Mythical Monday: Pennsylvania’s Hoodoo Train, Engine 1313 by Mae Clair

Before launching into today’s Mythical Monday post, I invite you to visit me at the blog of Kristi Rose where I’m sharing ECLIPSE LAKE and also news of my next two releases. Do hop over if you get a chance. You can find the post here. As for Mythical Monday, today’s topic isn’t about a beastie or mystical place, but a cursed train tucked into Pennsylvania history. As a “Keystoner” I’m always intrigued by legends related to my home state. Thus, I invite you to ride on the hoodoo . . .

Most people are a little freaky about the number thirteen. Even if you’re not superstitious, most are conscious of the ill omens associated with a number tied to bad luck. Given that connection, it’s surprising the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) had no qualms about rolling out Engine 1313 in 1888.

Many muttered no good would come of it, but the railroad wasn’t interested in superstition or idle gossip tied to ancient folklore. The engine went on the line with high aspirations, all quickly squelched when the train struck and killed two children during its maiden voyage. The engine was examined, found to be in perfect working order, and placed back on the track. It failed again when the train plunged off a railroad bridge killing twelve people including the train’s fireman and engineer. A month later, it collided with another train, resulting in the derailment of several cars and injuries to numerous passengers.

steam train with smoke exiting funnel rising up hill ** Note: Slight blurriness, best at smaller sizesPuzzled, inspectors thoroughly examined the engine but could find nothing wrong. Surely, the catastrophes couldn’t be tied to the assignment of an ill-fated number.

The train was placed back on the track, only to have its boiler blow as it laboriously chugged up a mountain. The train’s fireman was blown out of the car and badly injured. Once again the train was examined and once again, the engine passed inspection. Despite growing grumblings from railroad workers who whispered of bad tidings and ill omens, the train was returned to the line. For several months all went well, and the hoodoo taint of 1313 seemed a thing of the past. Then, when arriving at Manor Station, its brakes failed, causing it to ram another train. The fireman for Engine 1313 was injured in the accident just as many of his predecessors had been.

Officials at PRR pulled the train off the tracks and had their mechanics scour it for defects. Despite all the stories about brake failure, they couldn’t find anything wrong. The train was returned to operation, but it wasn’t long before catastrophe stuck. Engine 1313 failed to stop at a station when the engineer applied the brakes, resulting in the death of three people. PRR’s mechanics took the train to task but found nothing wrong.

Placed on the tracks yet again, 1313 was rolling through Sang Hollow when its oil can suddenly exploded, burning the fireman and engineer. The last straw for most of the workers, they beseeched PRR to pull the train from commission. The company finally complied. Whether or not PRR believed the jinx associated with Engine 1313, it was abundantly clear workers wanted nothing to do with Pennsylvania’s hoodoo train.

Which brings me to my question—how do you feel about the number thirteen?

I readily admit it’s one I don’t like, and I’m highly superstitious about it. By the same token, it’s my street address/house number, which doesn’t bother me at all. What a strange parallel. Could it be because one is mystical and the other mundane and common place? I’d love to hear your thoughts on hoodoo thirteen—and Pennsylvania’s Engine 1313. Please share!

Mythical Monday: Beware the Bunny Man by Mae Clair

Although this nefarious character is usually spotted near Halloween, I couldn’t resist the bunny connection with Easter. It just seemed a good time to blog about an urban legend related to well… bunnies.

Before I go any further, let me state emphatically that I adore bunnies. And Easter is my second favorite holiday, after Christmas. I love it for its religious significance and also the sense of rebirth it brings with the newness of spring. It’s one holiday I would never want to associate with anything “soiled” for lack of a better word.  Then I stumbled over the urban legend of the Bunny Man.

According to folklore, in 1904, the residents of Clifton, Virginia petitioned to have a nearby mental asylum shut down and its patients relocated. In hindsight, that was probably a bad idea. For proof, I offer the following nugget of wisdom:  Any urban legend that includes the mention of “mental” and “asylum” usually doesn’t end well and this one is no different.

Norfolk Southern Freight Train at Colchester Overpass.

