Between the covers of these books lies mystery and mayhem.
Everyone likes a good ghost story and this is the time of year when the unknown tickles our curiosity and the undead, they say, walk the land. More treat than trick, here we take a look at a couple of books that will keep you reading long past your bedtime, if only because you’re too scared to turn out the lights.
Haunted Bridges: Over 300 of America’s Creepiest Crossings
by Rich Newman
Just in time for Halloween, local author, filmmaker, and ghost hunter Rich Newman gives us Haunted Bridges: Over 300 of America’s Creepiest Crossings. As the title hints, the book is chock-full of unexplained visitations on bridges all across the country. These tales are bite-sized and as delicious as candy corn, too. Just opening the book at random, my eyes land on the 16th Avenue Bridge in Kaimuki, Hawaii: “It’s said a young girl was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident — and now people see her spirit wandering the bridge at night. Witnesses claim that they have stopped to ask the girl if she’s okay, if she needs a ride, etc. Then the girl climbs into the car and rides until the end of the bridge. At that point she simply disappears.” If you ever needed another reason to visit Hawaii, having your spine tingled on this bridge at night might be just the one.
Newman is originally from St. Louis, moving to Memphis 10 years ago when his veterinarian wife took a job with a Collierville animal clinic. Since being here, he founded the Memphis Film Society and produced the Memphis 48 Hour Film Project. His first book was about applying film-making techniques to video game production.
“Shortly after that was published, I was contacted by Llewellyn Publications because I was peripherally interested in the paranormal as a hobby,” Newman says, “and they wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing a travel guide for people interested in the paranormal, so I wrote The Ghost Hunter’s Field Guide. Since then I’ve written three more for them and I’m working on the fifth.” That book will be a guide to haunted Civil War sites and should be out in mid-2017.
Most of you may not read Haunted Bridges from cover to cover, it’s just too tempting to bounce around and take your chances with what might be waiting a chapter or two ahead. For me, I had to look for those bridges of lore, the ones I’ve heard about all my life. Golden Gate in San Francisco? There it is on page 85 where I learned that it is the world’s second-busiest for suicides (surpassed only by the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge). Despite this, the ghost that gets the mention is that of a ship with a local connection — the Tennessee ran ashore and was destroyed in 1853, but may be seen today cruising the Golden Gate Strait.
The iconic Brooklyn Bridge in New York was designed by John Roebling. While scouting a location for the bridge, Roebling hurt his foot and eventually contracted tetanus which killed him. His son, Washington, got a severe case of the bends from surfacing too quickly in the East River and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. And at least 25 people died during construction. The bridge is cursed! There are a number of visions associated with the Brooklyn Bridge, but one is the most eerie — the headless ghost of a man who died during construction when a cable snapped free and decapitated him. Oh, and as a bonus, several people have claimed to have been abducted by aliens while crossing.
Curiously, there is no mention of the Tallahatchie Bridge from over in Choctaw Ridge. It seems Billie Joe McAllister never made it back from his fatal jump that sleepy, dusty, Delta day.
Just as Halloween is on our mind, so are bridges. This month sees the opening of the Big River Crossing, the pedestrian-friendly right-of-way spanning the Mississippi River to Arkansas on the Harahan Bridge. The Harahan is haint-free, it appears. In fact, no bridges are listed in the immediate Memphis area (Really? No specters seen floating across the 125-year-old Frisco Bridge? Nothing spooky crossing the Wolf River?). There are, however, plenty within a few hours’ drive of home: Crazy George’s Bridge in Dry Hollow (outside of Monterey), Tennessee; Scarce Creek Road Bridge in Lexington, Tennessee; Stuckey’s Bridge in Meridian, Mississippi (one of Newman’s favorite stories); and Tilly Willy Bridge in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This last one is actually gone, demolished years ago for safety reasons, but is still visited by the other-worldly, which includes, in addition to normal ghosts, a green goblin. “Not the Marvel Comics bad guy,” Newman writes, “an actual green creature skulking about the area.”
Newman doesn’t work towards conversion with his book. It’s a resource for the curious, and for believers and non-believers alike. As he concludes the book, he writes: “Hopefully it has become clear just how delicate the division between fact and fiction is. What is one person’s legend is another person’s paranormal experience. In the world of the supernatural, anything is possible and everything is debatable. So, like many things in life, anything you take away from these varied tales is dependent entirely upon you.”
Memphis Boo!:Scary Tales of the City
by Sara Babcox First with Samantha Crespo
(Illustrated by Chris Sharp and Chris Grant)
Here is something for the young and the young-at-heart. While it might not be as scary as the Moosup River Bridge (Rhode Island), co-conspirators Sara Babcox First and Samantha Crespo offer up Memphis Boo!: Scary Tales of the City. Aimed at a much younger audience than that of Memphis magazine, this is nevertheless perfect for reading with the kids, or grandkids, this Halloween. The brief story follows Mojo Bones, a saxophonist skeleton with a funky fedora, as he traipses about town looking for the spookiest spots. What he finds are tales with which we should all be familiar: Mary, the little girl ghost who haunts the Orpheum Theatre; the Woodruff-Fontaine House’s last resident, Elliott; and, of course, Elmwood Cemetery, to visit Graveyard Girl Grace.
Crespo is the author of 100 Things To Do In Memphis Before You Die and when her publisher, Reedy Press, was looking for another installment in their “Boo” city series, she approached First, who always had an interest in writing and history.
“I knew about some of the stories because last spring and summer I did ghost tours for Backbeat Tours,” First says. “But a lot of those ghosts are not child-appropriate, so I learned more about the Woodruff-Fontaine ghost for the book and about Graveyard Girl Grace from Elmwood.”
First, originally from Northern Illinois, was a historian for the University of Mississippi before moving to Memphis four years ago. She’s now a librarian for Grizzlies Prep and has two sons — 4- and 8-years-old; the older participated in quality control on Memphis Boo!. “Hopefully it’s fun and not too scary,” First says. “I wanted it to be something where it would make the kids want to go to these places and not be too frightened.”