The ‘Haunted’ Moonville Tunnel: Inspiration for The Hollows

No butterflies were harmed in the researching of this novel.

Not long after I completed the final draft of The Widows—the debut title of my Kinship Mystery Series, inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff in 1925—my husband and I were enjoying a Friday night like the introverts we are: reading. (But in the same room.)

My husband happened to be reading an article online about quirky Ohio locations.

“Hey, have you heard of the Moonville Tunnel?” he asked. “It’s in southeastern Ohio—near where your novels are set!”

Truth be told, I hadn’t heard of it. So, of course, I started looking up information on the Moonville Tunnel.

And what I learned was compelling.

Moonville, it turns out, was a tiny village established in the 1880s in rugged and nearly impenetrable terrain in Vinton County, Ohio. The county is still the least populated in Ohio, and the most forested. Moonville served as a railroad depot for rail companies hauling coal and other goods through the region, and it served coal miners who worked in a small operation, as well as a few families tucked in the hills of the area. At its peak, it had about a hundred residents, and in addition to the depot, a schoolhouse, saloon, and cemetery. But the town was never accessible by other than foot, horse or mule, or a drawn wagon.

Learn More: The Battle for Blair Mountain

The Moonville Tunnel was blasted through a large hill to accommodate trains. It was a treacherous pass for trains, one that engineers dreaded, yet people would walk the track as a quick way to get to the village. People lived in Moonville through the 1940s. The track, though desolate and unsignaled until 1981, was used until 1985.

Of course, deaths on such a treacherous stretch of track are inevitable, and perhaps so too are the ghost stories that would follow. An engineer and fireman died in a wreck on the track in 1880, and not long after, stories began to abound of a ghostly engineer walking the track with his lantern. Then there was a brakeman, and a lady… All told, there were six reported deaths on the bridges along the track or in the Moonville Tunnel.

Well, how could I not be inspired by such a history, right in the Appalachian area of Ohio where my series is set? Particularly when Lily Ross, my protagonist inspired by the real-life Maude Collins, would have heard of the tales?

So, of course, my husband and I set out to visit Moonville Tunnel.

The path leading into Moonville Tunnel.

We went on a nice spring day, taking a major state route east out of our town, then once in southeast Ohio, turning off onto a smaller state route. Then a county route. Then a smaller county road. At one point, the route was so remote that butterflies were settled on the road in front of us. (They scattered as our car approached. No butterflies were harmed in the researching of this novel.)

Once we found signage for the Moonville Rail Trail and the Moonville Tunnel, we got out and started walking. We crossed one bridge, then got to the tunnel, which we walked through. I’d love to report a sense of ghostly tingles and spookiness, but I’ve always been nonchalant at the notion of ghosts. (Either they’re among us… or they’re not… and I have no control over them either way.) Once through the tunnel, I took off my shoes and socks and walked on the ballast for several yards as research for a scene in The Hollows. I was happy to put my socks and shoes back on! Oh, what we writers will do to get a scene description just right!

Even so, when we reached a washed-out bridge, our hike came to a stop. We didn’t trust ourselves to walk across logs and stones, and sloshing through the creek in jeans and tennis shoes, especially since we weren’t sure of the water’s depth, didn’t strike us as wise either. On the other side, we would have found the foundations and remains of the town of Moonville.

Nope, not getting in there.

As we drove home, Moonville became Moonvale in my imagination, a place similar to Moonville but with its own history and backstory for the purposes of my novel.

And I also thought about how, not too far from Moonville, is Ohio University in Athens County. One of the buildings on OU’s campus is The Ridges, a magnificent structure that operated as an asylum for those with mental illness from 1874-1993, under various names. In the 1920s, it was known as the Athens Asylum for the Insane (renamed the Hollows Asylum for the Insane in my novel.)

See Also: The History Behind The Hollows

Eventually, I visited The Ridges for an exterior tour of the facility, learning a great deal about its history. The Ridges, too, is considered by many to be haunted.

And though as mentioned, I’m neutral on the notion of haunted places or ghosts, I do believe in personal and cultural ‘haunts,’ events or experiences from our individual or collective pasts that grasp onto our present and future. I began thinking about how such haunts might impact trails followed, might even goad someone to follow a path along a treacherous train track.

* * *

NOTE: To learn more about the real-life Moonville Tunnel and the current rail-trail, follow these links. If you decide to visit the Moonville Tunnel, do your research carefully, and follow the trail with extreme caution—there are destroyed trestles and drop offs along the way.

