Thursday, April 19, 2012


Moonville Tunnel
The October day is sunny. “A perfect fall day,” we’d say in Columbus. The Sugar Maples are scarlet, burnt orange and lemon yellow. They vibrate against the cloudless sky. T and I pull our two teens away from the Xbox-360 to hike in Zaleski State Park down in Vinton County. The hiking trail snakes around Raccoon Creek towards Moonville Tunnel and its numerous ghost stories.

The boys complain: “There aren’t any ghosts. I could be doing better things,” then toss the football back and forth along the path.

I ignore them and enjoy the time outside and kick up the big-as-my-face Sycamore leaves. My stomach tightens and twists like when I ride on rollercoasters as we climb up the hill towards the tunnel. My inner critic asks: “What possessed you to actively seek out ghosts? Are you out of your fucking mind?”

We approach the tunnel’s west side entrance. I sniff. No hints of the legendry lavender lady, only the smell of human urine. The tunnel’s entrance also lacks the skull shape mist and the shadow of Frank Lawless the headless brakeman carrying a lamp, both images can be found on countless internet sites. I’d read many witness accounts claiming to have seen them during the daylight hours and on moonless nights. I sigh in relief, and begin walking through the cool tunnel.

The tunnel walls are spray-painted with past visitor’s initials, cartoon cats and various skulls. I reach the center. It’s much cooler and darker than outside. There’s burnt firewood scattered within a stone circle. My father-in-law, W.S., a regional rail historian had ridden the last passenger train through this tunnel. He didn’t remember seeing any ghosts, but he did explain how the tunnels were hand-dug to fit the width of the train. “It [tunnel] was made before dynamite – before 1867.” He went on to talk about how people would use the tunnel as a short cut rather than going over the hill. If you were in a tunnel like Moonville when a train was coming at 55 miles per hour - you had nowhere to go. “A lot of people were killed taking a chance,” W.S. said.

I get to the other side of the tunnel the critic mocks: “And you were afraid after watching that crap on Youtube?”

 I e-mail Michelle Duke, co-founder of Southeast OhioParanormal Investigators (SEOPI) when I get home. I ask about her experience at Moonville Tunnel. She writes back: “We were not able to capture anything on film. As far as EVP (electronic voice phenomena) I did catch one thing that sounded like a scream but I had to discount it since there were other hikers out that day.”  SEOPI wasn’t able to show “conclusive evidence of paranormal” activity that day.  Michelle writes that this didn’t mean it, Moonville Tunnel, wasn’t haunted.


In 2005, steely sheets blanketed the sky barely letting in any sun for me. I’d kissed death and survived an ectopic pregnancy. But for what? My feelings sent me searching for answers, but, I was met with roadblocks. The women in my office who were pregnant or trying to be quarantined me to my cubicle as if I carried a miscarriage virus. Some of my family minimized my experience, cutting me off saying: “It happens all the time – it’s no big deal.” Forlorn, Dante words spoke to me: “I went astray/from the straight road and woke to find myself/alone in a dark woods.”   I’d felt alone with no idea how to integrate this experience into my life. Rather than face it; I buried it and stopped writing and doing anything creative. But it was there like a banshee wailing not to be forgotten.   Telling me: “See I told you.  You aren’t a writer.”


Nettie Morse taught a creativity circle that used Julia Cameron the Artist’s Way. In her grandmotherly way, she prodded me to get back up on my feet and to pick up the pen again. Her weekly assignments modeled Cameron’s: three journal pages of longhand, a daily walk and a trip to a gallery. The first week’s assignment is still imprinted on my memories.  It was a Cameron exercise.  We were to write a whole journal page filled with: “I_____(name) am a brilliant and prolific poet.”   Nettie asked us to jot down on the other side of the journal what happened as we wrote that sentence.

The blank page of twenty-four lines stared back at me. I wrote up to the word brilliant. From within me, I heard a voice snort: “Yea, Right” sounding a lot like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining. I tentatively finished the sentence. I wrote the sentence again. The voice repeated its nasty remark and added: “You can’t spell… Your ideas are weird… Write? Didn’t you have to take English summer school because of a D+ in 7th grade?” Cameron calls this voice the inner critic. I called it a ghost who appeared every time I wrote that sentence; it ceaselessly recited the same comments unbroken.  It was ceaseless in trying to stop me from completing my homework assignment.

The next meeting we each described our experiences of the inner critic. She says these ghostly voices are sent to disempower us from our creativity – all writers have them.  She listed them off: Ann Lamott, Joyce Carol Oats and Stephan King… They were gremlins with sharp pointy teeth whose job are to stop writers from reaching their full potential. I groaned at the following week’s assignment. She asked us to face these ghouls by triggering them with that same sentence in order to find out where they came from. She reminded us of Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back when he entered the cave. He managed to tame his fear, fight the shadow figure and come out unscathed. For me, I discovered these hauntings were old recordings from the people around me: teachers, friends, family and several old boy friends.


I met Michelle, Tom Robson and Wesley Shook at Papa Chuck’s (Historic Guthrie Granger House) in Zanesville for the SEOPI monthly supper meeting. We sit around a table drinking soda and coffee afterwards. The rain pounds against the window, occasionally the sky lights up. Michelle tells me Papa Chuck’s is haunted. The night has a Poe like feel, perhaps mourning the fifty-six exotic animals that law enforcement officers were forced to kill the day before. Their owner had set them free to roam in a residential area; then abruptly committed suicide. I’d overheard one of SEOPI‟s new candidates; a deputy sheriff described her sadness for having to kill two lions, “two beautiful creatures.”

