; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Story of Haunted Ohio Village Set For Filming

cantonrep - “Tales of the German Separatists have been handed down from one generation to the next. Some say they can still feel the presence of these early pioneers who maybe decided to make Zoar their home in the hereafter.”

The suggestion of a haunting of the historic village is taken from the introduction to “The Ghosts of Zoar, Ohio,” by Ann Swain and Betty O’Neill-Roderick. The authors operate Lantern Tours of the Ghosts of Zoar, taking visitors through the streets of the former communal community at dusk from April through October.

Now those ghosts — at least the stories of them — may be going Hollywood.

Gregory James Gaugel, a photographer and independent filmmaker based in Los Angeles, Calif., is working to put “The Ghosts of Zoar, Ohio” on screen. The feature film — not a documentary — would be shot in the Tuscarawas County village, he said.

“I recognize a Hollywood set when I see one,” he said. “I can’t believe nobody’s ever done anything here on a feature film level.”

Gaugel, the son of the artist Heinz Gaugel who created the historical cyclorama “Behalt” in Berlin, grew up in Holmes County and recalls visiting Zoar years ago. He visited it again more recently, after reading the book recounting of strange happenings in the Zoar Hotel and other village buildings.

“On quiet summer nights the sound of a great party sometimes emanates from the empty rooms. Lights flicker, and then grow dim, laughter, music and the sound of glasses tinkling echoes through the empty rooms.” From “The Ghosts of Zoar, Ohio”

The hotel is closed now, and “pretty well gutted,” Gaugel said. So, although the filmmaker plans to center the movie around the hotel, he’ll use the Number One House for interior hotel scenes. Scenes also will be shot in several other structures in Zoar, which is managed as a historical site by Ohio Historical Society.

Gaugel said the film will be set in modern times. But, exposing the movie’s characters to the ghostly legends will necessitate retelling a large portion of the history of the communal community.

“I think that’s really good for the Separatists we leave behind,” said Gaugel. “It means we’re not just using their beautiful town as a backdrop.”

Gaugel, who has made several short films and three feature movies, billed this project as a low-budget mystery-suspense film. He declined to get much deeper into the plot than saying it will revolve around “teenagers who come down for a summer work program.” He and a partner are still working on a script. “It’s still early. We have a lot of work to do,” said Gaugel, who has revisited Zoar several times since the inception of the film concept.

“Every time I come down here I get ideas,” he said, while walking through Zoar recently with O’Neill-Roderick. “I’ll be spending a lot if time here.”

As filming and casting director, Gaugel will hand-pick actors — mostly from Ohio — whom he has become acquainted with while working as a photographer, model, actor and director.

“There are a lot of talented actors in Ohio,” he said. “I already know who’s playing the main parts.”

Gaugel said casting will be completed in the summer. He plans to shoot the film during four weeks in the fall.

“Today the strange lights still can be seen on fall evenings. The mysterious lights could be a reflection or they could be the work of the ghosts of Zoar, just having a little fun.” From “The Ghosts of Zoar, Ohio”

Gaugel has consulted with the authors about the nature of the ghostly happenings in the village.

“When you hear about ghosts you expect to see Casper coming down the street in a white sheet, but it’s not like that,” said O’Neill-Roderick. “When you look up that street (in Zoar) you see buildings that were built more than 100 years ago. Sometimes, there are strange things happening in those buildings. Some things can be explained. Other things cannot be explained.”

It isn’t Gaugel’s intention to try to explain the ghost stories that he chooses to be in his film. Instead, “I’ll just pick and choose the best stories to reconstruct and recreate in an entertaining way,” he said.

Place the emphasis on entertaining. It’s going to be a fun film, Gaugel promised.

“It’s not going to be a flash-in-the-pan movie. I’ve got some great things in mind,” he said. “I want it to be the kind of movie that people are so fascinated by, so intrigued by, that they’re actually going to want to take a trip to Zoar to see where it all happened.”

Or didn’t happen. And that qualification doesn’t just refer to the fictional nature of the plot of the film.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Gaugel said candidly. “I’m one of those see-it-to-believe-it kind of guys. But I don’t think I really have to believe to tell a good story.”


Zoar was founded by German religious dissenters called the Society of Separatists of Zoar in 1817. It was a communal society, with many German-style structures that have been restored and are part of the Zoar Village State Memorial. There are presently ten restored buildings.

