Folklore Friday: The Wreck of the Old 97

I normally blog about myths or writing, but I have a passion for history and folklore too. Today, I couldn’t resist sharing an old tale that recently caught my attention.

I love trains, especially old steam locomotives. I don’t know much about them, but I’m always eager to learn more. Like old clipper ships, they are symbol of a bygone era, often viewed in a romantic light. In truth, working for a railroad was gritty, dangerous business.

folk n skiffleNot long ago while scouring digital music on Amazon, I happened upon a folk ballad, The Wreck of the Old 97 performed by Skiffledog. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it’s been recorded, re-recorded, and recorded some more by all manner of artists.

The ballad tells the tale of “Old 97” a train that will forever live in the annals of American folklore due to its spectacular derailment in the fall of 1903. In those days, the post office had a standing contract with the railroad for the delivery of mail. Unlike passenger and freight trains, Old 97 routinely ran at a high rate of speed in order to ensure timely delivery. Dubbed the “Fast Mail,” she had precedence over all other trains. Passenger trains and freight trains alike were required to clear the track ahead of her; passenger trains by ten minutes, freight trains by a full thirty minutes.

Southern Railway—the company that owned her—was penalized for every minute she ran behind, but received a hefty chunk of change from Congress when she arrived on time. She was highly lucrative for Southern, thus the “old” in her name didn’t relate to age, but rather Southern’s glowing pride in their beloved Fast Mail. Perhaps that is why her destruction has resonated so strongly down through the decades.

On September 27, 1903, Engineer Joseph A. Broady (known as “Steve” to his friends) took charge of the train in Monroe, Virginia. According to the ballad, he was given the following instructions (note “38” relates to an elite passenger train Southern also ran):

Well, they gave him orders in Monroe, Virginia,
saying “Steve, you’re way behind time.”
This is not 38, it’s Old 97,
you must put her into Spencer on time.

In reality, Southern Railway gave Broady “run late” orders, dictating he had to arrive in Spencer forty-five minutes late, allowing him to make up only twenty minutes during his run from Monroe (the train was already an hour late when it arrived from Washington D.C., and lost another five minutes of time as Broady and his crew took over).

Steve had never run Old 97 before, but he was an experienced engineer.  According to legend he vowed to put the train into Spencer on time, or “put her into hell.” The route was a track that included elevation changes, sharp turns, and steep grades. Because of the high rate of speed he maintained, it’s believed Broady did something called ”whittling”—applying his airbrakes too frequently without giving them ample time to recharge. When he needed to slow down dramatically on an approach to Stillhouse Trestle, they failed him.  From the song:

It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville,
And Lima’s on a three-mile grade;
It was on that grade that he lost his air brakes,
You can see what a jump he made.

Photo of the Wreck of the Old 97 , courtesy WikiMedia Commons, public domain

Photo of the Wreck of the Old 97 , courtesy WikiMedia Commons, public domain

Interestingly, Broady had run the track countless times prior to that fateful September day, but never with Old 97. Intimately familiar with the terrain, including its danger points, the route should have been without issue for him. Many believe his error in judgment was a result of his unfamiliarity with a light four-car train like Old 97. Broady was accustomed to running larger, heavier freight trains, which responded differently when the engineer applied the brakes.

Old 97 derailed when Steve Broady approached a ravine spanned by Stillhouse Trestle. That framework rose forty-five feet in the air from the ground below. According to the song :

He was going down grade, doing ninety miles an hour,
When his whistle broke into scream,
they found him in the wreck, his hand upon the throttle,
he’d been scalded to death by steam.

Many people who heard the train and/or saw it approaching, recall the horrible shrieking sound of the whistle. Broady obviously knew the train was in trouble as he never let up on the whistle. Because Old 97 was classified as a passenger train, he was required to slow to fifteen miles per hour on the trestle. Even at twenty-five he should have been able to make it across, but survivors, and those who witnessed the wreck, estimate he was doing sixty to seventy-five when he hit that point.

The train jumped the track and plummeted into the ravine. killing eleven of the eighteen men on board, all others suffering serious injuries. Among the fatalities were Joseph “Steve” Broady and his fireman.