Norfolk Southern Freight Train at Colchester Overpass. Photo credit: By Kohlchester via Wikimedia Commons

The residents of Clifton got their wish, but in the process of transferring the patients to another facility, the vehicle used to move them was involved in a crash. A few of the prisoners died, many others escaped and took to the countryside.

The authorities immediately launched a search and were able to round up all of the escapees with the exception of a man named Douglas Grifon. Grifon had supposedly been institutionalized for murdering his wife and children on Easter Sunday.

In the days following his escape, the residents were horrified to find the skinned, half-eaten carcasses of rabbits dangling from the branches of surrounding trees. Their fear transitioned to terror when the body of a man named Marcus Wallster was found in a similar condition not long afterward. His mutilated corpse was discovered hanging from a tree near a railroad overpass.

Prompted by the grisly discovery, the police began another frenzied search, this time managing to catch up with Grifon near the bridge. Before they could apprehend him, he ran onto the railroad tracks and was struck by an oncoming train. The horrific scene turned spine-tingling when the train passed, rattling down the tracks. In the unnatural silence that followed, the police were spooked by the sound of sinister laughter.

Train and vehicular traffic at Colchester Overpass aka Bunnyman Bridge

Colcehster Overpass. Photo credit: By Kohlchester, via Wikimedia Commons

Thereafter, the locals referred to the site as Bunny Man Bridge, dubbing Grifon the Bunny Man. For years after his death, carcasses were found hanging from the overpass in the days preceding Halloween.

Should you like to explore this legend yourself, all you need do is visit the southern railway overpass that crosses Colchester Road near Clifton, Virginia. But beware should you go exploring— the bunny man’s laughter is still heard echoing through the trees.

 

Mythical Monday: The Mummy’s Curse by Mae Clair

I recently finished a book by Lincoln Child called The Third Gate, a fictional account about an expedition to locate the tomb of an ancient pharaoh. A bit slower moving than most of Mr. Child’s work, it nonetheless held me riveted for three days with its combination of Egyptology, examination of NDE’s (near death experiences) and archaic curses. It also made me recall an urban legend about a mummy’s curse.

In the 1890s, four young Englishmen were touring Egypt when they met an antiquities dealer in a bar one evening. He regaled them with tales of the goods he had collected during his travels, including a sarcophagus containing the intact mummy of a princess of the Thirteenth Dynasty. Offering to show it to the young men, he suggested they visit his warehouse the next day.

old egyptian parchmentEager to see such a prize, the men met him as promised, and were instantly taken with the gorgeous sarcophagus. The lid was inlaid with precious stones and had been painted with a portrait of the princess as she’d looked during life, a beautiful woman who held the men mesmerized. After examining the mummy, the four men pooled their resources and asked the antiquities dealer to sell them the sarcophaguses. After some haggling, they agreed on a price.

“Before we conclude the deal, I must warn you the mummy is said to be cursed,” the antiquities dealer told them.

Scoffing, the men dismissed the warning, saying they didn’t believe in superstition. They thanked the dealer, paid him his money, and had the sarcophaguses shipped to their hotel. Later that evening, three of the men met in the bar for dinner, but the fourth never arrived. One said he’d observed their friend walking toward the desert and assumed he had just gone for an evening stroll. But the man never returned and was never seen again, despite several searches by the local police.

From that point forward, troubles quickly followed. Another member of the party had to have his arm amputated when a servant accidentally fired a hunting rifle while packing the weapon for the trip home.  During the voyage, another received devastating news that bad investments had destroyed his family’s fortune, and the final succumbed to an illness no doctor could diagnose or cure.

Vintage photo of happy familyThough they had laughed at the curse initially, the two survivors immediately put the sarcophagus up for sale. In London they found a buyer who had a passion for Egyptian antiques. A businessman, the new owner had the sarcophagus moved to his home where he hoped to showcase it among his collection. Shortly thereafter, the man’s wife and two of his children were severely injured in a carriage accident. To compound his misery, a fire swept through his house, destroying all of his belongings and every item in his antiquity collection…with the exception of the sarcophagus.

