Quietly nestled within the watery confines of the western basin is Lake Erie is Kelley’s Island, named after the man who co-founded the island in the mid-1800s. The entire island is over four square miles long, which makes it the largest fresh water American island in Lake Erie. The island is a wonderful place to visit and has several state memorials (in fact, the entire island is listed in the National Register of Historical Places) as well as an 800-acre state park. It is also said to be home to several angry spirits.
Addison Kelley brought notoriety to the island when he opened a limestone quarry. But as soon as the quarry opened, there were problems. Most of the trouble stemmed from the fact that most of the workers were Italian-Catholic immigrants, while the quarry supervisors were almost all local Protestants. Often there were arguments and the workers often refused to work. The foremen would respond by forcing the workers to work longer hours, often at breakneck speed. As the crew began to work longer and faster, the potential for an accident to occur became more and more probable.
One fateful day, the quarrymen were at work constructing a tunnel designed to run under Lake Erie and connect the island with nearby Marblehead. A foreman ordered a man named Battaglia to use dynamite to blast away a rock shelf that was hanging over the top of a water-filled portion of the quarry. Battaglia initially refused, claiming the amount of dynamite was too big. But the foreman continued to yell at Battaglia until he finally agreed to detonate the charge.
Unfortunately, the charge was indeed too large. As a result, the ensuing explosion not only ripped away the rock shelf, but some of the quarry wall as well. The rocks tumbled into the water below, creating a giant wave of water. Before they could escape, the giant wave engulfed Battaglia and many of his co-workers and swept them out into Lake Erie. Most of their bodies were never recovered.
Although the area around Lake Erie is well-known for its violent and sudden storms, soon after the quarry accident, rumors began to spread. Islanders began saying that during storms, the ghosts of the quarry victims wake and walk the watery tunnel they died trying to complete. It is also said that these spirits have cursed the quarry and all those who come into contact with it. Stories began to circulate that should anyone associated with the quarry find themselves on the waters of Lake Erie during a storm, the spirits would try and drag them down into the water.
Over the years, there have been many stories that may substantiate the claim of these ghostly workers. In 1932, the Sand Merchant capsized during a violent storm, killing all but five members of the crew. The survivors claimed to have heard ghostly voices and that the waves appeared to be like hands reaching out for them.
Kelley’s Island is a wonderful place to visit. But if you’re ever on Lake Erie and the weather suddenly looks as though it’s going to turn ugly, you’d do best to leave as soon as possible... lest you find yourself joining the quarry victims in their watery graves.
For more information regarding things to do and see on Kelley’s Island, please visit their web site, Kelley's Island, Ohio: An Island for all Seasons... and be sure to tell them The Ghosts of Ohio sent you!