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Ghost Trestle Letdown

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I tried to be like Scooby-Doo and his gang this weekend and solve a ghostly mystery, but no such luck.

A few years ago, courtesy of Facebook, I learned of a spot near Adrian known as the Ghost Trestle. I am all for anything related to trains, so I printed out the directions how to get there. And stuffed them in my desk. And a year or two later, I actually got around to finding the spot. It is a very creepy spot that does provide sufficient heebie-jeebies.

The Ghost Trestle on Bailey Hwy in Madison Township, just south of Gier Road.

The Ghost Trestle on Bailey Hwy in Madison Township, just south of Gier Road.

I drove my son out there recently so that he could see it. He wanted to know the ghost story. I tried to cobble it together from what I could remember. When I got home, I Googled it. Here is what I found:

Legend has it that at one time there was a farm house built near the tracks. Late one night a fire broke out in the barn. While the father ran to the barn to try to get the horses out, his wife and young son went to the tracks to wave down one of the many trains that would use that right of way. They were too close to the tracks however and both were struck by the train as it went past. The father was killed in the barn. Now if you go out there late at night, you can sometimes communicate with the Father. He will not allow you to talk to his wife or son; as if he was protecting them . There are other people living in the area now, and a large streetlight has been placed there by the people who own the neighboring land. If you stay there to long, they will call the police. However if you make your visit short enough they will usually leave you to it. This place has also been described as a good place to go to contact other spirits. The Father can be asked to help in this matter. He will not allow antagonistic spirits to talk however; once again to protect his family.

Low and behold, all five or so results that come up are all the same story. EXACTLY THE SAME. Cut & paste in this age of technology, baby. Everyone is saying “This is the story”, when in reality, it is just one person’s story repeated over and over. The originator could have been a big, fat liar, and no one would be the wiser.

So, I decided it would be MY job to come up with the definitive truth behind this legend. I took a genealogical approach to the situation. I began how I begin every search, which I am sure is not at all how everyone else begins: with an atlas and a cemetery search. I know, it sounds weird and labor-intensive, but I have found the best stuff about my ancestors that way.

The atlas is a combined reissue from 1978 from my local historical society featuring maps from years 1874, 1893,  and 1916. Where the ghost trestle is located can be pretty easily found on the map, as it is just south of the intersection of Bailey & Gier roads, the Wabash (also DT&I and Lake Shore & Michigan Southern) railroad, and the nearby south branch of the River Raisin. I jotted down the names of the people who owned the land near there at those three times.

On the 1874 map, the railroad is just a “proposed route” which differs slightly from where it was actually built, so I use 1874 as my starting date. I found mention of an article from the Adrian Daily Telegram on August 23, 1897 where an N. Stevens talks about a haunted house. A website attributed it to the ghost trestle. I didn’t verify it, but used 1897 as my high-end cut off for dates.

Then, since it was 10:00pm at night and too late to go to the actual Madison Township cemetery, I searched on the website to look for any family members who all died on the same day or year. I came across the tombstone of “B. Carpenter and wife Eliza and Dau. Lucy.”

Tombstone from Madison Township Cemetery

Tombstone from Madison Township Cemetery

When I found the tombstone, I cried. It was really no proof of anything, but just the thought of a family all dying together upset me, the proof before me, their names carved in stone. And what if it had been under such tragic circumstances?

No dates visible in the picture or provided on the website. But that they are all on the same marker struck me as interesting. I had relatives, a husband and wife, who perished with another couple when they all fell through a frozen Devil’s Lake in 1858. All four of their names are on the same tombstone, two different sir names. Most people other than myself would have no idea why.

Michigan has an AWESOME database where you can look up actual death certificates. I found out how my great-great grandmother and infant aunt died using it. But, unfortunately, it BEGINS in 1897. No Carpenters for me.

So, I started Googling and looking at census for the Carpenter family in Madison. I watched them age every ten years, learned their family relationships. B. most likely stood for Benjamin. Eliza may have stood for Elizabeth. Very common names back then. And if he were to have married and had a child between census, it wouldn’t have caught it.

I went to the historical museum and searched their card catalog of obituaries, some dating from the 1800s. It is usually a gold mine of info. All I found was the possible listing of Benjamin’s mother’s death on December 10, 1893. It was a death notice, and not a full obituary; sometimes they are like mini-family histories. I asked all the employees at the library. The one gentleman used to go out to the Ghost Trestle with his friends as a teenager. All he could remember was that when heading south on Bailey road on the northwest side of the tracks on the right there was an old house that has since been torn down. That was cool, but didn’t really help me much.

And there are so many variables to consider, giving me roadblocks. The ghost story relies on the sweet image of a newlywed couple and their first child, an entire family perishing tragically in one night. But what if there were other children who survived? What if it had been grandparents with a grandchild?

