Originally produced for The Athens Messenger on Nov. 12, 2018.
Have you ever heard the story of Mount Nebo?
The story goes that an Athens County family by the name of Koons once operated a seance room in their log cabin.
The Athens area is notorious for its allegedly haunted history and stories like this, and one local resident is bringing that reputation to life just in time for Halloween.
Sharon Hatfield, an author from Alexander Twp., published a nonfiction book based on research that has taken her eight years to uncover. Her new book, “Enchanted Ground: The Spirit Room of Jonathan Koons” recounts the story of a 19th-century man who believed he could communicate with the dead through seances. This is believed to be the first time that research on this story has been compiled into a book.
Though the book is driven by facts, it reads like a novel about Koons’ life. Hatfield spent years combing through historical accounts and drafting an entertaining tale.
“I’ve always been a curious person,” Hatfield said. “I like things without a clear-cut answer, and Koons’ seance room is certainly that.”
Koons and his family operated a log cabin seance room in Mount Nebo from 1852 to 1855. No photos of Mount Nebo are known to exist, though modern day maps place it near the intersection of Sand Ridge and Mill Creek Roads in Dover Twp., north of Athens.
At first just locals attended, but soon people across the country were flocking to witness this spiritual experience.
Though the practice was accused of being linked to devil worship, research shows Koons to be a religious man. Hatfield’s book describes him as a strong Christian who disagreed with many institutions of Christianity at the time, and he believed his communication with spirits further affirmed one’s belief in Heaven.
As for the seances, Koons would welcome guests into his home and treat them to a song on his fiddle before blowing out a candle, dimming the setting to pitch black. Visitors reported seeing objects levitate and instruments playing notes without musicians. They also described seeing disembodied hands writing messages, though the author believes this was family members tricking the guests.
“He’s a fascinating figure,” Hatfield said of Koons, “because I think he was sincere about converting people to spiritualism. But he also lied quite a bit to do that through the illusions in the seances.”
Hatfield is celebrating her book release on Wednesday, Oct. 31 at the Southeast Ohio History Center from 5-7 p.m. The event is sponsored by the Ohio University Press, which also published her book.
“The opportunity to publish a local story that combines empathy, a healthy dose of skepticism and first-rate research and that is genuinely illuminating and entertaining is as good as it gets,” said Ohio University Press Director Gillian Berchowitz.
Enchanted Ground can be purchased at the History Center, Little Professor Book Store and on Amazon.
Originally published on A1 of The Athens Messenger on October 31, 2018.
Horseshoes clop, clop, clop against the bricks, manes flopping with each step, as one admirer after another approaches with a question not typically asked to other law enforcement officers.
Can I pet it?
Yes, the handler tells a dozen or more every hour. Most college students steer clear of police on a night like this, but these mounted Athens Police Department units are the biggest and most popular on the block.
The mounted units are active during events expected to bring out large crowds, such as Welcome Weekend, Fest season and, of course, the annual Halloween Block Party.
“It helps a lot with crowd control,” says Athens Police Department patrolman Neal Dicken. “We are 8 feet off the ground so we can visibly see a crowd and they can see us.”
What residents and students may not know is the horses are actually owned by the officers themselves.
Dicken has been a patrolman for APD since 1997, a year after the horse units first debuted in town. He owns three of the six horses on the force and cares for them on his 62-acre farm.
In addition to their normal pay, the city pays officers like Dicken $12.50 per hour to “rent” the horses to patrol a given event. The city also pays for horseshoes and some other necessary supplies.
“The city doesn’t have the resources to own and maintain all the horses, and it also helps us offset some of our own costs of keeping them,” Dicken says. “It’s a good deal for all of us.”
While there is not a formal certification process, the city only employs horses considered well-prepared for joining the force. Dicken is one of three commissioner officers for the Buckeye Sheriff’s Mounted Association, which assesses horses through criteria such as obstacle courses, formations and handcuffing procedures.
“We’re not going to put someone, even a horse, on our street who is not prepared,” he says.
Contrary to popular belief, the department allows students to pet the horses with them if they ask. It is only a felony if someone assaults the horse.
“You do see a lot of crazy things,” Dicken says. “We have arrested people for punching and slapping the horses, but those are mostly out-of-towners. The students here know and respect us for the most part.”
In that sense, the mounted units are utilized as much to encourage positive interaction as they are for safety purposes. Such units can be seen at BBQ on the Bricks, a yearly gathering meant to bring together the OU and law enforcement communities.
Erica Pfannenschmidt, a sophomore at Ohio University, is one of the many students who made an effort Saturday night to say hello.
“It’s not as scary seeing the cops on horses,” the 19-year-old says. “Petting them is definitely a highlight of going out any weekend.”
Originally published on A1 of The Athens Messenger on October 30, 2018.
It’s difficult getting a crowd of activists to hush in solemn silence.
But that’s what happened Thursday night as senior Tori Doran recounted the night she was raped.
“My rapist stole my excitement for life,” she said in a choked voice with a megaphone in her shaky hands. “He stole my confidence, my dignity, my light.”