Anxious to be rid of the thing, he donated it to the British Museum anonymously. It wasn’t long before accidents started occurring: a man slipped and broke his leg, workers reported hearing hammering and sobbing coming from within the sarcophagus, a char woman who scoffed at the curse, lost her only child to a deadly case of measles. Another worker dropped dead of no apparent cause, and a foreman who had supervised the move was found dead at his desk.

Learning of the curse, a photographer snapped images of the sarcophagus. When he developed the film, he found the beautiful face of the princess on the lid superimposed with a ghastly image of decaying flesh. That night, he locked himself in his room and shot himself in the head.

For twelve years the sarcophagus was bandied about, passing from owner to owner. Most scoffed at it’s curse initially, but like the young Englishmen who’d brought it back from Europe, quickly realized it left a trail of tragedy and violent death in its wake. Eventually, it was purchased by an American collector who transferred the sarcophagus to a passenger liner in early April 1912. Eager to be back in the States with his prize, he booked himself a luxury stateroom on the same vessel which was making its maiden voyage. Unknown to the collector, he and the princess would ensure the ship lived forever in the annals of history.

The sarcophagus had been stored in the hull of the Titanic.

~ooOOoo~

If you liked this tale, check out Alligators in the Sewer and 222 Other Urban Legends by Thomas J. Craughwell

Mythical Monday: The Strange Legend of Harmon and Jacob Dick by Mae Clair

Today, I’d like to share an unusual legend from my home state of Pennsylvania. It involves the family of a Hessian soldier, and a tale that begins during the American Revolution.

In an effort to end the uprising in America, the British government hired Hessian soldiers to aid Crown troops in fighting the Colonials. On the night of December 25th, 1776, George Washington surprised a Hessian encampment by boldly crossing the Delaware River. A feat that seemed impossible given the icy conditions and the depleted state of his troops.

lossy-page1-800px-Washington_at_the_Battle_of_Trenton._December_1776._Copy_of_engraving_by_Illman_Brothers_after_E._L._Henry,_circa_1870.,_-_NARA_-_532916.tif

George Washington at the Battle of Trenton
Edward Lamson Henry [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Caught by surprise, the Hessians were outmaneuvered and taken prisoner with minimal fighting. Washington gave the foreign soldiers a chance to swear allegiance to the American government if they chose.

One of those who took the oath was Harmon Dick. Originally from Scotland, he had lived in Germany before joining the Hessians to fight in the Colonies. Legend says he became a staunch supporter of the new American government and a good friend to Washington.

Harmon settled near Roaring Spring in Blair County, Pennsylvania where he took up homesteading and started a family. By all accounts life proceeded smoothly until 1786 when a terrible epidemic swept the area. Harmon’s oldest son Jacob was the first to succumb, perishing from the illness when he was in his early teens.

For fourteen years the fatal disease devastated the community. Eventually, not a single family remained that hadn’t suffered loss. Spurred by fear and superstition, the people began to whisper among themselves. Surely, the foul affliction couldn’t be natural. Not a year went past that it didn’t claim more lives. Even now, many among them were sick. Would it whittle away their numbers until no one was left?

In desperation they entertained any solution that hinted of hope no matter how far-fetched. Jacob Dick had been the first victim. Perhaps the answer to their plight rested in his grave.

bigstock-Wooden-Cross-28567430

Marshaling their courage, those well enough to do so, gathered shovels and digging irons and trudged to the tiny cemetery where Jacob was buried. In the hush of the graveyard, they dug his casket from the earth, and pried the lid from the old coffin.

Although Jacob’s corpse had had lain in the dark soil for fourteen years and should have decomposed, his body and face were still those of a young boy. His hair, by contrast, had grown exceedingly long, and was the same pristine white as the snow that blanketed the hillsides in winter. He’d grown a beard too, just as long and equally as white.

As the gathered group tried to make sense of the incomprehensible sight, the corpse broke apart, disintegrating into dust. Horrified, the villagers quickly reburied the coffin. I’m sure many muttered prayers, hoping to put the frightening incident behind them.

