For nearly a century, ghost hunters, paranormal investigators and, of course, vampire enthusiasts have sought a legendary vampire believed to haunt Richmond’s historic Hollywood Cemetery.

The legend began when a ghastly figure, reported to have sharp, pointed teeth, emerged from the ruins of the Church Hill Train Tunnel after it collapsed in 1925, only to disappear into a sealed mausoleum in the famous cemetery, never to be seen or heard from again. The legend carries with it such weight that Satanists and occult groups have been reported gathering at the site.

Of course, if this legend is to be believed, one can only assume that this vampire is not a particularly hungry one, as no evidence of a bloodsucking fiend has been seen in the 90 years since he was first sighted. However, the story of the tunnel’s collapse does not start, nor end, with the vampire, alone. In fact, investigation into the tragic event raises more questions than it does answers.

On October 2, 1925, a group of men left for work just as they did on any other day. Their jobs, although for varied organizations, landed them in the same space – namely, the Church Hill train tunnel. The tunnel had been built for the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Railroad in 1875, but had long been plagued with problems due to water seepage and other safety concerns.

After being abandoned in the early 1900s, the tunnel sat vacant until 1925 when the railroad began work to restore it to usable condition, hoping to expand their rail lines.

On the afternoon of October 2, C&O engineer, Thomas J. Mason, pulled 10 flatcars behind Locomotive No. 231 into the western entrance of the tunnel, just below Jefferson Park. Construction workers were to load the flatcars with dirt, which Mason would then haul away. C&O fireman, Benjamin F. Mosby, was aboard the train with Mason when bricks began to fall from the tunnel roof, severing the electrical connections and plunging the tunnel into darkness. Sensing the imminent danger, workers began to race for the exits as nearly 200-feet of the tunnel’s western entrance collapsed directly onto the train.

It was here that an urban legend was born, one that continues to circulate through local lore even today. As the story goes, a bloody figure with pointed teeth and skin hanging from its bones emerged from the cave-in and began running towards the James River. Several men pursued the spectral figure, until, as they claimed, it mysteriously disappeared into the mausoleum of W.W. Pool, located some distance away in the Hollywood Cemetery.

Research into the Richmond vampire legend reveals that a few men did, in fact, survive the collapse by climbing under the flatcars and escaping through the eastern entrance of the tunnel. One such survivor was Benjamin Mosby, the 28-year old fireman who had been shoveling coal aboard the train with Mason. Far from being a vampire, Mosby was a strong, muscular man, but had been badly burned, with severe lacerations and more than a few broken teeth, when he escaped the ruins. Mosby later died from his injuries in a local hospital.

After the accident, the tunnel remained a rescue scene for several weeks, yet, only Mason’s body was ever recovered as every effort to dig through the rubble resulted in further cave-ins. Finally, the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) ordered the entrance sealed, claiming that the tunnel’s condition presented too many safety concerns.

It is believed that, to this day, at least two workmen lay sealed behind the wooden door that now marks the western entrance of the tunnel. The identity of these men remains unknown as employment records were not well kept at the time and, most likely, the men were itinerant workers who came and went as work was available.

In 2006, the Virginia Historical Society and the History Channel sought to uncover the buried train and end the mystery of those workers left entombed in the wreckage. However, soon after drilling into the tunnel, a camera revealed water and silt filling the cavernous space, making any further exploration too dangerous for surrounding homes and land.

While the legend of the Richmond Vampire may be founded on little more than sensational storytelling and urban legend, the tragedy of the Church Hill Tunnel remains very real.

Today, only the eastern end of the tunnel is accessible, although it has fallen into great disrepair. The tunnel now contains high water levels and a gritty, quicksand-like silt, making it dangerous for exploration. In 2014, a petition began to clean up the area and create a memorial for those who died in the tragedy.

But, for now, the collapse of the Church Hill Tunnel remains the stuff that urban legends are made of.

Let us know what you think about the tunnel. Have you seen the site? Better yet, let us hear about any trips you’ve made to the W.W. Pool mausoleum at Hollywood Cemetery! We would love to hear of any ghostly sights or sounds you’ve experienced at this famously haunted site.

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