About The Hollows by Jess Montgomery:

The Hollows, Book #2 in the Kinship Mystery series, is a powerful, big-hearted and exquisitely written follow-up to Jess Montgomery’s acclaimed debut The Widows

Ohio, 1926: For many years, the underground railroad track in Moonvale Tunnel has been used as a short cut through the Appalachian hills. When an elderly woman is killed walking along the tracks, the brakeman tells tales of seeing a ghostly female figure dressed all in white.

Newly elected Sheriff Lily Ross is called on to the case to dispel the myths, but Lily does not believe that an old woman would wander out of the hills onto the tracks. In a county where everyone knows everyone, how can someone have disappeared, when nobody knew they were missing? As ghost stories and rumors settle into the consciousness of Moonvale Hollow, Lily tries to search for any real clues to the woman’s identity.

With the help of her friend Marvena Whitcomb, Lily follows the woman’s trail to The Hollows―an asylum is northern Antioch County―and they begin to expose secrets long-hidden by time and the mountains.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Hollows by Jess Montgomery!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

The Hollows Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at beginning at 5:15 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) January 10, 2020. Sweepstakes ends at 5:15 p.m. ET January 24, 2020. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see the full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.


All Photos Courtesy of Jess Montgomery.

Learn More Or Order A Copy


  1. lasvegasnv

    interesting post

  2. Daniel M

    sounds like a fun one

  3. John Smith

    Ohio looks and sounds like a land of eerie mystery!

  4. Cyndi Coffman


  5. Nancy Timmerman

    These books so fantastic! I’m shaking with excitement! Thanks for the chance to read and review!

  6. Erin F

    Look forward to reading this one.

  7. elvinoray

    would love a copy

  8. Katrina Dehart

    Sounds interesting!

  9. Susan Marshall

    I would love a shot at this, it really sounds great!

  10. Diane M Mason

    Sounds like one you pick up and can’t put down. A binge-reading session is wonderful.

  11. Karen Carlson

    Who doesn’t love a good popcorn-thrower? I can’t wait to read The Hollows. Thanks!

  12. Anna Russell


  13. Colleen V

    very eerie, I love hearing stories of lost America. Very much looking forward to reading the 2nd book.

  14. Vikki Parman

    this looks like a great book, I love the local legends

  15. Mildred Virus

    O-M-G!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How eerily exciting!!! I would love to have the opportunity to read this book!!!

  16. Becky Pennington

    OMG! I have been there! It is such a creepy place at twilight. I travel to Ohio University three times a year to visit my daughter in college and this is one place I needed to see. I loved the electric poles hidden in the overgrown woods. I can’t wait to read this book!

  17. Lesley Kay

    Spooky! The book sounds great.

  18. Charlotte Smith

    Looks like I know where my next adventure will lead. Thanks for the chance to get the second installment.

  19. Karen Minter

    Hoping to win this for my niece, a huge ghost believer!

  20. Sarah

    Sounds intriguing!

  21. Diana

    A good one for snowy evenings by the fire

  22. Ivy Pittman-Outen

    I was intrigued by the title and cover. Now I am even more so by the theme and characters. I hope to win a copy.

  23. Davina Medina

    Great Read I need to do asap

  24. Sharon Haas

    I love stories about isolated villages and the fact that this one is a real place makes it even better!

  25. Rebecca Brothers

    Well that sounds like a lovely, creepy spot! Would love to win the book and find out more.

  26. vicki andrew

    sounds like something not to read right before bed, love a good scare

  27. JenniferLe

    This looks great…a wonderfully creepy read.

  28. Jill Carpenter

    Interesting how we consider this country as all settled yet there are areas like Moonville in every state.

  29. Toni A Laliberte

    This book sounds creepy good! I love a good mystery/thriller! Thanks for the chance.

  30. amanda s.

    wow! This sounds interesting!

  31. Kelly Martin

    The Moonville tunnel is well known to everyone in my part of the state. So excited to read this one!

  32. carloshmarlo

    The Moonville Tunnel sounds like an excellent day trip. I wish we were in the area, I’d love to see it too. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of The Hollows. crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com

  33. JenF

    Sounds like a great mystery book!!!

  34. Michael Carter

    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  35. Bonnie Sorenson

    Sounds like a great book!

  36. John Davis

    I greatly appreciate localized stories such as this. They bring not only the special flavor of a region to bear, but the peculiarities of people of those places as well.

  37. Darlene

    Ok, you’ve got my interest piqued.

  38. C

    I love learning things like this. Sounds like a great story too!

  39. Melissa Combrink

    It looks interesting I’m going to have to read it.

  40. Kimberly Martin

    I love the Moonville Rail Trail…would love to win a copy of this book!

  41. Anne

    Captivating and intriguing novel. Thanks.

  42. Pearl

    Thanks for this fascinating feature and giveaway.