Surprisingly, the pestilence immediately ceased to plague the community. Those who had been ill quickly recovered, and the strange disease claimed no further lives. Harmon Dick and his wife gave birth to another son, the youngest in their large family. They named the baby Jacob in memory of their eldest, taken before his time. Perhaps they believed he watched over them still.

Did the settlers who dug up a young boy’s corpse unwittingly find the means of banishing a supernatural epidemic? Did Jacob, or his spirit, rid the village of the abdominal disease that had claimed his life?

bigstock-Teen-Boy-398294

The peculiar history of Jacob Dick can be found online, along with genealogy reports, land transfers, and the will of his father, Harmon. It’s fascinating to think this family can trace its roots back to a man who swore an oath to an upstart government when offered that chance by its Commander-in-Chief, General George Washington.

Perhaps Jacob Dick merely wanted to continue what his father started — protecting his family and ensuring they continued to flourish. An admirable ambition for a boy who never had the chance to become a man.

Mythical Monday: The Mistletoe Bride by Mae Clair

Hello and welcome to another Mythical Monday! Today I’d like to revisit an urban legend that seemed perfect for the month of December – – that of the Mistletoe Bride.

bigstock-Young-Tender-Bride-44377663According to legend, a young bride suggested a game of hide-and-seek during the merriment of her wedding reception. The groom would be “it” and she and the guests would hide.

Most tales place the time near Christmas, the reception held in an elaborate country home or mansion decorated for the holidays. Several famous houses in England claim origination of the tale, such as Marwell House in Hampshire. Marwell was once owned by the family of Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour (not that Jane – – although I’m a huge fan!!).

In each retelling, the bride is dressed in her wedding gown, flush with the excitement of the game and the glow of being a new wife. She scampers off to find the perfect hiding place while the other guests join in the fun. After a suitable time, her husband locates each participant but is unable to find his bride. At first he thinks she is only playing, but as the hours wear on and she fails to appear, he grows worried. The guests help him search but are unable to find the missing bride. Eventually, they leave and go home, their hearts heavy with misgiving. Days pass, then weeks, and the heartbroken groom muddles through, forced to go on with his life.

Many years later a cleaning woman stumbles upon a locked trunk in the attic while tidying up. Curious about the contents, she breaks the lock and peers inside. To her horror she discovers the skeleton of a woman clothed in a moldy wedding dress, a piece of mistletoe by her side. Apparently, when the clever bride climbed in the trunk, the lid fell and struck her unconscious, locking her inside. When she awoke, she was trapped, her screams never heard by those who searched for her.

Freed from the trunk by the cleaning lady, her ghost now roams the halls of the mansion, fumbling at locked doors.

This is an extremely old tale that has had several variations in setting and time, but in all, the unfortunate bride is trapped inside the chest. It makes you think twice about hiding in anything with a lock, doesn’t it?

Mythical Monday: I Met the Mothman by Mae Clair

msearchteamLast week for Mythical Monday, I shared a bit about my recent visit to Point Pleasant, West Virginia and my search for the legendary creature, the Mothman.

So where exactly do you find a Mothman?

I wanted to look in the area where he was originally spied by two young couples on November 15, 1966 – a secluded region about eight miles north of Point Pleasant, locally known as the TNT area. During WWII the tract of about 8000 acres was used to store ammunition in concealed underground igloos. In 1983 it was put on the government’s Superfund list because of hazardous contamination, and underwent cleanup. It is now part of a Wildlife Management Area, but is still somewhat restricted. More than one igloo has since exploded.

My husband and I spoke with the store owner of The Point, a café and Mothman Souvenir shop in Point Pleasant who told us the government had only that week started allowing people back into the area where Bunker No. 3 was situated. Apparently, there had been an explosion nearby and the region had been closed off for some time. Bunkers 1-3 are where we wanted to head. Not only had the Mothman been seen in those areas, but there were reports of other supernatural happenings. Voices were heard, questions were sometimes answered by a disembodied voice and more than one photograph had captured a ghostly orb.

The man at the store gave us a hand-drawn map showing how to reach the TNT area. We got directions that included “past the fairgrounds” and turn right “at the Christmas tree farm.” He told us the turn off looked like a driveway but was actually a road. At that point we were to set our odometer and drive back precisely 1 mile and 2 tenths.

