You have all heard the story. Pat and Larry Hayes of Columbia, S.C. planned an August trip to the mountains of N.C. for a vacation. The family left home after Larry got off work around 10 pm. Larry was driving and pulling a camper while Pat and the kids slept.
Suddenly the car began to veer as one of the tires blew out. Despite the flat tire and the weight of the camper behind him Larry got the car off the road and stopped. Without a jack, Larry headed toward the town of Statesville a little past two in the morning to seek help. Sitting in the dark car Pat heard the whistle of a train in the distance. She listened as the train got closer until she could make out the light of the engine. The train grew close as she watched it start across a nearby bridge. To her shock the train began to lurch on the tracks until it slid off the bridge falling into the dark chasm below.
Pat sat stunned as she heard the sound of the train crashing. Jumping from the car she could hear people screaming and crying for help as she ran forward to look down. Below lay the train smashed into pieces of metal and wood. Staring in shock, she realized there was a man standing beside her. He was dressed in a railroad uniform and curiously asked her for the time.
Hearing a car door slam she turned and saw her husband and another man emerging from a car. Running toward them she cried that there had been a terrible train wreck. The three ran back but the man was gone and when they looked below there was no sign of a train or wreckage.
After daylight the couple came to Statesville and to their surprise they learned that not only had there not been a train wreck, but the last train wreck in Iredell County had been exactly fifty years earlier at that same bridge on Aug. 27, 1891. When they asked about the railroad man they learned that the train’s baggage master, Hugh K. Linster, was killed in the accident.
So began the legend of the Bostian Bridge ghost train.
Ghost stories are a part of our folk-telling tradition and most have a basis in an actual event. We know that passenger train No. 9 did derail and fall from the Bostain Bridge about two miles west of Statesville. It occurred around 2:30 am on August 27, 1891 killing twenty-two passengers and injuring thirty more. There is a problem with this ghost story though. The ghost train incident is supposed to have happened on August 27, 1941. I have searched the newspapers around this time and cannot find any report of a ghost train sighting. In fact I can’t find any mention of a Bostian Bridge ghost train in anything prior to 1970. The Bostian Bridge accident has been noted by the local newspapers with articles at the time of its anniversary for nearly 123 years. None of those articles mention a ghost train until after 1970. In July 1950 radio station WSIC did a series of programs recounting the accident, but there was no mention of the ghost train. I have spoken to several of the older citizens in the community and I can’t find anyone who remembers hearing about the ghost train when they were growing up in the 40’s or 50’s.
The story seems to begin in 1970 when authors Nancy and Bruce Roberts published, “This Haunted Land Where Ghosts Still Roam.” The Roberts published several collections of ghost stories and the first story in “This Haunted Land” on page nine is “Passenger Train Number 9” which recounts the ghost story pretty much as it was described above. There is no mention for a source for the story, but the Roberts usually gathered the stories they published from local sources. The University of Southern Mississippi, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection contains the “Bruce and Nancy Correll Roberts Papers” including the manuscript for “This Haunted Land” but the staff there say there is no notation on where they collected the Bostian Bridge ghost train story.
On August 27, 1991 a large crowd gathered for the 100th anniversary of the wreck hoping to see the ghost train. No ghost train appeared, but every year on August 27th, a few people go out hoping to see the train. On August 27, 2010, Christopher Kaiser, a 29-year-old Charlotte man was struck and killed by freight train while on the bridge with a group of ghost hunters. The bridge is the property of the Norfolk Southern Railway and trespassing laws prohibit anyone from going on the bridge.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Legend of the Ghost Train” on Oct. 28, 2014