  43. Burma Turner

    I love near southeast Ohio. This sounds intriguing!

  44. Lesa Neace

    Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

  45. Susan Robinette

    Sounds really good. I’d love to win a copy!

  46. Rebecca Booth

    After reading this post, I am very interested in reading The Hollows! Thanks for the chance!

  47. Nancy

    Sounds fantastic. Registered as a newsletter subscriber. Thanks for the chance.

  48. Samantha A Cox

    definitely looks good.

  49. Susannah Scruggs

    Sounds *very* intriguing!

  50. Riann Fletcher

    Sounds like an excellent read! 🙂

  51. Linda Farabaugh

    I live in Ohio. In fact I live in southeast Ohio. A little town called Cambridge. This sounds like a spooky read. Want to read the first book too.I would like to visit the Moonville tunnel. Eerie and creepy.

  52. Kelly Rodriguez

    Looks intriguing

  53. Robi Malone

    I have been to Moonville Tunnel. It is like being in another world and time. I wait to read this book.

  54. Dawn Weidman

    Sounds eerie.

  55. Shirley Evans

    Would love to read this mystery..looks to be a good one.

  56. Karen H

    Sounds interesting!

  57. DebP

    This article pulled me right in. I’d love to read the book.

  58. Melissa Basnight

    Looks like a good spooky book!

  59. Cortney Sparks

    Would love to read this!

  60. Jamie Gillespie

    This sounds like a really good, spooky book. Would love to read!

  61. jodi Scott

    What a great creepy read!

  62. Emily Catan

    I am a big fan of suspense / psychological / horror thrillers, and “The Hollows” is the exact thriller that I would love to read!! Love how Ms Jess Montgomery got her inspiration for writing this novel. Thank you for the opportunity to know Jess Montgomery and her books.

  63. susan beamon

    I enjoy good ghost stories. Watching as one is dismantled sounds like fun.

  64. Lynn Stadel-Paterson

    How fascinating!

  65. AgnesM

    This sounds like the kind of story that I won’t be able to put down until it’s finished!

  66. Kimberly-Ann Palazzo

    Land of my birth…this sounds so mesmerizing! Would love to read it! Thanks for the opportunity!

  67. Karen Mikusak

    Sounds great! Would love to win.

  68. Lori P

    Interesting to delve into the roots of these beliefs and the need to create them.

  69. Rachael Pendleton

    Thanks for the awesome opportunity!

  70. Kathy Robello

    Sounds like a good read!

  71. Jo Anne R.

    The photos alone are enticing!

  72. Stephanie L Nelson

    This sounds fantastic!

  73. Asa Guice

    Wow. This sounds like a late-night pageturner.

  74. Wendy Barker

    This sounds fascinating. I loved The Widows when I read it so I’m planning on reading this anyway but the spooky locations add to the thrill. And as it happens I recently met a couple from this area while on vacation and we hope to go visit then some time. The Moonville Tunnel will be on the itinerary for sure.

  75. Julie Fetcho

    Very interesting read. Looking forward to reading The Hollows

  76. Teresa Warner

    Sounds good!

  77. Dian Adams

    This looks super interesting! I love anything paranormal that can actually be explained with facts.

  78. Dianna Young

    Love stories based on real people and places. And this one sounds like I need to win and read!

  79. Susan T.

    What a fun/creepy bit of history!

  80. Pattie Cowan

    This is definitely my kind of book!

  81. Tiffany

    Wow this looks amazing!

  82. Ruth Bousquet

    O boy, sounds like a wonderful read. What a great find your husband found for you and a super fun outing for ‘research’. Can’t wait for that one.

  83. SeattleReader

    Sounds fascinating! I especially love the idea of a female sheriff in 1926. Would love to win.

  84. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  85. Shawna Shrader

    Would love a copy. Sounds so good!

  86. Ray Palen

    Eerie. Would love to check this one out!

  87. lasvegasnv


  88. Melissa Hartley

    Sounds like my mind of book!! 💞😎 Thanks for the chance to win this book!

    • Melissa Hartley

      *kind lol

  89. Cheryl Koch

    This has all the makings of being a really good book. I am adding it to my wish list.

  90. nancy wolfe

    This sounds like a great book. Thank you for the giveaway.

  91. Beverly Ray

    This sounds like it would be right up my alley! Thanks for the opportunity!

  92. Angela Fairley

    I’m from Appalachia too

  93. Jay

    Thanks for the opportunity

  94. Tamara Limestahl

    I live in Ohio and have never heard of that tunnel, but it sounds very interesting, as does the story! I would love to feature it on my blog!

  95. Rhoda Flohr

    Now I want to visit Moonville and read The Hollows.