DSCN0428

We would pass several turnoffs on the way but were looking for one with an orange and green guard rail near a pond (there are ponds scattered throughout the TNT area). He advised we lock our car when walking back to the igloos – not that anyone ever bothered his, but it was a deserted area. He shared his own stories about visiting the igloos, including showing us a photo his wife had captured of an orb in one.  Given the igloos are dark inside, I couldn’t create a logical reason for the “thing” to be there. He showed us an enlargement with features that resembled a face.  Was I creeped out? Yeah, a little, but I still wanted to see the TNT area.

The first thing we came to was the sign welcoming us to the McClinic Wildlife Management area, a 2500 acre site of dense forests and steep hills which encompasses the TNT region. Nothing like driving into a deserted region and being greeted by a graffiti scrawled sign. Given the contamination that once ran rampant in the area, it was easy for my writer’s mind to conjure up visions of a zombie apocalypse.

sign

We started back the road and began looking for the guard rail our guide had told us about. There were several turnoffs, each overgrown and barred by a dilapidated one-arm gate or guard rail. Nothing here was indicative of “welcome.” If anything, it screamed “keep out.”  It many ways it felt like entering another world, one of dense greenery and overgrown foliage. There was something almost primeval about it. Perhaps it had to do with the ominous hush of the place, as if a thousand unseen eyes were watching our progress.

By that time, I remembered John Keel describing the strange feelings he had when visiting the TNT area in his book THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. There is definitely a sense of “something” lingering there. A kind of slow creepiness that seeps under your skin.

When we hit the preset mile mark on our odometer, we pulled over at the opening, discovering a makeshift gate with orange paint, but nothing green.

Jeep

Our friend at the store told us we’d also see a sign with a word painted on it, but he couldn’t remember what it said.  We found this sign, either someone’s names or perhaps a government marker for a specific region?

word

Given there was a pond in the distance, we assumed we were at the right place and walked a short distance back the “trail” (said very loosely). The air rippled with occasional birdsong, but the overall hush was nearly tangible. And intensely creepy.

opening

I knew we were probably a good walking distance from the bunkers. Hubby was in shorts and I was wearing capris, neither of us dressed for a trek through tick and chigger-infested woods. I also started thinking about how remote and isolated the area was, and decided I didn’t want to venture any further. Call me a wuss, but it was far too quiet! It was enough for me to actually see the TNT area where the Mothman had originally been spotted and which John Keel had wrote about extensively in his book.

So we climbed back in hubby’s Grand Cherokee and continued driving, pulling off occasionally to check the various openings. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed as if the surroundings grew denser and quieter the further we progressed. Cars have been known to stall on this road without explanation, a situation Mr. Keel experienced himself.

After a while I started wondering how far we’d driven. Everything looked much the same – green, overgrown and inherently wild. We only saw one other vehicle during our exploration, a battered old pick-up truck parked at one of the “openings.” Somehow, that lone vehicle made the whole thing even spookier.

Who else was back here? What if our vehicle stalled and wouldn’t restart like so many others? Would our cell phones work if we needed help?

Did I share these thoughts with my husband?

No.

Was I creeped out?

Hell, yes!

Finally, I said I’d seen enough and we took our time heading back, stopping to snap more photos along the way. The pick-up truck remained parked where we’d passed it, blanketed in an unnatural hush. Near the entrance we stopped to grab a photo of the groundwater treatment facility, bracketed behind barbed wire. It so effortlessly reflected the underlying oppressiveness of the area.

treatment

As secluded as it was, the TNT region was the highlight of the trip for me. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like in the pitch dark of night when the Mothman was sighted in 1966.  It’s still easy to recall the feeling and hush of that place, a sense I never would have known otherwise and which I hope to translate into my novel. Did I find the Mothman there? No, but I did get to experience his lair.

