Sunday, September 1, 2013

Indiana's Haunted Bridge - Such Stuff as Dreams are Made Of

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear,
and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.- -
H. P. Lovecraft

I had driven under that ancient bridge countless times, never stopping, as from the main road, there was no stopping place. The stories of it are legend among the small little burbs that jut out from Indianapolis like spokes on a wheel. It is famous enough that it's listed here, in Indianapolis Monthly’s list of “50 Things Every Hoosier Must Do.” 

It's still a functional railroad crossing, servicing the CSX Railroad, but according to local legend, it is haunted, its form poured murmurous out of chaos, its span laying across the long tragic fury of time.
 
The Big Four Railroad, lifeblood of the rail arteries in Central Indiana and beyond, required a bridge across County Road 615 and the sometimes boisterous White Lick Creek, so the bridge was built in 1906-1907 with a design using spandrel arches, by engineer W.M. Dunne. It was then double-tracked in 1908. At roughly 300 feet long and 70 feet high, it's an imposing structure from road but if you do some exploring through the park system, you can find a "dead end" road to another part of the park that will take you under the main span.  It's a desolate area but for a few of the park trails, the sky framed by ancient trees, the water, after three weeks with little rain, barely speaking.

This is not the original span, built originally across the White Lick Creek in the 1850's by immigrant Irish workers.  But according to a many of the locals, some who said they never believed the stories until they themselves heard or saw what could not be explained, the new bridge brought with it at least one old resident.
The  most often told story is, during the original contrustion, concrete was was mixed in large narrow vats and hardened into the form of a pylon. One afternoon while working on the bridge, a platform collapsed and a worker fell into the vat. As he slowly sank down into the vat, his fellow workers could not reach him in  time to save him, helplessly listening as he knocked frantically from inside the vat, until the knock was only an echo. Alledgely, the company decided to continue building rather than tear down the pylon to extract his body, his remains virtually entombed in the bridge.

Evan as the work was completed and for years afterward, many claimed to have heard knocks and screams from inside the pylon.  After the bridge was torn down and rebuilt, there continued to be sightings of a man wandering along the tracks trying to flag down trains.  Could it be a homeless person, a drifter, or someone looking for  a way station into nothingness perhaps?

His is not the only ghost said to frequent this place.  There is another story of a young woman and her infant who plunged to their deaths – versions range from accident to suicide
But it is said, if you go near the bridge on such nights where the darkness descends with a rushing sigh, you will hear a moaning, discontented ghost, there lingering in an infinite twilight minute, long after life itself has extinguished.

And so today I went, to stand at the foot of that bridge, there away from the busy roadway it spans, there in the quiet of a forest.  As I approached, some clouds rolled in, trailing last nights cold front like groupies, the sky losing its vivid blueness, taking on a grayish hue, like ancient cotton.
The air stirred little, full of invisible particles of scent, that carried with it no sound, my form underneath the span, little more than a thumbprint of white on cold stone. Trees  stand there as if painted, windless candles that have watched over the dark here for a hundred years.  As a train passes over head, the bridge shudders with sound, as if alive.

Did I hear anything on this cool Indian summer day?  No, though as I paused underneath it in my truck for one last photo, the temperature in the truck, which had been holding for an hour at 81 degrees  suddenly jumped to 100 degrees. As soon as I moved away from the bridge, it went back to 81.

A pocket of warm air, a truck at idle likely, but I smiled  in that eerie moment, even if created by focused imagination, as opposed to tragedy or death.
As I left the park, I heard the lament of the train.  As I turned my head, I caught a glimpse of it as it headed away from bridge, disappearing into the trees, full of its own driven and unsleeping memory, leaving in its wake another story to be told.

What is it about a ghost story that draws one in? Few people truly believe that headless ghosts haunt Celtic castles, that restless spirits chase the shadows in every abandoned old farmhouse. Most of us go through life, not observing what was not meant to be observed.

Yes modern man still feels that shadowed belief in spirits, haunting those places in which they were once so affected, when we ourselves scarcely separate ourselves from past lives and past longing, ever hovering over bygone times and all their emotions, in late night, darkened hours, lingering in the past places in which we were loved. Hoping in the dark misty hills of our hearts, we will remember and be remembered.

For despite our technology, we are still dreamers.

9 comments:

  1. If only there were ghosts I would have someone to talk to about the old days.

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  2. Sometimes a place carries with it, the happy or sad memories experienced there. Occasionally, this is palpable, not just to those who seem to have such sensitivities, but to us all. Once while househunting, I felt something in a house, which I later learned was true. It's no wonder we have built the last two places, in a place where we felt not only safe, but well.

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  3. Sunnybrook Farm - I just write, it's not the same, but it helps.

    Suzanne - yes it is! You have a good eye.

    Jane - indeed. I'm that way in my home, and it's over a hundred and some years old.

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  4. I'm supposed to get to sleep now? You do tell a mean ghost story.

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  5. That road is a great way to avoid the inevitable traffic snarls from the always-busy RR grade crossing on SR267.
    Had the monsters in Plainfield for soccer a few weeks back and it only took ONCE getting trapped to realize the country road was a better route between Plainfield and Avon.
    As an engineer, I had to wonder about structural integrity. Much of the rebar exposed, also.

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  6. Well said, and there are 'many' unexplained things we cross in our lives. Who knows what the real answer is?

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  7. Thanks for the info, and the story! NOW I know...

    gfa

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  8. Well I just got up and turned the lights back on, because the dogs were scared.

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