A ghostly lantern swaying in the moonlight. Wheels screeching across a rusted trestle. The otherworldly cries of dead engineers, brakemen, and passengers. These are just some of the things people expect to encounter when they make nighttime trips to old railroad bridges and crossings. Mysterious Heartland has found that railroad lore is popular across the Midwest. Though often dangerous and unadvised, curiosity seekers routinely seek out these locations to confirm the stories. Which will prove to be the most haunted of them all?
10. The Albino Tracks
St. Clair County, Illinois
Also known simply as “the Ghost Tracks,” this abandoned rail line is home to a very monochrome legend. Some locals maintain that in the 1800s, shortly after the railroad was laid, an epidemic tore through the nearby farming community, and the superstitious farmers blamed it on a pair of albino twins that had been born a few years before. They abducted the children and tied them to the railroad tracks, where the two were struck and killed by a train. As in the Crybaby Bridge legend, the ghosts of the albino children are said to push stalled vehicles over the railroad tracks to prevent a similar fate. Another version of the story has a local family being struck by a train after their wagon became stuck at the crossing. Today, the tracks have been removed, but the ghosts still roam the area.
9. Avon Bridge
This imposing railroad bridge spans South County Road 625 and White Lick Creek in Avon, Indiana, just west of Indianapolis off Highway 36. Built in 1907, the 300-foot concrete bridge can be seen from Whipple Lane in Washington Township Park. For years, local residents have told stories about the haunting of Avon Bridge. According to legend, while the bridge was still under construction a drunken worker named Henry Johnson fell face down into wet cement and died. In another version of the tale, the worker fell into the frame of a support, and the railroad company sealed his body in cement. To this day, they say, visitors can hear moaning and see tears dripping from the bridge. A little further west, residents of Danville tell a similar tale about their railroad bridge over the West Fork of White Lick Creek. It is uncertain to which bridge the legend originally belonged.
8. Old Brewery Hill
Le Seur, Minnesota
A set of railroad tracks run along the Minnesota River south of Le Seur. It is here that local residents say they have seen strange lights in an area known as Old Brewery Hill. The hill acquired its name from a man named George Kienzli, who built a brewery on the hill in 1875. For a while, the brewery was quite successful. Unfortunately, it was forced to close and eventually burnt down. The brewery left behind two cellars, dug deep into the hill. According to local legend, a transient took up residence in one of the cellars and the red light from his lantern could be seen from the town at night. After many years, the man died, but his light remained. Local residents continued to see his red light bobbing and weaving along the railroad tracks south of town. In one incident, a brakeman stopped his train because it looked like he was headed straight towards a man holding a lantern in the darkness. When he and the conductor got out to look around, nothing was there.
7. River Styx Bridge
River Styx Bridge is something of an enigma. What is generally known is that in 1899, Railroad Engineer Alexander Logan was crushed to death when the train he was steering jumped the tracks near a bridge over the River Styx. His actions during the accident were credited with saving the lives of his passengers. Months after the accident, two men witnessed a fiery, spectral reenactment of the disaster near the scene. More recently, some claim that the ghosts of people who died crossing the treacherous bridge haunt it to this day. However, there has been some confusion over which location these stories belong to. The bridge named “River Styx Bridge” is located east of Medina, Ohio over River Styx Road. It is a long, rusted iron trestle that appears frightening—the kind of structure that would give birth to these legends. A more conventional railroad bridge sits several miles to the south, spanning the River Styx. It is located just east of the town of Rittman, parallel to Ohio Avenue. According to Ken Summers and Jeri Holland, author of Haunted Akron, Ohio, this is the actual bridge on which the 1899 accident occurred, because it more accurately fits contemporary newspaper reports. Whatever the case, locals agree that these places, named after the river in Greek mythology that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld, are very strange indeed.
6. Ghost Trestle
An abandoned house and an old railroad bridge over Bailey Highway south of Adrian, Michigan, near the Ohio border, has become the setting for some macabre tales. According to legend, sometime in the late 1800s, a nearby barn and farmhouse caught fire and claimed the life of the man who tried desperately to put it out and save his family and livelihood. His efforts were in vain because when his wife, who was cradling their infant child, went to the nearby train tracks to flag down a train for help, she was either sideswiped or accidentally fell into the path of the oncoming train. Both were killed. To this day, locals claim you can hear the cries of the mother and her infant near the bridge at night. Others claim the bridge itself is a portal through which visitors can contact the afterlife. As evidenced by photographs taken by legend trippers, there was an abandoned house near that location, which helped fuel the legend. More interesting still, an article in the Adrian Daily Telegram from 1897 purportedly referenced a haunted house south-east of Palmyra. While not exactly in the same vicinity, is close enough to have possibly inspired this particular tale.
