The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 31, 2013

They say phantoms play after dark in this park

— Halloween is here and if there’s nothing strange in your neighborhood, then who ya gonna call? Gaylord White!

Well, you could call him if you want to visit an amusement park in Mercer County, near Princeton, that’s supposed to have more ghosts than Patrick Swayze’s film career. White is the owner of Lake Shawnee Amusement Park and he says it sits on a Native American burial ground.

White says he bought the park when it was around 1985.

“I rode by here every day on a school bus. It’s kind of funny. All the times that I would ride by here, I would tell people that I wanted to buy the place and everybody laughed at me told me that I’d never be able to afford it.”

I decided one day that it was time to buy it and to stop playing around. My problem was that I was 23. Go and try to borrow a million dollars when you’re 23. They kind of laugh at you a bit and think it’s kind of funny. All but one person, and that was C.T. Snidow. I went to him and I wanted to rent the land. He said, ‘Instead of renting it, why don’t you buy it?’ I told him I didn’t have that kind of money and he said, ‘You may have.’ We had a long talk and I ended up buying the place off of him.

“The Snidow family made it possible for us. It’s kind of funny. The man told me, he said I could make one payment a year and buy the land off of him. You’ll never meet anybody in your life that will let you pay one payment a year and pay the place off.”

White says he started carnival work for the same reason that many people start jobs: He had bills to pay and a mouth to feed.

“I was hungry,” he said. “I started working fairs. I painted license plates for people at carnivals. I did the state fair for 22 years. I’ve painted license plates here, there, and everywhere. I got to paying attention to what the carnies do and everything they do. The next thing you know, I’m in the carnival business.

“I think it’s cool. I own the only haunted amusement park in the country as far as I know. When we bought it, we knew it was haunted. We played around with the spirits and had a lot of fun. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

It’s not the handfuls of deaths that were supposed to have happened in the park that White finds weird though.

“It’s weird that news reporters come here and do interviews,” he said. “It’s newsworthy, but it’s just kind of funny that I had a group from Bulgaria come here and film the story. I’ve had people from Charleston, Wheeling and Morgantown here, but I could murder somebody and never make the paper. I put in an amusement park and I make the main page.”

White’s amusement park was supposed to have been the site of two murders though. According to a plaque in the park, two children of settler Mitchell Clay were killed by Shawnee Indians in 1783. White says Clay’s third child was taken back to Ohio and burned at the stake.

In the tour of the amusement park, guests are told Clay rode to Ohio and murdered as many Indians as he could in revenge.

Legends of the park say these are just a few of the spooky events that have taken place.

Other events center around a girl killed when the circle swing she was riding hit the side of a beverage truck that reportedly backed into the path of her swing. A little boy drowned after reportedly being left  alone in the swimming pool; although some stories say two children drowned at the park.

Local legend says it was events like this that forced the park to close back in 1966.

Some of the other attractions in the park include a single-wide trailer that White says was used as a hot dog stand. The trailer now just serves terror instead of chili dogs.

“I’ve had people take a walk through it and hear drums beating, Indians chanting, and people talking,” White said.

The park’s rides also include a Ferris wheel that has several legends linked to it.

“You can’t take a picture of it,” White said. “You just can’t. Every time someone tries, it comes out blurry or too dark.”

White also says people have seen a dark shape sitting on the top of the Ferris wheel, even though the leg guards are up and there’s no room for the ghost to sit.

In spite of so many stories about guests seeing the unexplainable, not everyone got the chance to peek at the paranormal.

“I didn’t see anything,” Virginia-native Avree Turner said. “Nothing at all.”

Another man says he might have had an otherworldly experience.

“I gave it 50/50,” Maryland-native Eric Tartar said. “It was interesting. I did like the folklore behind it. I thought there would be a bit more. I just had a few off feelings. Nothing else though.”

Tartar says his belief in ghosts mostly depends on his mood at the moment. Turner says he just sticks to believing in what he knows.

“I just let it be what it is,” Turner said. “Sometimes you do get those strange occurrences where you can’t explain what’s happening to you. Other times it’s just as simple as ‘Those are the facts. Plain and simple.’ I like to take things based on what I can actually see.”

If you would like to take the chance to see a ghost or would like to find out when the next fishing tournament is, you can call Gaylord White at 304-921-1580 or 304-487-1819. Tours are $15 and flashlights are required.

That’s right. In spite of the park’s bloody history, White still hosts fishing tournaments in the park’s lake from time to time. One fishing tournament is scheduled for today, but White says he hasn’t decided when the tourney will start.

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com

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