And some seem to believe the Ghost Trestle is haunted from those who died roughly 10 miles away in Seneca in 1901 in the wreck of the Wabash. (There will be an event on September 24, 2016 at Oakwood Cemetery in Adrian to memorialize all the victims, including 75 to 100 Italian immigrants whose resting place has only recently been discovered.) But I don’t feel like the Seneca ghosts would want to trot that far to spook a bunch of drunk teenagers. And the houses? One allegedly torn down and another still standing? They could be a clue for someone else, but I am not good at researching property records.

I wanted this blog post to be the absolute history of the Ghost Trestle, with sources and shit. I didn’t set out to prove if it was haunted or not, just if it had a story that could support the possibility.

So, I was unable to find any concrete proof of anything. I still just have a tombstone with no dates. And there was Benjamin Carpenter who had a son Benjamin. Families all reused names over and over again. Who the hell knows who is really buried under that stone! I need to run out to the cemetery, see if there is maybe a family marker with more information. There is a very real chance that these people died totally uneventfully and are at peace in the afterlife. But, well, I have to abandon this search for now. In the next week I have a book to convert from longhand to electronic and a list of four books I want to have read, in addition to planning and packing for my first ever trip to Utopia con, a writers conference.

I made a fake ghost. Do not believe that this is real.

I made a fake ghost. Do not believe that this is real.

My thoughts right now are that it just happens to be a creepy bridge, and nothing of the story of the farmer and his wife and child are true. It would almost be good if that were the case, it is such a sad story.

Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
Be Careful What You Wish ForAVAILABLE NOW!
The Wind Could Blow a BugWHERE IT ALL BEGAN!



I designed the Riga Township Flag

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You’ve probably never heard of Riga, Michigan (population 1,439). I wouldn’t have expected you too. But that is where my Dad lived when he married my mom. She moved in to the old family farmhouse with him. That’s where they lived when he died. That’s where she lived when I was born. And that is where I lived for the first eight years of my life.

Riga is…small. There is one blinker light where Riga Hwy hits the main road, US223. No other traffic lights. Oh sure, sometimes the train comes through and the railroad flashers get stuck on, so it gives that illusion. There used to be a church for every bar in town. Then one of the two bars burned down. The post office and the bank were on the same side of the road, with only a few houses between them. As a kid, I could never remember which was which.

Riga is all about agriculture. So in the 90’s when some idiot decided that former swampland would be a great place to build a low-level nuclear waste dump, everyone banded together to stop it. They sold burn barrels painted with the “No Nuke Dump” slogan. High schoolers came into middle school classrooms to give the students a list of all the local, state, and federal politicians and their addresses. Being the good little letter-writing middle schooler that I was, I wrote letters to them all to protect my hometown. My mother always told me not to write to the President, for fear the Secret Service would show up on our doorstep. I wrote to George Bush anyway. The nuke dump proposal was chased the Hell out of town:)

So, in 1993, in the Blissfield Advance Newspaper, I saw an ad for a contest. Riga was going to have a Sesquicentennial Celebration. They were having a “design a Riga Township flag contest”. Something instantly clicked in me, that this was something I had to do (I have had those moments now and then throughout my life). So, I got a piece of poster board at the local pharmacy within walking distance, cut it to the required size, and chose colored pencils as my medium of choice. I did a rough draft first (which I almost NEVER do). I only did one rough draft design and that is what I used for the final design. When I think of Riga, I think of farmers, barns, livestock, people waving hello. I worked all that into my design. I sort of ripped off the United States flag, replacing the field of stars with an actual field. The house on the flag slightly resembles my old house. It was required to say “1843”.

I finished my masterpiece and turned it in at one of the listed locations, the bank within walking distance. I didn’t entirely trust the bank employees to turn it in to the proper authorities. And they probably all unrolled it and laughed at it.

The original drawing was in color.

I would have gone to the judging, but that night I had an academic awards ceremony at school. (That year I cleaned up.) So imagine how nice it was to come home and hear on the answering machine that I had won the flag design contest and the first prize of a $75 savings bond. I learned that they were going to make a physical version of my flag, but that they would cost like $50 each to purchase. Kind of steep for a seventeen year old with no job. When they gave me my savings bond at the July 4th Sesquicentennial Celebration, they gave me one of my flags for free. I found out they had other contests, like “design a postmark”. The same woman won all of those contests, but her flag came in second to mine. Somehow that made it a sweeter victory.

Now my flag hangs in my guest bedroom. (And, I assume, at the Riga Municipal Building.) It might make me a giant dork, but I think it is sort of cool to have designed a township flag. Maybe generations from now the people of Riga will look at their flag and wonder about who designed it. Or maybe they will have a new contest to replace it.

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