There is a legend, whispered about in the mountains of South Carolina. A story of a Ghost Train. It goes that in the late eighteen hundreds a steam locomotive derailed while crossing a trussel. The wreckage was spread across the river gorge that the bridge spanned. Some of the victims were swept away by the raging mountain stream below. Many were never found.
The story goes that one passenger was pulled from the water, where she had been clinging to a twisted limb along the bank of the river. In her left hand was a ragged piece of cotton, brightly colored and soft. She refused to release the cloth as if it were the most important thing in the world to her, this piece of cloth.
The next few days saw the wreckage explored as bodies and a few survivors were pulled from the bent and broken pieces of steel. The dead were taken to the local mortuary where friends or loved ones came to claim them. The others were bandaged and treated as well as possible on site and then transported the forty miles to the nearest hospital. Even then, some eventually died.
The woman with the cotton cloth languished, silent and alone, in this hospital for weeks. The doctors treated her wounds and set her broken leg, but were unsuccessful in reaching her mind. She was listed as Jane Doe, since she could not, or would not respond to any conversation they tried to engage her in. After the staff had done all they could for her physically, she was released to the nearest mental facility where she spent the rest of her days.
Jane Doe never spoke to anyone, but you could hear her make strange cooing sounds directed at the piece of cloth that slowly disintegrated through her constant handling over the years. Now and then, the nurses would report sobbing coming from her room in the middle of the night and once in a while a scream would resound and echo down the hallways as if she were caught in the throes of a nightmare.
Jane died at the age of about seventy years. She was buried in a local cemetery where they placed a small stone on her grave. It can still be seen there, and though the lettering is worn and faded now, you can still make out "Jane Doe, Unknown, Rest In Peace".
This story in itself would be quite a legend, however it does not end there. You see, the strip of cotton cloth that Jane held onto for all those years once belonged to a baby boy. Jane's baby boy.
Jane, whose real name was Margaret Mason was traveling to meet her husband in North Carolina, where he had recently gotten a new job and found them a house to rent. He had sent for Margie (as he called her) and their new baby boy, Benjamin as soon as the papers were signed and he had enough money for the train ticket.
Margie had no relatives in the little community of Salem, South Carolina and was overjoyed at the prospect of joining her husband and reuniting their little family. Her dreams of the future were all joy and light.
She and her son boarded the train and made their way to the passenger car she had been assigned to. The train pulled out of the station and expected to arrive at their destination on time. The day was clear, the air fresh with springtime and the flower she had picked along the edge of the sidewalk was perfect like the baby she held, swaddled in his new, brightly colored, cotton blanket.
The trip was exciting, this being her first time on a train. She sat with her nose almost glued to the glass as she watched the landscape whipping by while they make their way through the hills and valleys. At times it seemed she could see forever when they topped a ridge and then, at other moments, she could almost imagine they were in some strange and distant land as they traversed tunnels cut straight through the mountains!
The excitement gave way to drowsiness, however with the monotonous clacking of the steel wheels on the track. Even the rare whistle as the train passed through an even more rare settlement or community could not keep Margie from dozing off with little Ben tucked up happily against her breast.
The crash of thunder was her first warning. She blinked the sleep from her eyes to find a much changed scene. The sky had grown dark and menacing with storm clouds engulfing the train. She had never imagined herself travelling into a cloud. The lightning flashed so brightly and so close that it almost seared her eyes, and the clap of thunder followed on the heels of the lightning so quickly there was no time to cover little Ben's ears. He was justly terrified, which did nothing for Margie.
She attempted to comfort him and sooth his terror, all the while the fear was building in her own heart.
As the passenger train rounded a curve in the tracks where it hugged the side of this rugged mountain, and began traversing the trussel that spanned the river gorge, a bolt of lightning blasted into one of the main supporting beams underneath, about midway of the bridge. There was no time to stop, though the engineer did his best. He was pulled from the wreckage with his hand still on the brake lever.
The scream that escaped Margie's lips, accompanied by the wail of little Ben, were lost in time along with all the rest from the other passengers as the train seemed to leap from the rails and begin its disintegration in its plunge of two hundred feet to the river below.
The trussel is gone now, the wreckage long since carried away. The train no longer rolls through this mountain terrain. The rails are still there, though they are rusted and hidden by the encroachment of nature after so many years. Hunters and fishermen still walk along them at times, the level bed of the forgotten tracks makes their adventures a little less exhausting.
They tell of camping next to the old bridge on a springtime night, when a seasonal thunderstorm comes rolling in across the peaks and valleys. They say that now and then you can hear the sound of a steam locomotive traversing the mountains and the screech of the wheels as the brakes lock down on the steel rails. Then the mournful sound of a baby crying, off in the brush near the stream below.
If you are lucky, they say, you might catch a glimpse of the child's mother searching for her little one. And, don't worry if you catch a glimpse of color in one of the trees, it is just a piece of soft, brightly colored cotton cloth that was once part of a baby's blanket, wrapped around a child named Ben.