Established in 1804, Athens has gained quite a reputation within the last 200 years. It's listed as the 13th most haunted place in the world and was featured in an episode of FOX's "Scariest Places on Earth." The town is plagued with ghost stories and haunted sites ranging from asylums, tunnels, dormitories, and most disturbing- five large cemeteries which form a perfect pentagram in the towns center.
The Haunting of Athens
Athens, Ohio is home to Ohio University. Legend has it, it's also home to hundreds of restless spirits.
The Ridges: Athens Lunatic Asylum
Now belonging to Ohio University and housing the Kennedy Museum of Art, The Ridges was once known as Athens Lunatic Asylum. While Athens, Ohio, is listed as the 13th most haunted place in the world, as per the British Society for Psychical Research, The Ridges, specifically, is listed at number 7.
Athens Lunatic Asylum opened its doors on January 9th, 1874 and ran (in some form) for almost 120 years by the time it closed in 1993. It closed as an asylum in the late 70s/early 80s and then was used as a hospital. During its asylum days, it was often misused as a dumping ground for the homeless, rebellious teenagers, and other wayward residents of Athens. By the early 1900's, the asylum's population jumped from a manageable 200 to an outrageous 2000. Most days, a single nurse would be responsible for 50 patients. Consequently the overcrowding led to a huge decline of proper individual care, and extreme treatments were tested and used on the unlimited source of test subjects. This includes electroshock therapy, ice water dips, and lobotomies- often without anesthetic. This lasted until the 1960's when a revolution for mental health patients came into play with modern psychiatry, and patients were administered heavy drugs to replace such inhumane treatments. By 1981, the asylums population had dropped back down below 300. Throughout the years, the buildings had deteriorated beyond repair and most were abandoned until the asylum was finally closed and Ohio University later bought most of the land where the eerie buildings remain today. There are rumors of patients being chained in the basement dungeons and written on a wall are the words "I was never crazy." The only way to know for sure is take a stroll through The Ridges on a nice night fit for a lobotomy.
Pictured here is Dr. Walter Freeman, also known as "Dr. Lobotomy," performing a trans-orbital lobotomy in 1949 at Athens Lunatic Asylum.
Trans-orbital Lobotomy- "Developed by Dr. Walter J. Freeman in the early 1950s, this simpler lobotomy became something of a craze in mental health circles up through the 60s. Dr. Freeman's method involved knocking the patient unconscious with electric shocks, then rolling an eyelid back and inserting a thin metal icepick-like instrument called a leucotome through a tear duct. A mallet was used to tap the instrument the proper depth into the brain. Next it was sawed back and forth to sever the neural receptors. Sometimes this was done in both eyes. There is some evidence that this method actually helped some people with very severe conditions, but much more often the patient had horrible side effects and in many cases ended up nearly catatonic. It also killed a whole bunch of people, too."(Forgotten Ohio)
Here is a list of the names The Ridges has gone by throughout the years:
1874-1911: Athens Lunatic Asylum
1911-1944: Athens Asylum for the Insane
1944-1968: Athens State Hospital
1968-1969: Southeastern Ohio Mental Health Center
1969-1975: Athens Mental Health Center
1975-1980: Southeastern Ohio Mental Health and Retardation Center
1980-1981: Athens Mental Health and Developmental Center
1981-1991: Athens Mental Health Center
1991-: The Ridges
On December 1, 1978. A patient named Margaret Schilling mysteriously disappeared. The legend states that she was playing hide-and-seek with one of the nurses, who became preoccupied and forgot to look for her. Her body was found a month later, by a maintenance man, in an empty room on the top floor of ward N.20 on January 12, 1979. What makes her death so creepy is the fact that the imprint of her body has remained permanently left on the concrete floor. It's been said that this is due to a reaction of the sunlight on her decomposing corpse. However, the stain (pictured below) reappears every time it is cleaned up. Some say Margaret Schilling still wanders the halls at night, along with countless other lost souls.
Another version of the legend says that she was a deaf-mute who hid from the staff while vacating the hospital. Many think she locked herself in an empty room and was unable to call out for help. Trapped and alone, she succumbed to heart failure due to exposure of the dead of winter in an unheated ward.
- Notice the patient photograph of Margaret Schilling shows her hands across her heart- the exact position they were in when she died.
Many sightings of ghosts have been reported at the cemetery of the former asylum. It contains many unmarked graves because a large portion of patients had no family or were unidentified civil war veterans. In place of headstones, they were simply given a number placed upon their grave. There were roughly two thousand people buried in the cemetery before 1972. Apparently Ohio University also buried the cadavers used in its medical classes here. According to Weird US.com "Several gravestones are arranged in a perfect circle on the hillside for no apparent reason and in no apparent order, though it's been speculated that this was a prank pulled by OU students sometime in the 1920s. This circle is supposed to be a Mecca for witches and practitioners of all sorts of black arts, who hold seances here and use it as a "circle of power."
- I can't say with certainty that the above photo is the "circle of power" but it does appear to have gravestones arranged in a circle on the hillside.
