“Can you see it? Is it moving? Well? Is it?” — My friends and I circa 1975
Last year on my Spring Break, I traveled four hours from Northern Ohio to Southern Ohio to visit the infamous ghost town areas of Moonville Tunnel and Hope Furnace. The one-day trip was such a blast that I declared it my new hobby. Sometimes it’s not enough to read about a place in a book or see it on TV. Nothing beats the experience of actually traveling to a place and setting foot on hallowed (in the paranormal aspect, that is) ground. Even if that ground yields nothing, as in the case of Helltown, it’s still a thrill to take the journey.
I’d been brainstorming several ideas for my spring break 2020 adventure in Ohio. Utopia? Texas (Ohio)? Marietta Mound Cemetery? Maybe a couple of them? Perhaps all of them? And then it hit. COVID-19. The ‘Rona. The quarantine order requiring Ohioans to sequester at home was established right at the beginning of spring, including my spring break week. The adventurous side of my brain said, “You’re going to a ghost town. Nobody else is going to be there. You should be able to maintain social distancing protocols.” Then the practical, kill-joy part of my brain said, “What if you get arrested or fined or something? What if by some stroke of dumb luck you touch some metal doohickey that an infected person touched three hours ago and you get sick?” Somehow, that less practical, but more dramatic, side always wins.
I was walking my dog (one of the only deemed safe ways to get out of the house) the Friday before what would be spring break and feeling morose about my aborted spring break plans when it suddenly it struck me: I live just a couple of short blocks away from my own little, sort-of ghost town! OK, it’s a cemetery. But it’s a cemetery with an urban legend attached. And this urban legend is listed on most Haunted Ohio websites. As often happens, one sometimes forgets to appreciate the things closest to us.
I grew up in the quaint small town of Milan, Ohio. It was established in 1817 and was initially called Merry’s Mill after Ebeneezer Merry, an early settler. Currently, Milan boasts about 1,350 residents. We are best known for being the birthplace of Thomas Alva Edison, hosting the Milan Melon Festival (held every year on Labor Day weekend!), and antique shops. In the past couple of years, we’ve also adopted a peacock the locals have dubbed “Percy,” who wanders around by Edison’s birthplace.
What we may be lesser known for is our connection to the paranormal. The most recent being that we elected Ben Smith as our town mayor. So, what does that have to do with the paranormal? Well, if you go back about ten years to the emergence of the ghost hunting TV shows, the original Ghost Hunters had a short-lived, spin-off show called “Ghost Hunters Academy.” The summary of the show, according to IMDB, is:
“What does it take to be a top-notch paranormal investigator? Anybody can set up a few cameras and turn out the lights, but only a select few have the right stuff to really get to the bottom of the most puzzling supernatural phenomena. Ghost Hunters Academy features a group of aspiring ghost hunters exploring some of the most haunted locations in the country and around the world. Led by veteran ghost hunters and TAPS members Steve Gonsalves and Dave Tango, the recruits train, hands on, in the paranormal arts.”
If you scroll down the cast list for season one, there’s Ben Smith. While we’ve never had an in-depth conversation about the paranormal, Ben’s always been cool to talk a little shop. He’s also pretty cool when you ask him if he minds if you mention him in your paranormal blog.
And then there’s the fact that Thomas Edison attempted to invent a ghost phone. After all, by the 1920s, when Edison had this light-bulb idea (see what I did there?), spiritualists had been saying the dead could use their energy to communicate with us from the other side for years. Electricity = energy, right? It should all connect. But alas, this idea went down as one of Edison’s least memorable and poorest received inventions.
But before Thomas A. or Mayor Ben, there was another Ben in Milan – Ben Abbott. Ben Abbott inherited his father’s shipbuilding business sometime around the early- to mid-1800s. At that time, Milan’s most significant industry was transporting goods by way of the Huron River and the Erie Canal. When Ben Abbott died in 1854, the family constructed a mausoleum in his name on a hillside in the Milan Cemetery. So far, this doesn’t sound so weird. But according to bellamorte.net:
“What made the Abbott’s resting place notable to local residents was the fact that the mausoleum faced away from the rest of the cemetery as it existed in 1854. Logic, of course, quickly shows there was no more efficient method of burial in the chosen spot. The natural hillside provided an excellent spot for a vault to be constructed and the aforementioned pond would have been an attractive feature. Be that as it may, that didn’t stop people from speculating about the reasons the Abbotts would have chosen this different type of entombment…and therein arose the legend.”
When I was a kid in the 70’s, my supernatural-loving friends and I would often visit Abbott’s Tomb. Back then, the opening was cathedral shaped with wrought iron bars like jail cell bars being the only barrier between the living and the dead. One could easily see the two small caskets on risers, one on either side of the modest chamber. A simple rocking chair set in between the two coffins faced us as we looked inside. The legend I remember was this: Mrs. Abbott was so distraught when her two children died that she asked to be tombed up with them. She would read stories to them as she rocked in her chair, and eventually perished herself from grief and madness. If you looked into the tomb long enough, the spirit of Mrs. Abbott would start moving the empty rocker back and forth as if she were still attempting to comfort her children.
As I was doing a little bit of research, I read about another legend that said if you knock on the door of his tomb, Mr. Abbott’s spirit will rise and chase you away. This one confuses me because, as I mentioned before, there was not a door on the tomb until recently. Sometime in the years between 1980 and 2010, when I wasn’t living in Milan, vandals wreaked havoc on Abbott’s Tomb. They threw debris into the small enclosure and even rammed what looked to be a huge tree branch between the bars. I was heartbroken when I moved back in 2010 and visited my old haunt. First of all, I had difficulty finding it, as the area leading up to the opening of the mausoleum was overgrown with poison ivy and other weeds. On top of that, the door had been bricked entirely up with no way to see what was inside. I felt the disappointment one often feels as an adult; that the only constant in life is change.
Speaking of change, though, I’m happy to report that, in recent years, conditions have improved for the interred Abbotts. Cemetery workers have cleared most of the tangles of brush away, once again making the door of the tomb visible on the side of the hill as I fondly remember it. As fantastic as that is, there’s something even better. In 2016, six years after I’d moved back to my old hometown, I was taking my standard summer stroll in the Milan Cemetery. When I took a peek at my favorite graveyard monument, my heart almost leaped out of my chest. One of the bricks in the door was gone! I practically flew down the hill to peer into the tomb once again. My childhood came rushing back as I saw the coffins and the rocking chair. I focused on the chair, hoping to see it rock back and forth, just as I had wished for it to do many years before. Sadly, it didn’t, and my dog got antsy to finish our walk. I was elated and hopeful, though, that the traditions surrounding the Abbott’s Tomb folklore would remain intact for future generations of paranormal curiosity seekers. It’s four years later, and the window is still open for anyone who would like to see if the chair will rock for them.
1) If you do go to visit Abbott’s Tomb, or any other cemetery or urban legend, don’t be a jerk. Leave it the way you found it.
2) There’s another legend that says if you stand across the street in Edison Park, you’ll see a glowing cross in the cemetery. It’s possibly been debunked as head or tail lights reflecting off the cross at the top of the Roberts-Taylor-Fries mausoleum as cars travel the road in between. But you can check out that theory for yourself when you come to visit the Abbotts.
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