However, Doran said that didn’t keep her from telling her story. Her words came as hundreds of students rallied at Ohio University in solidarity following a string of sexual assault reports on and near campus.
With more than a dozen such reports made to the Ohio University and Athens police departments since the start of the academic year, frustrations and fears among many students are high. Mallory Golski, Hannah Burke and Cody Shanklin channeled those frustrations and took matters into their own hands by organizing “It’s on us, Bobcats,” a student-led rally to promote accountability and help prevent future sexual assault.
The three were inspired by the rise of activism on campus — from the banners condemning sexual assault hanging from Greek life houses to the creation of a private GroupMe chat with over 1,000 members for students to call on other females for a safe walk home, particularly at night.
A crowd of raincoat-clad students and community members gathered on College Green at 7:30 p.m. then took to the bricks of Court Street. They marched in solidarity and chanted phrases such as, “Wherever we are, wherever we go, yes means yes, and no means no.”
Following the march, the students gathered in front of Cutler Hall to hear the testaments of women who have experienced assaults while in college.
One in five undergraduate females will be sexually assaulted at some point during their education. It’s not necessarily that the problem is getting worse, Golski told the crowd, or that OU is any less safe than it was in the past.
“We are emboldening people to report,” she said. “Survivors, we will hear you. We will believe you. And we will not tolerate this any longer.”
The rain held off just long enough for the rally. As soon as the crowd disbanded, drops began to fall. Golski danced with excitement for the success of the rally, embracing her co-organizers, her sorority sisters and even Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones.
“I was assaulted a few weeks ago on campus,” said sophomore attendee Sophie Relitz. “I came because I wanted to hear from survivors. Even though it broke my heart, it felt comforting that someone understands and that so many people care.”
Speakers at the rally encouraged to keep the anger fueling them until the rape culture ends.
“This can’t be where it ends,” said Shanklin, one of the co-organizers, in an address to the crowd. “Be better activists. Be better bystanders. Be better, Bobcats.”
I finally got around to editing the footage I took of my semester studying French and media in Aix-en-Provence, France.
Check out the video of my four month adventure:
After news broke Wednesday that Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer had been placed on paid administrative leave, legions of fans rushed to his defense.
And hours earlier, when Courtney Smith said that she told Meyer’s wife, Shelley, about abuse by her then-husband and assistant coach Zach Smith, legions of detractors rushed to question her motives.
Outrage from fans sparked on social media Thursday, a day after Courtney Smith said in a video interview on the Stadium sports site that she believed Urban Meyer knew about the abuse.
If Ohio State University fires Urban Meyer over this they’re absolute and utter idiots. This man is one of the best college coaches of all time, and he is not the police. Let him coach football and leave him alone.
— austyn shelton (@austynshelton) August 2, 2018
Buckeyes fans were quick to jump to Meyer’s defense, though there were a few supporting Courtney Smith, causing squabbles to flood Facebook and Twitter about his fate as coach. Many also questioned what’s next for the football program, with little acknowledgement of the woman who said she’s a victim of domestic abuse.
The fans’ reaction isn’t surprising, said Adam Earnheardt, chairman and professor of communication at Youngstown State University, who studies the motivation of sports fans.
“The history built around fan culture and identity has a pattern,” Earnheardt said. “That pattern is if you say something negative about my team, my reaction is going to be negative, regardless of proof.”
Ohio State fans are notoriously loyal. In 2017, Ohio State saw more than 1.2 million fans attend the Buckeyes’ 14 games — the highest attendance in the nation.
“That kind of fan base is only equal to or rivaled by fan bases we see with National Football League teams,” Earnheardt said.
Fans might be exhibiting defensive reactions on social media and beyond because they feel personally attacked when the coach of their favorite team is scrutinized, he said.
So far, Courtney Smith has faced the brunt of negative online comments. Some fans questioned her motives in publicizing accusations against her ex-husband nearly three years after the alleged incident.
Earnheardt’s words of advice to Courtney Smith?
“She needs to continue to tell her story, and the (Ohio State fans) who are willing to listen, open to listen, these are the people we should be listening to on social media,” he said.
Those people seem to be the minority on social media platforms, but they are out there.
Ohio State fan Susan Wells said it’s “disappointing” fans are lashing out at Courtney Smith and blindly defending Meyer without knowing the facts.
“I hope he’s innocent and we see him on the sidelines in the fall,” said the 26-year-old from Vinton County. “But if it’s true, especially as a high-profile football coach, he should have to face consequences for knowing about abuse.”
Something that gets lost today but the thing I take away most from everything said and written about Urban Meyer today:
Courtney Smith is a courageous woman. An entire system is set up against her.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) August 2, 2018
Fans’ deep-rooted emotional attachment to the multimillion dollar program affects spending and revenue for the university, said Patrick Rishe, director of sports business program at Washington University in St. Louis. Rishe said he wouldn’t be surprised if there is an uptick in financial contributions to the program soon.
“The No. 1 reason to support a brand is emotional, which is why you see this intense reaction,” he said.