working at The Athens Messenger with Bob Rogers, we had a technique we used when we wanted to goof off. We’d shoot something like a old general store in a decaying coal town and run a photo of the outside of the building along with a brief description and a promise “tomorrow we’ll go inside.”

I’m going to do the same thing with the Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center, formerly the First Baptist Church at 926 Broadway. Tomorrow, “we’ll go inside” to see  the plaster reproductions of ancient, Medieval and modern works of art that Louis Houck bought at the end of 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

Third First Baptist Church

Wehking Alumni Center - 1st Baptist Church 04-25-2014This building was really the third home of the First Baptist Church.

Billy Sunday swelled ranks

Wehking Alumni Center - 1st Baptist Church 04-25-2014The congregation had swelled to 719 by the time it moved to 926 Broadway. Part of the growth – an increase of 258 – was attributed to Billy Sunday’s revival in Cape in 1926. Here’s The Missourian’s front page account of Billy Sunday’s arrival in town.

University bought building in 2003

Wehking Alumni Center - First Baptist Church 04-28-2014The university bought the church in 2003 for $3.5 million. The congregation relocated in 2006, and the university remodeled portions of the building in order to occupy it in 2007. The stained glass windows remained.

Photo gallery of Wehking Alumni Center / First Baptist Church

Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery. And, don’t forget, we’ll go inside tomorrow.

Working for Extra Credit

When I spoke to Dr. Lily Santoro’s Local Techniques in History Class, I offered to help students find information for the topics they had been assigned on local landmarks. The first step was to compile a list of posts about their subjects.

Jennifer was first out of the box

1956 SEMO Homecoming courtesy Steve McKeownThere’s always one student in the class who starts work right away. Jennifer Baker emailed me early on: “My topic is the Wehking Alumni Building on Broadway.  From what I have been able to find, the building was previously occupied by the First Baptist Church. Construction on it began in 1926. So, my project will start with the First Baptist Church and end with the Wehking Alumni Center.”

I had to confess to her that the building had been on my to-do list for a long time, but the only photos I had were ones taken of the 1956 SEMO Homecoming parade by James D. McKeown III and passed on by his son, Steve McKeown.

I did suggest that she check out a story I had read that Louis Houck was so enamored by reproductions of classic sculptures he saw at the St. Louis World’s Fair that he bought them at the end of the fair and donated them to the college. I heard that they were being displayed in her building after being moved out of Academic Hall. I suggested she look for Joel P. Rhodes‘ book, A Missouri Railroad Pioneer: The Life of Louis Houck, to see if I remembered it correctly.

Bingo. “Wow!  I just found a copy of this book as an ebook on line. Within minutes, I was able to read this section of Dr. Rhodes’ book on Louis Houck.  Thanks again for the help!  You are pretty cool!” she gushed.

Thanks to Jennifer, I finally got around to shoot the statues and former church for a future post. (If Jennifer is a REAL digger, she will uncover a story about a bank loan and why the building looks like it does. That’s the only hint I’m going to give because I’m saving it for my future post.)

Fairmount Cemetery

Aerial Old Notre Dame HS - New Lorimier and Fairmont Cemeteries 04-17-2011_5226The deadline for the project must be coming quickly because I got a flurry of requests on Wednesday.

Crystal Haugsness wanted an aerial shot of Fairmount Cemetery and a photo of the cemetery with Bingo World in the background.

Beer on the first date at age 13

Myrtle (Schilling) Kuehnert in Trinity Lutheran Church 11-12-2013Lucas Greenwalt was fascinated by Myrtle Schilling Kuehnert, part of my Last Generation project. ” I was wondering, if by chance, you would give me permission to cite one of your works for a poster presentation.  It was from a video interview you did where an elderly lady discusses her first date with her husband and they casually grabbed a beer at the age of 13.  My project is on the Evangelical United Church of Christ here in cape.  As you may know the church has very deep German roots and I feel as though this would be a wonderful reference when giving the history of the building.”

St. James AME Church

NAACP 08-10-1967Scott Bates drew the St. James AME Church. “I want to know if you would allow me permission to use a photo from your website. The photo that I would like to use is the photo with Mr. Kaplan speaking and Rev. Ward smiling in the back. This was from the NAACP president’s visit to St. James AME Church in 1967.”

Luke Haun wanted Fair photos

SEMO Fair by Mary Steinhoff 09-08-2011Luke wanted six photos: four from the 1964 fair; one inside the Arena Building in 1966, and a color shot that Mother took in 2011. I liked his taste. He picked out some of my favorites.

I wonder if any other students will come skidding in tomorrow? They may be in trouble. I have to wrap up a bunch of loose ends before getting on the road to Ohio at the end of the week, so I may not be around to look up photos.

I hope Dr. Santoro gives me extra credit for my work. I could use some help pulling up my grade point average.