Lock 4: Ohio & Erie Canal

(Orig. Published 7/2003)

We struggled with whether to place this site in the Haunted Places or Local Oddities/Urban Legends section (same difference?).  The story is virtually the same–word-for-word–and no other version could be found to back it up, leading us to believe that it came from one source and no other.  But perhaps that’s being too nitpicky, so we’ll leave it up to others to judge.  The tale surrounding this quaint little canal lock in Lawrence Township (just south of Canal Fulton in Stark County), goes as follows:

Information is hard to find on this place but there is some out there and I have found it. Back when the canal started construction in 1857 many men worked on it complex structure. The man who was head of this operation caught wind of the government shutting down the Canal Fulton operation. He was angered and while working burned many of the workers and him self with acid. His hateful spirit still haunts the building and waterways of lock four along with many of the poor souls he killed. “

Of course, research has not confirmed the grisly, acid mass killing.  But, is there any truth to this tale?

“For Every Mile of the Canal, an Irishman is Buried.”

This is a popular expression associated with the Ohio & Erie Canal, and for good reason.  The canal diggers were mostly  Irish immigrants.  The work was grueling and dangerous.  Hundreds of young men died from various microbes festering in the mud and stagnant water–malaria (or “Canal Fever”) and acute diarrhea. 

Many were buried in shallow, unmarked graves along the canal, or in mass paupers graves at nearby cemeteries.

For over a 12-hour day of strenuous labor, the canal worker received a pittance in pay, tent or shanty housing, and meager meals (consisting mostly of coffee, bacon, beans, potatoes and, on every other day, maggot-ridden meat).  Not surprisingly, there were several labor uprisings as a result.

In addition, many internal conflicts brewed among the workers that often turned violent, even fatal.  This may have been due to the “daily jigger of whiskey” allotted to the men as part of their compensation.  Perhaps stereotypical of Irish immigrants–or perhaps not–local law enforcement officials attributed as much as 90% of homicides to drunken Irish perpetrators.

In light of this perception of the canal workers as expendable trouble-makers, it is logical to conclude that the “murders” as alleged in the story were either deliberately unreported, or were misreported to place blame for the deaths on an Irish immigrant.

Construction on the Ohio & Erie Canal began in 1825, and was completed in 1832–long before the date of 1857 as mentioned in the tale.    Canal operations in Ohio reached its peak in 1851, but rapidly declined following the development of the railroad system.  By 1857, many canals were in serious fiscal trouble.  In the early 1860’s, the government leased Lock 4 to a private contractor.  However, the company failed to properly maintain and operate the canal, and stopped paying rent.  The government took back the lock in the 1870’s.

The Great Flood of 1913 was the final nail in the canal system’s coffin.  In addition to causing numerous deaths, many canals were destroyed by the flood, bringing about the end of the Ohio canal system.

Lock 4 is now part of a park that is open during the summer until dusk.  It is the only Ohio canal lock still “operational” in the sense that the restored mechanisms can conceivably work.  Next to the lock is the old Lock Tender’s Cabin, pictured below:

For more information, check out these websites, which were some resources for this article:

Irish Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland

Inland Navigation–Connecting the New Republic

Ohio and Erie Canal Corridor Coalition

CanalWay Ohio

The Ohio and Erie Canal: Catalyst of Economic Development for Ohio

History of the Ohio and Erie Canal

For other websites featuring the gruesome Lock 4 haunted tale, check out these links:




9/11/05:  Ted shares some strange photos taken around the Lock Tender’s cabin at Lock Four.  Very, very interesting.  Is it the apparition of a man or a mind trick caused by the foliage in the background?  You decide.

Recently my girlfriend and I visited Lock 4 after reading about it on your website. We took some photos around the canal.  One of the photos taken behind the cabin turned up a very odd discovery. It appears to be a apparition.  The face is pretty clear with a body semi-visible.  I’ve enclosed the picture with it circled,and also a cropped copy of just the apparition.

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