Sometime last year, around late summer or early fall the abandoned Shawnee Lake Amusement Park was getting a lot of play on various social media outlets, and probably Buzzfeed, because those two seem to go hand-in-hand these days. I saw a lot of posts from people saying, “Aw man! I wish I could go to that!” or tagging friends saying, “Let’s go!” I had been dating my not-yet-boyfriend for almost two months, and had already dragged him to two abandoned sites, so I figured it was time to take the next step in our relationship: a four day roadtrip to see dirt and debris of forgotten lands. So, rather than posting on Facebook, we hopped in a rental car and hit the road.
Lake Shawnee, located in Princeton, West Virginia, and has been abandoned since 1966 and has quite the torrid past. Originally, it was the location for an Native American burial ground. In 1783, the site was desecrated by the Mitchell Clay settlers, when they decided that the burial ground was the perfect location for their farm, also making them the first white settlement in the county. Shortly after the family settled, a band of 11 Shawnee Indians attacked two of the sons while they were working outside. One of the sons, Bartley, was shot and killed. Tabitha, one of the daughters, ran to see what was happening, and also was stabbed and killed when she tried to attack one of the Shawnees (bad move, kid). After the two children were scalped and left for their mother to find their lifeless bodies, the other son, Ezekiel, was taken hostage by the group, where they tortured him and eventually burned him at the stake.
Sounds like the perfect place for an amusement park, right?
In the 1920s, Conley T. Snidow purchased the land to pursue his dream of building an amusement park. In 1926 the park was opened for business, catering to the families of nearby coal workers. He built a ferris wheel, rotating swing set, and opened a pond for swimming. Shortly after the park opened, a little girl was killed while riding the swing set when a stray truck backed into her. Another death soon followed when a little boy drowned in the pond. The owner of the property (who just passed away in 2013 – his children inherited the land) claimed there were at least 6 deaths caused from the rides. Needless to say, it eventually had to close down. Although given its history, 40 years is a pretty good run.
The site itself is located in between two major roadways. There is no real way to be discrete about visiting this property. After driving back and forth a few of times, we decided to pull into the blocked off entrance, where we were greeted by a sign that said “Dark Carnival.” Thanks to my astute companion, he was able to inform me that it was a Juggalo event. They had rented out the space and were putting on “haunted” Halloween events during the evenings. It was getting close to night fall, so we decided to find a motel and re-formulate our plan.
I had the owner’s number, so we decided, for once, to go about things legitimately and call them, asking for permission to visit in the morning. We managed to get them on the phone, and while they were super nice and offered to give us a tour any other time of year, they said their hands were tied at the moment since the Juggalos had rented out the space for the month of October (they didn’t actually call the group Juggalos). So, we decided to go to the strip club behind our motel and figure out our plan.
We went back to the space early in the morning and parked at what appeared to be some sort of trucking facility across the street. We climbed through a patch of tall grass and weeds, as it seemed to be the most covered path. But once we were out by the rides, we were super visible. Anyone driving by could see us. So, we went with the “just act like you belong here” tactic and walked around with confidence. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time in the space. Maybe 20 minutes into our wandering, a car pulled directly into the entrance. Rather than waiting to see who was getting out of the car, we briskly made our exit back to our vehicle.
After we pulled away, we noticed that it appeared to be curious passerbys who had the same idea as us – but probably thought it was acceptable to wander since we were already there. Oh well.
There are a lot of rumors about Lake Shawnee being haunted. There are some tales that the girl killed on the swing can still be seen there from time to time. There have also been sightings of silhouettes in the cars of the ferris wheel. The grandfather of current owners also told a story of spotting the little girl one day when he was driving his tractor. She leaned on his should and told him that she wanted the tractor – so, he parked the tractor and it has been in that spot every since. During our brief visit, we didn’t see any signs of hauntings, but I’m more grateful that we didn’t have any run-ins with the Juggalos. They scare me much more than any ghosts.