A NOT-SO-HOLLOW GHOST TOWN
I’ve never experienced a real-life ghost story,
but maybe the depths of Rogues’ Hollow will give me the chance.
Words by Shelbie Goulding | Photos by Sophia Adornetto
FEBRUARY 18, 2018, AT 10:50 PM
“Oh my,” my friend, Brandon Bounds, says as we enter a deep abyss of a road.
Darkness surrounds us at every angle; the only light shining our path to the Hollow is my car’s dim headlights. This is Bounds’ first time coming to Rogues’ Hollow, and it’s my second, but something has changed. The nature I once thought was hauntingly beautiful in its deadly form from the brutal winter is now traumatizing. The hairs on my arms stand straight, and I begin to shiver from the stirring site that lost its beauty. Bounds feels the same discomfort I do, but we press onward to discover the secrets of this ghost town. I only hope I don’t become lost in this overwhelming darkness while doing so.
Never in my life have I denied the existence of a ghostly presence in this world, but I never believed in one either. I tend to have an open mind when it comes to these types of things. Hearing stories from family and friends saying how they have seen ghostlike figures and experienced terror makes me wonder whether the odd phenomenon could be real. That’s when I happen upon the grim sight of Rogues’ Hollow, a legendary ghost town approximately 30 miles southwest of Kent.
“Prospered from coal mining in Rogues’ Hollow 1840-1946,” reads a Doylestown sign. In the late 1800s, the town was a major trading route alongside the Ohio Erie Canal. Many riders and refugees traveled through Rogues’ Hollow in order to get to the canal and other trading posts. The town sought this as an opportunity for commercial profit, and saloons and other local businesses drew in wanderers of the Hollow as time passed. But throughout the years, the town became more and more quiet.
“Rogues’ Hollow is a true ghost town in that the miners’ huts and cabins numbering in the hundreds are now gone,” says Earl Kerr, the previous president of the Chidester Mill historical society. “There are fewer than a dozen houses in Rogues’ Hollow today.” Although the town is empty, it is still filled with ghost stories that have lived for centuries. Kerr says there are verifiable legends within the Hollow, and many myths as well, proven through the book “Rogues’ Hollow: History and Legends,” written by Russell W. Frey in 1958. Rogues’ Hollow attracted many dangerous characters, such as strangers starting fights in saloons or outlaws with their illegal activities. Frey also told of accidents: Coal miners died due to the dangerous jobs, men died due to dangerous fights, etc. Still, the town has more ghostly potential than dangerous characters and old coal miners.
FEBRUARY 18, 2018, AT 11 PM
After wandering the winding and taunting roads of the Hollow, Bounds and I cross the narrow bridge leading to the Chidester Mill. We scout the area before building the courage to venture out into the unknown wilderness. “I’m sure nothing will happen,” I tell Bounds. “The ghost town is now a quiet and peaceful place compared to its history.” I open the door with confidence, but deep down I wonders what was beyond the faint lighting at the edge of the woods. I shut the door and Bounds follows. Nothing but quiet whistles of the wind surround us. It’s bitter cold, and neither of us are prepared to go into the dark depths of the Hollow.
Kerr, Eric Pandrea; the current president of the historical society, and “Mac,” the caretaker of the Chidester Mill all say Rogues’ Hollow is known for four specific legends that are still a mystery to this day: Cry Baby Bridge, the Headless Horse, the Ghost Oak Tree and the Ghost of the Mill.
The Legend of Cry Baby Bridge: A young woman was pregnant, but the father left town. When the child was born, legend says the mother was so ashamed the father left that she threw her newborn of a bridge into the cold waters in the Hollow. People say you can hear a baby cry while atop the bridge.
Based on the museum’s historical evidence, the three men believe this to be true, but the story told today is false. The bridge did exist and the story did happen, but the bridge does not exist anymore. Recent articles tell the story wrong. “Don’t go sitting at that bridge waiting to hear a baby cry,” Kerr jokingly tells me as he points outside the mill’s window. The bridge at Chidester Mill is not the Cry Baby Bridge from the story. The men confirm the real bridge was nearly a mile up the creek from the mill in the middle of the Hollow, where the tall, dead trees sway back and forth above and the icy waters below, but the flood of 1913 destroyed it.
The Legend of the Headless Horse: There was an old oak tree that horse riders would pass on their usual route through Rogues’ Hollow. A branch of the oak hung so low riders ducked underneath the branch so they wouldn’t be thrown of of their horses. One frozen winter night, a horse ran full speed into the branch, which hung even lower being weighed down by ice, and the horse’s head was severed of. “This is not Sleepy Hollow where they had a headless horseman,” Kerr says. “We have the only headless horse lore that I am aware of.”
The Legend of the Ghost Oak Tree: After the horse lost its head, riders passed the old oak tree with caution. Since the traumatic incident, riders swear they’ve seen a devilish creature sit atop the low hanging branch, or even the headless horse itself. Some believed the creature was the devil.