5. Munger Road Railroad Crossing
Like Barrington’s Cuba Road, Munger Road sits at the periphery of the Chicago Suburbs and has attracted a number of strange legends. The road itself penetrates deep into Pratts Wayne Woods. Motorists have reported being chased by a wolf with glowing red eyes as well as a vanishing Oldsmobile. Perhaps the most famous legend centers on the now-defunct railroad track that intersects with Munger. The legend is a familiar one: three children pushed a baby carriage across the tracks just in time to save it from a passing train. Unfortunately, the children were killed. Today, if your car happens to stall on the tracks, phantom hands will push it to safety. While that is a common rural legend, a train did derail nearby. According to a former forest preserve employee interviewed by Ursula Bielski, an old abandoned house also sat north of the railroad tracks. Its owners left after a fire, and vandals and curious teens moved in. Naturally, they claimed the house was inhabited by Satan worshippers. The house was demolished in 2000.
4. Terror (Tara) Bridge
Webster County, Iowa
This secluded rural bridge allows traffic to pass over a railroad that used to run past the town of Tara. Tara is long gone now, but strange tales remain. These stories date back to the 1800s, when a frustrated farmer cursed the winds and was struck down dead. Since that time, locals have reported being chased by a howling ghost rider. The area became known as Dead Man’s Hollow. A large, hairy creature or wildman has also been reported under the bridge and in the nearby woods. More gruesome is the story of a woman who took her children to the bridge and waited for a train. As it passed, she tossed them onto the tracks one by one to be crushed to death. This accomplished, she jumped off the bridge and met her own fate. According to local legend, if you stop your car on the bridge and leave it unlocked, the woman’s ghost will drag you out and throw you onto the tracks below.
3. Satan’s Tunnel
Hawk Point, Missouri
Ghostly figures inhabit the dark recesses of this old underpass, or so many locals believe. The railroad tracks that once ran over the tunnel are long gone, and its rail bed has been reclaimed by nature. The entrance to the tunnel is covered with moss and graffiti. According to legend, when the railroad was there, a train struck a man walking along the tracks and he fell to his death. Another legend tells of a man who was lynched in a tree near the entrance. Still another story involves a hobo who made his home in the tunnel. He was found dead, they say, with a look of fear frozen on his face. The ghosts of all three unfortunate men are believed to haunt this old underpass. All this negative energy has allegedly attracted a group of Devil worshipers, who perform rituals there. Any one of these stories is reason enough to stay away, but all four make Satan’s Tunnel one very creepy place to visit!
2. Moonville Tunnel
Zaleski State Forest, Ohio
Located along a former rail line through the Zaleski State Forest between the towns of Zaleski and Mineral in southeastern Ohio, this ominous-looking concrete tunnel has been the setting of ghost stories for over a century. Known as the “Moonville Tunnel,” three decades have passed since the last train travelled through it. Today, the old rail line is a nature trail called the Moonville Rail-Trail. The Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad first laid this rail line in 1856, and the ghost stories began shortly after the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bought the M&C in 1887. According to an article in the Chillicothe Gazette dated February 17, 1895, the ghost appeared dressed in a white robe, with a white beard, holding a bright lantern. It appeared “at the point where Engineer Lawhead lost his life,” suggesting that the ghost story originated in a real accident. In fact, several people have lost their lives on the tracks in and around the Moonville Tunnel, including a 10-year-old girl in 1986, just a few months before the tracks ceased to be active. Since the tunnel’s abandonment, it has become a favorite spot for local legend trippers. In addition to the phantom brakeman, eyewitnesses claim to have also seen the ghost of a young woman near the location of a former trestle over Raccoon Creek, just outside the tunnel.
1. Arcola High Bridge
Also known as the Soo Line High Bridge, the Arcola High Bridge is an impressive steel structure spanning the St. Croix River between Stillwater, Minnesota and Somerset, Wisconsin. Designed by structural engineer C.A.P. Turner, it was built in 1910-11 and opened on June 1, 1911. It is 2,682 feet in length and rises 184 feet above the water. Local teens and young adults often come to party in the woods at the water’s edge and stare and marvel at the structure. Perhaps, they imagine, they will see something more incredible than a train barreling across the rusting steel bridge. For years, local residents have whispered tales of a mysterious blue light that bobs and weaves along the train tracks. Some have even claimed to see the ghost of a man carrying a bright blue lantern. In one version of the story, the ghost belongs to a local farmer who murdered his family before setting fire to his own house and committing suicide. During the First World War, a night watchman on the lookout for saboteurs did fall to his death, sparking stories of a green light floating across the bridge. Most recently, in 2008, a 20-year-old woman fell to her death when she plunged through a gap in the bridge while crossing it at night with a friend. Even more so than ghost stories, the lives lost at this location serve as a sobering reminder of the danger posed by railroad bridges. The Arcola High Bridge is best enjoyed from a distance.