“Have you ever been afraid?” I ask Michelle.

“Yes, I have.” The table creaks as she leans forward. “It doesn’t happen often, because we’ve done it so much.” She describes investigating a bedroom closet at a Newark home. “I was sitting there and something came from behind me. What it felt like was a razor blade going down my neck. I was basically out of the room in two steps.” Michelle points to her neck where the reddened scratches had been. Tom indicates that he too had been scratched in another room simultaneously.

“Did I go back and face it – yeah, after I got myself recomposed. It just scared me for the moment.” She smiles and touches her charmed necklace.

“Has anyone else been touched?”

“Yeah.” Wesley says looking up from the computer screen. “The Licking County Jail.”

“It’s on our website.” Michelle says.

“We were walking on an EVP session.” He continues. “There were three of us. Two who work as corrections officers in real life and me an agent from the “Geek Squad,” (Best Buy) I’m the one who’s getting scratched versus the officers.”

Michelle and Tom had met at the police department where they work. They found out each had an interest in the paranormal. SEOPI was founded and they began to investigate. Tom tells me that Wesley “brings the tech” to SEOPI with his background in electrical engineering. They describe how they collect evidence and document their investigation. It reminds me of crime scene investigative protocols. Michelle assures me that the team does its best to “provide the evidence” to clients who are “seeking validation.”

“They contact us out of desperation,” Tom says. “They can’t tell their claims to other people. Because they’re afraid their family will think they’re crazy or something like that.” He smiles and folds his arms across his big chest. “Most the time, I think they’re looking for somebody to understand and feel their experience.”

“Our job is to help people.” Michelle says.

“My main task is to make is to make a family feel more comfortable and better in their home...”

"And not feel afraid anymore.” Michelle interrupts Tom. “Because, a lot of families contact us are afraid.”

“The last one,” Tom says. “Nobody was sleeping in their bedrooms except the parents. They were all sleeping in one room. You got a nice big house you’re living in…”

“A brand new house there’s no excuse.” Michelle adds. “It isn’t one of those old rickety one, the one you picture as a haunted house. This was a brand new house, five years old. We brought in Christy, a psychic who can actually clear a room or a house – which is to get rid of the spirits or have them move on.” Michelle pushes up her glasses. “Allegedly, we can’t prove it. We can’t say that she’s the one. But it’s working. Even if it’s psychological it works for them. As long as we can get the family to feel better then…”

“Gives them a piece of mind then,” Tom pauses. “then I don’t really much care.”

I ask what they thought of ghosts and spirits.

Tom stands and stretches and begins telling me about two types of hauntings. “There’s a residual haunting - basically what it is - is imprinted energy on the structure or the land. It plays over and over again. The residual haunting knows that you’re there and it just repeats itself.”

“It’s like your tape recorder and pushing play, and [it’s] playing what we just said.” Michelle says.

“You’re playing recorded voices over and over again.”

“The other one is the intelligent hauntings.” Tom says. “It hears you and sees you. If you ask it to make the EMF (electromagnetic field) detector light up, it does.”

“It interacts with you.” Wesley pipes in.

“We use trigger objects.” Michelle says. “Like when we went to the Captain’s House.” Michelle explains that they had a picture of Captain Jones and they were walking around room to room asking: “Is this you Captain Jones? Is this your picture?” They got an EMF reaction.

“Is there a good and bad intelligent hauntings?”

“Yeah.” Tom says, “It’s no difference in death than from life. There’s people out there to cause you harm. There’s people out there that are not that personable or not that nice. To someone that’s sad. Like the one Wes and I were – well Michelle was there too. We were investigating the Zanesville Theater. And, Wes asked the question.” He looks over to Wes and cues him.

“Is there someone you love still here?”

“And we get a female response back that says, "yes.‟ Tom says. “Now that doesn’t portray emotion, but to me when I hear it. It’s almost like we can hear her in a half whimper. Kinda like she is sad – longs for this person. So yea, there are all kind of different people associated with like in life and in death.”


I drive back to Columbus. It’s raining hard enough to keep my speed down to 50 mph on I-70 west. I’ve that rollercoaster feeling in my stomach after talking two hours about ghosts and spirits. The critic perks up asking: “What the fuck are you going to do with this.”

I take a breath and say nicely: “I guess I’m going to have to take it bird by bird and write a shitty first draft.”

“How Anne Lamott of you.” It replies.

 "I guess you might say that."



Julia’s exercise:

I am (fill in the blank).  Write it 10 times.  Example:  I am a poet.  I am a hiker of the Appalachian Trail.

Journal: Do you hear any voice within?  Where does it come from?  How does the voice stop you from going after your dreams?

Below are additional resources that I have been using to help work with my inner ghost.  I tend to really like how the Buddhists approach ghosts.  Rather than fighting or arguing, they use a ritual of giving the ghost an offering.  They do this with an open heart and with love.  For me this approach seems to work better than my old ways. 

Rituals to feed the hauntings: 
Verbally acknowledge this piece of yourself by:
  • Lighting a candle
  • Lighting incense
  • Deep cleansing breath and saying “all is good.”
  • Create a symbol or word and say it out loud before you begin.  I pull and Angle Card (Findhorn) and offer that word to my inner critic.
Before you buy - 1) see if your library has a copy.  2) If you do buy use an independent book seller first.

Levitt, Peter. Fingerpainting the Moon: Writing andCreativity as a Path to Freedom.  Harmony Books, New York. 2003.

Maisel, Eric. Deep Writing: Seven Principles the BringWriting to Life. Putnam Books. New York. 1999.

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