Monday, August 30, 2010

The Ghost Train of Bostian Bridge, North Carolina

East of Statesville, North Carolina, sits the Bostian Bridge. On the night of August 27, 1891, a train headed to Asheville from Salisbury derailed and plummeted to the ravine below. Thirty people are recorded as having died in the crash, and many more were injured.

Local legend holds that the wreck plays out every year on the anniversary of the wreck, at 3 AM. Stories are told of people hearing the horrific sounds of the crash, the twisting of metal, screams, and the crash as the train hits bottom. Some people report being approached by a man in a 19th century railroad uniform asking for the time so that he can set his watch. This spectre is usually thought to be the spirit of the baggage master, who was among the 30 killed in the crash.

Outside of the crash itself, the railroad crossing guard arms are said to sometimes descend without reason, a sign that the phantom train is on the tracks.

Commentary: Bridges and train tracks are both magnets for ghost stories, and so it is only fitting that we have a story that involves both. Unlike many ghost stories, this one focuses on a train crash that really did happen, which makes it even more interesting.

One of the hallmarks of this sort of story is the replaying of the wreck at a given time and place - in this case, on the wreck's anniversary at 3 AM (they're punctual buggers, these ghosts). This provides an opportunity for legend tripping, but unlike most other such opportunities, which arrive on a frequent if unpredictable schedule, this one only comes once a year, giving it a special feel. Which, really, is kinda' cool.

It's also worth noting that the annual ghostly visitation occurs at 3 AM. While my own experience is that ghost stories rarely claim that events occur according to a particular schedule, there is a popular folkloric belief that 3 AM is among the more active times for ghosts and demons.

As for the "crossing guards mysteriously closing" angle - which appears to happen from time-to-time and not on a fixed schedule - I grew up around train tracks. I can tell you from experience that the crossing guards close without a train on a regular basis. Sometimes it's intentional, testing equipment and whatnot, and sometimes it's due to equipment malfunction.

Back to the legend tripping aspect. Normally, legend tripping provides a safe way for people to experience a bit of a thrill. In this case, the legend tripping recently proved rather dangerous in and of itself. On August 27, 2010, a group of ghost hunters visited the bridge in order to witness the annual replaying of the events. The group of twelve headed out onto the bridge, and learned the hard way that the bridge is still in active use by the railroad.

When a very real train appeared on the track, ten of the ghost hunters managed to make it back to the safety, one was pushed off by one of her fellows and dropped 30 to 40 feet, sustaining injuries. And one was hit by the train and killed.

To the degree that any good comes of this, it is that it may serve as a reminder to other curiosity seekers to be mindful of where they are going, and be aware that there may be many real-world dangers that they need to protect against.

Sources: CNN, Local News Station, Haunted, N.C. Ghost Guide, Internet

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