For those of us who grew up in western Hamilton County, legends persisted that piqued our curiosity on many boring weekend nights.
Buffalo Ridge, a winding road in Miami Township, once had a crematorium or maybe an observatory rumored to now be a church for devil worshipers, where little kitties and little kiddies were sacrificed on an altar to firelight. The ghosts of those whose remains were burned there haunted the hillside.
Prying, terrified teenagers careened over the hillside in their parents' cars, apparently driving the area's living inhabitants batty.
Another West Side rumor might have had a tinge of truth to it. Handlebar Ranch, a mythical Colerain Township location in the 13000 block of Hughes Road on the edge of the Rumpke landfill, apparently was home to munchkins — little people who lived in little houses along a dark, winding road (a key element to any good legend). We all called it "Munchkinland."
This past weekend I spent an evening riding with a Colerain Township Police officer. After stopping a carload of teenagers that failed to yield to a fire truck responding to a reported fire at a gas station — nice job, kids — they were asked by the officer what they were doing.
"We were trying to find some place called Munchkinland," one boy piped up.
"You know that's being torn down," the officer responded.
Turns out the Rumpke finally got its hands on the roughly 30-acre piece of farmland in November. They had wanted it for years (see the CityBeat cover story "A Way of Life," issue of July 11, 2002).
When not harboring little people, Handlebar Ranch was known for the hayrides it gave, the picnics it hosted and before that the bike rides it led through the then-mostly rural Colerain landscape. I remember going on at least one hayride there with the Colerain High School German Club.
See, Anna Gay Ritter, or "Annie" to her friends, died in February at age 85, just days shy of 86. She owned Handlebar.
I'm not sure where the munchkin rumors started, but one might assume her barely 5-foot-tall frame might have had something to do with it. And for years she lived with the perpetual torment of people — like us bored teenagers — driving by her property, shining headlights, squealing tires and honking horns all through the night.
Some did even worse, vandalizing her property or hiding out in the ranch's small stone buildings and shelter houses. One friend, an Oak Hills High School graduate, said about 20 years ago during a Munchkinland exploratory mission he and his friends came face-to-face with a shotgun-wielding man who told them to get lost. He might have been Percy Ritter, or "Rit," Annie's husband who died in 1990.
"As she got older she became more skeptical of the world," said Mel Blust, president of Blust Motors and executor of Annie's will (she and Percy never had children).
Blust, 76, had known Annie since he was about 11 years old growing up on a nearby farm. He worked for the Ritters, and they remained friends the rest of Annie's life. He said her skepticism was tied directly to the Munchkinland rumors.
Despite all the perpetual annoyances, Annie never sold her land. But in November Rumpke paid $1 million to her estate for it — a price she once offered to Rumpke, thinking they'd never accept.
Now there are bulldozers tearing down Handlebar Ranch. Rumpke spokeswoman Amanda Pratt said they have no immediate plans for the property other than a landfill buffer.
The buildings are being taken down as a safety precaution. Apparently teenagers drove Rumpke to do what Ritter could never do.
Colerain Township Police Chief Dan Meloy, who grew up in that area, has heard the Munchkinland rumors for years.
"We would do what every kid would do," he says of his childhood years. "We would drive down there looking for the little people."
He said it's never been a major problem area for his department.
"We saw kids driving around looking for it," Meloy says. "Not as much as before, but I guess the rumors still continue."
For now, probably. But soon this rumor might be covered, quite literally, with our trash. And finally Annie might be able to rest in peace.
CONTACT JOE WESSELS: [email protected]