Frey tells the stories of many riders seeing the devil up on the ghost tree. Kerr says when he was a kid, the oak tree still stood (minus the low hanging branch), but he had never seen a devilish figure over the years.
The Legend of the Ghost of the Mill: A young worker at the mill was repairing the water wheel, but in doing so, he slipped and was crushed by the vigorous waves underneath. Legend says his ghost haunts the Chidester Mill to this day, and others believe this ghost is responsible for burning down the Chidester house six days after being sold.
All three men say this is historically true, but what caught me of guard is what Mac has to say about this story. Being the museum’s caretaker for nearly 26 years, he’s never once encountered a ghost. Although, he says, odd things have happened, like the lights flickering rapidly for no apparent reason once. He also spoke of a story not told in Frey’s historical book. Mac says the wife of the young worker was the one who found her husband dead from the water wheel. The wife was so distraught she hung herself in the mill. He thinks if anything is haunting the mill, it would be her.
I couldn’t help but want to experience these for myself. At dusk, the park is closed to the public, but Pandrea grants me permission to explore the truths of these legends for one night, though the men tell me the town is peaceful and quiet these days. They doubt I will find anything out of the ordinary, and honestly, so do I.
FEBRUARY 18, 2018, AT 11:15 PM
Bounds and I are only so far within the woods of the Hollow. It’s nearly pitch black, but we use our phones to brighten our path; though it is still very faint. Only four minutes after venturing within the haunting woods, I hear a deep, manly grunt to my right. I ignore it. Bounds is at my right, so I thought maybe he was clearing his throat or something of the sort. Then Bounds asks, “You heard that, right?” I freeze and become unbearably tense. “I thought that was you,” I say. We both quickly turn to shine our faint lights into an uncomforting abyss. No animal, no person, nothing. Our anxiety builds.
We press onward down the deepening path that lies in front of us, but we go about the route in a more anticipated manner. Back and forth, we question whether we were in the presence of a ghost or not. The manly grunt was so close to my right that I thought it had to be Bounds. Who else would it have been? Bounds imitates the grunt to reassure his claim. “Oomph!” “Oomph!” I can’t believe what I hear. He imitates the sound so perfectly, I am struck with disbelief. We race through the haunting trail to make it back to the inside of my car.
FEBRUARY 18, 2018, AT 11:50 PM
I stare out into the pitch-black woods, contemplating whether to go back in, but I have no choice. Bounds and I leave the car to begin our second round of the night. It’s colder and the wind has picked up slightly. We venture past where we once heard the grunt before, but we hear nothing this time, only the wind brushing the tall trees against one another making dead leaves dance across the trail. The creek runs rapidly, causing a disturbance in the wind’s brisk whisper. The swishing and swooshing of the icy, cold waters overwhelms my ears. I continue walking through the abandoned trails awaiting the next surprise Rogues’ Hollow has to offer, but I only find myself and Bounds returning back to my car.
FEBRUARY 19, 2018, AT 12:10 AM
While we wait patiently for our next round, we notice the wildlife beginning to emerge from the shadows of the Hollow. A black cat emerges from the depths of the woods and crosses the mill. It seems to know my car does not belong because it makes its way toward us in a cautious manner. It’s chic, black coat resembles the type of cat that would be at the end of a witch’s broom. Not long after observing my car, it scurries of into the unknown of the Hollow. Bounds then notices another creature up ahead near the mill. A raccoon rummages through the trinkets by the mill with no intention to come near my car. It too disappears into the Hollow, and soon Bounds and I need to do the same.
FEBRUARY 19, 2018, AT 12:30 AM
Bounds and I return to the depths of the Hollow to make our last round of the night. I am more nervous this round because the anticipation inside me grew with the wildlife around us awakening. With each step I notice the same whispers of the wind, the same sloshing sound of the creek, and the same brushing of the trees and leaves. We hear a slight break in the nature’s melody. A dog in the distance barks aggressively. Bounds and I freeze from the startling sound. We continue through the Hollow seeing the same shadowy figures from the trees and bushes as before, never once seeing or hearing a ghostlike figure within our range. We return to my car, and I look back into the Hollow one last time. Nothing but darkness stares back at me. I start the engine and cross the narrow bridge leading back to the winding, taunting roads that led us to the Hollow in the beginning.
I never got to experience any of the legends of Rogues’ Hollow. I never saw a ghost in the mill, nor a headless horse roaming the grounds. But I still wonder, what was that sound Bounds and I heard in the beginning of our search? “Oomph!” It replays in my mind like a taunting memory. Was it an animal? No, it couldn’t be; it sounded too human. Was it actually a ghost? I can honestly say I don’t know. It will always be a curious mystery to me, and it drives me to return to Rogues’ Hollow someday in the future to figure out this unknown phenomenon straying in the back of my mind.