Many Ohio State Parks are the home of folk tales and legends, spun by and about colorful characters living in boom and bust towns in rural Ohio.
With their wealth of deep woods and remote areas that are today's wild places, it is little wonder that state parks are the setting for so many stories of strange occurrences! Foggy nights and howling winds, rustling leaves and dancing shadows fuel imaginations and set the stage for enduring tales which offer explanations for eerie sights and sounds.
At Beaver Creek State Park, there are many reminders of the time when this area bustled with commerce. Through the 1800s, grist mills powered by the tumbling waters of Little Beaver Creek ground grain into flour. This precious cargo was loaded onto canal boats nearby, destined for cooks in the city. Today, hikers on the Sprucevale trail come across a single remnant of a community long deserted. The ruins of Hambleton's grist mill are all that remains of the town of Sprucevale, which once prospered with the Sandy and Beaver Canal. With the coming of the railroads, the canal system declined and, along with it, many canal towns such as Sprucevale were abandoned. Three stone walls of the Hambleton mill stand proudly in defiance of the failure of the canals and the town. Legend has it that sometimes, late at night, the figure of a woman may be seen wandering through the old mill. She is said to be the spirit of Esther Hale, a stern Quaker preacher who lived in the town, and has kept her vigil at the mill for more than a hundred years.
The abandoned mining town of Moonville, near Lake Hope State Park, had once been an industrial center where supplies were delivered daily by train. One night, the careless railroad brakeman at the Moonville station near the old Moonville Tunnel had a tragic accident while on duty. As he was waving his lantern to signal the steam locomotive to stop at the station, the brakeman swayed and stumbled into the path of the oncoming train and was killed instantly. Folks claim that sometimes, late at night, the eerie green and red lights of the brakeman's lanterns can still be seen glimmering, waving back and forth by the old train tunnel.
The mysterious deaths of the Rose family, who lived in a white frame house on the grounds of Malabar Farm State Park, are said to be a lovesick teenager's revenge. Ceely Rose, an awkward and lonely girl, had a crush on the boy who lived in the house across the creek, Hugh Fleming. Hugh was a friend to Ceely but did not return her affection. However, Ceely had convinced herself that Hugh intended to marry her, and she announced their engagement to anyone who would listen. To spare Ceely's feelings, Hugh told her that they couldn't marry because her family disapproved of him. Enraged that her family would keep her from her love, Ceely gradually poisoned them by soaking flypaper in water and then secretly pouring the arsenic-laced water over the cottage cheese she served them. Within three months, her parents and two brothers had all died. Hugh Fleming left town for good in fear of his own life, should Ceely learn of his true feelings toward her. Suspicious neighbors tricked Ceely into confessing the murders of her family, and she was committed to a mental institution where she finally passed away, sad and alone. Some folks believe that Ceely can still be seen roaming the hallways of the Rose house, pausing at the windows near the creek where she watches and waits for her love Hugh to return and marry her.
A few different stories have grown around the name of Paul Lyons, a self-reliant pioneer for whom Lyon's Falls and Lyon's Cave near Mohican State Park were named. What is certain is that there is a grave marker bearing his name on the trail leading to the 80-foot plunge of Lyon's Falls into Clearfork Gorge. Legend has it that Paul was a recluse who lived in he area with his milk cow. One dark and stormy night, Paul realized the cow had wandered off into the woods, and he went to find it. He could barely hear the sound of the bell around the cow's neck over the moaning of the wind. He followed the faint clanking into the darkening woods to the edge of the falls. He could see very little in the driving storm and lost his footing on the slick ground, falling 80 feet to his death. Folks say that on dark nights, the sound of the cow bell can be heard on the trail to the falls, and the figure of a man waving a lantern can be seen at the top of the cliff.
When the Punderson Manor House and its grounds were purchased by the state of Ohio in 1948, dust and decay dimmed the grandeur of the unfinished tutor-style mansion. After the Division of Parks and Recreation began developing the property as Punderson State Park in 1951, the manor was enlarged and remodeled to its present size and charming appearance. Despite its charms, something a little melancholy seems to have clung to this lovely place since it began attracting the families who wished to possess it. From the pioneer Lemuel Punderson, who in 1808 built his family home on the fair banks of Punderson Lake, to W.B. Cleveland, a wealthy industrialist who visited Punderson Lake as a young man and vowed to own it one day, to Karl Long, a wealthy businessman whose ambition was to construct a grand tudor-style mansion, each previous owner was irresistibly drawn to the place.
After the initial remodeling of the Punderson Manor House was completed and park staff and guests began spending the night in the "old" section built by Long, reports of strange occurrences flourished. Ghostly apparitions appeared from nowhere and disappeared as suddenly, often accompanied by a bone-chilling draft. Most of these visions had the look of characters from a bygone era dressed in period costume. A woman napping on a sofa in what is now a meeting room in the old section was awakened by the sounds of invisible children playing, laughing and running around the room. Two rangers walking along the hallway on their evening rounds felt a sudden penetrating chill pass through them and then heard peals of unearthly laughter as the chill faded down the hallway. After passing through the well-lit dining room to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, a member of the night staff was startled as the lights in the dining room blinked off suddenly. In the dim dining room, she saw a figure of a woman dressed in an old-fashioned bonnet, cape and gown float through the air across the dining room, into the lobby and up a stairwell. On another occasion, the staffer saw the same figure surrounded by silent ghostly children whom she swept up under her cape as she faded away. As two night staffers sat talking in the lobby at the bottom of the circular staircase, they were startled to see the specter of a young girl in a pink nightgown peek around the upstairs railing, stifling a silent giggle. On another occasion, the little girl in pink was seen wandering the hallway late at night--on an evening when no children were registered as guests.
Why so many different apparitions at Punderson? Many tragedies seem to have befallen its former owners. Just as Lemuel Punderson was planning an urgent and confidential business trip to New England, he fell ill with a fever and died. A rumor persists that he may have committed suicide by drowning. W. B. Cleveland bought the property in 1902, experienced serious financial difficulties through the 1920s, fell seriously ill and died in 1928 just as an opportunity arose to sell the property and avoid financial ruin. Karl Long had just purchased the property and invested $250,000 in construction of the manor house when he lost everything in the 1929 stock market crash. Broke and in despair, Long is said to have hung himself from a tree by the tower. A tavern across the lake from the manor is said to have caught fire many years ago, claiming the lives of several children inside.
During further remodeling in the early 1980s, Punderson Manor House was closed to overnight guests and modifications were made to the rooms of the old section. Today, Punderson Manor is said to be visited still by a playful spirit that likes to rattle pots and pans, turn lights on and off, and watch television in the wee hours. Guests staying in the old section claim to find faucets turned on mysteriously, heating and air conditioning units suddenly turned up full blast, clean towels and linens tossed about the room and televisions suddenly coming on at full volume in the middle of the night. From time to time, the heavy metal fire door separating the old and new section appears to open and close by itself. Drama, mischief and mystery characterize the enduring spirit of the grand old manor built on a spot that is so irresistibly lovely that some folks may have never been able to leave it. story by Jean Backs