Is there a village of retired circus midgets in greater Cincinnati? A lot of people seem to think the answer is yes--or was at one time.

This is one legend I've heard a lot about over the past couple of years. Apparently it's a story that's been making the rounds in Cincy for many decades. The idea is that there is/was a small community of "little people" deep in the woods outside the city. It's most often referred to as Tiny Town, but I've also heard it called Munchkinville or Munchkinland. Some people say the midgets have little tiny houses, but I don't think I believe that one. I also don't believe that you can hear circus music when you get near the houses, which is a detail I heard. Others report that if you approach their homes they will come out and throw rocks at your car until you go away.

The Buffalo Ridge region on Cincinnati's west side is supposed to be the home of Tiny Town. It is surprising that such a dense, hilly area exists inside Hamilton County. We made our trip in the late summer of 2001, finding nothing more than an ordinary country road.

So...where is Tiny Town? Does it even exist? Did a couple of retired circus midgets actually live out here years ago and unwittingly foster these bizarre legends? One clue comes from the fact that I've run across mentions of "Tiny Towns" in other states. It's possible that such things exist all over the country, but it's also possible that it's just a migrating legend that kids like to tell. At any rate, we didn't come across any, and if I had I wouldn't have known what to do. It would seem a little cruel to go take pictures of them.

Actually, as it turns out, my Tiny Town expedition was in vain for a number of reasons. First of all, I was in the wrong place; the "real" Tiny Town is apparently located not far from Buffalo Ridge, behind the Rumpke Dump. Secondly, the legend, like so many others, is based on willful misinterpretation and embellishment. The Cincinnati Post gives the lowdown on the real story in the following article.

How Anna Ritter's Little Story Got Out of Hand

By David Wecker

Anna Gay Ritter heard one time that a good way to ruin a person's business is to make a joke out of it. At any rate, she's not sure how all the stories about Munchkin and Munchkinland got started. She just wishes they'd go away.

But they won't. They pass from one generation to the next, like some bad urban myth, except that these stories have a rural setting. They're vague stories about a group of tiny people who live in tiny houses with tiny windows; stories that somehow have come to center on Anna's land. It might be funny, if it weren't happening to Anna.

To be fair, Anna's 30-acre farm in Colerain Township does have an odd look. She moved here in 1940, with her husband, Percy. It was his idea to call it the Handlebar Ranch Inc. She and Percy were considered city folk then. There was no Mt. Rumpke at the southern edge of the ranch, and their road was a gravel lane.

At first, Percy was in the bicycle rental business. He had 20 bikes and charged a quarter an hour. Then he got into the hayride business and bought a team of Belgian draft horses to pull his haywagon.

Percy had an eccentric way of seeing things. Peggy Pottenger Sickmann - who grew up on a neighboring farm and has been helping out at the ranch for nearly half a century, since she was 10 - says Percy was the kind who did a little bit here, a little bit there.

He built a home halfway up a steep hill of stone, hand-hewn logs, mortar, stucco, tile and boards, with a square turret and a balcony that looks down on the Handlebar Ranch Inc.

The ranch itself could be a textbook example of vintage roadside Americana. It looks like a miniature frontier village - a surreal collection of little buildings, all made from the same odd materials as the house. There are dance floors indoors and out, picnic tables, pavilions, barbecue grills and what he called a rathskeller - all decorated with Anna's hand-painted Indian totems and cartoony cowboy murals, all in a jaunty wild west motif. Anna is still quite a talented artist.

Percy died in 1990, but Anna kept up the hayride business. If you're having a party, she'll dispatch a haywagon. Or she'll book a hayride for a fraternity or a sorority at Miami University or the University of Cincinnati. Just before Christmas, a group from Crittenden hired one of her wagons for a hayride at Fountain Square.

But I'm ahead of the story. Years ago - Anna doesn't remember exactly when - Percy came home with a couple of cast-iron school bells he'd bought somewhere. He put them up below the house, at the edge of the road. That was when it started.

'Kids would come in the middle of the night and ring the bells,' Peggy says.

'The Ritters didn't want them annoying the neighbors, so they'd come out on the balcony and yell at them. And to those kids down on the road, looking up at that balcony, Anna and Percy must've looked kind of small.'

Anna is 5-foot-3; Percy was maybe 5-9. It's the only explanation for the stories that Anna and Peggy can imagine. Anna eventually turned the bells upside down and took to planting flowers in them. But even now, the stories persist. Ridiculous stories. Only a handful of people understand how hurtful they are to Anna.

Rick Heimtold, a 20-year-old cadet with Colerain Township police, has heard the stories.

'You mean the ones about munchkinland?' he said.

'Yeah, I used to go looking for it. We all did, back in high school. There were supposed to be little people there. And if you came around where they lived, they'd throw rocks at you. Those were the stories, anyway.

'So kids were always looking for it. Sometimes, you'd find it. Sometimes, you didn't. But there's all kinds of stories about little people living there.'

They show up in the middle of the night in their cars, looking for Munchkins and behaving in the crummiest possible manner. If school's out, Anna has learned she can pretty well figure on a carload of them showing up the night before, screaming and yelling, making a ruckus, sometimes vandalizing her buildings and hollering obscenities.

Anna's no prude. She's no weakling either. Twice a day, she climbs the difficult hill to the barn at the top of her valley to feed a sway-back horse that, she says, is older than she is.

'I've got the hide of a crocodile,' she says. 'But it makes me angry these stories won't go away.'

I'll bet it does make her angry that "these stories won't go away," but she's not the first person to learn that fighting folklore and ghost stories is like going up against water. It definitely can't be made to go away, no matter how much you click your heels together.

Here is a story graciously sent to me by Ashley on Friday, August 11, 2012:

This story is so interesting to me. I'm not from the area but my boyfriend grew up in Colerain. I've heard from several people besides my boyfriend that while they were in high school back in '97, they were members of a group of those annoying teenagers that would go out to Munchkinville in the middle of the night to look for the little people.

All of their stories had the same strange ending. When they entered the property an elderly man would come out chasing them with a shotgun. They said he had overalls on with white hair. He would chase them all the way to the road.

After they told me this I went online and did some research. What I thought was odd is the fact that the husband, Percy, fit their description. But he passed away in 1990. Do you think he was haunting the property to protect his wife from intruders? And have you heard from anyone with a similar experience?

Thus a weird local legend gains a ghost-story twist. Ashley, I really appreciate the new information; it helps make my website more complete. Thanks to everyone else for their input over the last few years as well.

So that's the story behind Tiny Town. I may return for photos just to accompany this page, but if you're looking for real midgets living together in a village of undersized houses, it sounds like you're out of luck in Hamilton County.