Mar 22, 2017

Hunting for monsters, truth

Nearly 1,000 feet long, Flinderation Tunnel awaits anyone brave enough to enter; photo: Tony Urban
Nearly 1,000 feet long, Flinderation Tunnel awaits anyone
brave enough to enter
Megan Constable
Dayton City Paper
March 21, 2017

The unexplainable was a “lifelong passion” for Tony Urban, who started out as a kid watching horror movies with his mom. After writing his first book, “Travelogue of Horror,” which focuses on horror filming locations, he decided to find the strange places in West Virginia. He chose West Virginia because it was close to his home state of Pennsylvania, and he wanted to explore the Mountain State—which led to his book “West Virginia’s Dark Tourism.”

With his mother, Sharon, and two dogs, Eli and Farfel, he set out on five road trips, a total of 14 days, to find the darkest parts of West Virginia. The result was 61 locations with exact addresses, so readers would not have as much trouble finding them as Urban did. It includes hauntings, monsters, serial killers, historical events, murders, and famous people’s places of birth and death. Every place includes pictures and a few paragraphs explaining its history. It reads like a “Haunted Ohio” book, but for the West Virginian traveler.

“I’m a lifelong adventurer, and I want to share that with readers,” Urban says. Throughout his travels, Urban experienced strange occurrences, but nothing was as frightening as getting lost in the mountains of West Virginia. His search for the Church of the Lord Jesus With Signs Following in Jolo, West Virginia, was his most terrifying experience. The church was famous for using poisonous snakes to prove their faith. Leaders also miraculously healed members of multiple ailments. On his search, Urban drove down a road that turned out to be an old mule path, which was too narrow for two cars. This led to a dead end—and he nearly gave up. However, by chance, he drove by the church.

“Finding the church in Jolo was akin to finding the Holy Grail,” Urban says.

“West Virginia’s Dark Tourism” goes into detail about West Virginia’s experiences with giant cats, Mothman, Bigfoot, Batboy, a werewolf, and mummies. Reading these passages reveals Urban’s lifelong love for monsters. He expresses his interest in cryptozoology, the study of animals whose existence is not certain. Although he did not find any of these creatures on his travels, he did find the history and legends that bring the “monsters” to life.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the unknown,” Urban says. “I love the idea that things exist out there which we can’t be certain about or 100 percent believe in. So when you add in monsters and mythical beasts, I’m like a kid in the candy store.”

Urban visited multiple haunted locations, many of which have appeared on TV shows such as The Scariest Places on Earth, Ghost Hunters, and Ghost Lab. He found most of his locations doing “a lot of crazy Google searches.” He also used local Facebook groups to ask about legends, hauntings, and unusual history.

Locations include cemeteries, insane asylums, an amusement park, schools, prisons, churches, a castle, and a ferry. One of these locations was Lake Shawnee Amusement Park in Princeton, West Virginia. It started in 1783, when a farming family settled on Native American land. The father was out hunting when a group of Native Americans killed his entire family. In response, he got together a group of men and massacred every Native American they came across, whether they were involved or not. Then, in the 1920s, a man bought the land, which locals thought was cursed. He made it into an amusement park, but trouble ensued. A boy drowned in the lake, a truck ran over a girl, a drunk driver ran over a boy, a girl died of “natural causes” for no apparent reason behind the ring toss kiosk, and two brothers fell from the top of the Ferris wheel. After the brothers’ death, the amusement park closed until 1966, when land developers wanted to create a housing complex. However, when they started digging, they found a Native American burial mound with hundreds of bodies, so they canceled their plans.

“The atmosphere at the Lake Shawnee Amusement Park was very unnerving,” Urban says. “It was a location I’d read about and seen on TV shows for years, but being there in person was surreal.”

Though, not all locations listed are terrifying. Some places are just interesting footnotes of West Virginia’s history. The Palace of Gold is a palace in Moundsville, West Virginia. Kirtanananda Swami built it for Hare Krishna followers. The palace cost more than $600,000. Although it is no longer as majestic as it used to be, Urban was in awe at seeing a palace of its size in the U.S.

“In addition to spooky locations, I love the sort of offbeat tourist attractions, too, and it doesn’t get much more unexpected than a Hare Krishna temple in West Virginia,” Urban says. “It’s almost anachronistic to be driving along typical mountainous, curvy West Virginia roads and suddenly come upon this beautiful temple.”

Urban’s favorite location was George Washington’s bathtub in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. This place features a public bath made by natural springs, where Founding Father and our first president bathed.

Urban also enjoyed visiting Moundsville Prison, which was a violent prison with a  death toll of 998. On the tour, Urban learned about the horrid conditions the inmates suffered. The prison had public hangings until one inmate was decapitated. This led to the electric chair, which an inmate built.

“It was absolutely fascinating to see how the prison was designed at that point in time and the wretched conditions in which prisoners were forced to live. I found it rather tragic, and I’m glad the penal system has evolved,” he recalls. “I actually enjoyed the ‘true’ history at Moundsville even more than the purported hauntings and ghosts.”

To contact Tony Urban or for more information, please visit ‘West Virginia’s Dark Tourism’ is available for purchase on Amazon.

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