From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 6, 2006


January 6, 2006
By Bill Lubinger

A leisurely Sunday drive through the back roads in the family station wagon has gone the way of, well, back roads and station wagons.

Life in America is all schedules, SUVs and freeways now. Lost between the exit signs are the odd ducks, quirky sites and folklore that make life unpredictable and fun.

You won't find the pickled fingers of Mary Bach, the wall of chewing gum or the Melonheads along any highway.

But a new book, "Weird Ohio: Your Travel Guide to Ohio's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets" (Sterling, $19.95), takes you there. It's that family road trip -- without the annoying potty breaks and "Are we there yets?"

"Weird Ohio" is a collaboration of the bizarre, unexplained, creepy and just plain amusing, covering all four corners of the state. Ohio apparently has a wealth of weirdness.

"This place is ripe with it," said Jim Willis, one of three contributing "Weird Ohio" authors.

Willis, a Columbus ad copywriter and founder of a paranormal research group called Ghosts of Ohio, said he's partial to the scary stories but is especially hooked by sites with rich history.

Such as the tragic tale of Mary Bach, which goes something like this: She didn't complete her daily chores to the liking of her farmer husband Carl. So, in 1883, he carved her up with a corn knife, dismembered her body and hid the pieces-parts.

Once Carl turned himself in, the sheriff took three of Mary's fingers and stored them in a glass of formaldehyde as evidence.

Today, the pickled digits sit in a display case -- by the knife, the noose used to hang Carl and a ticket to his public execution at the county fair -- in the Wood County Historical Museum in Bowling Green.

Another is the legend of the Melonheads, a fabled freakout that just won't die. The story survives in various forms but basically involves kids with oversize heads living in a cabin deep in the woods off Wisner Road in Kirtland.

Depending on whose version you favor, they're either the result of: secret government testing, a doctor's brain experiments or a disease that swelled their heads.

"No matter where they came from," the book says, "most kids in the area know somebody whose sister's best friend knew a guy whose dentist saw the Melonheads."

Today, local high school kids still drive around late at night to snatch a peek.

Some of the finds are neither gruesome nor ghoulish, but just plain odd. Such as the famous wall of gum in the southwest Ohio town of Greenville.

Pull up to the Maid-Rite Drive-In for its popular "loose-meat" sandwiches, and you'll notice an unusual tradition that's continued for more than 60 years. Two sides of the building are splattered with wads of chewed gum, stuck there as customers entered.

"There's no handed-down story about when and how it got started," Steve Canter, the restaurant/carryout's managing partner said by phone, but the gum wall has grown so popular that the owners sell gum-wall T-shirts.

"Weird Ohio" is the latest in a series of Weird books by a Barnes & Noble Inc. publishing division. The concept began about 15 years ago as an amateur newsletter by two guys in New Jersey (Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran) with an eye and a fascination for the unusual. The two Marks found others around the country who share that same "weird eye" to publish other Weird books.

Willis and co-author Andy Henderson, a Columbus writer and researcher who runs the Web site Forgotten Ohio, contributed peculiar stories and locations they already knew. But they also traveled the state in search of new ones. A third contributor, Loren Coleman, who is not from Ohio, lent his expertise for a section on such bizarre creatures as the Lake Erie serpent and the Mothman of Gallipolis.

"Weird Ohio" is one of eight Weird state books published in 2005, with at least as many planned for this year.

"Weird Ohio" comes clean that many of its mysteries are pure urban legend. The book also offers a warning: Many of the sites featured are on private property and shouldn't be visited.

But most of the places are fair game, so load the kids into the SUV, silence the pager and hit the back roads.

By the way, are we there yet?

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-5531

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