There’s an amusement park in the wilds of West Virginia, tucked into a valley, surrounded on two sides by rivers. Lake Shawnee Amusement Park was once a destination that drew folks from all over the states east of the Mississippi. The amusement park, which had a dance hall, concession stands, multiple rides, bands, a lake for boating, a swimming pool and even cabins, operated between 1926 until there was just one death too many and it closed in 1967. Now the rides stand still, swallowed by vines. The pool where children once laughed and played — and died — stands murky, taken over by nature. And the only noises that break the country silence aren’t the laughs of children and families having fun, but the calls of bull frogs.
Now this abandoned amusement park draws paranormal investigators from all over the world, as well as thrill-seeking campers. Although we didn’t camp at the park, the many ghosts and paranormal events that occur at Lake Shawnee drew us there too.
Multiple ghost hunting shows have visited the property, including “Portals to Hell” with Jack Osbourne. He concluded that Lake Shawnee was not, in fact, a portal. The prevalence of these famous ghost hunters means, though, that we’re in good company, so to speak. It’s the kind of place you need to experience for yourself.
The Truly Ancient History of Lake Shawnee
The park is adjacent to a burial ground of pre-woodland indigenous peoples, dating back thousands of years. When you visit the park, the owners will bring you to the burial ground, where, if you’re so motivated, you may honor those who once lived on the land before us.
Archeologists in the 1990s unearthed 13 burials, mostly children; it is likely many more exist. They believe the site was a village. In fact, they uncovered thousands of artifacts indicating what life was like for them. More recently, until driven away by Europeans and their descendants, the Shawnee, an Algonquian-speaking indigenous people of the Northeastern Woodlands, inhabited the valley. By the 19th century the U.S. government forcibly removed the Shawnee to Missouri, Kansas, Texas, and ultimately Indian Territory (now parts of Oklahoma).
It is not believed that the burial ground adds to the hauntings, so at least we can dispense with that horror-movie cliché.
But the land where the amusement park is located is also where the Shawnee, exasperated at the encroachment on their lands in the 1700s, killed several members of the Clay family, the first settlers in the region. Today the park marks the likely gravesite of the children who died in that conflict. The Clay conflict adds to the legend that the land is cursed by its original inhabitants.
Doomed from the Beginning
In the 1920s, local entrepreneur Conley Snidow decided the meadow would be ideal for an amusement park. He established a ferris wheel, flying swings and other rides. He added a pond for boating and a natural-water pool for swimming. Above the bath house was a dance hall where couples danced to local bands. On the outskirts of the park, cabins offered out-of-town visitors a place to stay.
Almost immediately, people began to die there, including a little girl on the swing ride and several drownings in the swimming pool. All told, up to 6 visitors died during the park’s brief history.
In 1985, Gaylord White, a former employee who had worked at the park, purchased the land with plans to reopen it, and did so in the summer 1987. It closed again when the remains of the indigenous people were found. Archeologists from a local university soon arrived to conduct proper archeological digs. Now the White family — Gaylord’s widow and their sons — run the property as a haunted attraction during Halloween and as a paranormal destination.
What Lurks Amongst the Stilled Rides?
The abandoned amusement park now is home to a variety of ghosts and spirits. Visitors have reported a large dark figure often seen from a distance. Multiple visitors, including those from the ghost hunting shows, report experiencing a little girl who died on the swings when a truck delivering Pepsi soda products accidentally backed up into the active ride. A dark shadow hovers above the ferris wheel.
Others have reported stuffed animals left as gifts for the children ghosts mysteriously floating through the grass. Two investigators reported a pinwheel spinning as if in response to questions, only there was no wind. If you ask, Chris White, who leads the tours of the property, will show you the evidence that other investigators have collected.
Ghost Hunting at Lake Shawnee
Our plan for the evening was to go “introduce” ourselves to the park’s various hotspots, where the spirits are supposed to be the most active. Thus we headed to the swing ride, the Clay gravesite and the swimming pool. At each stop, we left a stuffed animal or toy for the spirits, either offerings or gifts, depending on how you prefer to view it. Then we headed over to the burial site.
On our way over to the burial ground we became fascinated by the lightning bugs in the large oak trees that line the river — making the tree twinkle like a hundred thousand Christmas lights. I have to say, that was the real highlight of the evening, if you’ll pardon the pun. We stood there in awe for several long minutes, just watching this miracle that we don’t experience in suburbia, where the ground is disturbed and pesticides kill the living things.
After sitting at the burial site and listening to the sounds of country at night, we returned to the three other sites. This time we conducted spirit box sessions, using the Estes method, and of course, I had Ghost Vox running as well. Throughout the evening, we took multiple photographs, employed the dowsing rods, cat balls (which light up!) and EMF meters.
What We Experienced
Although there have been plenty of activity over the years, well documented and VERY creepy, we didn’t experience much. At the swing ride, we observed one balloon moving, while others stayed perfectly still. That’s about it. I didn’t even photograph bug orbs! And that’s okay. Ghosts aren’t trained circus seals, to perform at our pleasure for an evening performance. It has to be enough for us to go into their space and while away some time among them.
“Carry on,” I feel they’re saying through their silence. “Leave us alone with our toys and our rides and our memories. There’s nothing to see here.”
Still, I’m glad we went. I am fascinated with places that are not now what they once were. Ghost hunting, for me, is just my excuse to lawfully explore these abandoned places. Lake Shawnee Amusement Park did not disappoint.
Know Before You Go
Check the website below before heading out to Lake Shawnee. The current owners run periodic tours and you may reserve the property for all-night ghost hunts, or for some creepy camping.
Bug spray is a must. Bring water, food to nosh, even if you’re not planning on camping. Either bring flash lights or lanterns. In cooler months, you’ll want to bring wood for a fire, so you can warm up. There’s a roofed shelter that will keep your gear dry and provide limited shelter. If you want some comfort, bring camp chairs; otherwise, you can make use of the several picnic tables.
Getting there: 470 Matoaka Rd Rock, WV
Hours: Arrange with the owners your own visit or paranormal investigation at the park.
Website: Lake Shawnee Events
Can’t get enough ghost hunts? Check out the ghost hunts and paranormal investigations we’ve participated in!