The haunting of Wilson Hall remains a mystery. It is the most notorious dormitory on Ohio Universities campus. It is located in the center of a pentagram, connected by 5 large cemeteries which form a pentagram on a regional map. (see next column for more information on the Cemetery Pentagram)
Wilson Hall was home to a student in the 1970s. This student committed suicide in room 428 and is believed to still haunt Wilson Hall today. Other college kids residing in room 428 have reported hearing strange noises, footsteps, and seeing objects move by unknown force. These incidents happened so frequently that room 428 has been closed off and not assigned to any new students.
There are a few different versions of the origins to this haunting. One is that the student was a depressed male who committed suicide. Another is that it was a female student practicing occult and attempting to make contact with the dead. According to the "facts" on "Scariest Places on Earth," a female student had toured The Ridges and touched the outline of Margaret Schilling. When she went back to her dorm, she was awoken by Margaret Schilling's spirit and was so frightened that she killed herself.
Another version is that Wilson Hall was built on an old Indian cemetery and it's these spirits who haunt Wilson Hall. If this is true then why is so much paranormal activity linked almost entirely to room 428? At the beginning of the 1980’s a newspaper researched the property and discovered that Wilson Hall is built on the same location as the original site of an early cemetery of the Athens Mental Institute: aka Athens Lunatic Asylum (The Ridges)
Simms Cemetery and Athens Cemetary Pentegram
The legend of the Cemetery Pentagram involves five cemeteries that circle Athens: Hanning, Hunter, Mathany, Peach Ridge, and Simms (located at the top point.) The pentagram symbol is believed to have supernatural powers and while Athens itself is a hot bed for supernatural activity, it seems very likely that there is perhaps a correlation between Athens haunting spirits and the Cemetery Pentagram.
"A pentagram is the ancient occult symbol of power and magic. According to the pagan tradition, a pentagram might create safe areas free from any paranormal activity." (Haunted Athens) "Experts say that any five points can be united on a map in the form of a pentagram. This suggests that all the interpretations of the pentagram mystery at (Athens) are merely speculations."
At the point of the pentagram sits Simms Cemetery. It is said to be one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world. Legend has it that the cemetery is named after John Simms, who is burried there with his family. He was the local hangman and some say that his hanging tree is still on the grounds today with visible rope marks on its branches. There have been numerous sightings of spirits wandering around. Some even report hearing the sounds of a noose tightening and of seeing ghostly figures hanging from the tree. "He is most often sighted wandering the cemetery wearing a long hooded shroud and has been known to chase anyone he finds in the cemetery after dark." (ghosts of Ohio)
One of the most haunted places in Athens is claimed to be Moonville Tunnel. It used to be a train tunnel back in the 1800's when the town of Moonville was thriving as a coal mining community. Since it's start 200 years ago, four people have died at the tracks of Moonville Tunnel.
In 1859, a brakeman fell from atop of the freight train and was run over by the sharp, crushing wheels. His ghost is said to haunt Moonville Tunnel. One witness reported it to the Chillicothe Gazette in February of 1895: "The ghost, attired in a pure white robe, carried a lantern. It had a flowing white beard, its eyes glistened like balls of fire and surrounding it was a halo of twinkling stars. When the train stopped, the ghost stepped off the track and disappeared into the rocks nearby." (Forgotten Ohio)
A century later, the ghost of the brakeman was at it again: "A 1993 Athens Messenger story told the story of David, an OU student who went to Moonville to swim in Raccoon Creek. On their way back through the tunnel they saw a light halfway down it, and split into two groups, since they had beer and half two of the four of them were underage. The other two headed for the light, then came running back out of the tunnel, screaming, "There's no one carrying the light!" David went to check it out for himself. "He wasn't kidding," he reported. "It was just a swinging light with no one holding it. I hightailed it back to the car. I haven't been out there since."
The second known ghost is that of a girl who got caught on the tressle by a train while she was allegedly going to see her lover. The third reported death (and ghost) was an 18 year old coal miner who died in an explosion. The last person to die at Moonville was a boy waiting for a train to pass. The train split in two and he stepped out in front of the second half without looking.
Ghosts have been sighted at Moonville Tunnel since that first tragedy in 1859. Other sightings have also been reported at Moonville Cemetery.
Athens: A Haunted City
Is it really a haunted city?
With the countless number of unexplainable and even paranormal events, it's hard to say Athens is not haunted. Even the most skeptical of people might change their mind by experiencing some of Athens most haunted sites. If you are a skeptic or want your own supernatural experience, perhaps you should take a drive up and go on a ghost tour and see Athens for yourself.
Check out the video below of Athens, Ohio featured in FOX's "The Scariest Places on Earth."
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The Scariest Places on Earth
This episode focuses on Athens
As intriguing as I find this, I also find it very creepy and disturbing to research, so much so that I almost scrapped this piece more than once. I guess what stopped me is the fact that I know a lot of Wizzley-ers (Wizzers?) would find this as interesting as I do. I don't live far from Athens and I attended the 2013 Halloween block party and the only ghosts I saw were those of costume. I would definitely need to be heavily persuaded to go on a ghost tour.