As for the Mothman himself, I had to be contented with the towering metal statue in Point Pleasant’s town square created by artist and sculptor, Bob Roach. John Keel was there for the unveiling in 2003 (sadly, Mr. Keel passed away in July 2009 at the age of 79).

statue

My visit to Point Pleasant is something I’ll remember fondly. It was interesting discovering a new area, friendly people, a beautiful riverfront park and the lingering taint of a legend that is the town’s claim to fame. Overall, I would definitely take a research trip again. There’s nothing like experiencing a topic you intend to write about first hand.

Now all I have to do is start writing my novel. I haven’t stopped making notes since I came back! And I even brought home a friend for daily inspiration . . . :D

Meeting

Mythical Monday: In Search of the Mothman by Mae Clair

Recently, my husband and I took a trip to a small town in West Virginia called Point Pleasant. Our entire purpose for visiting was so that I could do research for a novel I intend to write drawing on the Mothman legend, UFOs and the Silver Bridge disaster of 1967.

It was a 6.5 hour drive, but thankfully, most of that was by scenic highway. Visiting the area, talking to some of the people who live there and experiencing the surroundings firsthand gave me a much a richer view than I would have found online or in books. I definitely owe hubby a trip of his choice for this one!

Point Pleasant is a riverfront town located on the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. Morning to night water traffic is steady with powerful riverboats pushing enormous barges of coal up and down the waterways.

barge

We found Main Street to be quaint but very old, positioned behind towering flood walls. On the opposite side of those walls lies a picturesque riverfront park with walking trails, spots for fishing, a large pavilion, open amphitheater and – most unique of all – endless hand-painted murals depicting the town’s history beginning in the early 1700s when it was a settler outpost.

muralsmurals2

The first night we were there a duo of musicians with steel stringed instruments set up in the amphitheater and we lingered to enjoy the concert.  I was shocked more people weren’t crowded about. The park was never busy, no matter when we visited. When there isn’t live entertainment, music is piped throughout by speakers mounted on the floodwalls. Talk about a place for a writer to linger!

singers

theater

But, my main purpose for being there was to learn more about the Silver Bridge disaster and the Mothman. The original Silver Bridge collapsed into the icy waters of the Ohio River on December 15, 1967 during heavy rush hour traffic, claiming forty-six lives. Later analysis showed it was carrying much heavier loads than it was designed to sustain and had been poorly maintained.

Many, however, believe the Mothman — a giant humanoid winged creature with glowing red eyes, spotted numerous times in the Point Plesant area beginning in November of 1966 — was somehow tied to the bridge collapse. Some believe him a malevolent form, others that he was attempting to warn the town of impending disaster. Whichever account you favor, it’s undeniable that after the Silver Bridge fell, sightings of the Mothman dwindled then ceased altogether. Coincidence?

According to legend, the town of Point Pleasant was originally cursed by a Shawnee Indian Chief named Cornstalk in the years preceding the American Revolution. Once at war with the white man, Cornstalk eventually made peace and became a friend of the settlers. Through trickery and deceit, he and his son were unjustly imprisoned and murdered. It’s said that with his dying breath, Cornstalk condemned the region and its people down through the ages. Some believe the Mothman is an extension of that curse.

Although there were numerous credible eyewitness reports of “the bird” (as he was originally dubbed locally), the legend of the Mothman didn’t truly take wing until 1975 when John Keel wrote a New York Times best-seller about the events. THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES  was later made into a movie in 2002, starring Richard Gere.

Having read the book, devoured the movie, and engaged in extensive online research — including much related to the Silver Bridge disaster – I was eager to discover the area myself. Did the Mothman still roam the skies of Point Pleasant?

Please join me next week as hubby and I set out in pursuit of this elusive urban legend, venturing into the remote “TNT Area,” said to be the site of an old Indian burial ground. Ghost hunters frequently visit the region, and it was featured on A&E’s Paranormal State.

Legend has it that even George Washington recorded “strange sightings” in his early surveys of the area and, if viewed by satellite, the region is “blurred out” in the same manner as Area 51.

Next week on Mythical Monday, I’ll be share my own experiences in this isolated region as my Mothman search continues! I hope you’ll join me  for the conclusion of my two-part blog.

msearchteam