October is here and fall is in the air. Here on South Bass Island in Lake Erie, there are pumpkins on front porches, cider simmering on stoves, and the crisp ting of autumn breezes flow over the lake from Canada.
I’m just itching for Halloween and in honor of the holiday, I’ve been asking some of my neighbors to share their local ghost stories. Who knew there would be so many! So what kinds of spooky things happen here on Lake Erie’s islands? Here are just a few of the tales I was told.
Kelley’s Island is the largest island on Lake Erie and it’s just five miles southeast of South Bass as the crow flies. History tells us that there was once a limestone quarry on the island and legend says that it was run by a nasty boss who forced his workers to work long hours at break-neck speed. The quarrymen were working on a tunnel to the Ohio mainland and the foreman ordered a man named Battaglia to use a dynamite charge to blast through some rock. Battaglia knew the charge was too powerful for the job, but the foreman wouldn’t listen. The more Battaglia protested, the louder the foreman yelled.
Battaglia finally gave up and set the charge. The explosion was so large, it ripped out part of the quarry wall and an avalanche of giant rocks hit the waters of Lake Erie causing huge waves that swept the workers out into the lake. Most of their bodies were never found.
Legend says that the spirits of quarrymen rise whenever there’s a storm, and anyone who’s associated with the quarry and happens to be out on the water is in danger. In fact, a ship went down in 1932 and all but five of its crewmembers were killed. Those who survived swore that as the ship was sinking, ghostly hands came out of the waves to drag them to their graves.
The lighthouse right here on South Bass Island is said to be haunted, too, and according to the stories I’ve heard, it’s all because of a man who was hired to be the assistant to the first lighthouse keeper. The man became so obsessed about a smallpox outbreak, he jumped into the waters of Lake Erie and drowned himself. These days, the lighthouse is owned by the Ohio State University and people who stay there say they hear noises and have witnesses strange paranormal activity. The drowned worker? No one knows.
Johnson’s Island is a 300-acre spot of land that housed a Confederate prison camp during the Civil War. The compound was designed to house 1,000 men. At one time, there were 15,000 prisoners there. For most of the year, it wasn’t a bad place, but winters on Lake Erie are brutal and the prisoners suffered terribly.
These days, folks who visit the island swear that they sometimes see Confederate soldiers near the cemetery there. And many years ago, an even stranger thing happened.
Italian immigrants (most of whom did not speak English) were hired to work nearby. Amazingly, they began to sing a song none of them could have possibly known. It was “Dixie.”