I’m often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” My answer always varies, as each book is different. But for my latest, Mister Lullaby, the idea was sparked by a luridly creepy picture of the Petite Ceinture, a once-thriving and now abandoned railway looping around the center of Paris, built more than 150 years ago. Moss and algae now festoon the stone entrances and exits, with doors that lead down to the hidden world of the Paris catacombs below. Inside the Petite Ceinture, the silence is palpable; the darkness, seemingly eternal; the echoes, endless; the phosphorus mushrooms glowing in the darkest recesses, unworldly.
My fictional tunnel in Harrod’s Reach, Nebraska, abandoned since a deadly derailment in the early 1900’s, has seen its fair share of turmoil and murders, and because of the legends a game called In-One-Out-One has, for decades now, become commonplace amongst the children of the town. The rules of the game are very simple, you run in one end of the tunnel and hopefully come out the other. I say hopefully because, over a span of a hundred and fifty years, on three different occurrences at the Harrod’s Reach Tunnel, three entered and never came out. They were never seen or heard from again.
And while the game is figment of my imagination, I’d like to present to you 5 abandoned tunnels where my answer to playing In-One-Out-One would be a definitive NO!
These tunnels are in no particular order of scariness, but how can we not start with the one nicknamed The Bloody Pit? Otherwise known as The Hoosac Tunnel, in North Adams, Massachusetts. This tunnel, built in 1873, at nearly 5 miles long, was once the longest tunnel of its kind in the world. The construction alone killed an estimated 200 workers, earning out its nickname before it even opened. Those who brave the tunnel in modern day claim to hear strange winds and disembodied voices and see ghostly apparitions and a dark so void of light you can’t see a hand in front of your face. But the kicker for me, was hearing about a man named Bernard Hastaba, who, in 1973, must have played his own version of In-One-Out-One, because one day he walked into the tunnel on the North Adams side and NEVER re-emerged.
The Screaming Tunnel, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, built in the early 1900’s, upon first glance, would be tempting to me. It’s short, very short, so short, in fact, that you could probably throw a stone through it if you’ve got a good arm. 125-feet of arched limestone. I could probably get through it in seconds, not minutes. In-One-Out-One? I might be able to do this! But what’s that you say? A girl was burned alive inside this tunnel a hundred years ago? And you can still hear her screaming? Suddenly, now the moss and algae clinging to those porous stones doesn’t look so inviting. I’m not going in one side tunnel and hoping to come out the other, no matter how short it is. Especially after hearing if you light a match inside it, the ghost of the girl immediately blows it out, and then appears next to you!
Vampires anyone? According to legend, that’s what we’re dealing with inside Richmond, Virginia’s Church Hill Tunnel. This tunnel comes with a little side history, in the name of a man called W.W. Pool, who apparently was chased out of England for Vampirism. But even if only a little bit of proof is in this pudding, I’m not eating it. And I’m not playing In-One-Out-One inside this 4000-foot-long bohemouth, which was cursed from the start in the early 1870s, with flooding and cave-ins, with at least ten workers dying in the process. On Oct 2nd 1925, a massive cave-in occurred around the center of the tunnel, trapping and wounding and killing several men. Eyewitnesses saw a man running from the tunnel’s end. But it wasn’t a man, they claimed, but a creature with fangs and decomposing flesh and a mouth splashed with blood. The mysterious, hideous thing became known as the Richmond Vampire, and it sprinted into the nearby Hollywood Cemetery and disappeared into the mausoleum of one, W.W. Pool. Some say the mausoleum door was opened in time to see a coffin lid closing inside. The mausoleum’s only inscriptions, are the name “W.W. Pool’ and the year 1913, giving the impression that, perhaps, Mr. W.W. Pool is immortal! And do those double W’s not resemble fangs? People today, walking near the tunnel, claim to hear digging noises and screams and distant, muffled shouts, of ‘Get me out! Get me out!’ from those workers so long ago trapped. There’s no way I’m playing In-One-Out-One inside this tunnel!
A bona fide coal mining ghost town called Moonville? Sounds cool! A hundred foot long tunnel—not too bad—built in the 1850s to transport coal through southern Ohio. Protruding bricks spell out the name MOONVILLE on either side of the tunnel. The color and graffiti covering the entrance scream Mister Lullaby. Any remnants of the train tracks have long-ago been plucked for keepsakes. This tunnel may have been an inspiration for my story, but In-One-Out-One is out of the question. In the late 1850’s, a railroad worker was crushed by an oncoming train, and inside the belly of the tunnel, rumor says you can still see the lantern he was carrying, glowing as an orb of light. Some say the man was eight-foot-tall, and his shadow stretches even longer. Another legend claims Moonville is a ghost town because it was struck by the plague, and all the ghosts are ones who died in the epidemic!
Not happening! And so onward to our final mountain hole destination, the infamous Sensabaugh Tunnel in Hawkins County, Tennessee, with stories of murder, death, and satanic rituals. Built in the 1920s, the tunnel itself—now covered in colorful graffiti, and the road that travels through it full of potholes—was named after the man who owned the land, a Mr. Edward Sensabaugh, who lived with his family in a house not far away through the woods. As the story goes, Mr. Sensabaugh went crazy one evening, murdered his entire family—including his newborn baby—and then deposited all of their bodies inside the tunnel. Ever since, people who have driven through the tunnel have heard their screams, have seen their apparitions, and have heard their eternally trapped cries echo. Many have reported having their car engines die inside the tunnel. And even more, if you turn off the engine while parked inside the tunnel, cars then suddenly won’t restart. But what are those footsteps? Getting louder… Whatever you do don’t look in the rearview mirror while trying to restart your car, you might just see a woman in the back seat, or the ghost of Mr. Sensabaugh slowly approaching the stalled car from behind. The car might start back up just in time, but on the other side of the tunnel, when you’ve seemingly made it through safely to the other side, you’ll then notice handprints on the windows, both large and small, young and old…