In 1775, the first European settlers, led by Mitchell Clay, arrived in Princetown, West Virginia. Clay and his family worked together in farming on the land that would later become the Lake Shawnee Amusement Park. Their seemingly safe new life took a tragic turn in 1783. While the men were away hunting, Clay’s two children, Bartley and Tabitha, were attacked by Native Americans in the area. Bartley was murdered and scalped, and Tabitha was killed while trying to save her brother. Their younger brother, Ezekiel, was later kidnapped by the tribe. The men returned to find the children missing, and they took off after the third child.
The Natives took Ezekiel to Ohio, where they proceeded to burn his body at the stake shortly before the rescue group could catch up to them. After defeating the warriors, the search party took strips of skin off the Native Americans’ backs to use as razor straps; the trophies remained in the Clay family for years to come. The chief permitted Mitchell Clay to take the body of his son back home to be buried. The bodies of Bartley and Tabitha were exhumed so that they could be relocated to the hill behind the farmhouse where Ezekiel had been buried.
Two centuries later in 1926, C.T. Snidow purchased the property and turned it into Lake Shawnee Amusement Park; he was entirely unaware of the dark history that lingered on the site. The features of the park included a swimming pool, carnival rides, concession stands, a racetrack, a dance hall, occasional Wild West shows, and guest cabins. Very quickly, it became a popular summer vacation for families.
Tragedy struck again after a mother dropped her son off at the park one morning. When she returned later that afternoon, she found her son’s limp, lifeless body floating in the pool. In order to prevent any further accidents, the owners filled the pool with sand. A few years went by peacefully without any more accidents. During the early 1950s, a truck delivering soda to a drink concession stand accidentally backed up into the path of a swing ride operating at a high speed. The truck collided with one of the swings, killing the young girl riding in it. The fatalities caused the park to close in 1966.
Gaylord White, a former employee of the park, bought the abandoned Lake Shawnee Amusement Park in 1985 with plans to divide up the land and sell it as residential lots. However, his investment plan went south when he found a number of Native American burial sites and artifacts. Instead, he reopened the amusement park – but it only lasted for three years.
After some research, archaeologists discovered that two separate Native American settlements surrounded the area around Lake Shawnee before any European settlers arrived. In 1988, both the Marshall and Concord Colleges worked on digging around the area. They found that the settlements were arranged in a circular formation, and they were inhabited for a long period of time. However, they were believed to have been abandoned several hundreds of years before the settlers arrived. During their study, they found thirteen skeletons, most of them belonging to young children. There are as many as three thousand bodies buried on the property.
Today, the Ferris wheel, the swings, and several other rides remain at the park, which is haunted by a number of spirits. Paranormal activity includes orbs, disembodied voices and footsteps, Native American chanting, odd sounds, and the defunct carnival rides moving by themselves. A male apparition has been seen several times on one of the Ferris wheel cars (the one at the 9 o’clock position). The swings are said to have cold spots just above the wooden seats, which are known to move on their own.
Gaylord White reported having felt someone touching his shoulder or his arm from behind several times while working at the park. He also had a feeling of a presence washing him at the park. However, his most notable interaction was when he was clearing out brush from the field with his tractor shortly after purchasing the property. While doing so, he witnessed a full body apparition of a young girl wearing a pink dress with ruffled sleeves. White now believes that the girl was the one who was killed on the swing ride. Because she liked watching his tractor, he parked and left it for her to enjoy.
In Popular Culture
- In October 2005, ABC network’s Scariest Places on Earth featured the amusement park. During the filming of the episode, the psychic refused to stay on the property as the “spiritual energy was too strong”, even though they were under contract. The film crew wouldn’t go on the site alone at night because of the eerie ambience it gave off.
- The park was featured on Most Terrifying Places in America 5.
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