“The Wreck of the Old 97” is a new book by historian Larry G. Aaron.Such a tragic tale, especially when you realize Broady had made up only two minutes of the twenty he was allowed by the time he reached the trestle. At first glance, I’m sure many would view Broady as the “villain” in this tale, but there is so much more involved. I highly recommend historian Larry G. Aaron’s book, THE WRECK OF THE OLD 97 for anyone who might like greater insight to the tragedy that occurred on September 27, 1903. Written in an easy to follow style, it brings the event and the people affected by it vividly alive. I couldn’t put it down.

As Mr. Aaron said in his book…Joseph “Steve” Broady was barely in his thirties when he died in the wreck of Old 97. Had he not run the train that day, he probably would have lived out his life, and no one would have ever heard his name. As it turned out, Steve Broady the engineer has become a folk legend, and one must always wonder which fate he would have preferred.

Source:  THE WRECK OF THE OLD 97 by Larry G. Aaron
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Mythical Monday: The Owlman of Mawnan by Mae Clair

It’s interesting to note that many of the creatures and legends that make it into my Mythical Monday posts are decades, often centuries old. That’s why I found the story of the Cornish Owlman so interesting. Sighted near the village of Mawnan, Cornwall in England, the Owlman is often compared to my favorite “cryptid,” West Virginia’s Mothman.

The first sighting of the Owlman took place on April 17, 1976. At that time two young sisters were walking through the woods near Mawnan church when they saw a large winged creature hovering over the church tower.  The girls were so disturbed by the encounter that the family, there on holiday, cut their stay short.

Mawnan Church, Kerrier district, Cornwall

Photo courtesy of Philip White [CC-BY-SA-2.0 Creative Commons License) via Wikimedia Commons

A few months later, two other girls were camping in the woods near the church. Fourteen-year-old Sally Chapman was outside her tent when she was startled by a hissing sound. Turning, she saw a man-sized, owl-shaped creature with pointed ears and red eyes. Sally, along with her friend, Barbara Perry, originally thought someone was playing a joke on them until the creature took flight, rising straight up in the air. They reported its feet were like black pincers.

More sightings were reported the next day, and on later occasions, in June and August of 1978. All sightings took place within vicinity of the church.

In 1989, a couple reported seeing a creature “about five feet tall. The legs had high ankles and the feet were large and black with two huge toes on the visible side. The creature was gray with brown, and the eyes definitely glowed.”

Another account, given in 1995 was supplied by a woman who was visiting the area from Chicago. She claimed to have seen a “man-bird…with a ghastly face, a wide mouth, glowing eyes and pointed ears.” She also said the being had “clawed wings.”

Some speculate the creature might have been an escaped eagle owl, a species that can grow to two feet with a wingspan of nearly six feet. Others favoring a supernatural angle, think the Owlman may be a phenomena conjured by Mawnan’s church unique location on a potential ley line; still others that the being could be connected to UFOs.

Whatever its origin, like most cryptids the Owlman remains an enigma, a mysterious being who occasionally—when mood strikes—shares our world. Don’t you find it interesting how many beings coexist with us, if reported sightings are to be believed?

Mythical Monday: The Cold Ghost of Gilsland Castle by Mae Clair

I’m closing out my ghostly Mythical Monday posts for the month of October with the tale of an unfortunate boy who met his demise in Gilsland Castle, a forbidding stronghold located in northern England. What the poor lad did to deserve punishment has long been forgotten, but as a lesson for some misdeed, he was locked away in an empty upstairs room. Perhaps the austere atmosphere of the fortress itself was to blame, as you have to wonder about the type of parent or disciplinarian who would forget a child.

Sadly, the boy was kept in that frigid place too long, and froze to death.Castle Steps

For centuries afterward people have told of seeing a small nightgowned figure who roams the hallways, stopping at each chamber and seeking entrance. Still freezing, his teeth chattering and body trembling, the boy endlessly searches for an open door. When he finds one, he has been known to hover at the bedside of the occupant, whimpering softly as they sleep.

