Cleveland September 01, 2019
Post-Civil War-Era Ghosts Are Said To Still Haunt The Site Of Ashtabula’s Tragic Railroad Disaster
The era following the Civil War was one of dramatic change here in 1800s Cleveland. The entire nation, in fact, was changing. It was the Reconstruction Era, and civil rights were at the forefront of American politics. Northeast Ohio enjoyed a much less tumultuous decade or so than the formerly Confederate communities, but we had our share of struggle. As the nation approached the end of the Reconstruction Era, Ashtabula, Ohio was in the headlines for one very tragic event. A design flaw in a bridge caused a train to derail… and the tragedy that resulted has purportedly caused a few ghostly figures to hand around. Do you know the legend of the Ashtabula railroad disaster?
Once upon a time, a railroad accident in Northeast Ohio shocked the nation and was considered to be the worst in U.S. history.
Known colloquially as the Ashtabula River railroad disaster, this shocking tragedy took place December 29, 1876... just about a decade after the Civil War, the bloodiest battle on U.S. soil, ended.
On that dreary December day, it was about 7:30 p.m. when two locomotives carrying 159 passengers fell from a collapsing bridge into the river below.
The wooden cars of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway caught fire as they fell, taking the lives of 92 passengers with them on their final, plunging journey. Locals and the entire nation were shocked and yet captivated. How could such a tragedy occur... and so close to Christmas?
The destruction encountered would remain the most shocking tragedy in railway history until the Great Train Wreck of 1918, and an investigation revealed that the railroad company president may be at fault.
President and designer Amasa Stone modified a traditional pattern when he dreamed up the railroad bridge, and railroad engineer Charles Collins sat back, relaxed, and allowed Stone to "experiment" with the design. Following the disaster, the law frowned upon the company. Inspections would have revealed weaknesses in the design... how could a failure on one part of the bridge cause the entire structure to collapse?
The event went down in history as a tragedy, and engineer Charles Collins took his own life just days after testifying to the State Legislature Committee.
Collins, some claimed, felt responsible for the tragedy. When he was found with a gunshot wound, there was no doubt amongst coroners that his demise was a suicide. However, investigations in 2001 (as well as initial police reports of his death) indicate that his death was likely a murder...
A monument was erected in Chestnut Grove Cemetery to those that passed in the disaster, and the use of safer steam heat was incorporated into locomotives.
The monument paid particular homage to the unidentified victims of the disaster. Of the 92 people that died, 48 were unrecognizable.
The story should end there... but it didn't.
Reports surfaced stating that when the crash was heard, folks from the town had approached the wreck. It was burning furiously, and many victims were trapped inside. Despite their cries for help, the Ashtabula Fire Brigade did not throw water on the flames.
A new, improved bridge immediately replaced the old... and reports of strange activity started surfacing.
Reports started rolling in that locals were hearing
sounds above the river. It was, according to witnesses, the cries of the victims of the railway tragedy.
Additionally, some reported seeing lights hovering above the bridge.
Could the lost spirits of the tragedy's victims know that investigation into their wrongful deaths started immediately... even when the fire was still smoldering? Could they have known that their loved ones were visiting the morgue, picking through remains and partial remains, hoping to give them a proper burial? Thieves had, understandably, looted the site as soon as they were able. While a quantity of jewelry was stolen, enough remained to identify a number of the corpses.
A number of reports understandably surfaced just a short distance from the disaster site in Chestnut Grove Cemetery.
Chestnut Grove Cemetery includes a monument to the tragedy and a mass grave containing the unidentified victims. It is here that people purportedly have encounters with the unidentified victims. Some seem to be carrying luggage when they are spotted, some are just eerily out of place, and others are said to manifest as voices.
As cruel as it may seem, engineer and inspector (and murderer, depending on how you view his lack of competency in this case) Charles Collins is buried just a stone's throw from the mass grave.
Collins himself is said to be one of the many spirits to haunt the cemetery. In particular, he's said to be seen weeping beside the monument to the disaster.
Want to check out an investigation of the cemetery? Check out this video by
Akron Paranormal Investigations:
While this disaster may seem fairly forgotten, it's forever ingrained in Northeast Ohio's history.
The tragedy made its way into local legend - if you dare to believe the whispers of hauntings, that is. If there is any truth to the claim that spirits hang around after tragic events, then it's no surprise this event left its mark on the spiritual world.
While the hauntings may just be a local legend, it is no surprise that this awful event is still discussed to this day.
Something as heartbreaking as a faulty railroad bridge is wholly
preventable, and it is that fact that makes it important that this story lingers in local legend. We must learn from the mistakes of our ancestors and, while the victims may or may not hang around this material plane as ghosts, continue to carry on the memory of the unidentified dead. If you'd ever like to pay homage to their memory, their remains can be found to this day in Chestnut Grove Cemetery.
Address: 79 Grove Drive, Ashtabula, OH, 44004
Craving more information on this spooky site? Check out the story of this local reconstructing history, uploaded by
Cleveland has a rich and fantastic history, but it also has some equally dark history. Amasa Stone, the designer of the faulty bridge in this story, spent much of his life here and even died here. In fact, he’s buried in
Lake View Cemetery. What do you think — could this tragic event cause a few ghosts to be hanging around Ashtabula? We’d love to hear your thoughts, as well as your own ghost stories, in the comments.
Craving more haunted history? Embarking on a
haunted road trip through Northeast Ohio is sure to get you in a spooky spirit!