|"Berkshire Sampler," October 30, 1977, via Newspapers.com|
Long tunnels are many things, and often not very good things. Dark, dangerous, spooky, with the older ones having an atmosphere of damp and decay, causing one to picture unwholesome things lurking in the gloom. However, few tunnels have as sinister a history as a still-active railroad passageway in western Massachusetts.
The nearly five-mile-long Hoosac Tunnel has been called “The Bloody Pit,” and no one can say it hasn’t earned the nickname. It even looks ghost-ridden. It is a pitch-black, bone-chilling cold, narrow corridor, carved out of the base of a mountain range. It took 24 years to build, and no less than 192 workers died during construction.
The Hoosac was begun in January 1851 under the command of engineer Lionel Baldwin, as part of a planned system linking Boston to the Erie Canal. Baldwin had originally promised that the tunnel would cost $1,169,168 and be completed within three years. As this proved to be an underestimate of 21 years and about 19 million dollars, Mr. Baldwin soon found himself a New England laughingstock. Many people enjoyed repeating Oliver Wendell Holmes’ quip that the millennium would arrive before the Hoosac Tunnel did. When the first train finally went through the tunnel on February 9, 1875, one could say it did so under a bit of a PR cloud.
As noted above, the tunnel’s completion took a horrendous death toll. Men fell down the tunnel’s thousand-foot deep center shaft. Men were burned alive. Men were blown to bits by nitroglycerine explosions. A not-untypical disaster involved three workers, Ned Brinkman, Billy Nash, and Ringo Kelley. Kelley accidentally set off some explosives, burying the other two men alive. Instead of running for help, Kelley fled the scene, leaving his coworkers to their fate. One year later, Kelley’s dead body was found in the tunnel, at the same spot where Brinkman and Nash had died. It was widely believed that the ghosts of his victims had gotten their revenge. In 1868, three years after this triple tragedy, a mechanical engineer named Paul Travers wrote to his sister:
“Last night Mr. Dunn and I entered the great tunnel (unfinished) at 9 p.m. We traveled about two miles into the shaft and then stopped to listen. As we stood there in the cold silence, we both heard what truly sounded like a man groaning out in pain. As you know, I have heard that sound many times during the war. Yet when we turned the wicks up on our lamps, there were no other human beings in the shaft. I haven’t been this frightened since Shiloh. Mr. Dunn agreed that it wasn’t the wind we heard. Perhaps Nash or Brinkman? I wonder.”
In 1872, a doctor named Clifford J. Owens reported an even more eerie experience when he and a friend, James R. Mckinstrey, visited the tunnel late one night. He wrote, “We had traveled about two miles into the shaft and were about to turn back when suddenly I heard a mournful sound…” This was followed by a blue light floating toward them, in the shape of a headless man. “It came so close I could have touched it and it paused in front of us as if looking us over, then floated off toward the east end of the shaft and vanished into thin air.”
One of the reasons the tunnel took so long to build was that it became increasingly difficult to find men willing to work on it. Aside from the obvious physical risk, workers began insisting that the site was haunted. Many men reported seeing and hearing things so frightening that no amount of wages could persuade them to enter the tunnel, particularly at night.
Joseph Impoco, who had worked on the tunnel as a teenager, recounted his experiences some fifty years later. According to him, the ghosts of the Hoosac were responsible for saving his life. On one occasion, he was crouching down on the tracks when he heard a voice cry out, “Run, Joe, run!” Impoco turned, to see a train coming at him, but fortunately was able to leap back in time. When he looked around, no one else was in the tunnel. Another time, Impoco was freeing an iron crowbar from some ice when he again heard a voice, this time, yelling “Joe! Joe! Drop it, Joe!” He recalled, “Something made my hands open, and the bar dropped.” A second later, the bar was smashed against the tunnel wall by 11,000 volts of electricity. A power line had short-circuited.
One day, Impoco and some other workers were clearing trees, when “this goddamned big tree started to fall my way. The gang all hollered and said, ‘Run, Joe, run!.’ I turned around and the tree was coming down. I ran so fast that I fell and the tree gave me quite a whack. The whole gang started laughing. And there was this funny laugh with them that sounded like this...ha...ha...ha...ha. It was really a strange laugh. You know the kind I mean...ha...ha...ha...ha. The men all stopped laughing, but that other one kept right on...ha...ha...ha...ha, all the way down the valley. There was a light mist all around. You can call me a liar, but that entire crew, all eight men, died.”
When the interviewer asked him, “While working on the tunnel?” Impoco replied, “No, no. They all quit pretty soon after that. They were scared to death. But they didn’t kid me any more after that.”
Two months after the tree incident, Impoco decided he had quite enough of the Hoosac Tunnel. He quit his job and moved to Springfield. However, this wasn’t the end of his association with that strange place. Every year, he returned to visit the tunnel, because “the ghosts” told him that if he didn’t, something bad would happen. Impoco kept up this eerie pilgrimage for decades, until his wife implored him to stop, saying that his superstitious ritual was “a lot of bunk.” To make her happy, he cancelled his annual visit to Hoosac.
His wife died three weeks later.
And then, of course, there’s this:
|"Bennington Banner," July 10, 1973|
Mr. Hastaba was observed entering the Hoosac Tunnel, and, as far as I have been able to find, never came out. To date, he has never been seen, alive or dead, since.
Although the Hoosac is still used by the occasional freight train, it’s main purpose nowadays is to scare the bejeebers out of visitors. To this day, people report hearing ominous moans and seeing strange lights and apparitions in and around the tunnel. Some bolder souls have walked through the tunnel, and generally regret doing so, as they often report the unnerving feeling of being closely followed by...something.
All in all, if you are ever in the vicinity of the Hoosac, it might be wisest to stay above ground, in the bright light of day.