Should the person be ill, he is quick to end their suffering. Placing a small cold hand upon their flesh, he whispers “Cold, cold, forever cold. You shall be cold forever more.”  With these words, and the ghostly touch of the child, the sufferer peacefully surrenders, eased from pain by the Ghost of Gilsland Castle.

Perhaps he worries they have been forgotten and neglected too…

Werewolf Folklore by Mae Clair

Wolf in silhouette howling at full moonI am in a werewolfy frame of mind today. My friend, Carmen Stefanescu, invited me to her blog, Shadows of the Past.

A native of Romania (yeah, Dracula territory), Carmen has a very cool hangout, rich in folklore and all things catering to writers.  In the spirit of Halloween, I am sharing a post with her about werewolf folklore. Drop by and say “howl-lo” while you’re roaming the blogosphere. :)

Mythical Monday: Sendings, Ghostly Assassins by Mae Clair

In keeping with the approach of Halloween, I’m staying focused on ghostly apparitions for the remainder of this month’s Mythical Monday posts. October and spooky just effortlessly go hand-in-glove. When it comes to ghosts, we tend to think of them as spirits who are reluctant to move on, or who have left something unfinished when torn from the earthly realm. But there is an additional type of specter, or at least one that makes an appearance in Icelandic folklore.

If legend is to be believed, a ghost can be magically conjured from a human bone. I find the idea pretty ghoulish—imagining some wrinkled  sorcerer or necromancer crouched and chanting over crypt bones—but apparently ghosts can be useful If you’re an unethical practitioner of magic.  In this case, the wraiths are known as “sendings” and were often employed as murderers or dispatched to perform grisly deeds. It makes you feel sorry for the poor soul whose bones were unearthed by an unscrupulous wizard!

The good news (if you were the mortal target of said unscrupulous mage) is that sendings were not without weakness. As a case in point there was once a comely widow who many men sought to marry. She refused all offers—I can’t help thinking the husband she lost was her only true love—but that didn’t stop the men who coveted her, and her land holdings, from pursuing her.Comely young woman, grieving over grave

One day as she was preparing supper a strange sixth sense came over her, warning of danger. Turning toward the doorway she spied a shadow on the threshold, velvet black but for an odd white spot at its center. As the terrified woman watched, the shadow crept toward her, inching nearer across the floor. Snatching up a knife, she struck the apparition where she sensed it was most vulnerable—the odd white blossom at its center.  Instantly, the shadow vanished, her knife claimed along with it.

The next morning she found the knife in the yard, pinioned through a human bone. Her quick thinking and her bravery had saved her life, and from that point forward she was bothered no more.

A strange HEA, but kind of cool nonetheless, and it speaks to my personal belief that some people have only one soulmate. What do you think of this tale?

 

An Interview with Caleb DeCardian of WEATHERING ROCK by Mae Clair #MFRW AUTHOR

Sometime over the summer I had intended to visit the blog of a sister author and had prepared an interview with Colonel Caleb DeCardian, the hero of my novel WEATHERING ROCK.  Due to complications that interview never ran, so I thought why not trot it out now? Among other things, Caleb always pops into my mind during the month of October when things paranormal and spooky are at their height.

Before indulging in an interview with my favorite colonel, perhaps I should share a glimmer of his tale with the blurb from WEATHERING ROCK:

WR Kensington Cover

Drawn together across centuries, will their love be strong enough to defeat an ancient curse? 

Colonel Caleb DeCardian was fighting America’s Civil War on the side of the Union when a freak shower of ball lightning transported him to the present, along with rival and former friend, Seth Reilly. Adapting to the 21st century is hard enough for the colonel, but he also has to find Seth, who cursed him to life as a werewolf. The last thing on Caleb’s mind is romance. Then fetching Arianna Hart nearly runs him down with her car. He can’t deny his attraction to the outspoken schoolteacher, but knows he should forget her. 

Arianna finds Caleb bewildering, yet intriguing: courtly manners, smoldering sensuality and eyes that glow silver at night? When she sees Civil War photographs featuring a Union officer who looks exactly like Caleb, she begins to understand the man she is falling in love with harbors multiple secrets–some of which threaten the possibility of their happiness. 