  96. Gina

    This sounds like the perfect read on a dark and stormy night…and a few of those are in our future here.


    Places like Moonville Rail Trail and Moonville Tunnel shouldn’t be eerie places. Moonville reminds me of moonlight, so maybe the contrast adds to the spookiness for me…

  98. Margie Shaw

    Sounds like a fascinating story and one I’d love to read!

  99. martin bodnar

    Thanks for the chance to win . .. . .. . .

  100. Don Mcclure

    Thanks for the giveaway

  101. M Thompson

    Looking forward to reading this novel and starting on a series by a new author. Thanks

  102. Allison McMillan-Lee

    I love it when a true happening influences an author to create a new world with new characters and plots! There was an old train trestle near me where I grew up that was from bygone days. Never attempted to cross it as it looked dangerous and probably was! By now it has probably fallen into the swamp’s marshlands in all its rusty glory! Looking forward to reading your books!

  103. Kathy Church

    I too love it when the fiction is based on real people, places and events. Have discovered several places that way. Can’t wait to start reading your books!

  104. Janet Gould

    What a great, interesting article. I can’t wait to read the book.

  105. Carolyn Foland

    Looking forward to this one. Ghosts are always good!

  106. Sally Schmidt

    Great research! And great photos!

  107. Diana Hardt

    It sounds like a really interesting book.

  108. amy mara

    sounds good

  109. Saundra K. Warren

    this is going on my TBR list!!

  110. jennifer c.

    Looks like a really exciting read!! Added to my TBR list.

  111. Casey H.

    Great read for cold. winter nights.

  112. Donna Hart

    I love in Ohio and have not seen this.

  113. Janice Milliken

    Eerie and intriguing!

  114. Tracy Wirick
  115. Tracy Wirick

    The Hollows is right up my ally! 😀

  116. Susan Morris

    Since I was born and raised in nearby West Virginia, I find this genre and location fascinating. Can’t wait to read it!

  117. Kathy Baker

    My sister lives in Ohio. This sounds like an I teresting place to check out next time I visit.

  118. Dawn M. Roberto

    Wow that is spooky and intriguing.

  119. laUriam65

    Looking forward to begin this series!

  120. Susan Brown

    Whether I would win or not, will certainly be reading this one!

  121. Lisa Murray

    Sounds great would love to win read & review

  122. Tina Hottinger

    This sounds like a very interesting book. History and fiction are my two favorite topics in a book!

  123. Michele Lawrence

    I’ve never heard of Moonville Tunnel, either. I just found out about Boston, OH – so weird. You should also write about that!

  124. Pat Murphy

    Live in Ohio but have never heard of Moonville Tunnel. Sounds really interesting. Have seen the Ridges at OU.

  125. NFCarle

    Looking forward to reading both books in the series!

  126. Bedelia Ryan

    I can’t wait to read this book. It sounds so atmospheric and intriguing. I read a lot of murder mysteries and this one sounds like the kind I love most.

  127. paul klumbach

    Every story about “Hallows” is a great story

  128. Karey L. Newton

    An exciting read. I am definitely remembering this author so I can read more from this novelist

  129. Tawney Mazek

    There was a train track behind my grandparents in central Ohio – and a trestle. As a small child walking across it was always scary. A tunnel would be much worse. (An asylum even worse than that.) So I’m sure this book would be properly creepy, with or without ghosts. Would love to find out.

  130. Rebecca Joy Mensinga

    This sounds very interesting! I love fiction that has real life elements. So excited!

  131. Linda Leonard

    This really sounds like a great mystery, with a beautiful cover! Even the title of the book has a mysterious feel. Would definitely enjoy reading.

  132. Katy

    Sounds eerie and interesting!

  133. Tasha

    sounds incredibly interesting especially because I’ve always been into the paranormal being a sensitive (aka empath) myself!

  134. Terri McLeod

    Would love to read this!

  135. Lori Byrd

    Sounds really great. Thank you for the chance to win.

  136. Leisel Sempf

    Interesting story. I live in Pennsylvania. It looks a literary field trip needs to be planned. I can’t wait to read this book.

  137. Susan Mahaffey

    The Hollows — what a fascinating book! I would love a copy.

  138. B.J. Bernal

    I love stories about asylums!

  139. Mina Gerhart

    WOW, what an awesome back story, I’ve gotta get the book! Around my part of PA we have the Lehigh Valley Tunnel (Night of the Living Dead, the original)

  140. Christal M

    Would love to read!

  141. Write My Essay UK

    Very nice blog post. I absolutely love this site. Keep writing!

  142. Roxana Garcia

    Can’t wait to read it sounds eerie!

  143. Tiffany

    This looks good

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