Chesapeake author’s book collects supernatural tales of Ohio Valley

Published 1:03 pm Monday, May 2, 2016

CHESAPEAKE — Roger W. Russell says he has always been interested in ghost stories, ever since he was a youngster.

The Chesapeake resident recalls growing up and being fascinated by things such as the Universal Studios monster films, with Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Boris Karloff Frankenstein.

He said coming across a newspaper article detailing the history “Fifth Street Hill Ghost in Huntington grabbed his attention.

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“I, being naïve, assumed everything in the paper is true,” he said.

The tale, of the classic “vanishing hitchhiker” variety, dates back to Oct. 30, 1942, when the newspaper published the account of a cab driver who said, on the cold night, he was hailed by a girl at the top of the hill.

When he asked her where she was going, the cab driver said she asked to be taken to the bottom of the hill.

However, when he reached the destination at the stoplight at the bridge at the bottom of the hill, the driver said he turned around to discover she was no longer there.

Over the years, similar accounts have been made about the supposed spectral passenger, with one version giving her name as “Karen,” all having her vanish when the vehicle reaches the bridge.

Hearing the story kick started a lifelong interest in paranormal tales for Russell.

“I started collecting, with lots of books and ghost stories from every state,” he said.

One writer who had a major influence on him was Chris Woodyard, author of the “Haunted Ohio” series, which collect ghost stories from the Buckeye State..

Russell said Woodyard was asking readers to send her stories from Lawrence County. He contacted her, and, over time, got advice on how to go about compiling stories on his own.

“It seemed everybody I talked to either knew a ghost story or someone who knew a ghost story,” he said.

The abundance of these tales and their universality inspired the title of his book, “The Ghost Next Door,” which he published through CreateSpace on in 2014.

The collection contains more than 40 ghost stories from the Ohio Valley, including both well-known tales, such as the Marshall University ghost, and many that will be new to readers.

The book is now in its second edition. Russell said he wasn’t completely satisfied with his original volume, and has since found more stories, so he decided to replace the first edition with an expanded, definitive second version.

Locations such as The Frederick Hotel and The Keith Albee Theater in Huntington the Paramount in Ashland and the Chesapeake Community center are among the settings of the book’s stories.

The chapter “Witches’ Woods,” shares the multi-generational tales, including mysterious fireballs and phantom infants, of a southeastern Ohio family, beginning with “Granny,” and then moving to the present day with her daughters, Doris and Kelly.

Russell said he one reason for his interest is that he simply likes a good story.

“I collect for a good story, and the people I’ve talked to, I felt, were sincere,” he said.

He said he has a belief in the supernatural himself, having had experiences as feeling as if someone had punched him when he visited Gettysburg and having strange things occur in his house.

“I think there’s something out there,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, but there’s meat to all of this.”