Ghost Stories

Depression Era Railroad Ghosts

Hi everyone,

As promised, the following is a story passed down by my grandfather. My grandfather started out as a railroad detective, also known as a "Railroad Bull". Basically he patrolled the yards and trains, protecting railroad property, and looking out for people trying to 'hop' trains. This story was told to him by an engineer, who worked for CGW (Chicago Great Western), during the depression. I have no idea if the story is true, but it was one of my favorites.

During the Great Depression, most American families were struggling just to survive. Unfortunately many were forced to steal coal from railroad yards just to keep warm during the cold winter months. During his tenure, my grandfather reported he would see entire gangs of kids making early morning raids to steal coal from coal cars. Sometimes they worked in teams, with one or two of the younger kids, standing watch for the local Bull.

Anyway, a brother and sister, by the name of Marjorie (6) and Tony (10) had been caught repeatedly stealing coal from a CGW yard. Often little Marjorie would climb under the cars to scrounge for lumps of coal that had fallen to the ground, not being tall enough to climb up into the coal car like her older brother. Tony always went for the big haul up on top of the coal heap and worked very fast, filling an entire gunnysack in less than 2 minutes.

If caught, most of the time the railroad detective would give them a lecture about the dangers of getting to close to the trains, and send them on their way. However, they visited the yard so often, that most of the train crews knew them by name. Sometimes the crew would all kick in and take up a collection for the little soot-covered waifs. Other times they would leave a pile of coal in a convenient location away from the trains, such as in back of the shanty.

One winter morning, the yard was covered in a blanket of fog. It was so foggy, the engineer couldn't see past the end of the first boxcar behind him. When the engineer pulled forward, after cutting loose a couple of cars on a sidetrack, Tony ran up alongside the engine, frantically waving his arms, pointing to the back of the train. He could see Tony was yelling about something, but the sound of the big steam engine, drowned out Tony's pleas for help. The 2 boxcars that the engineer had cut loose, had rolled into a lone coal car (hopper) that was sitting at the very end of the sidetrack.

Apparently, little Marjorie's dress had got caught on a railroad spike, and she had been caught underneath the wheels while picking up coal. Because of the fog, the train crew were not aware of the youngster's presence in the yard. When they reached her, she was still alive, but barely breathing. They put her limp little body on a blanket, and carried her to a mechanic's truck. Tony climbed in the back of the truck to be near his sister, but she died in route to the local hospital some 15 miles away.

Some months later, on foggy mornings, brakeman reported seeing the faint outline of what looked to be a small child standing alongside the track. Sometimes, it was so faint and transparent, they weren't sure of what they were seeing. One minute the figure might be there, and the next second it would be gone, especially if the wind was up.

On one morning the engineer who was on duty when little Marjorie was killed, was walking around his engine, oiling the rods. He caught some motion out of the corner of his eye. Looking down the train, he kept seeing a little girl running in and out between cars. He became very upset, and ran down to where he had seen the child. But upon arrival, found no sign of the little girl, which frustrated him. After what had happened with Marjorie, he called up to the tower, and asked the yardmaster to do a visual check of the whole yard. Of course, they would shut down all movement in the yard, which cost the railroad time and money. But better that than another dead child. Having searched the yard, the crew usually found nothing. Sometimes they would uncover an old hobo sleeping in a car, but no child.

On another occasion the engineer saw a little girl skipping alongside the tracks. When he sent a switchman to investigate, the switchman came back with a blue colored ribbon in his hand, and handed it to the engineer. He said nothing to the engineer, other than "I thought you might want to have this", before turning and walking back toward the end of the train. The engineer fondled the piece of ribbon between his fingers for a while. It looked like new. He then took a hold of the cord attached to the trains whistle. He tied the ribbon around the cord right next to another blue ribbon, which was not so new and covered with soot....

Sorry it took so long for me to post this story. I have posted a few new pictures in my gallery if anyone is interested. That's it for now, Catcha latter.