- Sue Hawley
Why is Bath, Ohio a Great Place for Ghostly Mysteries?
When I began writing the Peg Shaw series I needed a place that could serve as a backdrop for all the shenanigans Peg and her ghostly gang would be getting into. I've been drawn to the quiet village cozy mystery since I was a teenager, but setting my story in rural England as many of my favorite books are, wasn't going to work. While I've had several trips across the pond and observed British village life firsthand the fact remains I am all American. But Bath, Ohio, where I've lived for the past 38 years, raised my kids, driven nearly every road… that could work. It was a small town- not as small as when I moved here but it still has that feel, in my opinion. Once it was also rural, although to find any farms now would take some real sleuthing. And, most importantly, I didn't really have to do any research to make it work! It was a natural fit for the type of story I wanted to write.
Being located near Cleveland, Lake Erie, and Akron gave me plenty of geography to play with. These are also map locations that can help readers place the much smaller Bath mentally on a map. And there's a lot of history to this area, the kind of history that hasn't necessarily been written to death already. The area had been settled in 1810 by Jonathan Hale and Jason Hammond and both families have places named after them in the area. Bath Township was officially founded a bit later in 1818, but for many years previous to that it was essentially on the edge of the frontier. Hale Farm and Village is a popular tourist spot created just for that reason- to showcase how people lived in the early 1800’s in our corner of the world. Fantastic stuff for a writer of ghostly mysteries!
This area of Northeastern Ohio was also home to various Indian tribes through the centuries. We live on one of the many hills in the township, our house one of but 6, surrounded by a dense, comforting layer of trees. Those trees are young by many standards- grown up into woods that were fields not so long ago. But long before that, before our homes were built, our hill was home to a Mingo village. My husband’s uncles told him stories of finding hundreds of arrowheads in nearby fields when they were children growing up in the house we now occupy. According to local lore, the Mingo Indian, Logan, visited this village on one of his journeys. Peg’s Indians in her woods were based on these family stories. While Peg’s Logan isn’t the real Logan, I pay homage to the man through the use of his name.
Unlike the books I write, our township is relatively subdued as far as major crimes. We have had our share of the gory spotlight though. In the summer of 1980- less than a year before I moved to area- the locally famous Milo murder was front-page news. Dean Milo had been murdered in his home in Bath and the hunt was on for the culprit. Eventually it was proven that his brother, Fred, had hired a young man to kill his brother due to disagreements concerning the family business. The scandal that ensued consumed the local media for weeks.
The most famous criminal of Bath is most likely Jeffrey Dahmer. His story went national and put our small town in the major news. He confessed to the murders of seventeen men over the course of almost twenty years. While most of his murders had occurred in Wisconsin, Bath felt the repercussions as the FBI and media swarmed our township. His first victim had been at his family’s home in Bath soon after he had graduated from Revere High School. The shock our small community and local police force felt emphasized the strangeness of the situation. When his story began to trickle out of the courtroom it made us all rethink what we thought we knew about life in Bath.
Peg Shaw does not investigate crimes that resemble either of these famous cases for a very good reason. I don't want to write those stories. Murders in Bath have happened and are not out of the realm of possibility, obviously. Our small town is not immune from the cares of the world and I explore these struggles in my books. But I want the stories to give equal weight to the people and relationships as well. Because a community is a place, the things that happen there, and the people those things happen to. And I hope the picture I paint of Bath, Ohio is true to the community.
All of these elements made for a great story setting. Having ghosts from past eras allows me to really dig into the history of this place in a way that is fun to write. I've loved being able to quietly integrate some of the local legends, favorite eating establishments, and quirky characteristics of my home into books that are being read all over the world.