Finding a decent guy who’ll commit is hard enough. How can she expect Caleb to forsake his own century to be with her?

Caleb, it’s great to have you here today. I know you don’t like talking about yourself, but I have a number of curious readers. It’s not every day we have a Civil War colonel drop by to say hello, so let’s start with something simple. What is your favorite drink?
An acceptable question, I suppose. I used to favor coffee, but the stuff that passes for it in this century is like drinking brown water. No bite. Then there are those fancy flavored things Arianna drinks. *Shakes his head* I haven’t had a good cup of coffee since 1863.

And your favorite food?
I’m not fussy. There were plenty of times during the war when we made do with what we had, or did without. I do prefer my food full-flavored, however, and fail to see the attraction of all the “reduced calorie,” and “fat free” swill that passes for sustenance these days. Dreadful!

Considering how fit you are, I don’t think you could relate. Let’s switch topics. What do you consider your best date, um…courtship moment.
The first time Arianna agreed to have dinner with me. I admit to coercing her into it, then not being at my best. There was a full moon the night before, and it takes me a while to recover from those. I have my ex-friend, Seth Reilly, to thank for that curse. Fortunately, it wasn’t the last time I saw Arianna.

And your worst date?
The costume party Arianna’s friend, Lauren held. After getting over the shock of seeing Arianna dressed as…*shakes his head and holds up a hand* I’m sorry. As a gentleman, I simply can’t say. I just recall the party was a disaster. There was that infernal shower of ball lightning then Reilly showed up on the arm of Arianna’s sister. I’d been chasing that traitor for three years and didn’t react well. I only wish the turncoat hadn’t gotten away. It would have saved a lot of aggravation that came later.

Yes, it did get rather ugly. What do you notice first in a woman?
I have you to thank for that mess. And as to what do I notice first—with Arianna it was her car. She nearly ran me down on the road.

That was somewhat problematic, wasn’t it? Let’s switch topics again. What is your biggest pet peeve with women?
Well… *shifts uncomfortably*… sometimes I have to remember I’m living in a different century. Arianna and I have had a few … discussions … about her unwillingness to listen to reason. *pauses and shifts again*

When she calls me “Colonel” it usually means she has no intention of conceding her viewpoint. After commanding a full regiment of soldiers during the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, it’s a difficult matter to concede to a single woman.

Use three words to describe yourself.
Courtly—so Arianna says. Demanding—per my descendent Wyn. Complicated—my choice.

If you could meet anyone who would it be?
I left a lot of family behind when I ended up in this century. I would like to see my mother and father again. My father…well, perhaps that’s where the “complicated” reference in my previous answer comes into play. I’ll leave that relationship for anyone who cares to read my story in the novel WEATHERING ROCK.

What is one secret that you don’t want people to know about you?
I’m afraid it’s no longer a secret to your readers that my former friend cursed me to life as a werewolf. During my story, however, Wyn and I went to great lengths to keep that particular detail under wraps.

It’s also no great secret that I find moments like this unnecessary and somewhat embarrassing. You’ll forgive me if I put an end to this silliness, er…fluff…or whatever you prefer to call it. *Stands and prepares to withdraw* As a gentleman, I am required to say it has been a pleasure. I would, however, much prefer your readers become acquainted with me through the novel, WEATHERING ROCK. With that, I will wish you a good day.

Thank you, Colonel. It’s been interesting to say the least, and I will certainly pass on the means through which readers can connect with you first hand. 

To learn more about Caleb, purchase WEATHERING ROCK from:
Amazon 

Barnes and Noble 
Kobo 
iBooks  

View Book Trailer for WEATHERING ROCK 

Mythical Monday: The Ghosts of Gettysburg by Mae Clair

As Halloween draws nearer and thoughts turn to all things spooky, it seemed a good time to shine my Mythical Monday spotlight on rumored hauntings. Most of you know I live in Central Pennsylvania, which places the battlefield of Gettysburg not far from my doorstep. My husband and I have visited often, soaking up the history of this landmark site that was the turning point of America’s Civil War.

