Haunted Tunnel legend remains scary tale

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, October 10, 2009

The half dozen youth crowd in tight, holding their jackets a little closer in part to fight of the cold of a rainy October night and partly to fight the chills that emanate from inside them.

With eyes wide, they hang on every word.

“Come on, tell us the story,” one says.

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“Is this thing really haunted?” another asks.

“That is up to you to decide,” I say. “But here is the legend of the Haunted Tunnel.”

It goes like this:

For many years, the only north/south highway in and out of Ironton was State Route 75, a curvy, dangerous road that predated SR 93.

But one part of 75 was the worst. Right outside of Ironton, the road ran into a tunnel that chopped straight through the hillside.

The tunnel is 200 feet through solid sandstone and limestone. The problem is that it is only about 30 feet wide.

You see, this tunnel was never designed for automobiles. It was built in 1859 during the days of horse and buggy as a way to get the iron from the furnaces that dotted Lawrence County down to the Ohio River and ship it all over the world.

But it was just too small for two lanes of traffic. Even after it was expended in 1915, there continued to be many crashes. Countless people lost their lives.

It was around then the rumors started, at first quiet whisperings, but eventually growing to unchecked fear: The tunnel was cursed.

Many people felt it should be shut down. But the state didn’t listen to the warnings and didn’t put much stock in ghost stories.

Then tragedy struck.

It was a cold October night in 1959. But it just happened to be Halloween night.

There was a big football game. Ironton played Wellston. After the victory, everyone was excited and ready to make the trip home.

But, as the night got darker and the fog grew heavier, it became harder to see.

The school bus driver got careless. As he entered the north end of the tunnel, he didn’t honk his horns, he didn’t flash his lights.

He had no idea that a tanker truck had just fueled up and was headed out of town.

There simply wasn’t room for both.

The tragedy that ensued will forever go down in local lore as one of the most horrible and strange things ever to occur in these hills.

Old-timers say you could hear the screams for miles around. No matter how hard they tried, firefighters couldn’t get the flames to go out.

The fire burned for days and days.

Finally, the state stepped in, sealing off both ends of the tunnel, with all that wreckage and those bodies still inside.

And it stayed that way until 1989, when the Ironton Lions Club decided to reopen the tunnel as an historic attraction.

But the workers clearing it out reported many strange things.

It might be a brush across the back of your neck when no one is behind you. Or doors slamming in empty rooms. Or lights flickering and the faint sounds of horns honking in the far end of the tunnel.

Legend has it that these are the spirits of all those who were killed in the crash trying to escape.

And it always gets worse around Halloween.

That is the tale of the Haunted Tunnel.

Is the story true? Well, that is up to you decide.

Come visit the Ironton Lions at the tunnel, across from the Ironton Hills Plaza, every Friday and Saturday night in October to find out.

The tunnel is open from 7 to 11 p.m. Admission is $5.

Everyone at the tunnel is a volunteer and all the proceeds go back into the community.

So come see us.

You aren’t scared, are you?

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com.