Old-timers still tell of the ghosts said to have haunted Sliding Hill in Mason County, though only the very oldest now recall it. However, there's reason to believe much of the legend is true, says a regional historian who hopes to memorialize the tale.
"I heard the story from my great-grandmother," says Chris Rizer, president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society. "But my grandmother didn't know it, and folks who were alive during World War II seem to have heard it if they lived in the area around Hartford City or New Haven—or around the back of the hill."
Most simply put, the tale alleges that ghosts walk, or formerly walked, the wooded flanks of Sliding Hill, which rises along the Ohio River in western West Virginia. Legend has it that they're lost souls, searching eternally for an ill-gotten trove they stowed as living men under a fallen cliff in the early 1800s.
The riverside flank of the hill was destroyed in the mid-1900s during the construction of highway W.Va. 62, and so it's likely nothing of the treasure remains if it endured at all, says Rizer.
Still, the tale, though obscured by time, was once among the best known of ghost stories up and down the river, and for that reason, if no other, the society is considering the erection a marker nearby to commemorate the tale.
The following version—which is certainly the most embellished, Rizer says—appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1887 and was reprinted in 1910 in the Point Pleasant Register.
GHOST OF SLIDING HILL
POINT PLEASANT, W.Va., October 1887—The little towns of Hartford City and New Haven, four and five miles above Pomeroy, Ohio, have at frequent intervals been all torn up with the wildest excitement, occasioned by strange tales that have from time to time reached the ears of citizens concerning headless ghosts and skeletons that walk about carrying lanterns, apparently making a vain and fruitless search to secure some treasure that is alleged to have been buried by two murderers somewhere along Sliding Hill, between the two places, almost a century ago.
The river at this point in flowing directly westward strikes abruptly against this hill then turns due north, making one of the sharpest angles along the Ohio—and yet one of the most beautiful. The hill itself is one of the loftiest in this entire vicinity, leaping from the water's edge to a majestic height, on which may be obtained an excellent view of the surrounding country, it being a favorite resort of lovers and Sunday walkers.
Some time away back in the early days of the settlement of the Northwest Territory, two men who had disposed of their possessions in the East conceived the idea of making an investment in western land and came to the headwaters of the Ohio, where, after building a small boat and placing their money in a bee-gum, they proceeded to float leisurely down the "Beautiful," examining the country carefully with the hope of finding a satisfactory location.
Arriving at Antiquity, on the Ohio shore, they tied up for the night, as was their usual custom, and soon were fast asleep, not even in their wildest dreams imagining that any danger could befall them. But somehow their trail had been carefully traced by two demons, who, knowing that they possessed considerable wealth, followed them on their journey, and, stealing upon them at the above-named place, murdered them in their sleep in the most brutal and inhuman manner, dragging their bodies under cover of the darkness to the foot of a high ledge and carefully depositing them under a huge shelving rock, the skeletons remaining undiscovered until several years ago when some parties who were blasting stone for a culvert accidentally unearthed them. The story of the murders was again revived with considerable interest.
The boat belonging to the murdered men after the contents were removed was turned loose and drifted down the Ohio, but the murderers, finding themselves in possession of a large amount of coin—said to be about one-and-a-half bushels, all in silver—began to fear for their own personal safety, and after consultation among themselves decided that their best way to prevent discovery would be to land and bury the money until all danger from suspicion should die away.
Accordingly, they moved down the river cautiously and anchored at what is now known as Sliding Hill, at that time one of the wildest and most sequestered spots between the headwaters and the Mississippi and just above where Hartford City is situated. Taking the money parcels, they carried it about halfway up the hill, making numerous trips, burying it in the same bee-gum in which they had found it in the boat. But by some means, in the darkness, portions of the silver coin dropped out and were scattered along the pathway, and many of these coins have since been found at frequent intervals and are now in possession of some of the citizens in that vicinity.
After the murderers had buried the coin, they hastily marked the spot for identity and immediately got in their boat and sped away so as to be out of reach of capture. Weeks afterward, they joined a band of Indians, with whom they remained for a long time, taking part in the war against the whites, one of them being killed, his head being severed from his body by the sword of a mounted infantryman, and the other was captured, though mortally wounded.
Before the latter's death, however, he confessed the whole secret of the murder and robbery to an officer, informing him where the treasure could be found and drawing a rude map of Sliding Hill, indicating the spot where the money was buried with a star. The time of this occurrence was about 1810, but the party in possession of the chart and secret postponed making the place a visit until many years afterward.
But the strangest affair of the whole story is that about the time the two murderers were killed, lights of a peculiar character began to make an appearance at the place where the treasure was buried, lanterns being observed at the dead hours of the night moving up and down leisurely from the water's edge to near halfway up the hill. People noticed these lights there regularly for nearly an entire year, and at times heard mysterious noises.
Within a few years, after the lights began to show, a stranger put in an appearance in the neighborhood, and it was noticed that he passed most of his time in wandering along Sliding Hill apparently searching for some. He remained here several weeks, and before leaving disclosed his identity and the confession of the dead murderer, exhibiting the rudely constructed map or chart, which indicated the location of the treasure; but as a large rock had fallen down and obliterated the spot, it was impossible to obtain any of the buried coin, and the stranger's efforts were fruitless
Stimulated with the prospect of securing some of this wealth, quite a number of the citizens of this locality began making investigations by digging in various places near where the spot on the map referred, and two men, brothers, were rewarded by finding $10 in coin of a very old date, but the owners of the land, the Hartford City Coal and Salt Company, not liking such intrusions on their property, forthwith put a stop to any further discoveries.
But the acts of the owners do not prevent some of the most startling tales of ghost-seeing imaginable. Hundreds declare they have seen the headless night-walker swinging his lantern, while many there are who solemnly vow they have met his ghost-ship on numerous occasions face to face both day and night, and a large portion of these people are noted as being strictly temperate and pious, we have no doubt they fully believe their assertions.
Even a tipsy Welshman on encountering his phantom majesty was brought to his senses and ran home full of the wildest excitement and refused to pass Sliding Hill alone after night, although he frequently did so before. In fact, since encountering the hobgoblin he has ceased to become intoxicated.
One evening, not long since, the owner of a junk boat, while drifting down the river on his way south with his family by accident anchored opposite Sliding Hill for the night, and hardly had dusk arrived before the strange and indescribable sort of light was noticed roaming up and down the hill from the beach. The junkman, after watching the movements of the mysterious light for a while with suspicion, stole across in his skiff to take an inventory of the proceeding.
Reaching a sheltered position only a short distance away, he observed a most hideous sight, such as fairly made his flesh crawl and caused him at once to beat a hasty retreat to the other shore in terror. It was that of a headless ghostly monster of uncommon size. In fierce anger it endeavored to roll away some of the huge stone that lay on the hillside.
This was the junk man's first knowledge of anything unusual in that vicinity, and he and his family immediately took their departure for another landing safe from the intrusion of such a supernatural being. The sight, however, was so impressed on his mind that those he declares he had never believed in ghosts before, yet now he is positive that they are a reality.
Steam boatmen relate some queer stories in regard to what they have witnessed while passing Sliding Hill in the night. The strange light often seen by them as it wanders to and fro in search of the buried booty is generally regarded as the evil spirits of the two murderers.
The citizens of Syracuse, Ohio, who live opposite where the light appears, declare in the most solemn manner that his ghostship frequently appears in fact and in reality, and, like Banquo's apparition, this idea cannot be downed.
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