Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Amazing Trestle and a Ghost Story

I have seen and photographed this trestle before. It is located between Grafton and Philippi, West Virginia, and is on a rail line that is still in use. It soars many feet above the marshy valley below, curving as it makes its way from one hill to the next. I do not know any history of this stretch of rail or why it was decided to build the long trestle instead of descending to the valley floor, unless the marsh just made that an impractical option.

The early morning fog provided ethereal light for photos of the marching, massive pylons on which the trestle depends.
Before we left, I stopped to listen and soak in the morning. Birdsong I did not recognize filled the air, perhaps from water birds hidden in the marsh. This area is the Pleasants Creek Wildlife Management Area and I wondered if birdwatchers often came here to listen and to spot the shy inhabitants.
This last photo is so ghostly that it calls out for a "haint" tale. A railroad story seems especially fitting, don't you think? This story is based on a small suggestion of a story in the Weirton, WV newspaper last week. Sometimes when the story is so sketchy, a storyteller has to imagine what might have happened, which is what I have done in the following tale.

In a small coal town in West Virginia, a young man walked along the tracks at night, on his way home from a late night of overtime at the mines. Jim could have walked by road, but the railroad tracks were a direct path to his house, which was located only a few hundred feet from the passing tracks. Often the rumble of the trains would rattle the windows of his home, and sometimes a dish would fall and shatter in the kitchen.

Jim didn't mind the noise and shaking too much, because the trains meant coal was being shipped out and that was a good thing. It meant job security and a secure home for his family. As long as he didn't get hurt, that is. He carried the danger of working in the mine in the back of his mind always and was diligent about following any safety procedures he could to help prevent any accident that might leave him injured or, worse, dead.

This night, he was bone tired. His shoulders slumped as if carrying the weight of tons of black coal on them. His clothes were black with coal dust, and so was his face and his hands. He trudged homeward, mulling over the shift he had just worked and wondering who had called off sick so he'd had to work over. Not that he minded. Overtime was good money, and Jim was always glad to get it.

He never heard the train approach. Perhaps his mind was so busy with its own thoughts, or maybe he was so tired he walked in his sleep. By the time the engineer saw the young man, it was too late. Pulling the brake with all his might, the engineer shouted, "Get off the tracks! get off the tracks!" as if the young man would hear him over the screaming of metal of metal.

There was no thud, no sound at all when the train struck Jim, flinging his body far out into the darkness beyond the tracks. The train's crew jumped off as soon as the train stopped, and soon found the young man's lifeless body. Two little children and a young mother were left alone that night.

Years later, another man walking home along the tracks saw someone moving ahead of him. The walker looked tired and his clothing was filthy with coal dust. The rumble of an approaching train warned Henry to get off the tracks, but the walker ahead of him continued to walk on, oblivious of the train. In horror, Henry saw the train strike the walker and saw the man's body fly off into the darkness. The train never slowed.

Henry ran into the station to report what he had seen, but the clerk saw his face and said, "Don't worry. he's not really there. That's just young Jim, walking home to his family again. He's been doing that every year on this day--same time when he was hit and killed by a train. You're not the first to see him and you won't be the last."

Henry thought about Jim every day after that night. He could not get the sight of the train hitting the young man out of his mind. The following year, he returned to the tracks on the anniversary of Jim's death. He waited by the tracks and watched the trains rush by. Around midnight he saw once again the tired, slumped shoulders of Jim in his coal-stained clothing walking ahead of him along the tracks.

This time Henry rushed ahead, screaming, "Get off the tracks! Get off the tracks! The train is coming!" The walker turned and the man saw a skeletal, haggard face. He fell back in fright, but continued to yell, "The train is coming! The train is coming!"

The walker seemed to shake himself, as if waking, and jumped from the tracks just as the train rushed past. As Henry watched, the walker faded from sight. Young Jim had been saved at last, and he was never seen again.

Want more?

The story of Screaming Jenny comes from the Harper's Ferry region of West Virginia, where many ghosts reportedly are still in residence.

From Marion County, WV comes the story of a young man traveled to Texas to discover a ghost train instead of the relative he expected to meet.

Probably the most widely known railroad ghost in West Virginia, The Silver Run Tunnel ghost is one that trainmen still talk about.


  1. I love a happy ending! Thanks for a great story.

  2. My husband is from Philippi and I know the exact stretch of rail you have pictured as well as the Pleasants Creek area. I can tell you that I have seen all that marsh land under the railway as well as the whole road covered in flood waters more than once before.
    Your pictures are neat looking with the sun coming up and burning through the fog.

  3. Isn't it pretty there, Jessica, in a haunting sort of way? I am drawn to those trestles every time we pass. The birds were something too, so pretty their calls. I wish I knew what they were.

    anon, happy endings? oh yeah. I like them too. Life has a few here and there.

  4. This "new" stetch of railway was finished around 1938 to replace the original line from Grafton to Philippi.The original line was covered by Tygart Lake when the Tygart Dam was built.The original line followed the Tygart River south from Grafton thru Arden to Philippi and points onward.I live very close to this area and go to this area about every other day It is beautiful all year around!!!!

  5. Thank you for that information, Tink. We wondered when it had been built. The pylons are concrete so we thought it had to be fairly modern, but 1938? That's like 75 years old. Wow. I bet it would be something to ride a train over that trestle.

  6. There's more than one railroad ghost in WV. In addition to the ones you mention, there is the headless man who walks the railroad track in Harts (Logan Co), Tunnel Green (Wheeling) is full of spooks - it was dug under a cemetery -, the ghost train that runs intermittently through Kingwood, and the most famous railroad ghost of all is John Henry - who died digging a railroad tunnel that he still haunts.

  7. Thanks, Jason. Some of those I knew, others I have not heard about. And I should have mentioned your website, www.wvspectralheritage.com
    which is a great source for ghost stories.

  8. I love that trestle and the ghost story was good, too. You should have Tipper link to it.

  9. The trestle's beautiful in the fog -- I'm glad you caught it then!

    I have a book full Harpers Ferry ghost stories, and spent a few hours in the libraries this summer catching up on more. Amazing.

  10. I loved this story, and cant wait to read more!


Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Comments are moderated so may not appear immediately, but be assured that I read and enjoy each and every word you write, and will post them as quickly as possible.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...