Ghost Story from the Sag
Date: October 14, 2010 09:55PM
Here's one I found in The Conductor and Brakeman magazine from 1896. I like these old period stories because people were less able to fake things like this in those days. I don't know if the ghostbusters out there are on to this one, but if not here it is.
THE GHOSTS OF SAG BRIDGE.
In the year of '73, during the month of June, there occurred upon the railway of the Chicago & Alton, a catastrophe, almost without parallel and attended with loss of life, among whom were two well known Illinois state penitentiary officials, several prominent people of the city of Joliet, and one unfortunate man whose body was never identified.
This accident was termed, in railway parlance, "a head end collision," between a northbound stock train and the southbound express. The time of the occurrence was about 10 o'clock at night, and the location of the accident was at a place called Sag Bridge, about twenty miles from Chicago.
Strange to relate, none of the employees on the freight train, or either of the engines was killed, although the passengers occupying the smoker and the employees of the mail and baggage cars were cut, bruised, and some mangled into unrecognizable shape, or literally cooked by the escaping steam and hot water.
The passengers occupying the coach and rear sleepers escaped with many slight bruises, and a severe shaking up. The stock on the northbound freight was cruelly crushed and tortured beyond description, and scattered in every possible direction.
The cause of the accident was attributed to negligence of the freight crew, as they were endeavoring, by rapid and reckless running, to gain Willow Springs siding for the southbound express, and also to an imperfect system of train orders used on the line at that time.
The feeling against the conductor, whose name will not be mentioned, as he is a quiet, respectable citizen, and still engaged as a railroad conductor, within the limits of the state, was so intense at the time that he was obliged to immediately "flee for life," and remain hidden in straw stacks or timber, till the indignation against him bad subsided.
The railroad company offered a reward of $1,000 for his capture, and, although he was surrendered by a relative, who divided the reward with him, no proceedings were instituted against either him or the engineer.
The locomotive of the ill-fated stock train was of the pattern which railroad men call a "gunboat.' on account of the peculiar driving wheels and being capable of pulling heavy trains.
The disaster was gossip for weeks following, and the place looked upon with horror by passengers and trainmen alike.
In due course of time, engine 122 came out of the repair shops, as good as new, but her career as a combination of machinery had just commenced; her first night's trip was marked by her cab lamps and headlights suddenly being extinguished by some supernatural agency, just as the train passed the eventful point. At first the enginemen thought but little of it, except as a singular coincidence, but as time rolled along and the circumstance continued occurring at the same point upon all night runs, it became evident that there must be some invisible agency that marked engine 122 because of her connection with the great disaster.
In a short time these unaccountable freaks of this engine caused considerable talk and excitement among the railroad employees, and in consequence of the numerous ghosts which were reported to exist in the locality of Sag Bridge, the night track watchman at the ill fated place, tendered his resignation, saying he could "stand it no more " Stand what?" interrogated his superiors "Why, the ghosts; sure, ivery Sathurday night, when I comes to me shanty, down forninst 'the bridge’, for a spell, there do be sittin' Mr. and Mrs. J ---- who were kilted in the big smashup, as natural as life, and a talkin ."
Although very few gave credence to his story in full, no amount of persuasion induced him to remain. He had seen ghosts, and his superstition compelled him to resign.
This fact, reaching the ears of the trainmen, caused them to relate their thrilling experiences at this same place, much to the astonishment of the officials, who soon were convinced that Sag Bridge was haunted.
At "the bridge" stood a water tank that supplied most of the passing trains with water, and while thus stopping, many of the train hands were confronted by spooks and other apparitions. One freight conductor was so frequently met by these strange sights, that he resigned as a consequence, and is now one of Chicago's prominent businessmen. Conductor R. had no connection with the wreck, and why he should have been selected as a victim was unexplained, but so it was, and every trip that he ventured over his train while stopping at the Sag, his nerves sustained many shocks by forms flitting to and fro ahead of and behind him, as he clambered over the freight cars comprising his train.
The engineer in charge of the 122 would often see a man and a woman climb upon the pilot of the locomotive, when nearing the Sag, and when he ventured an attempt to investigate, they would jump off, while the train was moving, and suddenly disappear.
Two brakemen, "partners" on a night run, formed an investigating society of their own to pry into the causes for the wonderful phantoms at the Sag, and it happened one night, after they ' 'had made the stop" for water, both discovered a ghostly looking object seated on the caboose steps. Arming themselves with stout clubs they gave chase The phantom fled and scaled the fence in full view of its pursuers, who followed and discovered, at the exact spot where the ghost disappeared from the fence, some cows quietly sleeping and undisturbed, showing plainly no earthly form in flesh and blood could have escaped by jumping into their midst.
One old railroad man related his experience to the reporter, as follows: "I was a brakeman those days, and as true as I talk the ghosts were plenty. Why, I've seen them time and again. Often, when walking by the train, examining the running gear, I could hear the chattering of teeth, the outcries of someone, as if in anguish, till the chills would penetrate my very bones, and I would hasten back to the caboose to get rid of the mockery and there I would see faces peering into the windows at me, and, with a moan, quickly disappear. One night I shot at a form, and, to my horror, the form looked like a boiling mass of burning sulphur, and, with a fiendish laugh it sank into the ground. That was too much for me. Half an hour afterward, when the train stopped at the next station, and the conductor returned from the engine, I was found on the floor of the caboose in a dead faint."
The curse of Sag Bridge has never been raised. Even today train crews regard it with awe, mingled with a slight degree of fear, and they have reason for it; accident upon accident has occurred at that unlucky place, generally of a trivial nature, but upon several occasions since '73, these accidents have been attended by loss of life and destruction to property.
Here's an image of the point where the I&M intersected the Drainage Canal showing the water tower and station this story is referring to in 1896. This station was called "Lambert" at one time I am pretty sure. I have included a Google map of the area as it looks now. The red X is approximatley where the B&W image was taken from. If one wants to attempt getting past Biley's guard dogs in his junkyard, and avoiding the MSD police, one could almost revisit the site of this ghost story.