Confederate soldiers advance Civil War battle reenactment

I never really stop to think about it being haunted when I visit, but as a place where an estimated 50,000 Union and Confederate Soldiers met their end in a three-day battle, it stands as one of the most haunted locations in America. I’ve never encountered a ghost there (I don’t think I’d want to) but I do recall feeling significantly “creeped out” during one venture onto Little Round Top.

If you’re unfamiliar with Civil War history, Little Round Top (a large rocky wooded hill on the battlefield) was held by Union forces when the confederates launched repetitive assaults. The day culminated with a grisly downhill bayonet charge by the 20th Maine under Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. Union forces—who were out of ammo by that point—took the victory but it was costly to both sides.

The_New_York_Monument_on_Little_Round_Top By DeeFabian (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The_New_York_Monument_on_Little_Round_Top By DeeFabian (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve hiked Little Round Top numerous times but on the last occasion, I distinctly recall being uneasy as I walked downhill. Usually there are other people around, park visitors taking the trail up and down from the summit. On that day it was just me and my husband, and the surrounding woods felt entirely too still, much too solemn. Even today, I have a vivid memory of anxiously wanting to reach the bottom, imagining some unseen danger lurking in the trees. A presence I couldn’t name. It’s interesting to note I didn’t realize the site was haunted at the time. I’ve since heard there are numerous apparitions that have been spotted at Little Round Top—soldiers moving in formation through the trees, a headless horseman, and even an old private.

According to legend, when the movie Gettysburg was being filmed, many actors, hired as extras, would wander the battlefield in costume between takes. On one such occasion, a small group hiked up Little Round Top to enjoy the sunset. Near the top, they heard a rustling of leaves and turned to spy a haggard-looking old man approaching. Dressed in the uniform of Union private, he was filthy, his clothing reeking of sulfur (sulfur was a key ingredient of the black powder used in 1863). Approaching the group, he extended his hand and passed over a few musket rounds. “Rough one today, eh, boys?” he asked, then vanished while the men were focused on the ammo. No one had ever seen the old private before. When the men took the musket rounds into town they were authenticated as original rounds, 130 years old.

Photo of Devil's Den on Gettysburg Battlefield By Hal Jespersen at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Devil’s Den on Gettysburg Battlefield By Hal Jespersen at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Devil’s Den, a ridge strewn with large boulders, known as the “slaughter pen” for the inordinate amount of lives lost there, is another hotspot for paranormal activity. It is considered by many to be the most haunted spot on the battlefield. Visitors routinely have issues when trying to use cameras at Devil’s Den. Perhaps the reason can be traced back to Civil War photographer, Alexander Gardner. Controversy has swirled over whether or not Mr. Gardner moved a confederate sniper’s corpse, dragging the body into the Devil’s Den area to create a better shot with more photogenic surroundings.  Such callousness didn’t go over well with the men who fought and died there, and as a result visitors frequently complain of their cameras jamming and, on some occasions, even being thrown to the ground by an unseen force.

There is an interesting tale of a woman who was attempting to take a picture one morning when an apparition appeared. The phantom, described as a “scruffy-looking hippie type with ragged clothing, a shirt without buttons, a big hat and no shoes, directed the woman to take a picture of Plum Run instead, saying “What you are looking for is over there.”

Apparently this same phantom, identified as a Texan soldier, has taken a liking to the living and is often mistaken for a Civil War re-enactor. He has posed for photos with visitors, but the space where he was standing is always mysteriously blank when the film is developed. I have to say, I have never taken photos at Devil’s Den, but this has me curious to attempt it. I’ll definitely try it on my next visit.

There are numerous other reportedly haunted sites on the battlefield and in the town proper of Gettysburg. Several locations have been featured on “Ghost Adventures,” and there are numerous ghost tours available for anyone to eager to seek out phantoms. You Tube is loaded with videos of apparitions caught on tape.

An integral part of American history, Gettysburg entertains its share of ghost hunters all year, but probably more so near Halloween.

If you had the chance, would you go ghost hunting?

 

Sources:
http://hauntedhouses.com/

http://www.pennlive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2013/06/gettysburg_150_12.html