The Separatists, or Zoarites, emigrated from the kingdom of Württemberg in southwestern Germany due to religious oppression from the Lutheran church. Leading among their group were some natives of Rottenacker on the Danube. Having separated from the established church, their theology was based in part on the writings of Jakob Böhme. They did not practice baptism or confirmation and did not celebrate religious holidays except for the Sabbath. A central flower garden in Zoar is based on the Book of Revelation with a towering tree in the middle representing Christ and other elements surrounding it representing other allegorical elements.

The leader of the society was named Joseph Bimeler (also known as Joseph Bäumler or Bäumeler, born 1778), a pipemaker from Ulm. His charismatic leadership carried the village through a number of crises.

An early event critical to the success of the colony was the digging of the Ohio and Erie Canal. The Zoarites had purchased 5,000 acres (20 km2) of land sight unseen and used loans to pay for it. The loans were to be paid off by 1830. The Society struggled for many years to determine what products and services they could produce in their village to pay off the loans. The state of Ohio required some of the Zoarite land to be used as a right of way and offered the Zoarites an opportunity to assist in digging the canals for money. The state gave them a choice of digging it themselves for pay or having the state pay others to dig the canal. The Zoarites then spent several years in the 1820s digging the canal and thus were able to pay off their loans on time with much money to spare.

Bimeler's death on August 31, 1853 led to a slow decline in the cohesion of the village. By 1898, the village voted to disband the communal society and the property was divided among the remaining residents.


When I was about 13 or 14 I spent the night at my friends house. He lives in the old boys house, in Zoar. I went to sleep that night in the living room down stairs. My friend, his mother and father, and sister were sleeping upstairs. All I had downstairs with me was their dog. At some point in the night I was woke up by someone coming down the stairs. The dog, that was sleeping at my side, woke up and ran out of the room wimpering when the dog saw something coming down the stairs. I had goosebumps all over my body. I didn't know what to do so I threw the blanket over my head, closed my eyes, and tried to pretended I was invisible. Whatever was out there at this point was standing right over top of me. I could hear it breathing. Well I didn't know what else to do. So I pulled down the covers and no one was there. G. Allen

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My wife and myself had two occassions to encounter the ghost called ''George'' at The Inn on the River outside of Zoar. Once when we were dating, c. 1990, my wife (girls friend at that time), my best friend, his date, and myself were at the inn having a few drinks in the bar area. We were discussing George all night and having a few laughs. It was getting time to leave and I said out loud, ''Come on George, we want to see something!'' At that exact moment the lights in the entire restaurant went off and then back on. The second time my wife now, and I were having dinner at the inn. We were seated in the room adjacent to the bar. She was seated across from me. She was facing the door I was facing the wall with my back to the door. On the wall were many pictures of the inn in days gone by. As we were eating I got a strange feeling that someone was behind me. I looked up but didn't turn around. I looked towards the pictures and could see a dark ''figure'', no shape, pass from left to right, from my perspective, in the pictures on the wall. I immediately turned around and no one was in the room except my wife and myself. Greg


Zoar was a village built by German separatists who were looking to establish a place to live and practice their Christian religion as they saw fit. Established on October 16, 1817, Zoar was named after the biblical town where Lot fled to after leaving Sodom. The community was established as "The Society of Separatists of Zoar" in 1819. There are a number of haunted houses in Zoar that constantly produce haunting accounts from visitors. A local group of paranormal investigators report experiencing objects thrown at them multiple times, and a closed piano playing on its own, at Number One House.

Clues to some of the hauntings in Zoar are portrayed in The Ghosts of Zoar, Ohio by Ann Sawin and Betty O'Neill-Roderick. This book details many of the tragedies that took place in this town, including that of Lorenz Fritz. Near Christmas of 1888, Lorenz took the train to Massillon to buy Christmas candy for his three children. He never returned home from the trip. His wife assumed he had decided to remain in town to drink with friends, since it wasn't the first time this had happened. However, she was awakened in the middle of the night by her son, Eugene, who insisted that daddy was standing in the corner of the bedroom, dripping wet, but would not speak to him. By the spring of 1889, once the snows melted, authorities discovered Lorenz's body in the river by the train tracks.

NOTE: OhioPERVS have the results of an investigation from June 2008 posted at Zoar Analysis Report...Lon

Story of Haunted Ohio Village Set For Filming